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PRESSING ON UNTO PERFECTION
EXHORTATIONS TO FAITH AND PATIENCE
THE HOPE THAT IS SET BEFORE US
Leaving ... the first principles
The "perfection" in this place refers to a more extensive and thorough knowledge of Christian principles, as contrasted with the mere acquaintance with the basic fundamentals. The goal of all Christian endeavor is absolute perfection, even as God is perfect, for Jesus said, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Unattainable in the ultimate sense, perfection is nevertheless the goal of Christians. All should strive toward it.
THE SIX FUNDAMENTALS
Ironically, ours is an age that has indeed "gone on" to a very fanciful and indefinite kind of perfection so-called, categorically forsaking and denying the very principles outlined here as fundamental. For the generation that first received this letter to the Hebrews, a further stress of the fundamentals was not needed; but for this age, the opposite is true. Fundamental truth of the most basic nature is openly denied or presumptuously ignored by an age that seems to feel that it has outgrown such elementary things as these; and, therefore, we may be thankful indeed for the inspired outline of things which actually constitute fundamental Christian doctrine. Some study will be given to this extremely interesting list of the foundation principles of the Christian religion:
repentance from dead works,
faith toward God,
the teaching of baptisms,
the laying on of hands,
the resurrection of the dead,
the eternal judgment.
There are two categories here, first the plan of salvation, as it has been called, including faith, repentance and baptism, and pertaining largely to alien individuals, and secondly, certain doctrines that concern all people collectively. Some make a triple division, grouping the three successive pairs to represent man's personal relations, his social relations, and his connection with the unseen world. F1
Objection to the view that the primary steps of Christian obedience, faith, repentance and baptism, are intended here springs from two things: (1) the order of their being mentioned (repentance first), and (2) the mention of plural baptisms. We shall note each of these. The order of faith and repentance in the steps of obedience does not depend on any word list, even of the apostles, for it is impossible for them to be reversed. No unbeliever in the history of the world ever repented; and the mention of repentance first in this sequence cannot possibly imply any priority of its appearance in the sinner's heart. The scriptures supply another example of clearly related actions being mentioned out of their natural sequence. Peter said of the crucifixion of Christ that it was he "whom they slew and hanged on a tree" (Acts 5:30), thus reversing the chronological sequence.
The use of the plural "baptisms" doubtless sprang from the fact that no less than seven baptisms are mentioned in the New Testament, these being: (1) the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11); (2) the baptism of fire (Matthew 3:11); (3) the baptism of John (Matthew 3:16); (4) the baptism unto Moses (1 Corinthians 10:2); (5) the baptism of suffering (Luke 15:30); (6) the baptism for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29); and (7) the baptism of the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20). The seventh of these is beyond question the "one" baptism of Eph. 4:5; and the knowledge of these things was most certainly part of the elementary things that one had to know in order to become a Christian. Able scholars have rejected this view, Bruce, for example, insisting that "baptisms" in this place has no reference whatever to that Christian ordinance that stands at the gateway of the church; but in matters of this kind, one must be on guard against the natural bias that flows from the theological position of the commentator. Just how anyone can rule out Christian baptism as being included in "baptisms," especially when it stands in a list of fundamental Christian doctrines, must ever appear as a mystery indeed. Westcott, an incomparable master of the Greek text, allows the obvious meaning of the word to stand, stating that
The plural and peculiar form (of the term "baptisms") seems to be used to include Christian baptism with other lustral rites. The "teaching" would naturally be directed to show their essential difference. F2
Repentance from dead works.
Repentance is basic to salvation, on the part of both aliens and Christians, being a constant duty of all who would enter into life. It is an invariable condition of forgiveness of any sin whatsoever (Luke 13:3). "From dead works" is a reference to the class of deeds from which the conscience requires to be cleansed, as evidenced by the same description of them in Heb. 9:14. All works are dead, in the sense intended here, except the ones motivated by faith and love of God. The works of human righteousness, the works of the flesh, the works of mortal achievement, and even the works of the Law of Moses, must all be included in the "dead works" mentioned here.
And faith toward God.
Faith as a fundamental is affirmed not only here but in Heb. 11:6, and throughout the New Testament (Mark 16:15,16). It is rather strange that faith which has been elevated to a super-status by most of Protestantism should be revealed here among the simplicities, a rudimentary, fundamental, basic thing, which one is admonished to leave and go on unto perfection! What a contrast is between this and the view of the creeds which make it the "sole" basis of salvation. Nevertheless, it would be difficult indeed to overstress the importance of faith, without which no man can please God. It is a "sine qua non" of redemption.
And the teaching of baptisms.
This was noted above, but a few more thoughts are in order. Plainly, baptism is made to be in this verse a part of the fundamental teaching of Christianity; and therefore, it simply cannot be that baptism is in any sense an optional, non-essential, elective, or superficial duty; but it is a genuine obligation, as should already have been expected from the proclamation of it on so many solemn occasions as a commandment to be heeded by all people. See the accounts of the great commission in Matt. 28:18ff and Mark 16:15ff, and also the first sermon of the gospel age (Acts 2:38ff). As regards faith and baptism, the theology of the Protestant era has exaggerated faith and diminished baptism; but in the index of Christian fundamentals, one finds them securely embedded side by side in the foundation of the Christian theology. Seeing then that the Holy Spirit has made them to be among the coordinates, it must be sinful indeed to disturb the place that either of them has in God's marvelous system of salvation. Let those who hail baptism as non-essential, or some superfluous accessory of the true faith, behold here its proper place in the foundation.
Baptism is the burial in water of a believing, penitent candidate, and the raising up again to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12); only those who believe and repent can receive Christian baptism. The purpose of baptism is to bring the believer into Christ (Galatians 3:27; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 6:3). The necessity of baptism lies in the mandate of Christ who commanded all people of all nations of all times to receive it and submit to it (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:38ff). The responsibility for being baptized rests upon every individual ever born into the world. Peter commanded his hearers to "repent and have yourselves baptized." F3 Baptism is a precondition of forgiveness of sins (2:38; 22:16); it corresponds to the marriage ceremony as applied to Christ and his bride, the church (Ephesians 5:25-27); it is the initiatory rite by which one is admitted to the church which is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). Although the scriptures declare that we are saved by baptism (1 Peter 3:21), it is not baptism alone that saves. Baptism without faith, or without repentance, or without the newness of life following, is no baptism. Baptism is "for" the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), and for the purpose of being saved (Mark 16:15,16); and it is to be administered in the sacred name "of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:18-20). Therefore, let every man ask himself if this sacred and holy commandment has anything to do with him!
The laying on of hands
would seem at first glance to be misplaced in this list, but not at all. Absolutely essential to an understanding of the limitation upon the appearance in the early history of the church of truly inspired men who could do miracles and speak with divine authority in the church is the knowledge of the fact that such abilities came to those men through the laying on of the apostles' hands (Acts 8:18), and from no other source whatsoever. Out of such knowledge flow epic deductions which are of the utmost consequence to Christianity. The cessation of miracles and of directly-inspired teachers, and the closing up of the sacred canon of the New Testament, and such information as refutes the notion of any so-called apostolic succession - all these and many other truths of a most crucial kind are directly dependent upon just one little fact, namely, that it was through laying on of "the apostles' hands" that those wonderful gifts came to the church, and that that power was not hereditary, or transferable, by any other means whatever. Plenary power of a kind like that delegated to an ambassador is never transferable, but every new holder of it must be commissioned at the original source. Even the sorcerer understood this basic point (Acts 8:18ff); and the possession of that information by such a person as Simon, after such a brief contact with the faith, proves both the fundamental or elementary nature of the doctrine, and its basic simplicity as well. It was in view of that knowledge that Simon tried to buy the gift, not from Philip who had baptized him and who also had the power, and who was personally known to Simon, but from Peter, an apostle!
The resurrection of the dead
is another fundamental sadly shunted aside in the materialistic age through which people are passing. This old fundamental doctrine should be hauled out of the cellar and presented anew to the secular and unbelieving society! An apostle once said, "If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:19). The whole teaching of Christ was founded squarely on the premise of a resurrection of the bad and good alike, indeed of all people. He said,
Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28,29).
Christianity's most successful missionary, the apostle Paul, never failed to stress this doctrine. On land or on sea, at home or abroad, in villages or in great cities, his message was always and constantly that of the resurrection of the dead. The importance of this fundamental teaching to the onward sweep of Christianity in the early centuries was marked by Gibbon in his epic history of the decline and fall of the ancient Roman empire. He wrote,
Our curiosity is naturally prompted to inquire by what means the Christian faith obtained so remarkable a victory over the established religions of earth. To this inquiry an obvious but satisfactory answer may be returned; that it was owing to the convincing evidence of the doctrine itself, and to the ruling providence of its great Author.
Gibbon then went on to list the factors which he called "the five following causes" which favored the rapid spread of Christianity; and the second on the list is "the doctrine of a future life, improved by every additional circumstance which could give weight and efficacy to that important truth." F4 Without the doctrine of the resurrection, the whole fabric of Christian thought dissolves into emptiness and worthlessness. No marvel then that it is listed as fundamental.
And of eternal judgment.
This doctrine too, in these days, is more honored by its neglect than by its faithful proclamation. The whole concept of an eternal judgment, alas, has dropped out of the theological firmament, and from its rightful emphasis by gospel preachers. And why? Is not this also a part of the fundamental sub-structure of Christianity? Of course it is. The doctrine of the eternal judgment is taught in the Old Testament (Daniel 12:2); but it is in the New Testament that the magnificent scope and importance of it most vividly appear. Christ plainly stated that all nations would appear simultaneously before him in judgment, that he should sit upon the throne of God and separate the wicked from the righteous as the shepherd divides the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31ff). He taught that all nations would appear simultaneously with that current generation in judgment, and that the citizens of Nineveh (Matthew 12:41) and the queen of the south (Matthew 12:42), separated by centuries of time, would appear in judgment with the contemporaries of Jesus. Efforts to spiritualize the resurrection and judgment (the two go together) by making "our age" the judgment day, or "the day of death" the judgment, or "every day" to be judgment day, or such things as "historical rejections of prior social wrongs" to be the judgment mentioned in scripture is nonsense. All such devices utterly fail in the light of the concise and dramatic statements in the word of God, one of them in this epistle. "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). And as for the delusion that the second coming of Christ, accompanied by the general resurrection and final judgment, will all be realized in some vague spiritual sense such as a glorious era of world peace, social justice, and universal felicity among people, forget it. To be sure, all people would delightfully hail such a "judgment day" and such a coming of Christ; but the word of God details the second advent of our Lord in terms of a cataclysmic event of worldwide terror and destruction, an event that will not be, in any sense, "good news" for the great majority of Adam's race; for the Saviour himself said that "Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30).
Great and terrible as the concept of eternal judgment admittedly is, the most profound necessity for it is evident. Most of the truly difficult problems connected with the life of faith, and with reference to the entire system of Christianity, are directly related to the doctrine of eternal judgment. Heaven, hell, eternal punishment, eternal joy, Satan, and the problem of evil - all these things pivot in the last analysis upon the scriptural teaching of the judgment. All of the problems, great and small, eventually fade into insignificance before the pressing question, "Is this universe just?" The underlying assumption of revealed religion as set forth in both the Old Testament and the New Testament is the concept of a just universe; and time and time again it is unequivocably declared to be just (Psalms 45:6,7). The father of the faithful, Abraham, idiomatically inferred it when he asked, "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). The existence of laws in the natural realm, the moral law within people, and the sacred revelation all alike proclaim the justice of the universe; and if it is not so, life indeed becomes "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (Macbeth, Act V). Sanity in any true sense turns upon the question of justice in the cosmos. If the righteousness and justice of God do indeed establish his throne and undergird all things, then WE ARE SAFE; and every man shall receive the reward of the deeds done in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10); if not, then any true security of the soul is a fool's dream, and man himself is but an infant crying in the night with no language but a cry!
But if the universe is just; if the righteous shall be rewarded and the wicked punished, AN ETERNAL JUDGMENT IS REQUIRED, a judgment in which all inequities and injustices shall be corrected, an eternal judgment presided over by infinite justice, wisdom, mercy, and love - in short, the judgment revealed upon every page of the sacred scriptures, or if not revealed, then certainly implied. The widespread neglect and apparent disbelief of this doctrine suggests that it is true of our generation, as it was of those to whom this epistle was first addressed, that we "have need again that someone teach us the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God" (Hebrews 5:12)
as applied to these six crucial teachings suggests some facts regarding foundations. No less than four foundations of Christianity are mentioned in the New Testament, and these are: (1) the foundation fact that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:13-19; 1 Corinthians 3:11); (2) the foundation authority, namely the sayings of Jesus Christ, called by him "these sayings of mine" (Matthew 7:24-27), "whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20); (3) the foundation personnel, the apostles and prophets of the New Testament (Ephesians 2:19); and (4) the foundation teachings as set forth in the place before us. The multiple nature of the foundation should not be confusing, since foundations, even of almost any building, are comprised of several different things. The eternal city that comes down from God out of heaven is said to have twelve foundations! (Revelation 21:19).
The pledge of the writer, and he graciously includes his readers, is to go on unto perfection, with no attempt on his part to re-teach his addressees on the subject of the fundamentals, the reason for this being that it would do no good anyway. This was true because of the impossibility of rekindling the cold ashes of a dead faith after its life-giving flame had been extinguished. He does, however, devote some little space to an explanation of that reason.
It is astonishing to behold the lengths to which people have gone in their writings to diminish the plain import of these words. The Calvinistic concept of the impossibility of apostasy, or the final perseverance of the saints, has always been nothing but a delusion. All efforts to resolve the matter by the judgment upon apostates to the effect that they were never really converted fail in the light of this passage, where there can be no doubt of the true conversion of them that later fell away. As Bruce noted, the passage can be abused in two ways. He said,
This warning has both been unduly minimized and unduly exaggerated ... (as by them that say) the sin in question cannot be committed today ... The warning of this passage is a real warning against a real danger ... On the other hand, our author's meaning can be exaggerated to the point of distortion when he is understood to say that for sins committed after baptism there can be no repentance. F5
The most difficult word in this passage is "impossible," which seems to perplex most of the writers. Macknight wrote that "The apostle does not mean that it is impossible for God to renew a second time an apostate; but that it is impossible for the ministers of Christ (to do so)." F6 Allow that God might indeed do what is here called impossible does no violence to truth, since all things are possible with God, except that he should lie or deny himself; and if the renewing of an apostate is not an action included in that exception, it would, of course, be possible with God. But the practical impossibility still stands; and it appears likely that the state here described as "impossible" of renewal should be identified with the "eternal sin" of Mark 3:28. Barmby noted this, saying,
The correspondence between the state here described and the consequence of "the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost" suggests itself at once; our Lord's words, in speaking of that unpardonable sin, being rightly supposed to point to obduracy in spite of experience of the Holy Spirit's power. F7
AN ETERNAL SIN
A careful reading of Mark 3:28 and context reveals that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is designated as "an eternal sin," thus one of a class of sins that are called eternal and which are without forgiveness. In addition to the scripture before us, there are other New Testament passages bearing upon this important matter. The Thessalonians were warned, "Quench not the Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5:19); the pleasure lover was described as "dead while she liveth" (1 Timothy 5:6); willful sin after knowledge of the truth results in there being "no more a sacrifice for sin" (Hebrews 10:26,27); "there is a sin unto death" (1 John 5:16) for which there is not even any need or commandment that people should pray; certain Corinthians were spoken of as being in a state of "sleep" (1 Corinthians 11:30); and Peter described a certain condition as being worse than lost (2 Peter 2:20,21); and the only condition that can answer to such a description is one from which recovery is impossible. All of these words of the Holy Spirit, and including the strong words of the Saviour (Mark 3:28), speak of a condition from which there is no recovery in this life or in the one to come. Yet in spite of terrible warning uttered here, no morbid fear should be allowed to fasten upon the soul as a result. What is spoken of may be simply stated as spiritual death, having its everyday counterpart in physical, or natural death. Once a man is truly dead, life cannot be breathed again into his body, death being final. Just so, once a Christian quenches the sacred Spirit within his soul, that too is final, the destiny of that soul being then and there fully determined.
What then is THE SIN that can cause so fatal and final a result? The answer is ANY SIN engaged in, loved, and preferred over fellowship with God. The sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was the sin judged by Jesus to have been terminal with the Pharisees; but in making it "an eternal sin," Jesus clearly made room for the view that other sins as well could be just as disastrous. The unpardonable or eternal sin is thus any sin that results in the death of the spiritual life; and therein lies the danger of all sin. The counterpart is in the physical world where the fatal disease is the one inscribed on the death certificate and which varies with all kinds of circumstances. The Christian attitude toward sin should therefore be like that of a mother's concern over any threatened danger to a child. What mother could be indifferent to a splinter in her child's knee? She is aware that POTENTIALLY death is involved; and just so the Christian should move against the sin, no matter how slight or inconsequential it might appear. The paranoic fear that some feel in thinking that they might have committed such a sin is unjustified as revealed by the analogy in the natural realm. No person physically dead is concerned about his condition. Thus, no person whose life has already been severed eternally from God could have any feeling of guilt, remorse, or anxiety. "Dead while living" is the apt description.
Fortunately for all people, the spiritual life is quite persistent and hardy; and it may be that relatively few even of those most hardened rebels against God, have actually gone so far as to reach the "impossible" state. Peter's description of the condition, cited above, does not affirm that those "who are entangled" in sins are in that "worse" state, but those who "are again entangled and OVERCOME."
Then, O child of God, keep the holy fire alive. Just as the vestal virgins of the ancient Roman temple guarded the holy fire with their lives and constant vigilance, so Christians should alertly mind the sacred flame of the Holy Spirit within their hearts.
And then fall away
poses the question of the true conversion of those that fell; were they really and truly born again Christians, or were they in some vital manner deficient, either of true faith or of possession of the Holy Spirit? The more one studies this passage, the more it comes through as absolutely certain that those who, in this instance, are spoken of as falling away, were at first good Christians, genuinely converted, enlightened, partakers of the Holy Spirit, and having tasted of the good word of God and the powers of the age to come! If such a description as this does not indicate a truly converted Christian, as distinguished from one who is not really so, it would be impossible to imagine just how it could done at all.
The only thing one needs to give up in order to understand this is Calvinism; and why should any concern be felt over such a speculation as that of Calvin? Angels of God sinned and were cast out of heaven (Jude 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4); Judas, an apostle, fell, and a genuine apostle at that, one who was commissioned to cast out evil spirits and raise the dead (Matthew 10:1-7); even THAT apostle "by transgression fell" (Acts 1:25); and all of the repeated warnings of the holy scriptures against falling - what are those, if they are not stern words designed to keep people back from real dangers? If not what could be their purpose? "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Despite the obvious truth, the bias of Calvinism is discernible in half the commentaries one may read on this passage. Hardly any passage of the New Testament having any bearing on the question has escaped some subtle distortion or outright contradiction. Thus, it is attempted to make out that Judas was never "truly" an apostle, overlooking the fact that one cannot possibly "fall" from an eminence that he has not attained. Again, Simon the sorcerer is usually represented as not having been actually converted; and to support it, the word of Peter to him are sometimes amended to read, "thou art STILL in the gall of bitterness" etc. (Acts 8:23), notwithstanding the colossal fact that the word "still" is not in the text; and not even the present tense is in it, as a glance at the Greek margin will show; for Peter's words were actually, "thou WILT BECOME gall of bitterness," etc. And as for the question of Simon's being saved or not, Christ said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved"; and the inspired writer of Acts said, "Simon also himself believed and being baptized," etc. (Acts 8:13). Was he saved? If the word of God is true, he was saved.
This is an appeal to the practice of burning thistle-infested fields and is an argument ad hominem to support what he had just said of apostates. If men burn the infested and unproductive field, then those persons who allow themselves to become spiritually infected and unproductive are likewise in danger of God's judgment. There is a note of tenderness in the delicate reference to the infested field as being "nigh unto" cursing, and not as having fully arrived at such a dreadful state; and this may be interpreted as a tacit admission that none of the Hebrew Christians had actually gone that far; yet the severity of the warning appears in the fate of the field, which is "to be burned," an analogy pointing to the final overthrow of the wicked.
To prevent any possible discouragement from rising in the hearts of his readers the author here goes out of his way to convince them that he does not classify them in the category of apostates. "Better things" means that the condition of the readers was held superior to that of them that had fallen away. "Things that accompany salvation" is a hint of certain qualities and attainments on their part, which, far from projecting their apostasy, were evidences of their salvation.
Things done to the Lord's servants are done to the Lord (Matthew 25:40); and by distinguishing themselves in ministering to the needs of the saints, which they had done and were continuing to do, they were showing their love for God's name. From the things said here, it is plain, as Milligan pointed out, that "the Hebrew brethren had been culpably negligent in the study of God's word; but notwithstanding this, they had been diligent in the works of benevolence." F8 The warning from this is pointed indeed. Wonderful as works of benevolence assuredly are, pure benevolence, however lavish, is no substitute for faithful adherence to the word and doctrine of Christ. In the present society, wherein social and charitable programs of every conceivable description are held to be the first priority of Christian faith, it is sobering to observe that the true priority lies with the word and doctrine. This was not a new principle introduced by the author of Hebrews, because all of the apostles held that it was "not fit" that they "should forsake the word of God and serve tables" (Acts 6:2).
Each one of you
stresses God's care of the individual and his concern that each and every one of the believers should continue firmly in the way of truth. "The same diligence" means that they were commanded to improve and expand their knowledge of the word of God and to give it an equal priority and diligence to that they had bestowed upon their works of benevolence. "Unto the fullness of hope" gives a glimpse of a subject that will receive a more definite emphasis a little later in the chapter (Hebrews 6:19).
That ye be not sluggish
is an exhortation against lethargy and laziness, a trait they had sadly demonstrated in their neglect of studies in the word and teaching of the Master. "Imitators of them" refers to the great patriarchs of the Old Testament, of whom the author would speak so extensively in Heb. 11, a discussion which is anticipated by this reference to them. Other passages of the New Testament that counsel Christians to be "imitators" are: "Be ye imitators of me even as I also am of Christ"; "And ye become imitators of us and of the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 1:6); "For ye, brethren, become imitators of the churches" (1 Thessalonians 2:14); and "Be ye therefore imitators of God as beloved children" (Ephesians 5:1).
Faith and patience
as joined here are actually twin virtues, because without patience, faith is likely to wither and fall. Jesus said, "In your patience ye shall possess your souls" (Luke 21:19). "The promises" include all the wonderful things that God will do for his redeemed; and what will he do? He will forgive people's sins when they accept and obey him, bless them providentially in the present life, make all things work together for good on their behalf, provide the earnest of the Holy Spirit within them as a pledge of eternal life, comfort them in sorrows, strengthen them in weakness, illuminate them in darkness, make the way of escape in their temptations, attend them through the Dark Valley, raise them from the rottenness of the grave itself, cover their sins in judgment, and administer to them an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom! Surely such promises are worth the diligence and patience of faith as enjoined here.
For notes regarding God's swearing, see under Heb. 3:10 and under Heb. 6:16. The reference to Abraham is for the purpose of holding him up as an example. He was the most illustrious of the patriarchs and prophets, of whom the author had already said that his readers should imitate them. There seems also to be a special reason for singling out Abraham at this point, due to his importance in what happened with Melchizedek, and which events the author will more fully develop a little later in the epistle. The promise to Abraham mentioned here must be the one recorded in Genesis 22:16ff, since that is the only occasion when God with an oath confirmed a promise to Abraham; and although the author of Hebrews mentions only a portion of the promise, the entire promise, especially the blessing for all nations, was undoubtedly in mind.
The patience of Abraham was indeed exemplary for several reasons. The promise, it will be remembered (Genesis 12:1ff), envisioned a great posterity for Abraham; but many years passed during which he had no son. Passing over the incident involving Hagar, Abraham waited patiently for that which, according to all human reckoning, was impossible. Then at last, when Isaac was born, and the patriarch's hopes and affections were centered in him, his patience was further tested by the astounding command of God that Isaac should be offered as a sacrifice. The nearly superhuman response of Abraham to that commandment of God became the occasion for God's confirming the promise with an oath.
The statement here that Abraham "obtained" the promise has reference to his receiving in full faith the prospect of its ultimate fulfillment when Isaac was restored to him, which was like receiving him back from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). Supernatural power had been evident in the conception and birth of Isaac; and, after recieving him back from the dead, "in a figure," Abraham had every reason to believe and know that God's promise, together with all its implications, would most surely be fulfilled. There was a sense in which Abraham did not truly receive the promise (Hebrews 11:39), that is, "all" of the promise; nor will he do so until all the faithful of all times receive it all together in the eternal home of the soul.
This appeal to the custom of people in requiring judicial oaths, even making it the reason for God's doing so, would appear to give the most positive assurance that the taking of such oaths is not to be considered sinful. If so, our Saviour's command to "swear not at all" (Matthew 4:34) could be understood as making an exception of the type of oath considered here; but this is far from certain. Even if the judicial oath should be allowed as an exception, Christ's command still stands opposed to the vast majority of oaths which people continually swear, most of them utterly needless, and many of them profane as well as needless. The Christian community through the ages, out of regard to Christ's word, have elected to "affirm" or "testify under the penalties of perjury"; and such is a safe course of action and one generally allowed by enlightened courts which take into account the requirement of absolute honesty in all their declarations, Christians being under a much stricter rule than that of any earthly court.
On the reasons for God's doing such a thing as "swearing," see under Heb. 4:10. The probable reason why the author of Hebrews stressed God's oath to Abraham at this place was that he had the purpose of comparing it, a little later, with another oath God took regarding the "priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." Such a comparison would be calculated to bear the greatest weight with Hebrew Christians. The matter of God's oath would show that the Messiah's being the antitype of Melchizedek was not a side issue at all but was on a parity with election of the chosen people themselves.
The two immutable things are the promise of God and the oath by which it was confirmed. Boatman noted the opinion of some that the two immutable things are
the oath made to Abraham respecting a Son, the Messiah; and the second refers to Christ's priesthood, recorded in Psa. 110:4: "Jehovah hath sworn and will not repent. Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. F9
It is only in an accommodative sense, however, that God's oath could be understood as any way different from his word without an oath. It was the word only that God spoke when the worlds came into existence; and the mention of God's oath does not reveal on the part of God any need whatever to make his word more sure through such a human device as an oath, but rather a heavenly regard for human opinions and practices in which God accommodated himself to the customs of people, not for his sake, but for theirs, that people might more fully and completely believe in the word of his power. This seems to be a valid deduction from the words "more abundantly" as used in the text here; and the meaning is that God went over and beyond what was necessary, and that his doing so sprang solely from his desire to demonstrate ("being minded to show") what solid ground supported faith in his eternal designs.
Who have fled for refuge
refers to Christians who had sought and received refuge in Christ from all their sins and is a reference to the ancient cities of refuge in Canaan which appear in this place as a type of the refuge in Christ. Josh. 20 records the establishment of six cities of refuge: Kedesh, Shechem, Hebron, Bezer, Ramoth-Gilead, and Golan, three west of the Jordan and three on the east. Collectively, these cities stand as a type of the church, in which safety from the avenger of blood (Satan) may be received only by entering into and remaining within the sanctuary; and, although the ancient refugee was required to remain within the haven only until the death of the high priest, no such termination of residence within the church is allowed, because the Christian's High Priest lives forever.
Hope is the great anchor, or stabilizer, of the human soul; and that hope for the Christian is Christ the Lord, who has entered into that which is beyond the veil, that is, into heaven itself; and this corresponds to the actions of the ancient high priest who was typical of Christ in that he went into the Holy of Holies, behind the veil, in the tabernacle. The aptness of the figure of an anchor appears in the fact that an anchor is not doing any good at all as long as it is visible. It is only when it disappears in the deep beneath that it stabilizes and protects the ship; how beautiful is the imagery of Christ's also being out of sight from Christians, having disappeared into the unseen world, but who is nevertheless connected with Christians by the strong and effective cable of his love, just as the anchor, though unseen, is connected to the ship by a mighty chain. The absolutely necessary disappearance of the anchor, if it is to do any good, also suggests the necessity of Christ's physical separation from his followers which was accomplished when he ascended into the unseen world. That this was truly necessary is plain in the light of Heb. 8:4, where it is shown that Christ would have been no priest at all if he had remained upon the earth. Christ's qualification as high priest was upon a higher level; on earth he could never have been any kind of priest, because he did not belong to the tribe of Levi; therefore, in order for him to function as the great High Priest of Christians, he of necessity entered that higher, unseen sphere. Thus it is literally and gloriously true that the Christian's hope is in heaven where the Lord has already entered; and, with that hope, all else that really matters is also there. For the Christian, his treasure is there (Matthew 6:19), his citizenship is there (Philippians 3:20), his name is written there (Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3), his Lord is there (as here, and in John 14:1-6), and his affections should be there (Colossians 3:2KJV).
Of great interest is the word "forerunner," the implications of which are so extensive. It means that where Christ has gone his disciples shall at last follow, that where he is there they may be; and the priority of his entrance into the upper and better country suggests the services that Christ is there and performing for them that shall in due time arrive to be with him. He is their intercessor, their advocate, their hope and redeemer. There is also the thought that Christ's entry into that sphere makes possible the entry of all who shall follow him. It is because he has entered that they may enter. Macknight thought the term "forerunner" is an allusion "to one sent from a ship to fix its anchor in the place to which it is to be drawn." F10 Westcott believed that the word was used especially "of the men or troops which were sent to explore before the advance of an army." F11 One of the most interesting things said about the use of the word was written by Morgan, saying,
It marks a difference between Christ passing in within the veil, and everything that had preceded it in the ritual of the Hebrew people. Aaron had entered within the veil once a year, but never as a forerunner. He entered as the representative of those who were left outside; but they were always left outside. No one followed Aaron when he entered within the veil to stand in the presence of the ark and the mercy seat. When Jesus passed within the veil, he entered as a forerunner, which at once suggested that the way was open for others to follow him. F12
Thus is laid the foundation for that more complete comparison of the high priesthood of Jesus with that of Melchizedek which next follows, and to which so much attention is given in the next chapter. The premise has already been established that the Messiah's being the antitype of Melchizedek is of supreme importance, a thing witnessed and confirmed by the oath of Almighty God himself, and therefore something to which the strictest attention should be paid.
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.