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imaginable to induce his Hebrew brethren to go on unto perfection; since if such persons as they should fall away, there would be no further hope in their case. But if they were quite a different class of persons from those whom he was addressing, what is said of them is irrelevant; and, instead of strengthening, quite enervates his exhortation. As if he should say: “ Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, let us go on unto perfection; for if those who have received great light, but were never true Christians, as I trust we are, should fall
away, it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance.” Such was not the manner of Paul.
In the verses immediately succeeding the text, the Apostle presses his exhortation in a different way: “ The earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for those by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God; but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected and nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” These last
expressions do not imply, as some would have them, that he hoped better things of his brethren than that they had been enlightened, etc. ! or were like the good soil which bringeth forth useful herbs and receiveth blessing from God; but he hoped better things of them than that they should apostatize, and be like the ground which bringeth forth briers and thorns, whose end is to be burned.
In view of reasons so various, so consentaneous, coming so directly to the same result, we must believe that the persons characterized by the Apostle in our text were true believers in Christ. Probably no other opinion would ever have been advanced had it not been for what is subsequently said of their falling away.
II. WHAT IS SUPPOSED WITH RESPECT TO THESE PERSONS ? The hypothesis is contained in these words : “If they shall fall away.” Some have found fault with the translators for having rendered the passage in this way. They say that the original word napanecórtas being in a past tense, as the other words in connection with it are,ought like them to have been rendered in past time, “ And yet have fallen away.” It is admitted that this would be more literal, but not that it would make any material alteration in the sense. For in case of the proposed rendering, the phrase ought not to be considered as declaring a historical fact, but only as furnishing a statement for the sake of an argument.
Examples of this mode of reasoning, expressed both in present and future time, are very cominon. It is equally proper, whenever it better suits the connection, that such statements should be made in terms denoting time past. “But the younger widows refuse; because, when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith.” 1 Tim. 5: 11, 12. Here the verb ndé nouv,“ have cast off,” is in the indicative form, and past tense, and yet it must evidently be taken hypothetically, not as declaring that they had then already cast off their first faith, and received damnation, but that it would be so when they should have begun to wax wanton against Christ. So in Heb. 10: 29, where the Apostle says: “Of how much sorer punishment suppose ye shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot (xatanatýous) the Son of God,” etc. It is not a declaration that any one had done so, however true that might be ; but is only a case supposed, to show the guilt and danger of so doing. We may therefore safely allow, that our translators have given the true sense, though not the precise form of the original term. Beza has it: “Ši prolabantur," --if they have fallen away ; Castalio: “ Et tamen relabuntur," -and yet relapse. They did not suppose the Apostle to be declaring a historical fact, but, as has been said, supposing a case.
What then is meant by this falling away? It must mean something more than such falling as all Christians have daily occasion to lament; else none can be saved. It must mean something more than to fall as David and Peter did; for they both were renewed again unto repentance. It is evident that a complete defection or falling away from the state described must be intended. If they should shut their eyes against the light of divine revelation; cease to be illuminated by the Spirit, and revert to their former state of darkness; lose their relish for the heavenly gift, and no longer esteem Christ to be precious ; should so resist and grieve the Holy Ghost as to deprive themselves of his inhabitation and miraculous powers; lose all delight in the word of God, and no longer be influenced by the realities of the world to come; and relapse into their former state of impenitency, unbelief and hardness of heart;then would they be in the state supposed ;—then might it be said, with the strictest propriety, that they had fallen away,
Some perceiving that this must be what is meant by falling away, and yet believing that God has promised that none of his
saints shall thus fall, have thought the supposition here made to be proof that the persons spoken of could not be true Christians. But if we search the Scriptures, we shall find that such suppositions in regard to believers, and warnings founded on them, are frequent, especially in the writings of Paul. In this very epistle, which was undeniably addressed to supposed Christians, we find numerous examples. Indeed, to warn his brethren against apostasy, and excite them to go forward in the divine life appears to have been the Apostle's main design. “How shall we escape,” he says, “ if we neglect so great salvation ?” “Let us labor, therefore, to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries. If then the Apostle does, in other passages, address true Christians in this manner, the supposition of apostasy in our text can be no proof that those concerning whom it is made, are not true Christians.
Some have maintained that the supposition of apostasy, in this passage and others like it, implies that the salvation of those concerning whom it is made of true believers, if these were such, cannot be certain, even in the purpose of God. But the inference is not legitimate. For how does it appear that God might not from eternity have purposed that this very warning against falling away should be the effectual means of preventing it ? When God said: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off the seed of Israel for all that they have
Jer. 31: 12. He did not mean that the thing supposed was possible for man, but the contrary. When the Apostle said : “ If we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto
you than that which we have preached, let him be accursed,” it is plainly a case supposed, which was not expected ever And so when he said to the centurion, with
respect to those who were about leaving the foundering vessel : “Except these abide in the ship ye cannot be saved,” it did not imply that God had not purposed to save them; for he had said before: “There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not Paul; thou must be brought before Cesar, and lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” God had determined to save
them, and carried that determination into execution by warning them effectually against all measures inconsistent with his purpose. The supposition that the persons described were true believers, militates in nowise against the doctrine of the saints' perseverance. If God has determined that his saints shall persevere unto the end, he of course has determined to preserve them from apostasy; and this not by absolute force, but by means of motives addressed to them as intelligent beings, and made efficacious by the agency of his Spirit on their hearts. God can effectually incline his people to obedience without the least infringement of their free agency. “I will make,” he says, “an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts that they shall not depart from me." Jer. 32: 40. Warnings to Christians, and God's determination that true Christians shall regard them, surely are things perfectly consistent with each other. III. WHAT IS
OF THESE PERSONS ON THE SUPPOSITION THAT THEY SHOULD THUS FALL AWAY ? 'Αδύνατον-πάλιν åvaxavitelv eis uerévoiav,—it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance. The repentance here spoken of is that which is evidential of regeneration. This has been already shown. Some translate the passage: "It is impossible to renew them again by repentance.” But this rendering of eis is very unusual, and, in this place, manifestly unnecessary. Man, in his unregenerate condition, being destitute of all gracious affections, never exercises godly sorrow for his sins, until renewed by the Spirit of God. And if those who had been once renewed should so fall away as to lose all holiness, and become a second time dead in trespasses and sins, it would be impossible to renew them again to the exercise of this gracious affection; to bring them any more to the exercise of godly sorrow for their sins. The terms employed evidently refer to some agency from without. For whom, then, would it be impossible to renew them again unto repentance ? For the apostles and their fellow servants in the ministry of the gospel ? Such a work never was possible for them. They never pretended, in any circumstances, to be able to renew the hearts of men. They always ascribed this work to God. What then can be the meaning of the declaration! That it would be impossible for God to renew them if they should thus fall away? This, it would seem, must be the ineaning. But in what sense would it be impossible for God to do this? As it regards physical force, with him all things are possible. But still God cannot act inconsistently with his nature, his purposes, or his honor. It is impossible for him to do what is wrong. And if impossible to renew those who should fall away, it must be because it would be contrary to his will, incompatible with his plans and his glory, to renew and pardon those who sin against so much light, and cast such contempt on the scheme of redemption. Some have suggested that the term ådóvatov, rendered impose sible, denotes here, not absolute impossibility, but only great difficulty. But this, if understood of the apostles, would imply that though difficult, it still was possible for them to renew even apostates; and that they could renew ordinary sinners with comparative ease ;-a most unscriptural representation. And if God be regarded as the agent, as he undoubtedly should be, this meaning of the term in question would imply that it is more difficult even for God to renew some than others; which no one can believe. Besides, when adúvatov is used impersonally, as it is here, it is the appropriate and most expressive term in the language to express what is absolutely impossible. In this sense the Apostle uses it again in this very chapter ; and repeatedly in the course of this epistle. “It is impossible for God to lie.” “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away
“Without faith it is impossible to please God.” So must the expression be understood in the text. If they should fall away, it would be impossible for God to renew then again, because contrary to his purpose and inconsistent with his glory. Having committed a sin which could never be forgiven them, they would be utterly and forever lost.
The only reason assigned for this “ severity of God” is expressed in these words : “Seeing they crucify unto themselves the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame.” Some maintain that the term dvastavooõrras, rendered “ crucify afresh,” simply means having crucified; and that the qualifying word, afresh, is gratuitously supplied by the translators. But when it is considered that the Greek particle åvà in composition not unfrequently implies repetition, like re in Latin, (see Robinson's Lexicon,) and that this is the only instance in the New Testament in which it is joined with the radical word otavoów, as if with design to qualify its meaning, and that the sense given by the translators entirely suits the connection, it is to be preferred.* He had once been crucified by their brethren at
* It has been said, that “this is not conformable to Greek