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they had fallen away in the irremediable manner here stated. The chief reason why the inspired writer introduces the mention of apostates is, to warn such as he addressed against the fate of those who grievously and extensively recede. But his description was not meant to be strictly characteristic of the Hebrew Christians, of whom he hoped better things, and such as accompanied salvation. There is much delicacy, aptitude, and effectiveness, in the mode pursued by the apostle throughout the whole section of which the present words form a part. In the first place, he blames those to whom he writes for their ignorance of spiritual things, considering the period that had elapsed since they first embraced Christianity. He calls them babes in Christ, who had need of milk, not solid food—who required to be nourished with the initial doctrines of religion, rather than the high and abstract truths that suit the more enlightened taste of advanced believers. Still, however, he does not stop to repeat the elementary teaching they had already received ; but passes at once to something more complete and perfect, fitted to enlarge the mind, and to confirm the faith, of believers in Christ. And that they might be animated, notwithstanding their low attainments, to reach forth to the things before, he just mentions the awful case of such as apostatise from the Christian religion into the errors of Judaism. By this procedure, he effectually guards them from the vain imagination, that they need not be concerned about the abstruse and difficult points which he proceeds to treat of; for, by forcing them to look inward, lest, perchance, the description in all its awful reality be intended for them, he imparts an impulse to their religious fears sufficient to warrant him in passing forthwith to higher than elemental doctrines. Hence, there is no incongruity in his commencing immediately to discuss the abstruse things of Christianity, even after he had declared, that those to whom he was writing had need of milk. A vivid sense of the danger of apostacy, which the apostle awakens in their minds by a fearful description, was adequate to the quickening of their zeal, and the rousing up of their mental energies to holy inquiries and higher attainments. There is great propriety, besides, in subjoining, “but beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” This is added, lest they should begin to despair, from the disheartening account of apostacy just given. The writer does not wish them to understand, that the fearful description is applicable to them, notwithstanding their comparative ignorance of spiritual things; but he wishes it withal to stand just where it is, after his reproof of them for their leanness, that they might no longer remain stationary, or creep slowly onward, as though they fainted and were weary; but that they might be alarmed by the fear of so gloomy a state, and, provoked to high exercises and to holy jealousy in the accelerated career of an advancing godliness, that they might leave behind the elemental forms
of piety, even the simplest principles of truth, among which they had so long tarried. He takes it for granted, that they would willingly go on with him to the sublime mysteries of the priesthood of Christ, and enter into them with a new relish ; no longer lingering on the threshold of the temple, whilst the interior was so richly furnished with the precious viands of heaven.
I have dwelt thus long on the verses preceding the sentence, because they have been frequently misunderstood. And yet, on their right interpretation depends a clear understanding of the connexion of the passage I propose to expound. The interweaving of argument and of exhortation antecedent to the words before us needs to be unloosed, before coming to the true import of the text. I conceive, that they have not been correctly explained by Stuart and others, who give the following paraphrase : -Because ye are yet babes, and not full grown men, able to digest the higher doctrines, continue no longer in such a state-leave that condition of comparative infancy in which you are at present ; and aim at higher degrees of knowledge in divine things. It is impossible for you to remain stationary. You must either recede or advance. To stand still, is a thing that cannot be—an anomaly that cannot be exemplified. You must, therefore, either go forward, or fall back-but beware of the latter; for it is impossible to recover such as apostatise. The great objection to this view is found in
“and this will we do, if God permit,” which is thus expounded : we will go on to perfection, and advance in spiritual knowledge, if God grant us opportunity; for if we do not go on to perfection, but recede, it will be impossible to renew us again to repentance, &c. Against this paraphrase, the clause, if the Lord permit, somewhat militates. It agrees not well with the known character of God, nor Scripture phraseology, to say, that if he allow, we shall go on to perfection. We are assured that such is his will concerning us ; that our advancement in holiness and grace, is well pleasing in his sight. Assuredly, therefore, this little phrase appears to determine the signification of the first and second verses ; and of consequence, to influence our perception of the manner in which the fourth verse is introduced. It shows that the connexion must be similar to that which I have already pointed out, viz.-since the case of apostates is utterly hopeless, and we should be merely wasting our words in endeavouring to bring them back to the high position from which they have so grievously fallen away, we must pass on to the consideration of the more abstruse doctrines of Christianity—to the discussion of something more complete, suited to the hopeful and advancing Christian. We purpose not, says the apostle, to repeat the rudiments of religious knowledge ; for this would be vain. By such a process, we could not restore the lapsed, nor convince them of their great danger, as well as of their tremendous guilt. I apprehend, therefore, that in the present passage, the apostle
the third verse ;
gives a reason for his leaving the initiatory doctrines of Christianity, and taking up other matters of higher import and more difficult complexion, adapted to the spiritual intellect of the mature believer.
In respect to the construction, I have ventured to take the different accusations τους άπαξ φωτισθέντας, γευσαμένους, κ. τ.λ. as governed by the Verb ανακαινίζειν, and have translated accordingly. Ανακαινίζω is uniformly taken actively, in the Septuagint, Josephus, and Appian. In Psalm civ. 30, we find åvakauviês tò mpóowOv tñs yñs ; and in Lamentations, v. 21, åvakaivugov ňuépas ñuñv. I see, therefore, no reason for attributing to åvakauvigeu the passive signification to be renewed ; in which case the preceding accusatives must be construed before the infinitive. Others supply éavtoùs as the object of evakaiviteLv ; rendering it, renew themselves ; but this does not suit well the introductory context. I understand the subject of avakavicev, to be virtually the same as that of apérres in the first verse of the chapter, where the writer himself is chiefly intended.
Having thus unfolded the general import of the paragraph, in connexion with the preceding context, I proceed to explain, more minutely, the several phrases of which it consists.
First, we meet with ảdúvarov. It has been contended by some, that this word signifies extreme difficulty; whilst others maintain, that it means absolute impossibility. Rosenmüller adopts the former. "'ASúvatov h. 1. non est metaphysice impossibile, sed potius res ita difficilis, ut propemodum sit impossbilis, ut centies in vita communi dicere solemus." (Scholia in Nov. Test. tomus v. ed. quinta. p. 210). To the same effect Bretschneider. “'Adúvatov bezeichnet nicht eine absolute Unmöglichkeit, sondern nur etwas Schweres, s. Matt. xix. 25 f.” (Handbuch de Dogmatik II p. 520 vierte Anflage) “It does not denote an absolute impossibility, but merely something difficult.” Storr maintains the same.
It is usual for those who advocate this view to refer to Mark x. 23—27, “And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, how hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God! And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus, looking upon them, saith, with men it is impossible, but not with God : for with God, all things are possible.” These words certainly prove, with whom the impossibility rests ; but they do not show the restricted sense of adúvarov. The answer of Jesus plainly implies
, that he understood it in an absolute, unlimited signification ; for how absurd would it be, to represent our Lord as saying, “with men this is very difficult, but with God it is possible." This were indeed a weak antithesis. The passage in Mark, therefore, affords no countenance to
such as understand áðúvatov in a limited signification. By examining the different places of the epistle where it occurs, the practice of the writer himself will be seen, from which, its precise meaning may be determined with definitive certainty. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, vi. 18, we read, “ in which it was impossible (adúvarov) for God to lie;". and in x. 4, “ for it is not possible (adúvatov) that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins ;” and in xi. 6, “but without faith it is impossible (adúvarov) to please him.” These passages prove, beyond all question, that it is not used in a qualified sense, but as denoting absolute impossibility. Neither is it possible to discover any place that establishes the confined interpretation. The entire range of Scripture does not furnish a clear instance where adúvatoy can be so taken without perversion. But although its undoubted import be actual impossibility, yet we are not to infer, that God is unable to renew those who have lapsed from Christianity, by bringing them to a sense of their error. He can take away the evil heart of unbelief, be it ever so obdurate and stubborn, converting the confirmed infidel into the simple-minded Christian. His omnipotence is irresistible; the sinner yields to its exercise. But the inspired writer means, that it was impossible for kimself, or the other ambassadors of Christ, to convert a second time, to the faith of the Gospel, individuals, who, having learned all the proofs by which the truth of the Saviour's mission was established, had renounced obedience to the Gospel, and pronounced the Saviour an impostor. After witnessing miraculous attestations of the Spirit to the reality of Christ's divine mission, in the days of the apostles, and, perhaps, experiencing them in their own persons, they could have no further or higher evidence. When they were unable to feel the demonstrative nature of the proof thus palpably presented—when it sufficed not to establish them in the true profession of Christianitythey could expect no clearer light. Having associated with the enemies of the cross, and professed their disbelief of the Redeemer's mission, they could receive no new demonstration in the doctrines of Judaism, calculated to convince them of their error, and to induce them to repent. Thus it was impossible to bring them again to repentance. It was impossible for the messengers of the Gospel to employ more effectual means to reclaim them, than such as had been already applied. They could present no higher testimony, or clearer proofs of the divine mission and work of Christ, than such as were already known. In the use of means, they could do no more. In the use of means, it was impossible again to convince them of their error. The sentiment expressed in another passage of the epistle is similar : "For if we sin wilfully, after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins.” Here the apostle says, that for those who have apostatised, there remains no more sacrifice for sin ; since they had rejected the only effectual sacrifice
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which God had appointed. They had utterly refused to admit the claims of Jesus, and must, therefore, have been destitute of every reasonable hope to be benefited by his salvation. The sacred writer intends, therefore, to affirm, that it was totally impossible for the ambassadors of Christ to restore a second time to repentance, such as had been once enlightened, &c. &c.—such as had embraced Christianity, and exhibited hopeful evidences of their discipleship, and yet had returned to Judaism, and despised the atonement of Jesus. From the mode in which we observe that God now deals with analogous characters, it is highly probable, that the particular individuals to whom the description in the text strictly applies were generally left to themselves, to fill up the full measure of their iniquities. It is probable, that He seldom interposed by an act of Almighty power, to stop the downward career of such as had gone back so grievously. We know from experience, that such as have been professing Christians, and have afterwards renounced their belief in the truths of religion, are seldom brought back to a sense of their error. They are left in their state of insensibility and awful degradation. Like as the Lord said of Ephraim of old, so does he generally deal with such characters. “Ephraim is joined to his idolslet him alone.” Hence we suppose, that, although so far from being impossible, it was easy for Jehovah to change, renew, and convert the apostates here described, he allowed them to perish in the midst of their sins. If his commissioned servants were able to present to them no farther proofs of the divine origin of Christianity, than those which they had already exhibited in all their clearness, we may well imagine, that God, who ordinarily employs human instrumentality in enlightening and saving sinners, would not put forth a supernatural manifestation of his
power, to subdue to himself the hearts of such as had set themselves in stout and resolute opposition to the powerful evidences of the Saviour's work-evidences which they had once acknowledged, but afterwards rejected.
The next phrase is τους άπαξ φωτισθέντας, those who were once enlightened. Many of the ancient commentators, followed by some of the moderns, understood this of baptism ; as if the phrase were equivalent to τους άπαξ βαπτισθέντας. It appears to have been customary with the fathers to designate baptism by parlouÒs; as we learn particularly from Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Clement of Alexandria. Hence pwritw has been rendered baptize. The same exposition has been given by a few later interpreters, in deference, perhaps, to patristic authority. But although the interpretations of the ancients are not to be overlooked, yet they are far from being entitled to implicit confidence ; for we know, that they were neither infallible nor consistent. The fathers enjoyed, indeed, some advantages which we do not now possess ; many of them lived soon after the inspired writers themselves, and may have become acquainted by tradition with some of their sentiments ; but,