Wherefore (since it is so incumbent on us to advance out of the state of milk-fed infants), leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us press on unto perfection ( τελειότητα , continuing the image of maturity). The proper translation of τὸν τῆς ἀρχῆς τοῦ χριστοῦ λόγον is doubtful, the question being whether τῆς αρχῆς is to be connected with λόγον as an adjective genitive (so taken, as above, in the A.V cf. Hebrews 5:12 , στοιχεῖα τῆς ἀρχῆς ) , or with τοῦ χριστοῦ , the word of the beginning of Christ, meaning discourse concerning the first principles of Christianity. " Initium Christi , scil. Apud discentes Christum, saepe quippe Christus dicitur Paulo per metonymiam conereti pro Christianismo " (Bengel). A further question is whether the writer merely expresses his own intention of proceeding at once in this Epistle to the more advanced doctrine, or whether he is exhorting his readers to make spiritual progress, using the first person plural, φερώμεθα (as in Hebrews 2:1 and Hebrews 4:1 , φοβήθωμεν ) out of sympathetic courtesy. The correspondence of this delicate form of exhortation with that of the earlier passages, the very words φερώμεθα , "let us be borne on," "press forward" (implying more than mere passing to a new line of thought), and τελειότητα (which expresses personal maturity, not advanced subject of discourse), as well as the earnest warnings that follow against falling back, seem to necessitate the second of the above views of the meaning of this verse. The writer has, indeed, in his mind his intention of proceeding at once to the perfect doctrine; for he hopes that what he thus exhorts them to do they will do, so as to be able to follow him; but exhortation, rather than his own intention, is surely what the verse expresses. Not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. What was meant by τὰ στοιχεῖα , etc., and τὸν τῆς ἀρχῆς , etc., is here specified under the new image of a foundation on which a superstructure should be raised (of. for the same figure, 1 Corinthians 3:11 , a further instance of Pauline modes of thought). Of course no disparagement of the importance of this foundation is implied: it is necessary for the superstructure: it has in itself the elements of the superstructure, which rises from it in the way of growth. What is meant is, "With us this foundation has been already laid; I will not suppose any need for laying it anew: let us, then, go on to contemplate and understand the building that rests on and rises from it." The fundamentals enumerated are six—two essential principles of the religious life, and four heads of doctrine; for the word διδαχῆς rules βαπτισμῶν and the three succeeding genitives, but not μετανοίας and πίστεως which precede. These are the fundamentals, or first principles, of Christianity; but (as has been intimated) so defined as to express no more, by the language used, than what even enlightened Jews might accept and understand. Fully understood, they carry the Christian superstructure; but they are such as a "babe" in Christ might rest content with; without seeing their ultimate bearing. The principles first mentioned are repentance and faith, the requisite qualifications for baptism, the essence of John the Baptist's teaching, and announced by Christ at the commencement of his ministry as the first steps into his kingdom: "The kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" ( Mark 1:15 ; cf. also Acts 20:21 ). By the dead works, from which repentance is to be, the Fathers generally understand simply sinful works, which may be so called because of sin being a state of spiritual death, and having death for its wages (cf. "dead in trespasses and sins," Ephesians 2:1 ), or as being in themselves barren and fruitless ( cf. τοῖς ἔργοις τοῖς ἀραρρποις τοῦ σκότους Ephesians 5:11 ). In an enumeration of elementary principles like this, the allusion, supposed by some commentators, to the deadness of "the works of the Law," as set forth by St. Paul, is not likely to have been intended. The faith spoken of is not faith in Christ, but simply "faith towards God," which is, of course, the foundation and necessary preliminary of Christian faith. The reason for the expression is to be found in the writer's intention to specify only the first principles of the gospel, in which the Christian was still on common ground with the Jew (of. John 14:1 , "Ye believe in God, believe also in me"). The four fundamental doctrines follow.
No standing still in religion.
This thought underlies the whole passage. To pass into God's kingdom means to move with it. It is impossible to maintain a halt in the Christian life; to stand still is to fall away.
I. THE DUTY OF PRESSING ON UNTO PERFECTION . ( Hebrews 6:1-3 ) This perfection is twofold:
It is sinful to remain only a babe in Christ, and. to have no wish to grow. Note, that to "leave the first principles" does not mean to abandon them. Rather, we are to leave them as a tree leaves its root, and yet never lets it go; as a full-grown man leaves slops for solid food, and yet does not abjure the use of milk; as a building leaves its "foundation" ( Hebrews 6:1 ), and yet rests its whole weight upon it. When the foundation-principles are once securely laid, that work should be regarded as settled and done with; what remains is, to proceed with the superstructure. The apostle instances, in Hebrews 6:1 and Hebrews 6:2 , a few of the elementary principles, connecting them together in couples.
1. Two inward experiences. ( Hebrews 6:1 ) Repentance and faith, being indispensable to the very beginning of the life of piety, occupy a primary place among the foundation-doctrines of Christianity.
2. Two outward ceremonies. ( Hebrews 6:2 ) Rites and forms are merely the external framework of religion. Advanced piety uses them only as means and helps to spirituality.
3. Two future eyelets. ( Hebrews 6:2 ) The doctrines of the resurrection and of the judgment, with its eternal issues, are rudimentary doctrines; because the idea of responsibility to the Supreme is one of the simplest conceptions connected with religion. Of such elements as these six was "the simple gospel" composed in the apostolic age. If to our minds these clauses savor of "strong meat" rather than of "mill" is not that an indication that Christians in these times are troubled with weak digestion? We need grace to appreciate the apostle's admonition ( Hebrews 6:1 ) and to realize the hope which he expresses ( Hebrews 6:3 ).
II. THE DANGER OF SHRINKING BACK UNTO PERDITION . ( Hebrews 6:4-8 ) These verses drop from the apostle's pen like live thunderbolts. There is a solemnity in them which it is impossible to exaggerate. This passage is confessedly difficult—to all, at least, who accept the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. As we believe, however, that this doctrine is very clearly taught in Scripture, both by our Lord and his apostles, the declension here referred to must be that of professed believers who were never true believers. Notice, then:
1. The lofty privileges which apostates may enjoy. ( Hebrews 6:4 , Hebrews 6:5 ) An unrenewed man may be well instructed in the doctrines of grace, may enjoy the study of saving truth, may experience the operations of the Spirit, may be filled with the happiness which the gospel brings ( Matthew 13:20 ), and may even obtain glimpses of the eternal glory. But these attainments will avail him nothing so long as he remains unrenewed. That faith is spurious and ephemeral which is based only upon the moral evidence of the truth, and which is not connected with genuine conversion to God.
2. The aggravated wickedness which apostates may commit. ( Hebrews 6:6 ) They may "fail away" finally and irretrievably. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Sooner or later the unfruitful field will be covered with a harvest of "thorns and thistles" ( Hebrews 6:8 ). False professors may abandon the gospel to return to Judaism, or to plunge into atheism, or to sink into immorality, or to degenerate into worldliness. And in the bitterness of their malice against the cross in which they once professed to glory, such persons take rank with the long succession of those who in their lives repeat spiritually the dreadful crime of Calvary.
3. The fearful destruction into which apostates may fall. ( Hebrews 6:6 , Hebrews 6:8 ) Deliberate apostasy from Christ, on the part of one who has known him intimately, destroys by a natural law the very capacity for repentance and spiritual life. Confirmed impenitence extinguishes the eyes of the soul, and makes the heart "past feeling." High-handed, malicious resistance of the Holy Spirit, culminating in outspoken blasphemy of himself and his work,—that is the unpardonable sin. Those who commit such wickedness are "rejected" even here; and their final doom shall resemble that of the barren land, "whose end is to be burned."
Learn, in conclusion, that—in spite of all appearances—only he is a Christian who has undergone the new birth, and who is living the new life of likeness to Christ, which flows from it.
A summons to Christian progress.
"Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ," etc. Our subject has two main branches.
I. THE BEGINNING ALREADY MADE IN CHRISTIANITY . Here are six first principles or elements of Christianity, with which those persons to whom this letter is addressed are supposed to be acquainted. These elementary principles may be classified in three groups of two in each group.
1. " Repentance from dead works ." Expositors differ as to whether these are the works of the Law, or the works of sin, which indicate spiritual death and lead on to eternal death. Probably the writer means the observances of the moral and ceremonial laws of the Jews, by which they sought to attain unto righteousness and to commend themselves unto God. And in our own times there are those who endeavor by the performance of righteous and praiseworthy actions to merit acceptance with God. Such works are dead unless they spring from a heart in vital sympathy with God. Repentance from these works is the renunciation of them as a ground of acceptance with God, and the withdrawal of our faith from them.
2. " Faith toward God. " That this is the Christian faith in God is clear from the earlier clause—" the principles of the doctrine of Christ." Probably, as Alford suggests, the best exposition of this faith in God is found in the words of St. Paul: "To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, iris faith is reckoned for righteousness" ( Romans 4:5 ). It is faith in God as revealed in Jesus Christ. And as by repentance the Christian abandons the dead works of the Law as a reason for his acceptance with God, so by this faith he enters into vital and saving relation to the living God.
3. " The teaching of baptisms, " or washings. There are three, or more, interpretations of this clause. That the baptisms are
The nature and significance of these washings in their relation to Christianity would certainly be taught to Jewish converts to the Christian faith. The chief point for us is this, that all these washings and baptisms were symbols of spiritual cleansing. The one essential baptism, which is also the fulfillment of all other baptisms, is that of the Holy Spirit.
4. " The teaching of the laying on of hands. " This may mean, as Alford says, "the reference and import of all that imposition of hands, which was practiced under the Law, and found in some cases its continuance under the gospel." To us, however, it seems more probable that it indicates the impartation of spiritual gifts, and especially the gift of the Holy Ghost, of which the laying on of hands was the outward symbol, as in Acts 8:15-17 ; Acts 19:6 ; 1 Timothy 4:14 ; 2 Timothy 1:6 .
5. "The teaching of resurrection of the dead. " This doctrine was brought into clear light by the great Teacher. "The hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice," etc. ( John 5:28 , John 5:29 ). The apostles also declared it: "There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust." Our Lord's resurrection forcibly confirmed the doctrine.
6. " The teaching of eternal judgment. " A future and general judgment is certain. Jesus Christ pictorially described it ( Matthew 25:31-46 ). St. Paul asserted it: "God hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness," etc; "We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ Each one of us shall give account of himself to God." This judgment is characterized as "eternal," probably because it is "part of the proceedings of eternity, and thus bearing the character and stamp of eternal." Its awards, moreover, are eternal ( Matthew 25:46 ). Now, these six things belong to the beginning of Christian teaching and life; they are "first principles of the oracles of God." And they are to be left. How? Not in the sense of discarding them, but of advancing beyond them. Or, as in the figure employed in the text, they constitute a foundation, and are to be left behind as the foundation of a building is left as the superstructure rises towards completeness. "When we have once become settled in the first principles of our religion," says John Howe, "we need not be always exposing them to a continual extort
3. Maturity of Christian conduct. The truth apprehended by the intellect and experienced in the heart, must be expressed in the life and practice. Growing religious faith and feeling should be manifested by words and actions of ever-increasing conformity to the holy will of God. In this respect let us imitate the example of St. Paul: "[Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect," etc. ( Philippians 3:12-14 ).—W.J.
I. NOTICE THE FIRST PRINCIPLES OF THE TEACHING WHICH THESE BELIEVERS HAD ENJOYED . The foundations had been laid in those essential truths which embraced" faith toward God," whose constant presence, glorious character, and matchless love in Christ Jesus shone upon their souls, and displaced the chili and darkness of unbelief. This led to the rejection of "dead works," which were works that had no life of God in them. Then followed the doctrine of baptisms; and they were taught the difference between proselyte baptism, the baptism of John, and that which was administered in "the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." The "laying on of hands" was the solemn consecration of the candidate to God; and in the apostolic times was the ceremony connected with the gift of the Holy Ghost and the communication of supernatural powers ( Acts 8:17 ). "The resurrection of the dead" was declared with explicitness, and the solemn event of the final judgment enforced, in which our Lord would review the life and determine the future condition of mankind. These truths involved many others which were needful to complete the course, and doubtless embraced the atonement of our Lord, the work of the Holy Spirit, personal and social means of grace, which consist of prayer, worship, and the celebration of the Lord's Supper. From such a foundation there should arise the stable fabric of a noble life.
II. THE EXHORTATION TO ADVANCE DEPENDENT UPON THE DIVINE PERMISSION , The inspired writer places himself among other believers, and associates his purpose and hope to advance with them in the career of that spiritual improvement which shall be crowned with final success. He avows that opportunity and disposition depend upon God alone. It might be that some to whom he wrote had gone so far back and had relapsed into such conditions of neglect and apostasy that he could not positively affirm that they would be awakened to a nobler life and an ardent pursuit of salvation. The bodily life of himself and others was totally dependent upon the will of God, and even at the longest it was as a vapor, that appeareth for a little while and then vanisheth away. Since there are signs in the Epistle that Jewish Christians had "no continuing city," and the predicted overthrow and destruction of Jerusalem might come suddenly, and the opportunities of teaching and worship might be rudely and finally ended, it behooved him to refer to the permission of God that he and ethers might press on to completer knowledge, larger faith, and nobler service.—B.
Pressing forward to the end.
It is obvious that the two leading words of this passage are those respectively rendered "principles" and "perfection." They indicate the beginning and the end. Every right ἀρχὴ looks forward, as a matter of course, to a τελειότης : and. every true τελειότης , when looked into, reveals a right ἀρχή . Hence we have—
I. THE RIGHT STARTING - POINT . Presuming that perfection is wanted, we must start rightly; and there is here indicated, somewhat in detail, what that right start is. True, there is to us some obscurity in the detail. We cannot be sure of the exact meaning of each of the expressions, but of the great general drift there can be no doubt. The Hebrew had been for centuries in expectation of the Christ. The beginning of the Christ was really an immemorial thing. The Anointed of God, bringing in his train all good things, had been proclaimed by Divine messengers and. accepted by the people. And here in these details, called a foundation, are set forth the acts showing the acceptance of the Christ. Note how these details can be classified. There is what we turn from, and what we turn toward. In the proclamation of the Christ a summons to repentance was always implied. Turn away from dead works. Works of the hand, and not of the heart, were superstitious externalities. But if a man is to turn away effectively from useless endeavors, he must have some definite point to which to turn. And so there is the mention of trust in God as well as repentance. These are the two really important points in considering the start of a man's connection with Christ. Promptly, decidedly, and from the heart, he must forsake dead works; and in the same spirit he must trust in the living God.
II. THE CONTINUAL AIM . Completeness as an actual thing must ever be before the mind. "Onward and upward" is the burden of the New Testament everywhere. Foundations are laid that buildings may be erected on them, story climbing above story, till at last, roofed and furnished, they are ready for habitation and use. Very hard work was it to get these Hebrews to see how the old dispensation was only the foundation of the new. They did not like to lose sight of familiar institutions and symbols. But in this they were very much like the man who should keep to childish things. Jesus himself had his time of initiation. He needed not to repent from any dead works, yet he came to John to be baptized along with the sinning, repentant crowd. And when he had entered on his work, with what steadiness he went on! There was no standing still. Every day not only brought him nearer in time to the accomplishment of his decease at Jerusalem, but fitted him for that accomplishment; and so he was able to say, "It is finished." The peril in our case is that we shall go on and on, and when the time comes that we also should say, "It is finished," there will be nothing to show but foundations. And if foundations are foundations and nothing more, then they are really not even foundations. They are but melancholy bits of waste, on which is written, "This man began to build, and was not able to finish."—Y.