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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Bible Commentary

Hebrews 5

Verses 1-14




"Having then a great High-priest, Who hath passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high-priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but One that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need. For every high-priest, being taken from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can bear gently with the ignorant and erring, for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity; and by reason thereof is bound, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no man taketh the honour unto himself, but when he is called of God, even as was Aaron. So Christ also glorified not Himself to be made a High-priest, but He that spake unto Him,

Thou art My Son, This day have I begotten Thee:

as He saith also in another place,

Thou art a Priest for ever After the order of Melchizedek.

Who in the days of His flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and having been heard for His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which He suffered; and having been made perfect, He became unto all them that obey Him the Author of eternal salvation; named of God a High-priest after the order of Melchizedek."-- Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 5:1-10 (R.V.)

The results already gained are such as these: that the Son, through Whom God has spoken unto us, is a greater Person than the angels; that Jesus, Whom the Apostle and the Hebrew Christians acknowledge to be Son of God, is the representative Man, endowed, as such, with kingly authority; that the Son of God became man in order that He might be constituted High-priest to make reconciliation for sin; and, finally, that all the purposes of God revealed in the Old Testament, though they have hitherto been accomplished but partially, will not fall to the ground, and will remain in higher forms under the Gospel.

The writer gathers these threads to a head in Hebrews 4:14. The high-priest still remains. If we have the high-priest, we have all that is of lasting worth in the old covenant. For the idea of the covenant is reconciliation with God, and this is embodied and symbolised in the high-priest, inasmuch as he alone entered within the veil on the day of atonement. Having the high-priest in a greater Person, we have all the blessings of the covenant restored to us in a better form. The Epistle to the Hebrews is intended to encourage and comfort men who have lost their all. Judaism was in its death-throes. National independence had already ceased. When the Apostle was writing, the eagles were gathering around the carcase. But when all is lost, all is regained if we "have" the High-priest.

The secret of His abiding for ever is His own greatness. He is a great High-priest; for He has entered into the immediate presence of God, not through the Temple veil, but through the very heavens. In Hebrews 8:1 the Apostle declares this to be the head and front of all he has said: "We have such an High-priest" as He must be "Who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens." He is a great High-priest because He is a Priest on a throne. As the representative Man, Jesus is crowned. His glory is kingly. But the glory bestowed on the Man as King has brought Him into the audience-chamber of God as High-priest. The kingship of Jesus, to Whom all creation is subjected, and Who sits above all creation, has made His priestly service effectual. His exaltation is much more than a reward for His redemptive sufferings. He entered the heaven of God as the sanctuary of which He is Minister. For if He were on earth, He would not be a Priest at all, seeing that He is not of the order of Aaron, to which the earthly priesthood belongs according to the Law.[64] But Christ is not entered into the holy place made with hands, but into the very heaven, now to be manifested before the face of God for us.[65] The Apostle has said that Christ is Son over the house of God. He is also High-priest over the house of God, having authority over it in virtue of His priesthood for it, and administering His priestly functions effectually through His kingship.[66]

The entire structure of the Apostle’s inferences rests on the twofold argument of the first two chapters. Jesus Christ is a great High-priest; that is, King and High-priest in one, because He unites in His own person Son of God and Son of man.

One is tempted to find an intentional antithesis between the awe-inspiring description of the word of God in the previous verse and the tender language of the verse that follows. Is the word a living, energising power? The High-priest too is living and powerful, great and dwelling above the heavens. Does the word pierce to our innermost being? The High-priest sympathises with our weaknesses, or, in the beautiful paraphrase of the English Version, "is touched with a feeling of our infirmities." Does the word judge? The High-priest can be equitable, inasmuch as He has been tempted like as we are tempted, and that without sin.[67]

On the last-mentioned point much might be said. He was tempted to sin, but withstood the temptation. He had true and complete humanity, and human nature, as such and alone, is capable of sin. Shall we, therefore, admit that Jesus was capable of sin? But He was Son of God. Christ was Man, but not a human Person. He was a Divine Person, and therefore absolutely and eternally incapable of sin; for sin is the act and property of a person, not of a mere nature apart from the persons who have that nature. Having assumed humanity, the Divine person of the Son of God was truly tempted, like as we are. He felt the power of the temptation, which appealed in every case, not to a sinful lust, but to a sinless want and natural desire. But to have yielded to Satan and satisfied a sinless appetite at his suggestion would have been a sin. It would argue want of faith in God. Moreover, He strove against the tempter with the weapons of prayer and the word of God. He conquered by His faith. Far from lessening the force of the trial, His being Son of God rendered His humanity capable of being tempted to the very utmost limit of all temptation. We dare not say that mere man would certainly have yielded to the sore trials that beset Jesus. But we do say that mere man would never have felt the temptation so keenly. Neither did His Divine greatness lessen His sympathy. Holy men have a wellspring of pity in their hearts, to which ordinary men are total strangers. The infinitely holy Son of God had infinite pity. These are the sources of His power to succour the tempted,--the reality of His temptations as He was Son of man, the intensity of them as He was Son of God, and the compassion of One Who was both Son of God and Son of man.

Our author is wont to break off suddenly and intersperse his arguments with affectionate words of exhortation. He does so here. It is still the same urgent command: Do not let go the anchor. Hold fast your profession of Christ as Son of God and Son of man, as Priest and King. Let us draw nearer, and that boldly, unto this great High-priest, Who is enthroned on the mercy-seat, that we may obtain the pity which, in our sense of utter helplessness, we seek, and find more than we seek or hope for, even His grace to help us. Only linger not till it be too late. His aid must be sought in time.[68] "Today" is still the call.

Pity and helping grace, sympathy and authority--in these two excellences all the qualifications of a high-priest are comprised. It was so under the old covenant. Every high-priest was taken from among men that he might sympathise, and was appointed by God that he might have authority to act on behalf of men.

1. The high-priest under the Law is himself beset by the infirmities of sinful human nature, the infirmities at least for which alone the Law provides a sacrifice, sins of ignorance and inadvertence.[69] Thus only can he form a fair and equitable judgment[70] when men go astray. The thought wears the appearance of novelty. No use is apparently made of it in the Old Testament. The notion of the high-priest’s Divine appointment overshadowed that of his human sympathy. His sinfulness is acknowledged, and Aaron is commanded to offer sacrifice for himself and for the sins of the people.[71] But the author of this Epistle states the reason why a sinful man was made high-priest. He has told us that the Law was given through angels. But no angel interposed as high-priest between the sinner and God. Sympathy would be wanting to the angel. But the very infirmity that gave the high-priest his power of sympathy made sacrifice necessary for the high-priest himself. This was the fatal defect. How can he bestow forgiveness who must seek the like forgiveness?

In the case of the great High-priest, Jesus the Son of God, the end must be sought in another way. He is not so taken from the stock of humanity as to be stained with sin. He is not one of many men, any one of whom might have been chosen. On the contrary, He is holy, innocent, stainless, separated in character and position before God from the sinners around Him.[72] He has no need to offer sacrifice for any sin of His own, but only for the sins of the people; and this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law makes mere men, beset with sinful infirmity, priests; but the word of the oath makes the Son Priest, Who has been perfected for His office for ever.[73] In this respect He bears no resemblance to Aaron. Yet God did not leave His people without a type of Jesus in this complete separateness. The Psalmist speaks of Him as a Priest after the order of Melchizedek, and concerning Christ as the Melchizedek Priest the Apostle has more to say hereafter.[74]

The question returns, How, then, can the Son of God sympathise with sinful man? He can sympathise with our sinless infirmities because He is true Man. But that He, the sinless One, may be able to sympathise with sinful infirmities, He must be made sin for us and face death as a sin-offering. The High-priest Himself becomes the sacrifice which He offers. Special trials beset Him. His life on earth is pre-eminently "days of the flesh,"[75] so despised is He, a very Man of sorrows. When He could not acquire the power of sympathy by offering atonement for Himself, because He needed it not, He offered prayers and supplications with a strong cry and tears to Him Who was able to save Him out of death. But why the strong cries and bitter weeping? Can we suppose for a moment that He was only afraid of physical pain? Or did He dread the shame of the Cross? Our author elsewhere says that He despised it. Shall we say that Jesus Christ had less moral courage than Socrates or His own martyr-servant, St. Ignatius? At the same time, let us confine ourselves strictly to the words of Scripture, lest by any gloss of our own we ascribe to Christ’s death what is required by the exigencies of a ready-made theory. "Being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground."[76] Is this the attitude of a martyr? The Apostle himself explains it. "Though He was a Son," to Whom obedience to His Father’s command that He should lay down His life was natural and joyful, yet He learned His obedience, special and peculiar as it was, by the things which He suffered.[77] He was perfecting Himself to be our High-priest. By these acts of priestly offering He was rendering Himself fit to be the sacrifice offered. Because there was in His prayers and supplications, in His crying and weeping, this element of entire self-surrender to His Father’s will, which is the truest piety,[78] His prayers were heard. He prayed to be delivered out of His death. He prayed for the glory which He had with His Father before the world was. At the same time He piously resigned Himself to die as a sacrifice, and left it to God to decide whether He would raise Him from death or leave His soul in Hades. Because of this perfect self-abnegation, His sacrifice was complete; and, on the other hand, because of the same entire self-denial, God did deliver Him out of death and made Him an eternal Priest. His prayers were not only heard, but became the foundation and beginning of His priestly intercession on behalf of others.

2. The second essential qualification of a high-priest was authority to act for men in things pertaining to God, and in His name to absolve the penitent sinner. Prayer was free to all God’s people and even to the stranger that came out of a far country for the sake of the God of Israel’s name. But guilt, by its very nature, involves the need, not merely of reconciling the sinner, but primarily of reconciling God. Hence the necessity of a Divine appointment. For how can man bring his sacrifice to God or know that God has accepted it unless God Himself appoints the mediator and through him pronounces the sinner absolved? It is true, if man only is to be reconciled, a Divinely appointed prophet will be enough, who will declare God’s fatherly love and so remove the sinner’s unbelief and slay his enmity. But the Epistle to the Hebrews teaches that God appoints a high-priest. This of itself is fatal to the theory that God needs not to be reconciled. In the sense of having this Divine authorization, the priestly office is here said to be an honour, which no man takes upon himself, but accepts when called thereunto by God.[79]

How does this apply to the great High-priest Who has passed through the heavens? He also glorified not Himself to become High-priest. The Apostle has changed the word.[80] To Aaron it was an honour to be high-priest. He was authorized to act for God and for men. But to Christ it was more than an honour, more than an external authority conferred upon Him. It was part of the glory inseparable from His Sonship. He Who said to Him, "Thou art My Son," made Him thereby potentially High-priest. His office springs from His personality, and is not, as in the case of Aaron, a prerogative superadded. The author has cited the second Psalm in a previous passage[81] to prove the kingly greatness of the Son, and here again he cites the same words to describe His priestly character. His priesthood is not "from men," and, therefore, does not pass away from Him to others; and this eternal, independent priesthood of Christ is typified in the king-priest Melchizedek. Before He began to act in His priestly office God said to Him, "Thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." When He has been perfected and learned His obedience[82] by the things which He suffered, God still addresses Him as a High-priest according to the order of Melchizedek.


[64] Hebrews 8:4.

[65] Hebrews 9:24.

[66] Cf. Hebrews 10:21.

[67] Hebrews 4:15


[68] eukairon (Hebrews 4:16).

[69] Hebrews 5:1-2.

[70] metriopathein.

[71] Leviticus 16:6.

[72] Hebrews 7:26.

[73] Hebrews 7:28.

[74] Hebrews 5:10-11.

[75] Hebrews 5:7.

[76] Luke 22:44. The genuineness of the verse is not quite certain.

[77] Cf. John 10:18.

[78] apo tês eulabeias (Hebrews 5:7).

[79] Hebrews 5:4.

[80] timên (Hebrews 5:4); edoxasen (Hebrews 5:5).

[81] Hebrews 1:5.

[82] tên hypakoên (Hebrews 5:8).

Verses 11-14



"Of Whom we have many things to say, and hard of interpretation, seeing ye are become dull of hearing. For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food. For every one that partaketh of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But solid food is for full-grown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil. Wherefore let us cease to speak of the first principles of Christ, and press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the teaching of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit. For as touching those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then fell away, it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame. For the land which hath drunk the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them for whose sake it is also tilled, receiveth blessing from God: but if it beareth thorns and thistles, it is rejected and nigh unto a curse; whose end is to be burned."-- Hebrews 5:11-14; Hebrews 6:1-8 (R.V.).

In one of the greatest and most strange of human books the argument is sometimes said "to veil itself," and the sustained image of a man battling with the waves betrays the writer’s hesitancy. When he has surmounted the first wave, he dreads the second. When he has escaped out of the second, he fears to take another step, lest the third wave may overwhelm him. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews has proved that Christ is Priest-King. But before he starts anew, he warns his readers that whoever will venture on must be prepared to hear a hard saying, which he himself will find difficult to interpret and few will receive. Hitherto he has only shown that whatever of lasting worth was contained in the old covenant remains and is exalted in Christ. Even this truth is an advance on the mere rudiments of Christian doctrine. But what if he attempts to prove that the covenant which God made with their fathers has waxed old and must vanish away to make room for a new and better one? For his part, he is eager to ascend to these higher truths. He has yet much to teach about Christ in the power of His heavenly life.[83] But his readers are dull of hearing and inexperienced in the word of righteousness.

The commentators are much divided and exercised on the question whether the Apostle means that the argument should advance or that his readers ought to make progress in spiritual character.[84] In a way he surely means both. What gives point to the whole section now to be considered is the connection between development of doctrine and a corresponding development of the moral nature. "For the time ye ought to be teachers."[85] They ought to have been teachers of the elementary truths, in consequence of having discovered the higher truths for themselves, under the guidance of God’s Spirit. It ought to have been unnecessary for the Apostle to explain them. At this time the "teachers" in the Church had probably consolidated into a class formally set apart, but had not yet fallen to the second place, as compared with the "prophets," which they occupy in the "Teaching of the Twelve Apostles." A long time had elapsed since the Church of Jerusalem, with the Apostles and elders, had sat in judgment on the question submitted to their decision by such men as Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and James.[86] Since then the Hebrew Christians had degenerated, and now needed somebody--it mattered little who it might be,[87]--to teach them the alphabet[88] of Christian doctrine.

Philo had already emphasised the distinction between the child in knowledge and the man of full age and mature judgment. St. Paul had said more than once that such a distinction holds among Christians. Many are carnal; some are spiritual. In his writings the difference is not an external one, nor is the line between the two classes broad and clear. The one shades into the other. But, though we may not be able to determine where the one begins and the other ends, both are tendencies, and move in opposite directions. In the Epistle to the Hebrews the distinction resembles the old doctrine of habit taught by Aristotle. Our organs of sense are trained by use to distinguish forms and colours. In like manner, there are inner organs of the spirit,[89] which distinguish good from evil, not by mathematical demonstration, but by long-continued exercise[90] in hating evil and in loving holiness. The growth of this spiritual sense is connected by our author with the power to understand the higher doctrine. He only who discerns, by force of spirited insight, what is good and what is evil, can also understand spiritual truths. The difference between good and evil is not identical with "the word of righteousness." But the moral elevation of character that clearly discerns the former is the condition of understanding also the latter.

"Wherefore"--that is, inasmuch as solid food is for full-grown men--"let us have done[91] with the elementary doctrines, and permit ourselves to be borne strongly onwards[92] towards full growth of spiritual character."[93] The Apostle has just said that his readers needed some one to teach them the rudiments. We should have expected him, therefore, to take it in hand. But he reminds them that the defect lies deeper than intellectual error. The remedy is not mere teaching, but spiritual growth. Apart from moral progress there can be no revelation of new truths. Ever-recurring efforts to lay the foundation of individual piety will result only in an apprehension of what we may designate personal and subjective doctrines.

The Apostle particularises. Repentance towards God and faith in God are the initial graces.[94] For without sorrow for sin and trust in God’s mercy God’s revelation of Himself in His Son will not be deemed worthy of all acceptation. If this is so, the doctrines suitable to the initial stage of the Christian life will be--

(1) the doctrine of baptisms and of laying on of hands, and

(2) the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgment.

Repentance and faith accept the gospel of forgiveness, which is symbolised in baptism, and of absolution, symbolised in the laying on of hands. Again, repentance and faith realise the future life and the final award; the beginning of piety reaching forth a hand, as runners do, as if to grasp the furthest goal before it touches the intermediate points. Yet every intermediate truth, when apprehended, throws new light on the soul’s eschatology. In like manner civilization began with contemplation of the stars, long before it descended to chemical analysis, but at last it applies its chemistry to make discoveries in the stars.

This, then, is the initial stage in the Christian character,--repentance and faith; and these are the initial doctrines, baptism, absolution, resurrection, and judgment. How may they be described? They all centre in the individual believer. They have all to do with the fact of his sin. One question, and one only, presses for an answer. It is, "What must I do to be saved?" One result, and one only, flows from the salvation obtained. It is the final acquittal of the sinner at the last day. God is known only as the merciful Saviour and the holy Judge. The whole of the believer’s personal existence hovers in mid-air between two points: repentance at some moment in the past and judgment at the end of the world. Works are "dead," and the reason why is that they have no saving power. There is here no thought of life as a complete thing or as a series of possibilities that ever spring into actuality, no thought of the individual as being part of a greater whole. The Church exists for the sake of the believer, not the believer for the sake of the Church. Even Christ Himself is nothing more to him than his Saviour, Who by an atoning death paid his debt. The Apostle would rise to higher truths concerning Christ in the power of His heavenly life. This is the truth which the story of Melchizedek will teach to such as are sufficiently advanced in spirituality to understand its meaning.

But, before he faces the rolling wave, the Apostle tells his readers why it is that, in reference to Christian doctrine, character is the necessary condition of intelligence. It is so for two reasons.

First, the word spoken by God in His Son has for its primary object, not speculation, but "righteousness."[95] Theology is essentially a practical, not a merely theoretical, science. Its purpose is to create righteous men; that is, to produce a certain character. When produced, this lofty character is sustained by the truths of the Gospel as by a spiritual "food," milk or strong meat. Christianity is the art of holy living, and the art is mastered only as every other art is learned: by practice or experience. But experience will suggest rules, and rules will lead to principles. The art itself creates a faculty to transform it into a science. Religion will produce a theology. The doctrine will be understood only by the possessor of that goodness to which it has itself given birth.

Second, the Apostle introduces the personal action of God into the question. Understanding of the higher truths is God’s blessing on goodness,[96] and destruction of the faculty of spiritual discernment is His way of punishing moral depravity.[97] This is the general sense and purport of an extremely difficult passage. The threatened billow is still far away. But before it rolls over us, we seem to be already submerged under the waves. Our only hope lies in the Apostle’s illustration of the earth that bears here thorns and there good grain.

Expositors go quite astray when they explain the simile as if it were intended to describe the effect on moral character of rightly or wrongly using our faculty of knowledge. The meaning is the reverse. The Apostle is showing the effect of character on our power to understand truth. Neither soil is barren. Both lands drink in the rain that often comes upon them. But the fatness of the one field brings forth thorns and thistles, and this can only mean that the man’s vigour of soul is itself an occasion of moral evil. The richness of the other land produces plants fit for use by men, who are the sole reason for its tillage.[98] This, again, must mean that, in the case of some men, God blesses that natural strength which itself is neither good nor evil, and it becomes a source of goodness. We come now to the result in each case. The soil that brings forth useful herbs has its share of the Creator’s first blessing. What the blessing consists in we are not here told, and it is not necessary to pursue this side of the illustration further. But the other soil, which gives its natural strength to the production of noxious weeds, falls under the Creator’s primal curse and is nigh unto burning. The point of the parable evidently is that God blesses the one, that God destroys the other. In both cases the Apostle recognises the Divine action, carrying into effect a Divine threat and a Divine promise.

Let us see how the simile is applied. The terrible word "impossible" might indeed have been pronounced, with some qualification, over a man who had fallen under the power of evil habits. For God sets His seal to the verdict of our moral nature. To such a man the only escape is through the strait gate of repentance. But here we have much more than the ordinary evil habits of men, such as covetousness, hypocrisy, carnal imaginations, cruelty. The Apostle is thinking throughout of God’s revelation in His Son. He refers to the righteous anger of God against those who persistently despise the Son. In the second chapter[99] he has asked how men who neglect the salvation spoken through the Lord can hope to shun God’s anger. Here, he declares the same truth in a stronger form. How shall they escape His wrath who crucify afresh the Son and put Him to an open shame? Such men God will punish by hardening their hearts, so that they cannot even repent. The initial grace becomes impossible.

The four parts of the simile and of the application correspond.

First, drinking in the rain that often comes upon the land corresponds to being once enlightened, tasting of the heavenly gift, being made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and tasting the good word of God and the powers of the world to come. The rain descends on all the land and gives it its natural richness. The question whether the Apostle speaks of converted or unconverted men is entirely beside the purpose, and may safely be relegated to the limbo of misapplied interpretations. No doubt the controversy between Calvinists and Arminians concerning final perseverance and the possibility of a fall from a state of grace is itself vastly important. But the question whether the gifts mentioned are bestowed on an unconverted man is of no importance to the right apprehension of the Apostle’s meaning. We must be forgiven for thinking he had it not in his mind. It is more to the purpose to remind ourselves that all these excellences are regarded by the Apostle as gifts of God, like the oft-descending rain, not as moral qualities in men. He mentions the one enlightenment produced by the one revelation of God in His Son. It may be compared to the opening of blind eyes or the startled waking of the soul by a great idea. To taste the heavenly gift is to make trial of the new truth. To be made partakers of the Holy Ghost is to be moved by a supernatural enlightening influence. To taste the good word of God is to discern the moral beauty of the revelation. To taste the powers of the world to come is to participate in the gifts of power which the Spirit divides to each one severally even as He will. All these things have an intellectual quality. Faith in Christ and love to God are purposely excluded. The Apostle brings together various phases of our spiritual intelligence, the gift of illumination, which we sometimes call genius, sometimes culture, sometimes insight, the faculty that ought to apprehend Christ and welcome the revelation in the Son. If these high gifts are used to scoff at the Son of God, and that with the persistence that can spring only from the pride and self-righteousness of unbelief, renewal is impossible.

Second, the negative result of not bringing forth any useful herbs corresponds to falling away.[100] God has bestowed His gift of enlightenment, but there is no response of heart and will. The soul does not lay hold, but drifts away.

Third, the positive result of bearing thorns and thistles corresponds to crucifying to themselves the Son of God afresh and putting Him to an open shame. The gifts of God have been abused, and the contrary of what He, in His care for men, intended the earth to produce, is the result. The Divine gift of spiritual enlightenment has been itself turned into a very genius of cynical mockery. The Son of God has already been once crucified amid the awful scenes of Gethsemane and Calvary. The agony and bloody sweat, the cry of infinite loneliness on the Cross, the tender compassion of the dying Jesus, the power of His resurrection--all this is past. One bitterness yet remains. Men use God’s own gift of spiritual illumination to crucify the Son afresh. But they crucify Him only for themselves.[101] When the sneer has died away on the scoffer’s lips, nothing is left. No result has been achieved in the moral world. When Christ was crucified on Calvary, His death changed for ever the relations of God and men. When He is crucified in the reproach of His enemies, nothing has been accomplished outside the scoffer’s little world of vanity and pride.

Fourth, to be nigh unto a curse and to be given in the end to be burned corresponds to the impossibility of renewal. The illustration requires us to distinguish between "falling away" and "crucifying the Son of God afresh and putting Him to an open shame."[102] The land is doomed to be burned because it bears thorns and thistles. God renders men incapable of repentance, not because they have fallen away once or more than once, but because they scoff at the Son, through Whom God has spoken unto us. The terrible impossibility of renewal here threatened applies, not to apostasy (as the early Church maintained) nor to the lapsed (as the Novatianists held),[103] but to apostasy combined with a cynical, scoffing temper that persists in treading the Son of God under foot. Apostasy resembles the sin against the Son of man; cynicism in reference to the Son of man comes very near the sin against the Holy Ghost. This sin is not forgiven, because it hardens the heart and makes repentance impossible. It hardens the heart, because God is jealous of His Son’s honour, and punishes the scoffer with the utter destruction of the spiritual faculty and with absolute inability to recover it. This is not the mere force of habit. It is God’s retribution, and the Apostle mentions it here because the text of the whole Epistle is that God has spoken unto us in His Son.

But the Hebrew Christians have not come to this.[104] The Apostle is persuaded better things of them, and things that are nigh, not unto a curse, but unto ultimate salvation. Yet they are not free from the danger. If we may appropriate the language of an eminent historian, "the worship of wealth, grandeur, and dominion blinded the Jews to the form of spiritual godliness; the rejection of the Saviour and the deification of Herod were parallel manifestations of the same engrossing delusion."[105] That the Christian Hebrews may not fall under the curse impending over their race, the Apostle urges them to press on unto full growth of character. And this he and they will do--he ranks himself among them, and ventures to make reply in their name. But He must add an "if God permit." For there are men whom God will not permit to advance a jot higher. Because they have abused His great gift of illumination to scoff at the greater gift of the Son, they are doomed to forfeit possession of both. The only doomed man is the cynic.


[83] Hebrews 5:11.

[84] Hebrews 6:1.

[85] Hebrews 5:12.

[86] Acts 15:1-41

[87] tina (Hebrews 5:12).

[88] stoicheia.

[89] aisthêtêria.

[90] gegymnasmena.

[91] aphentes (Hebrews 6:1).

[92] pherômetha.

[93] teleiotêta.

[94] themelion.

[95] Hebrews 5:13.

[96] Hebrews 6:7.

[97] Hebrews 6:8.

[98] di’ hous.

[99] Hebrews 2:3.

[100] parapesontas (Hebrews 6:6). Cf. pararyômen (Hebrews 2:1).

[101] heautois.

[102] Apart from the exigencies of the illustration, the change from the aorist participle to the present participles tells in the same way. It is extremely harsh to consider anastaurauntas and paradeigmatizontas to be explanatory of parapesontas. The former must be rendered hypothetically: "They cannot be renewed after falling away if they persist in crucifying," etc.

[103] The apostates, or deserters, were not identical with the lapsed, who fell away from fear of martyrdom. Novatian refused to restore either to Church privileges. The Church restored the latter, but not the former. Cf. Cyprian, EP 55 : ad fin.

[104] Hebrews 6:9.

[105] Dean Merivale, Romans under the Empire, Hebrews.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Hebrews 5". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary".