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( HEBREWS 6:4-6) In our last article we attempted little more than an explication of the terms used in Hebrews 6:4-6. Lack of space prevented us from throwing upon these verses the light which other portions of God’s Word affords, yet this is necessary if we are to form anything like a true and adequate conception of the particular characters which are there in view. One chief reason why students of Scripture continue to experience difficulty in ascertaining the meaning of any verse therein, is because they fail to prayerfully and patiently compare “spiritual things with spiritual” ( 1 Corinthians 2:13).
All of us are in far too much a hurry, and for this reason miss the best of what God has provided — true both of temporal and spiritual things.
Probably few of our readers considered that we had succeeded in clearing away all the difficulties raised by this solemn passage, therefore the need of a further article thereon.
On the present occasion we propose to take up our passage more from a topical viewpoint than an expository, seeking (as God may be pleased to graciously enable) to open up more fully that in it which has caused the most trouble, namely, the precise relation of the Holy Spirit to the characters therein mentioned. They who “fall away” and whom it is “impossible to renew again unto repentance”, are said to have been “made partakers of the Holy Spirit”. We ask now, On what has the Spirit wrought? What was the character of His work toward them? How had they been made “partakers” of Him? To what extent? This leads us to point out that Scripture reveals a twofold working of God’s Spirit with men: with the elect, and with the non-elect. It is of the latter we shall here treat.
First, He works upon the understanding. There are in all men natural faculties of understanding, will, and affection. A man could not love God unless he had in him the faculty of affection — a stone could never love God! So a man could never understand spiritual things unless he had the faculty of understanding. With the elect, the Holy Spirit “renews” the understanding ( Romans 12:2 compared with Titus 3:5); but with the non-elect, He only enlightens or educates it. The understanding of fallen and unregenerate men, which is enlightened by the Spirit, is capable of knowing, in some measure, both the Godhead, and parts of His law. Let us give Scripture proof of this.
In Romans 1:18 we read of men who “hold the truth in unrighteousness”, and what is there referred to is explained in what follows: “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made: His eternal power and Godhead” (verses 19, 20). The reference there, as the later verses show, is to the Heathen. Now what we would press upon the attention of the reader is, that in addition to poor fallen nature, God has granted to men a manifestation of Himself; that which “may be known of God”, which He “hath showed unto them”. It is not merely that creation reveals a Creator, but that the Creator has revealed Himself — “when they knew God” (verse 21), and that must have been by the Spirit’s enlightening their natural understanding.
Again, in Romans 2:14,15 we read, “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness”.
The Holy Spirit is speaking here of men according to “nature”, not grace.
The understanding in man, or the principle of reason, may, by education and contact with others, be developed to a considerable extent, so that a man may become exceeding wise; nevertheless, his knowledge and wisdom is only natural, even though his understanding be exercised upon supernatural objects. But let now the light of reason and the light of conscience be brought to the Scriptures for instruction, and man’s knowledge will be much further increased, yet still his light is but natural, it rises not to the level of what grace produces. Proof of this is seen in the case of the Jews: “Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God; and knowest His will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; and are confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness” ( Romans 2:17-19).
How like thousands of unregenerate souls in Christendom today!
From the last-quoted passage we learn what is the effect of the light of nature (reason) being brought to the law of God: it is increased and improved. As we have seen above, a man has some light by nature that there is a God; let that light be brought to Scripture, and he becomes “confident” there is. A man by nature has some light about the duties which God requires of him; let him bring that light to the Scriptures and he will have “the form (systematized) of knowledge, and of the truth in the law” ( Romans 2:20). When the understanding of the natural man is illumined by the Scriptures, his light is both ratified and added unto, yet is it still natural light which he has; it is but the educating of his natural reason.
Second, the Holy Spirit works upon the affections of the natural man.
There is in fallen man a natural devotion to a deity. This is evidenced by the fact that practically all of the heathen worship some god or other. In Acts 13:50 we read of “devout women” being stirred up against Paul and Barnabas: they had a devotion in them which is common to mankind.
Now let men bring their natural devotion to the Scriptures and they will come to know of the true God, and learn to reverence Him too; yet is that only nature improved. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit may (usually, does) convince its reader that the Maker of heaven and earth is the true God, and therefore worthy of honor and homage. The fact is, though very few indeed recognize it, the identical principle which causes a Hindu to worship Buddha, causes the Anglo-Saxon to worship the Father of Jesus Christ.
Again; there is in every sinner the natural recognition that his sins deserve eternal death, and that God, unless He be appeased, will punish him.
Doubtless many of our readers will feel inclined to call into question this last statement; let our appeal again be to the Word of Truth. There we read, “Who, knowing the judgment of God, that they might commit such things are worthy of death” ( Romans 1:32).
That, be it noted, is said of the heathen. No bring one having such knowledge to the law of God, and what will follow? This, “But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things” ( Romans 2:2).
There it is the Jews speaking. The natural man enlightened from the Word has his conviction deepened.
Again, if a man is conscious of his sins, and realizes that the justice of God calls for their punishment, is it not natural for him to think next of a mediator , to desire someone to intercede for him with God? Such a concept is by no means a sure evidence of regeneration.
This too is found in mere nature. Every heathen religion, with the propitiatory offerings which are brought to their gods, exemplifies it.
Romanism with its mediating priests demonstrates the same fact in this land. Illustrations are also to be found in the Holy Scriptures. When Pharaoh was convicted of his sins, he entreated Moses to intercede for him ( Exodus 10:16,17). So too wicked Simon Magus desired Peter to pray for him ( Acts 8:24).
Once more; there is in the heart of every natural man a desire for happiness, and for a greater happiness than this poor world can provide. It is plainly evident that man rests not in anything down here, for like a bee which goes from one flower to another, so the heart of man cannot be satisfied with any earthly object. When Balaam saw the blessedness of God’s people, he exclaimed, “Let me die the death of the righteous” ( Numbers 23:10). The most abandoned wretch does not want to go to hell, and to the very end he hopes that he will be taken to heaven.
There is such self-love and self-flattery in the fallen heart that if an unregenerate man hears, out of the Word of God, the good news that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, he at once concludes that he is the man God will honor, as wicked Haman imagined that he was the man king Ahasuerus would honor. So when the Holy Spirit has terrified a man’s conscience, by giving it a sight of sin before a holy God, when he learns about remission of sins through Christ, he at once fondly imagines that his own sins are pardoned. Alas, in the vast majority of cases it has to be said, “the pride of thine heart hath deceived thee” (Obadiah 3).
Now let us take note of how the Holy Spirit may work upon there natural principles of the human soul, mightily raising them, and yet not changing a man’s heart. Just as the rays of the sun shining upon plants in a garden adds no new nature to them, but serves to aid their best development, so the Holy Spirit when He deals with the reprobate communicates nothing new to them, yet raises their natural faculties to their highest point. The principles or faculties of man’s soul are capable of being wrought upon without the impartation of regenerating grace. As we have seen, man’s understanding is illuminated by the light of conscience, but let the Holy Spirit — without imparting a new eye — still further enlighten that conscience, bring before it the exalted claims of the thrice holy God, and its knowledge will be greatly increased. Nevertheless, this educated conscience falls far below the level of the spiritual discernment possessed by one who has been brought out of death into life. Let us particularize: 1. THE SPIRIT RESTRAINS THE CORRUPTIONS OF MEN.
In Genesis 20:6 we read of how God bound the lust of Abimeleck when Sarah was at his mercy, “I also withheld thee from sinning against Me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her”. So in 2 Peter 2:20 we read of some “having escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”, yet from what follows in the next two verses it is clear they were never regenerated. There the apostle uses the similitude of a sow being washed from her filth, and being kept for a while, after she is washed, from going back again into the mire; yet is there no changing or “renewing” of the swine’s nature.
Contrast now what is said of the Lord’s people in 2 Peter 1:3,4, “According as His Divine power hath given unto us all things pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust”.
In 2 Peter 2:20, the Greek word for the “pollutions” of the world, signifies the gross and outward defilements into which the irreligious run; but in 2 Peter 1:4, the regenerated are said to have escaped “the corruption” that is in the world through lust or “desire”, i.e. the inward disposition toward evil. Moreover, the Lord’s people are made “partakers of the Divine nature”, which means, the Divine image is stamped upon them: “life and godliness” are seen in them.
Again; in the similitude used in 2 Peter 2:20, the apostle likens those who have known “the way of righteousness” to a dog that has been made sick, but which turns to its own vomit again. The figure is very striking and forcible. When the Holy Spirit brings the Word of God to bear upon an unregenerate man’s conscience, he is made sick at heart. Of Christians it is said, “For ye have not received the Spirit of bondage again to fear” ( Romans 8:15), but to the non-elect He often becomes a Spirit of “bondage” by binding their sins upon their conscience. Whereas before they had a glimmering light that the judgment of God is against sinners, their conscience now is set on fire, and the temporary consequence is that sins are refused with loathing, vomited out. Yet, like a dog, such a one loves them still, and ultimately returns thereto. 2. THE SPIRIT CAUSES MEN TO TURN NATURALLY TOWARD THE REDEEMER.
When conscience is wrought upon by a few sparks of God’s wrath falling upon it, what saith the soul next? This, O for a physician! There is, as we have pointed out above, a natural principle in men which causes them to make use of a mediator unto God — a witch-doctor, a priest, or a preacher, as the case may be. Now a man who has lived under the sound of the Gospel learns that Christ is the one Mediator. Scriptural education has taught him this, just as the heathen education teaches a Turk that Mahomet is the one mediator. And, by the same principle that Agrippa believed Moses and the prophets, the unregenerate “Christian” (?) believes in Christ. Nay further, the light of the Spirit shining upon him, as the sun on the plants, develops his natural understanding and causes him to now remember that Redeemer which before he ignored.
A scripture clearly to the point of what we have just said above is Psalm 78:34,35, “When He slew them, then they sought Him: and they returned and enquired early after God. And they remembered that God was their Rock, and the high God their Redeemer”.
Yet what immediately follows? This, “Nevertheless they did flatter Him with their mouth”. And what signifies this “flattering”? Why, they sought Him merely out of self-love, simply because they felt their very lives were in imminent danger. There is a seeking out of friendship, out of love to the object. But if one seek unto an enemy because he hath need of him, that is but “flattery” or self-love. So if sinful man feels he is in extremity, if his conscience remains sick, mere nature will call for the Physician.
Self-love is the predominant principle in the natural man: he loves himself more than he loves God; it is this which lies at the root of depravity and sin. Now when a man’s conscience is convicted so that he perceives his need of a physician, and recognizes that happiness comes from Christ, such good news appeals to his self-love. Satan, who knows human nature so well was right when he said, “skin for skin yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life” ( Job 2:4). Make the self-love of the natural man conscious of the wrath of God, and he is ready to “accept Christ”, or do anything else which the preacher bids him; yet that is only the workings of nature, he is still unregenerate.
When the storm arose and threatened to sink the ship in which Jonah lay asleep we read, “Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god”; then the captain awoke Jonah and said. “Arise, call upon thy God, if so be God will think upon us that we perish not” ( Hebrews 1:5,6).
Add to this, the craving for happiness which self-love ever seeks, and hearing that such happiness is to be found only in Christ, little wonder that multitudes seek Him now for what they can get from Him, as of old they sought Him for the sake of the loaves and fishes.
What was their response? This, “Then they said unto Him, Lord, evermore give us this bread”. Yet their eager request sprang not from a renewed heart, but from the corrupt spring of self-love. Proof of this is found in the immediate sequel. In verse 36 the Lord tells them plainly, ye “believe not”.
In verse 41 we are told that they “murmured at Him”. Yet that very same people said to the Lord, “Evermore give us this Bread”! Ah, all is not gold that glitters.
An enlightened understanding, moved by self-love, is prepared to take up Divine duties never practiced before, yea, to walk in the commandments of God. This was demonstrated plainly at Sinai. When Jehovah appeared before Israel in His awesome majesty, and their conscience was smitten by His manifested holiness, they said to Moses, “Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say; and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear and do”. They were prepared to receive and obey the Lord’s statutes. Yet mark what God said of them, “Oh, that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always”. They still lacked the principle of regeneration! 3. THE SPIRIT ELEVATES THE NATURAL FACULTIES OF MAN.
Just as the shining of the sun causes plants to grow higher and fruits to be sweeter than would be the case were the heavens to remain cloudy and overcast, so the Spirit works upon the faculties of the unregenerate and causes them to bring forth that which left to themselves they would not produce. Or, just as fire will raise the temperature and level of water, causing it to bubble up and ascend in steam, though the principle of heat is in the fire and not in the water, for when the fire is withdrawn the water returns to its natural coldness again; so the Spirit enlightens the understandings of the non-elect, stirs their affections, and moves their wills to action, without communicating a new principle to them, without regenerating them.
He elevates the understanding. In Numbers 24:2 we read that the Spirit of God came upon Balaam, the consequence of which he has told us: “The man who had his eyes shut, but now opened, hath said: he hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling but having his eyes opened: How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy tabernacles, O Israel!” (verses 3-5).
Thus Balaam had a vision of the Almighty, and perceived the blessed estate of His people; yet was he still unregenerate!
He elevates the affections. In 1 Samuel 11:1-3 we read of how the enemies of Jehovah insulted His people. Then we are told, “And the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard these tidings, and his anger was kindled greatly” (verse 6).
That was holy indignation, yet it proceeded from a reprobate! As the winds blowing upon the sea will, at times, raise its waters to a great height, so the Spirit, under a faithful sermon, will blow upon the affections of the unregenerate, and elevate them to nobler objects and occupations. Yet, He stops short of making them new creatures in Christ Jesus.
Again; as we have seen, there is in man a natural desire for real happiness, hence, when Christ is presented in the Gospel, many receive Him “with joy”; yet, are they, for the most part, but stony-ground hearers, destitute of any root of vital godliness ( Matthew 13:20,21). Nature may be so raised by the light which the Holy Spirit brings to it, that unregenerate men may taste of the heavenly gift, Christ, see John 4:10. So too they are enabled to taste of the “powers of the world to come”. As in their conscience, they get a taste of Hell, and so know for a certainty that there is a Hell, the same natural principle which desires a happiness which is beyond this world, is confirmed and comforted when they have a “taste” of what belongs to the world to come.
The Holy Spirit is the Author of all moral and civil righteousness which there is in the world. The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus to issue a proclamation for the building of His house ( Ezra 1:1,2); and He also moved Caiaphas to prophesy of Christ ( John 11:51). Of wicked Herod we read that, when he heard John “he did many things, and heard him gladly” ( Mark 6:20). And God will be no man’s Debtor: every act of obedience, performed by him in obedience to His Word, shall be rewarded: a temporary joy shall be the portion of such. The tragic thing is that so many conclude from such an experience that they are in a state of grace, and therefore become loud in their professions of assurance, being fully persuaded that they are really born-again persons.
Now we trust that what has been said will enable some of our readers to understand the better what is found in Hebrews 6:4-6. One eminent commentator suggested that these verses describe neither the regenerate nor the unregenerate, but a third condition, midway between; because there must be a third state between that of mere nature and that of supernatural grace. Nor are we at all surprised that he arrived at this conclusion. Few indeed have perceived the force of 1 Corinthians 12:6, “And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all”.
There are operations of the Spirit upon men’s hearts which are above nature, which are works of Divine power, which produces that in and from unregenerate men which leads multitudes of them to fondly imagine that they have been actually born again, and yet this work of the Spirit falls far short of that “exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe” ( Ephesians 1:19). Hebrews 6:4-6 supplies a most striking example of this, for there we have men who are made “partakers of the Holy Spirit”.
There we see a work which is above nature, for they taste of the “heavenly Gift”. It is a work of power, for they taste of the “powers of the world to come”. As 1 Corinthians 12:4 tells us, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit”. And why is this? 1 Corinthians 12:11 answers, “But all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will”: He proportions His power as He pleases, to an inferior or a superior work. Note carefully, there are “good gifts” from above, as well as “perfect gifts” ( James 1:17)!
Of old Jehovah said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” ( Genesis 6:3). There we find the Spirit putting forth power upon man, for He “strives” with him; yet, not in the fullness of His power, or it had not been resisted. In other cases He puts forth power and men yield thereto (as did Balaam), yet is that power simply directed to the winding up of man’s natural faculties to their greatest height, and comes far short of regenerating them. This is clearly illustrated in the parable of the Sower.
There is the stony-ground hearer, who received the Word with joy, yet falls away in time of persecution. There is also the thorny-ground hearer, who withstands persecution, and brings forth fruit, yet not “to perfection”. And both of them represent unregenerate souls.
And why does God put forth His power upon the reprobate, yet not the “exceeding greatness” of His power? God has seen well to test men in various ways. First, He gave them the light of nature, the work of the law written in their hearts, augmented by the light of conscience — a light which enabled men to know there was a God and of their duties toward Him. And Socrates, who knew nothing of the Scriptures, went so far as to die for the truth that there was One God. But this light of nature did not regenerate men, nor enable them to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.
Again; He tried the Jews with His Law. He would make it evident how far the light of nature, improved by the light of His Law, would go. And let it not be forgotten that of Israel under the Law it is said. “Thou gavest also Thy good Spirit to instruct them” ( Nehemiah 9:20). Nevertheless, the law was “weak through the flesh” ( Romans 8:3): it could not bring forth that which was truly spiritual. And just as God gave Socrates as the highest product of what the light of nature could produce, so He gave Saul of Tarsus — a man who walked blamelessly ( Philippians 3:6) — as the highest product under the Law.
But now He is trying men with the Gospel, to show how far human nature as such can go. That Gospel is accompanied with the Spirit, and Hebrews 6:4-6 shows us the highest point which can be attained under it, by man in the flesh. He may be enlightened, renewed unto repentance, enjoy the Word of God, be made a partaker of the Holy Spirit, and yet apostatize and perish forever. So too the same characters are said to have “done despite unto the Spirit of grace” ( Hebrews 10:26). The tragic thing is that the vast majority in Christendom look upon these inferior workings of the Spirit as evidence of His new-creating grace.
And what, we may enquire, is God’s purpose in these secondary operations of His Spirit? It is manifold. We can barely mention the leading designs.
First , it is to exhibit the excellency of Grace. Every thing in nature hath either its counterfeit or counterfoil. If there are stationary stars, there are also shooting stars. If there are precious stones, there are pebbles which closely resemble yet differ widely from them. The one serves to set off the other. So there is a natural faith — “Many believed in His name when they saw the miracles which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them” ( John 2:23,24); “The demons believe” ( James 2:19) — and there is a supernatural faith, “the faith of God’s elect” ( Titus 1:1), called “precious faith” ( <610101> Peter 1:1)! So there are common operations of the Spirit, and special operations; inferior workings upon the flesh, and superior workings that beget “spirit” ( John 3:6). By virtue of this contrast, God says to each of His elect, See how much I have wrought on mere nature in the reprobate! yet it was not grace; I might have done no more for you, but I showed the “exceeding greatness of My power” ( Ephesians 1:19) toward you.
Second , to show the depravity of human nature. No matter under what trial God places man, that which is born of the flesh remains naught but flesh. The Law was weak through the flesh; so too is the Gospel, notwithstanding the shining of God’s Spirit upon men. The conscience may be convicted, the understanding enlightened, the affections raised, and the will moved, yet it still remains true that “every man at his best state is altogether vanity” ( Psalm 39:5). Men may be instructed in the truth, believe in the living God, “accept Christ as their personal Savior”, contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, and pass among men for devout Christians, yet be no better than “whited sepulchers, full of dead men’s bones”.
Third , to place bounds upon sin. The general workings of God’s Spirit upon the reprobate serve to curb the risings of man’s corrupt nature. As it is His presence here upon earth which hinders the full manifestation of the mystery of iniquity in the appearing of the anti-Christ (2 Thessalonians 2), so His operations upon the non-elect prevent many outbursts of wickedness. In the time of Israel’s apostasy the Holy Spirit (the “glory”) withdrew gradually, stage by stage (Ezekiel 11), so as the apostasy of Christendom increases, the restraining operations of the Spirit are decreasing and hence the rising tide of lawlessness.
Fourth , to afford protection for the elect. God’s flock is only “the little” one ( Luke 12:32), very, very much smaller than is commonly supposed.
Christ Himself declared that only “FEW” are in the Narrow Way which leadeth “unto life” ( Matthew 7:14). Nor must Revelation 7:9 be made to contradict these clear passages; instead, the “great multitude which no man could number” is to be compared with and interpreted by the expressions found in Judges 6:5, 7:12; 2 Chronicles 12:3; Joel 1:6. Now suppose that only the elect had been reformed by the Gospel, and all the rest of the world had remained in utter enmity against it, then the fruits of the Gospel had been too bare, being without leaves. The leaves of a tree, though not fit for the table, are serviceable to the fruit, and ornamental to the tree, for without them the fruit would be exposed to ripen on bare twigs.
An acknowledgement of the doctrine of the Gospel, where it is not accompanied by regeneration of heart, may indeed be suitably compared to the leaves of a tree which shelter and protect the fruit. Thus they are serviceable, though not valuable in God’s account. The leaf of the vine does more good to the grapes against a scorching sun, than the leaf of any other fruit tree — how much we may learn from God’s creatures if only we have eyes to see! So God’s elect have been outwardly shaded by the multitude of nominal Christians around them. For this we may well thank the kind providence of our Lord. Moreover, God has rewarded the doctrinal faith of the great crowd of unregenerate professors by preserving our public liberties, which the little handful of the regenerate could never, humanly speaking, have enjoyed, without the others.
Again; the operations of the Spirit upon the reprobate have shamed the wicked, increased sobriety, promoted morality, and caused nominal professors to support externally the preaching of the Gospel, the carrying on of the ministry, and thus providing for the benefit of common hearers.
This is all useful in its season, but will reap no reward in eternity. The writer most seriously doubts if there be a single church on earth today, having in it sufficient of God’s elect to support a preacher, were all the unregenerate in it excluded.
Yea, most probably, most of God’s own sent-servants, would be so completely dismayed if they could but see into the hearts of those who have a name to live and are dead, that they would be in despair. Yet though we cannot see into the hearts of professors, we can form an accurate idea of what is in them, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh”. And the worldliness and emptiness of the ordinary speech of the majority shows plainly Who is not in their hearts.
We sincerely trust and earnestly pray that it may please our God to strike terror into the souls of many who read this article, that their false peace may be disturbed, and their worthless profession be exposed. Should some of the more thoughtful exclaim with the apostles, “Who then can be saved”? we answer in the words of our Lord, “With men this is impossible” ( Matthew 19:26). Conclusive proof is this, my reader, that no sinner can be saved by any act of his own; and faithfulness requires us to tell you frankly that if your hope of Heaven is resting upon your act of “accepting Christ”, then your house is built upon the sand. But blessed be His name, the Redeemer went on to say, “But with God all things are possible”. “Salvation is of the Lord” ( Jonah 2:9), not of the creature ( Romans 9:16). Then marvel not that Christ said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” ( John 3:3).