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heaven are continually "desiring to look into." See what was St. Paul's prayer in behalf of the saints at Ephesus, whom he speaks of as eminent for their "faith in the Lord Jesus, and their love to all the saints:" "I cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints; and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward, who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead"." Let this be your prayer for yourselves, my beloved brethren, however advanced ye be in faith and love. In truth, it is by your increase in knowledge that you are to increase in grace: for it is by your "comprehending with augmented clearness the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, by comprehending this, I say, ye are to be filled with all the fulness of God."]
2. Press forward for higher attainments in holi
["This I wish, brethren, even your perfection." Rest not satisfied with any thing short of a perfect transformation into "the Divine image, in righteousness and true holiness." Make this the ultimate object of your knowledge; and employ your knowledge for the production of it. St. Paul's prayer for his brethren at Colosse will serve you as a model for your prayers, and as a standard for your endeavours: "Since the day I heard of your love," says he, "I do not cease to pray for you, and to desire, that ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye may walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father, who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in lights." You will scarcely think yourselves so advanced as the Apostle Paul: yet what does he say of himself? "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those
P Eph. i. 15-20.
I 2 Cor. xiii. 9.
¶ Eph. iii. 18, 19.
s Col. i. 9-12.
things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded." Mark, I pray you : it is to those who are perfect, that he gives this advice. What advice, then, must be given to those who are so far from perfection as we are? Will it become us to stand still? I charge you, brethren, to indulge no listless habits, no selfcomplacent thoughts. Take this holy Apostle for your example: "Let your conversation be in heaven, whither your Lord and Saviour is gone before";" and rest not till you are changed into his image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of your God.]
t Phil. iii. 12-15.
u Phil. iii. 17, 20.
x 2 Cor. iii. 18.
THE DANGER OF APOSTASY.
Heb. vi. 4-6. It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
IT is of great importance, in interpreting the Scriptures, to lay aside human systems, and to attend carefully to the connexion of any passage with the context; because a just view of the general scope of the passage will throw the best light upon any particular expressions contained in it. The words before us are confessedly difficult to be understood: but, if we adopt the mode of interpretation now proposed, we shall not err very materially in our explanation of their import. The Apostle has been reproving the Hebrews for the little progress which they had made in the divine life, considering the length of time since they were first initiated into the knowledge of the Gospel. He complains that, on account of their inability to comprehend him, he scarcely knows how to open to them the deeper mysteries of our religion; which however he must do,
a Heb. v. 11-14,
for the benefit of those who could digest strong meat, and make a due improvement of the truths he should set before them. But, in the meantime, he warns them, that the neglecting to advance in religion is the surest road to apostasy; and that apostasy, after such attainments as they had made, would in all human probability issue in their eternal ruin. Then, illustrating that point by an apt simile, he proceeds to exhort them to put away sloth, and with all diligence to follow those who through faith and patience were now inheriting their promised reward. Hence it appears, that the attainments mentioned in the text are such as were found in persons recently converted and of doubtful character; especially because they are contrasted with other attainments which accompany and manifest a state of salvation'.
In our further illustration of the text, we shall shew,
I. How far men may go in religion, and yet apostatize from it
Confining ourselves to the words before us, we observe, that unstable persons may possess many enviable gifts
[Their minds may be " enlightened" with the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus". There is not any thing which the most eminent saint can know, but it may be known by a hypocrite: the difference between them is not in the matter known, but in the manner of knowing it; the one assenting to it with his head; and the other feeling it in his heart.
Their affections may be moved by hearing and reading "the word of God," and by considering the mysteries of the Christian dispensation, or the realities of "the invisible world"." Their hope, fear, joy, and sorrow may be called forth successively in a very powerful manner, according as they apprehend themselves to be interested in the promises of the Gospel, or obnoxious to its threatenings'.
b Heb. vi. 1—3.
e ver. 11, 12.
g Compare Numb. xxiv.
"The world to come"
See Heb. ii. 5.
с ver. 4-6.
f ver. 9, 10.
d ver. 7, 8.
3, 4. with Heb. x. 26.
may be taken in either of these senses.
i Ezek. xxxiii. 31, 32. Matt. xiii. 20, 21. John v. 35. Mark vi. 20. Acts xxiv. 25.
Their powers may be enlarged, as well for the discharging of duties which their unassisted nature would be unequal to perform, as for the working of miracles, to which no created power is competent. By "the heavenly gift," or the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit, they may make some considerable advances in the divine life*: and through his miraculous agency, "of which they may also be partakers," they may do wonders that shall astonish all who behold them1.
It is observable, however, that the Apostle expresses himself in terms calculated to convey rather a low idea of the attainments of these persons: he speaks of their "tasting of the heavenly gift," and "tasting of the good word of God;" designedly intimating thereby, that they never lived upon the word as the food of their souls, or made religion their great solace and support, but contented themselves with a slight, transient, and superficial taste of both.]
Such persons may certainly become apostates from the truth
[That they may "fall away" from the practice of religion, is evident from the instances of David and others, who, after a long experience of " the power of godliness," have grievously departed from the path of duty. But they may also apostatize from even the profession of the truth. How many are there who "for awhile believe, and, in a time of temptation, fall away." The instance of Demas", if there were no other, is very sufficient to prove, that men may possess, not only gifts, but graces too, and yet "return with the dog to his vomit," and draw back unto perdition"."]
Miserable, indeed, will their situation then become, on account of,
II. The extreme difficulty of renewing them again unto repentance—
To renew them to repentance," is a great and arduous work
[If repentance were no more than a slight conviction of their folly in renouncing the truth, we might hope that a very little experience of the fatal change would bring them to But it implies a total renovation both of the heart and which is a work at all times difficult; but peculiarly so under their circumstances. It is said to be
k 2 Pet. ii. 20.
m Luke viii. 13.
1 Matt. vii. 22. with 1 Cor. xii. 11.
n Col. iv. 14. and Philem. ver. 24. with 2 Tim. iv. 10.
• 2 Pet. ii. 22. Heb. x. 38, 39.
"impossible;" by which we are to understand, not that it is an absolute, but only a moral, impossibility. When our Lord declared that it was "easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven," he explained himself by saying, "With man this is impossible; but with God all things are possible P." Thus, the recovery of such apostates is quite contrary to all reasonable expectation; nor can any thing but a most extraordinary interposition of the Deity effect it.]
What reason is there to hope that it should ever be accomplished in them?
1. The dishonour they do to Christ
[They who renounce Christianity do, in fact, proclaim Christ an impostor: they declare their approbation of the Jews who crucified him; and thus, as far as in them lies, they "crucify him afresh." But we must not confine this to avowed infidels: the same is true respecting those who decline from the ways of God, and return to a worldly and carnal life: "they put Christ to an open shame:" they proclaim to all around them, I once thought that it was my highest interest and happiness to serve Christ: but I was quite mistaken: I made the experiment; I became his follower; I loved him, served him, glorified him; but I found, after all, that I had given up a greater good for a less: I now am assured that Christ cannot make us happy; and, therefore, I have again returned to the world, and chosen it as the better portion and, whoever would be wise or happy, let him follow my example; let him renounce religion as a needless restraint, and despise it as an enthusiastic delusion: let him lend all his powers and faculties to the pursuits of time, and the enjoyments of sense; and let him cast off the yoke of Christ as an intolerable burthen.'
Who can suppose that a man, after having cast such dishonour upon Christ, should ever be brought again to embrace and honour him? While he continues to reject the Saviour, his restoration to repentance is absolutely impossible; because, there is no way to repent, but by returning to Christ. And that he should return unfeignedly to Christ is morally impossible; because his way to Christ is barred up by shame, and fear, and almost every consideration that can influence the human mind
2. The despite they do to the Holy Spirit
9 Matt. xix. 24-26.
q Heb. x. 26, 27.