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[This, though not adverted to in the text, is necessary to a just view of the subject, and is expressly mentioned in the same connexion in a subsequent part of this epistle'. It is not possible but that such apostates must have experienced on many occasions "the strivings of the Holy Spirit" with them; they must have felt many secret checks and remonstrances of conscience; all of which they must have resisted, before they could prevail upon themselves to throw off their profession of religion, and to "make shipwreck of their faith." In short, they must have altogether "quenched the Spirit," and "seared their consciences as with a hot iron." What prospect then is there that such persons should be renewed unto repentance? If they could not maintain their ground when they had the assistances of the Holy Spirit, how shall they recover it when he is departed from them? And what reason is there to hope that the Holy Spirit, whom they have so "grieved," and "vexed," by their misconduct, should again dwell in them, and increase his gracious communications in proportion as they have accumulated their transgressions? If the contempt which they pour upon this Divine Agent amount to what is called the sin against the Holy Ghost, their damnation is sure; it is decreed in heaven, and sealed by their own act and deed. And, though it fall short of this unpardonable sin, still is their case almost hopeless: they are like " the earth, which, bearing only thorns and briers, is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned."]
This awful subject must not be concluded without a few words of advice—
1. Guard against the means and occasions of apostasy
[He that would not fall must take heed to his steps, and be careful on what ground he treads. Now we are told by God himself, that worldly cares, worldly pleasures, worldly company are the bane of religion; and that we must guard against them all, if we would be steadfast in the faith. We quite mistake, if we think that nothing but what is palpably sinful in itself is dangerous: almost all apostasy arises from secret neglects of duty, and from a want of necessary self-denial. By going to the utmost boundaries of what is lawful, we are easily and imperceptibly drawn into what is unlawful. Therefore watch: watch against error; watch against temptation; watch against the cares and pleasures of life; watch against secret declensions: in short, "let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall."]
2. Be not satisfied with low attainments
[It was to enforce this idea that the warning in the text was introduced by the Apostle: and therefore it demands our peculiar attention. Persons who, like "babes," are weak in the faith, are of course more liable to be turned from it: and if they do not grow towards an adult state, they will certainly decline. "Press forward then, forgetting what is behind, and reaching forth unto that which is before'
3. Under any backsliding, apply instantly to Christ for grace and mercy
[The warning in the text is not to discourage the humble, but to alarm the careless, and quicken the remiss. The Apostle does not say that repenting sinners, however they may have apostatized, shall not be forgiven; the danger is, that they will not repent; and not that, if they repent, they shall not be pardoned. Let not any then say, "I have fallen away, and therefore cannot hope for mercy;" but rather, "I have departed, and must return instantly to God in his appointed way." God himself addresses us, "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings, and love you freely." Let a hope of acceptance aid your fears of final apostasy: so shall the end of God's warnings be best accomplished, and the fulfilment of his promises secured.]
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FRUITFUL AND BARREN
Heb. vi. 7, 8. The earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.
COMPARISONS, when just, have the double effect of illustrating, and of confirming, any truth, which they set before us. They have not indeed the force of demonstration, when considered as arguments: but they are peculiarly calculated to impress the mind; and, in that view, have often a stronger effect than the clearest statements, or most logical deductions. Of this kind is the comparison in the text, which is adduced to illustrate the guilt and
danger of apostasy. It exhibits figuratively, in a way of contrast,
I. The benefit of ordinances when duly improvedWhat is that improvement which God expects us to make of divine ordinances?
[Every one knows what benefit the cultivator of any land expects from showers which water the earth; he expects, whether in his field or garden, an increased production of those fruits which he has been labouring to obtain. And what does the great Husbandman labour to produce in the enclosures of his Church? Surely he looks for augmented penitence and contrition as of primary and indispensable importance
He desires that every child of man be brought to a more simple affiance in his dear Son, and to a more unreserved devotedness of heart and life to his service He desires an increased mortification of all sin, and a progressive fruitfulness in all the fruits of righteousness, and a more perfect transformation into the Divine image
Where his ordinances are made subservient to this end, he will bestow the richest blessings
[There is a peace which passeth all understanding, which God will confer in rich abundance - He will shed abroad his love in the heart of him who thus profitably waits upon him, and will give him such testimonies of his adoption into God's family, as shall dissipate all doubt or fear either of his present acceptance with God, or of his future fruition of the heavenly glory; yea, such testimonies as shall be a foretaste of that glory, a very beginning of heaven in his soul. In fact, whatever the devoutest worshipper in the universe can wish for, it shall be given him in answer to his prayer.]
But it is not to all that divine ordinances are thus blessed, as we shall see from,
II. The sad result of them when habitually misimproved
As in barren lands, so in the Church of God, the showers descend on many in vain
[How many are there who, after years of culture under the richest ordinances, remain as earthly in their minds, as sensual in their habits, and as devilish in their tempers, as the very heathen, who have never once had the means of grace vouchsafed unto them Their hearts are yet sealed
a John xv. 7.
impenitence and unbelief, as much as if they had never heard of the Saviour's love, or received the offers of a free salvation
And what can these expect, but the curse of God upon them?
[A man will not always cultivate a field that requites all his labours with nothing but "thorns and briers:" neither will God always bestow his care on those who hold fast their iniquities, and continue unchanged under all the efforts that are made for their salvation. He has told us that "his Spirit shall not alway strive with man"," and that, " if his word be not a savour of life to the life of any soul, it shall become a savour of death to his death and condemnation." To this effect God warned his Church of olda——— And our blessed Lord has told us that a similar misimprovement of his Gospel will render our state worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrha® — — —] SEE then, brethren,
1. What matter here is for diligent inquiry
[You see, and all around you see, the effects produced on the earth by fertilizing showers: and should not similar effects be found on you? See then whether you have, both in your heart and life, an evidence of the change which the Gospel produces on all who receive it aright, and to whom it comes with power? I must warn you of your responsibility to God for all the means of grace. You do not depart from the house of God the same persons that you were when you came into it. If you are not softened by the word of God, you are hardened by it: and if you are not brought nearer to God by it for the remission of your sins, you are driven farther from him, to your everlasting confusion — —]
2. What reason here is for watchfulness and care
[When you come to the house of God, remember that you come into the more immediate presence of the Deity; and that every word you hear, wings its way to heaven to record the manner in which it was heard. Pray therefore to God before you go thither, and whilst you are there under the ministry of the word, and when you depart thence, that the word preached may be accompanied with a divine energy, and prove" the power of God to the salvation of your souls." And, if at any time a favourable impression be made upon you, beware that you do not lose it. It is in that particular view that the Apostle suggests the comparison in my text: and
b Gen. vi. 5.
e Matt. x. 15.
c 2 Cor. ii. 16.
d Isai. v. 4-6.
I wish very particularly to put you on your guard, that you do not convert the blessing of God into a curse, and render the very means which he has bestowed for the salvation of your souls, into an occasion of deeper and heavier condemnation.]
THE THINGS THAT ACCOMPANY SALVATION.
Heb. vi. 9-11. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.
WHOMSOEVER we address, it is needful that we use at times the language of warning and admonition. For in a mixed assembly all are not alike upright: there will always be found some tares amongst the wheat and even the most upright may derive benefit from counsels faithfully administered. Hence, in addressing the believing Hebrews, St. Paul warned them against the danger of apostasy; declaring, that, if they did not make a just improvement of the privileges they enjoyed, they would bring upon themselves an aggravated condemnation. But did he therefore conceive of them as hypocrites? No; he had a good opinion of their state: "he was persuaded better things concerning them," notwithstanding he thus addressed them: yet, whilst he acknowledged with gratitude their active piety, he urged them to abound in it more and more.
Under a similar persuasion in respect to many of you, and with similar desires in reference to all, we proceed to point out,
1. What are those things which accompany salvation
Many things there are which are common both to the hypocrite and the true believer: but some things