6:1 Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, 6:2 teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 6:3 And this is what we intend to do, if God permits.

Vv 1f. The writer lists here six rudiments of the faith, possible drawn from catechetical instruction, and which fall naturally into pairs:-

repentance, faith
baptisms, the laying on of hands
resurrection of the dead, eternal judgement

This gives us ‘some insight into what was regarded as a suitable foundation of Christian teaching in a non-Pauline church, and one which had a Jewish basis.’ (Bruce) The same writer points out that there is little distinctively Christian in this list of elementary teachings. Each item could be found within the faith and practice of an orthodox Jewish community, although all acquire a new significance in a Christian context.

Not laying again the foundation – “Growth in the knowledge of Jesus Christ is not a growing away from the earliest lessons, or a leaving them behind, but a growing up to and into them.” (Alexander Maclaren)

Baptisms – ‘How unnatural are the attempts to explain this plural as referring to Christian Baptism.’ (Alexander Nairne, quoted by Bruce) Apart from the fact that the word is in the plural, the noun used is not baptisma, the word regularly used in the NT for Christian baptism and the baptism, but baptismos, which in its two other NT occurrences (Mk 7:4; Heb 9:10) refers to Jewish ceremonial washings.

Eternal judgment – This expression is of some relevance in the debate about the eternal punishment of the wicked.  It is not plausible to suppose that the author had in a mind a process of judging that goes on for ever.  What is ‘eternal’, then, would be the results of that judgment.  According to Christopher Date, most conditionalists agree that the punishment of the wicked is everlasting, in the following sense:

‘The final punishment of the wicked will not come to an end, to be followed by destruction; rather, their punishment is destruction, and it will last forever.’
6:4 For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 6:5 tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, 6:6 and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt.

Vv 4-6. This is one of a number of warning passages in Hebrews. The others are: Heb 2:1-4; 3:7-4:11; 10:26-31; 12:14-17. Its interpretation has a considerable bearing on the doctrine of perseverance, for the question is raised here as to whether true believers can fall away so as to be irremediably lost.

There are three things here: (a) a class of people described; (b) a statement about these people; (c) a reason given for this statement.

The connection between this passage and the preceding three verses should not be missed; this is indicated by a conjunction (‘For’ in the AV) which is missing in the NIV The sense is that we must press on towards maturity, for it is pointless to go over the first principles of the gospel again, because it is impossible thereby to restore the once-enlightened apostates. John Brown paraphrases thus: ‘”Instead of again laying the foundation – instead of again teaching those who have already been taught, but have forgotten what they learned – “what be the first principles of the oracles of God,” I will proceed to some of the higher branches of Christian instruction; for there is little or no probability of any good result from such an attempt to re-teach those who have willingly unlearned all that has been taught them. They seem in the direct road to open apostasy; and that is a state from which I have no hope that anything I could say would reclaim them.’

Who are these people?

Hebrews 6:4 For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 6:5 tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, 6:6 and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt.

Who are the people being spoken of here?

They could be:

(a) hypothetical cases (e.g. Barnes, Spurgeon, Loane, Spicq) – (turning on the use of the word ‘if’, v6).

Demarest (The Cross and Salvation) cites Berkouwer, who ‘concluded that Hebrews 6 (and the other warning texts) “is an admonition, whose purpose is to lead [the readers] to a more secure walk in the way of salvation.” The writer of Hebrews “does not offer a view concerning the apostasy of the saints, but he comes with his earnest admonition to the endangered Church and calls her to keep the faith and to avoid all toying in her thoughts with possibilities to the right or to the left.”’

Schreiner and Caneday (cited by Marshall, New Testament Theology) also think that the author to the Hebrews writes this as a way of ensuring that his readers do in fact persevere.  The warnings are there ‘to secure the obedience of faith, not to imply possible failure of faith’.

This raises the question of why the writer would set up a warning based on straw men.  George Guthrie: ‘the problem with this position stems from the harshness and repetition of severe warnings in the book (e.g., Heb 2:1–4; 3:6, 14; 4:12–13; 10:26–31, 39; 12:25–29). The author appears to be concerned deeply that there are those associated with the community who indeed could fall away from God. His warnings to them speak of harsh, impending judgment for those who do not heed these exhortations, and the judgments are presented as real, not hypothetical.’

(b) real Christians – This is the view of many Fathers of the early church, Luther, Arminius, Wesley, Marshall, Allen (NAC), Delitzsch, Hewitt, Ellingworth, Lane, .  Marshall argues the New Testament does indeed stress God’s faithfulness towards his people, while at the same time warning them about the real danger of falling away from faith in him.  He suggests that ‘there is a paradox here akin to that of the relationship between divine empowering and human effort in achieving holiness.’

Allen argues forcibly and at length in favour of this view.  ‘How can it be conceivable,’ he asks, ‘that such descriptive phrases as enlightenment, experience of the heavenly gift of salvation, full sharing in the Holy Spirit, sharing in the Word of God and the powers of the coming age, do not have believers as their referent?’

Allen asks: ‘If Heb 6:4–6 refers to mere professors who do not genuinely share in salvation, several questions come to mind. Why would such mere professors be warned of apostasy? One cannot apostatize from something never possessed in the first place.’

According to this view, then, the persons referred to are what might be called ‘backsliders’.  They are truly regenerate, but have lost their relationship with Christ and therefore cannot look forward with hope to their final salvation.  This is the view of Scott McKnight.

George Guthrie responds by suggesting (among other things) that this view fails to take account of the author’s lack of omniscience.  In other words, it assumes that the author knows that all of his readers are true Christians when, if fact, he does not know that.

(c) Kendall (Once Saved, Always Saved) advances the theory that these people are true believers, but what they lose is not salvation, but reward.  So also Yeager.  Of such a view George Guthrie says, ‘the warnings simply are too harsh and specific to tone them down to a loss of reward rather than a loss of salvation.’

(d) temporary or counterfeit Christians (Calvin, Owen, Thomas Watson, Brown, Ryle, Grudem, George Guthrie).  No pronouncement is made on their salvation.  They are people who, in the words of our Lord, ‘believe for a while’.  They have the outward appearance of faith, but fall short of its saving reality.  They are of the same kind as those who ‘went out from us, but they did not really belong to us’ (1 Jn 2:19).

These people ‘may have been instructed in the basics of the faith (Heb 6:4), heard the Word of God and seen his power (Heb 6:5), experienced the convicting influence of the Holy Spirit (Heb 6:4), experienced the blessings associated with God’s salvific activity (Heb 6:4), and even repented publicly (Heb 6:6); but they have not borne fruit (Heb 6:7–8) and, therefore, do not manifest the “better things” associated with salvation (Heb 6:9–10).’

Our author does not know for sure who these people are within the community which he is addressing.  However, it is for him a sufficiently real danger that he more warn them all of their peril.

Calvin: ‘I cannot admit that [there] is any reason why [God] should not grant the reprobate some taste of his grace, why he should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, and in some sort engrave his word on their hearts.… There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up.’

‘The persons here described are persons who have to a certain degree understood and relished the revelation of mercy: like the stony-ground hearers, they have received the word with a transient joy.’ (Owen)

‘The persons here referred to are not mere nominal professors – they have nothing to fall away from but an empty name; neither are they backsliding Christians. They are men who have really had their minds and affections to a very considerable degree exercised about, and interested in Christianity; but who, never having been “renewed in the spirit of their mind,” when exposed to temptation of a peculiar kind, make complete “shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience.”‘ (Brown)

‘The person here described as “falling away” has no characteristics which may not be discovered in unconverted men, while it is not said that he possesses saving faith, and charity, and is elect.’ (J.C. Ryle, Old Paths, 495)

‘These are no doubt people who have been affiliated closely with the fellowship of the church. They have had some sorrow for sin (repentance). They have clearly understood the gospel (they have been enlightened). They have come to appreciate the attractiveness of the Christian life and the change that comes about in people’s lives because of becoming a Christian, and they have probably had answers to prayer in their own lives and felt the power of the Holy Spirit at work, perhaps even using some spiritual gifts in the manner of the unbelievers in Matthew 7:22 (they have become “associated with” the work of the Holy Spirit or have become “partakers” of the Holy Spirit and have tasted the heavenly gift and the powers of the age of come). They have been exposed to the true preaching of the Word and have appreciated much of its teachings (they have tasted the goodness of the Word of God).’ But, despite all these benefits and blessings, in the end the decisively turn away from them.  Despite all appearances, they were never truly converted.  The plea of the author to the Hebrews is that such people embrace new life in Christ before they reach the point of no return.  (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p799)

‘It staggers us to think of the terms of this description as applicable to those who may fall away. They advise us, however, of forces that are operative in the kingdom of God and of the influence these forces may exert upon those who finally demonstrate that they had not been radically and savingly affected by them…The Scripture itself…leads us to the conclusion that it is possible to have very uplifting, ennobling, reforming, and exhilarating experience of the power and truth of the gospel, to come into such close contact with the supernatural forces which are operative in God’s kingdom of grace that these forces produce effects in us which to human observation are hardly distinguishable from those produced by God’s regenerating and sanctifying grace and yet be not partakers of Christ and heirs of eternal life.’ (J. Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, 153)

‘This very severe warning is intended to arouse the readers to a lively sense of the awful danger which faced them, for what they calmly considered to be a return to the faith of their fathers is shown as an act of apostasy from which no recovery is possible. The author hopes to recall them from the brink of disaster by an alarming description of those who totally fall away from the profession of the Christian faith, v9. This class of persons once appeared to be truly regenerate but their subsequent course sadly proved that they had “neither part nor lot in this matter”.’ (Ac 8:21) (Geoffrey Wilson)

‘The sin of apostasy…is a grim (and more than a merely hypothetical) possibility for persons who through identification with the people of God have been brought within the sphere of the divine blessing. They may be baptised, as Simon Magus was, occupied in Christian labours, as Demas was, endowed with charismatic gifts, preachers even, healers of the sick and casters our of demons, and privileged to belong to an inner circle of disciples, as Judas was, Mk 6:12-13; Mt 10:5 ff and yet their heart may be far from the one they profess to serve.’ (Hughes)

Despite the difficulties attached to this interpretation, it would seem to be the one which is most faithful to the text.

It is impossible…to renew them again the repentance – It would be unwise to water down the force of this expression in view of its other uses in this Epistle: Heb 6:18; 10:4; 11:6. These are all absolutes.

‘The word impossible stands at the head of this passage with singular impressiveness. It is made to usher in the list of blessings before we are told to think of them as abandoned.’ (Loane)

‘If the wavering Jewish believers forsake Christ for Judaism they forfeit all possibility of repentance unto life, since they abandon the only basis for salvation, which is Jesus Christ, the effectual high priest.’ (Demarest, The Cross and Salvation, p 459)

F.F. Bruce comments:

Such people are by no means unknown.  The often become the worst opponents of the gospel. , actively trying to dissuade others from accepting it; they are far more difficult to win than raw pagans, and it really does seem “impossible to renew them again unto repentance.”‘ (Answers to Questions, p121)

The four characteristics that follow all seem to describe a person who has undergone full Christian initiation. Note the ‘catalogue of privilege’ (Loane):-

Those who have once been enlightened – A once-for all enlightenment is in mind here. ‘The light of the gospel has broken in upon these people’s darkness, and life can never be the same again; to give up the gospel would be to sin against the light, the one sin which by its very nature is incurable.’ (Bruce) There may well be an allusion to baptism here, as in Eph 5:14; 1 Pet 2:4. To be enlightened with regard to salvation, and not to ‘improve’ that light (as the puritans would say), is to be in peril. Balaam was one who exhibited the characteristics here outlined, Nu 24:3,15,16. But his was a counterfeit, and not a real, faith. The may be a convincing profession of faith where there is no vital possession of Christ. ‘It is impossible to say how far a man may go with Christ, and yet lack the New Birth; he may be so like a christian disciple that no eye save the eye of God can tell that he is not.’ (Loane)

Tasted the heavenly gift – Possibly an allusion to the Lord’s Supper. Cf. Heb 13:10. However, the expression may well refer to ‘the whole sum of spiritual blessings which are sacramentally sealed and signified in the Eucharist.’ (Bruce) Commentators differ as to whether ‘tasted’ here indicates a complete or incomplete appropriation of the gift. The latter is favoured by Owen, Westcott, and others. At any rate, the word is one of experience: (cf. Ps 34:8; 1 Pet 2:3) these people have not only knowledge of the gospel, but have to some degree come under its gracious influences.

‘There is a goodness and excellency in this heavenly gift which may be tasted or experienced in some measure by such as never receive them in their life, power, and efficacy. They may taste, – 1. Of the word in its truth, not its power; 2. Of the worship of the church in its outward order, not in its inward beauty; 3. Of the gifts of the church, not its graces.’ (Owen)

Who have shared in the Holy Spirit – Grudem argues, by analogy with other NT passages, that the idea is that the persons concerned have been ‘associated with’ the Holy Spirit, in the sense that their lives have been influenced by him, but not necessarily savingly so. (Systematic Theology, p798)

A reminder of the common NT emphasis that the Spirit works through the whole community, and not just through certain individuals. Cf. Acts 2:17f; Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 12:7,11; 1 Jn 2:20. Shared in can mean anything from ‘associated with’ to ‘close participation with’. The Holy Spirit here stands for his miraculous gifts and gracious influences. Clearly, the people envisioned here have more than a nodding acquaintance with Christ and the gospel. It has been questioned whether it is possible for a person to have thus ‘shared in the Holy Spirit’ then to apostasise. Heb 10:29 suggests that it may be so; so does the example of Simon Magus, Acts 8:9ff; 18ff. Think also the example of Balaam, and Saul in the OT, and also of the words of our Lord in Mt 7:22f; and of those of Paul in 1 Cor 13:1f.

‘How can it be that he who has once made such a progress should afterwards fall away? For God, it may be said, calls none effectually but the elect, and Paul testifies that they are really his sons who are led by his Spirit, (Rom 8:14) and he teaches us, that it is a sure pledge of adoption when Christ makes us partakers of his Spirit. The elect are also beyond the danger of finally falling away; for the Father who gave them to be preserved by Christ his Son is greater than all, and Christ promises to watch over them all so that none may perish. To all this I answer, That God indeed favours none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and that by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts. But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why he should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace, why he should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, and in some sort engrave his word on their hearts. Otherwise, where would be the temporal faith mentioned by Mk 4:17? There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up.’ (Calvin)

Who have tasted the goodness of the word of God – The expression probably refers here to the gospel, rather than to Scripture itself. Cf. Acts 4:31; 13:5; 1 Pet 1:23,25; 2 Cor 5:19; Acts 13:26; 1 Cor 1:18; 2 Tim 2:9 4:2. That word is ‘good’ because it is beautiful, and true, and life-giving.

Grudem argues that the word ‘tasted’ implies an incomplete experience: ‘Inherent in the idea of tasting is the fact that the tasting is temporary and one might or might not decide to accept the thing that is tasted. For example, the same Greek word (γεύομαι, G1174) is used in Matthew 27:34 to say that those crucifying Jesus “offered him wine to drink, mingled with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.” The word is also used in a figurative sense meaning “come to know something.” If we understand it in this figurative sense, as it must be understood here since the passage is not talking about tasting literal food, then it means that these people have come to understand the heavenly gift (which probably means here that they had experienced some of the power of the Holy Spirit at work) and to know something of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come. It does not necessarily mean that they had (or did not have) genuine saving faith, but may simply mean that they came to understand it and have some experience of spiritual power.’ (Systematic Theology, p797)

The powers – Presumably, miracles of various kinds are meant. Simon Magus had been deeply impressed both the the preaching of the word of God by Philip, and the demonstration of miracles that accompanied that preaching. The possibility that some may even be able to perform miracles in Jesus’ name and yet be finally rejected is taught in Mt 7:22f.

‘Is not the most helpful way to approach the gospel miracles to place them within the familiar and inescapable tension between the already and the not yet, kingdom come and kingdom coming, the new age inaugurated and the new age consummated? To the sceptical (who doubts all miracles) I want to say “but already we have tasted the powers of the age to come.” To the credulous (who think that healing miracles are an everyday occurrence) I want to say “but not yet have we been given resurrection bodies free from disease, pain, infirmity, handicap and death.” In this interim period between the beginning and the end we both look to the outburst of miracles in the ministry of Jesus and his apostles, and on to the final resurrection of both body and universe.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 387f)

The coming age – With the coming of Christ, the blessings of the future are manifested among God’s people in the present age. See 1 Jn 2:8n

‘The note of eschatological fulfilment already under way means that OT eschatology has become, in a measure, present reality for the NT. The ‘last days’ of the prophets have arrived: for Christ ‘was made manifest at the end of the times’; (1 Pet 1:20) God ‘in these last days… has spoken to us by a Son’; (Heb 1:2) Christians are those ‘upon whom the end of the ages has come’; (1 Cor 10:11) ‘it is the last hour’; (1 Jn 2:18) cf. also Acts 2:17; Heb 6:5.’ (NBD)

‘The NT makes a striking modification of the contemporary Jewish division of time into the present age and the age to come. There is still a point of transition in the future between ‘this time’ and ‘the world to come’, (Mk 10:30 Eph 1:21; Tit 2:12-13) but there is an anticipation of the consummation, because in Jesus God’s purpose has been decisively fulfilled. The gift of the Spirit is the mark of this anticipation, this tasting of the powers of the world to come (Eph 1:14; Heb 6:4-6; cf. Rom 8:18-23; Gal 1:4). Hence John consistently stresses that we now have eternal life, zoe aionios. (e.g. Jn 3:36) It is not simply that aionios has qualitative overtones; rather John is urging the fact that Christians now have the life into which they will fully enter by resurrection. (Jn 11:23-25) This ‘overlapping’ of the two ages is possibly what Paul has in mind in 1 Cor 10:11.’ (NBD)

‘Just as the Hebrew spies who returned from their expedition carrying visible tokens of the goodland of Canaan nevertheless failed to enter the land because of their unbelief, so those who had come to know the blessings of the new covenant might nevertheless in a spiritual sense turn back in heart to Egypt and so forfeit the saints’ everlasting rest.’ (Bruce, noting that the wilderness motif might still be in our author’s mind)

The question arises whether this six-fold description of spiritual privilege can possibly refer to the unregenerate; that it is possible for people to come so close to the kingdom of God, and yet have no final home in it. The answer, from Scripture generally, must be ‘Yes’. The present Epistle repeatedly contrasts the example of the unbelieving Israelites (Heb 2:1f; 3:12ff; 4:1f, 11; 10:28ff; 12:25ff) with that of the faithful core (ch. 11). Paul admits that ‘they are not all Israel, which are of Israel’, (Rom 9:6) and the principle holds true in the Christian church also. Wheat and tares grow together until the final harvest. Some of the seed grow vigorously for a while, but fails to come to fruition, Mk 4:1-20. John tells of members of the Christian community who in fact turned out to be anti-christian, 1 Jn 2:19. Our Lord averred that in the last day some would claim to have prophesied, and to have cast out demons in his name, yet the judgement on them would be ‘I never knew you.’. (Mt 7:21-23; 25:11f) It is all too possible to honour God with the lips, when the heart is far from him, Mk 7:1-8. Those who call out, ‘Hosanna’ on one day may just a few days later cry, ‘Crucify him!’

And then have committed apostasy – NIV – ‘If they fall away’.  Allen (NAC) objects to the underlying word does (parapiptō) being translated ‘apostasy’, in the sense of a complete turning away from God.

Some suppose that this is a hypothetical danger only, and that the sin entailed cannot actually be committed. So Spicq. So also Spurgeon, basing his argument on the word ‘if’. Barnes’ comments: ‘It is not an affirmation that any had actually fallen away, or that, in fact, they would do it; but the statement is, that on the supposition that they had fallen away, it would be impossible to renew them again.’

But others argue that we must take this as a real warning of a real danger. ‘Apostasy is a continual danger to the church, and the NT contains repeated warnings against it. (cf. 1 Tim 4:1-3; 2 Thess 2:3; 2 Pet 3:17) Its nature is made clear: falling ‘from the faith’ (1 Tim 4:1) and ‘from the living God’. (Heb 3:12) It increases in times of special trial (Mt 24:9-10; Lk 8:13) and is encouraged by false teachers, (Mt 24:11; Gal 2:4) who seduce believers from the purity of the Word with ‘another gospel’ (Gal 1:6-8; cf. 2 Tim 4:3-4; 2 Pet 2:1-2; Jude 3-4). The impossibility of restoration after deliberate apostasy is solemnly urged.’ (Heb 6:4-6; 10:26) (NBD)

The falling away that is envisaged here is much more than a falling into this or that particular sin, however grievous that sin might be. No: this falling away is a decisive renunciation of the faith which had once been embraced with enthusiasm.

What falling away is: (Heb 6:6)

  1. It is not a falling into this or that actual sin
  2. It is not a falling upon temptation or surprisal
  3. It is not a relinquishment or renunciation of some, though very material, principles of Christian religion, by error or seduction, as the Corinthians fell in denying the resurrection of the dead, and the Galatians by denying justification by faith in Christ alone
  4. It must consist in a total renunciation of all the constituent principles and doctrines of Christianity, whence it is denominated
  5. For the completing of this falling away…it is required that this renunciation be avowed and professed This is the “falling away” intended by the apostle,-a voluntary resolved relinquishment of, and apostasy from, the gospel, the faith, rule, and obedience thereof; which cannot be without casting the highest reproach and contumely imaginable upon the person of Christ himself. (John Owen, Works, Vol 7, p.36)’

Donald McLeod refers to this passage as a ‘notorious crux’, and asserts that here, as elsewhere, systematic theology helps us to avoid faulty exegesis. ‘Prima facie this passage suggests that true believers can commit apostasy. Dogmatics alerts us, however, to the fact that such an interpretation is untenable, and closer examination of the passage itself confirms that it is pointing in the direction of another doctrine altogether – the doctrine of temporary faith.’

Thomas Watson recognises that this passage is used by Arminians against the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance. But, he replies,

The apostle here speaks of hypocrites; he shows how far they may go, and yet fall away.

(1.) They who were once enlightened. Men may have great illuminations, yet fall away. Was not Judas enlightened?

(2.) They have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost; the common gifts of the Spirit, not the special grace.

(3.) They have tasted the good word of God. Tasting here is opposed to eating:the hypocrite may have a kind of taste of the sweetness of religion, but his taste does not nourish. There is a great deal of difference between one that takes a gargle and a cordial:the gargle only washes his mouth – he tastes it, and puts it out again; but a cordial is drunk down, which nourishes and cherishes the spirits. The hypocrite, who has only some smack or taste of religion, as one tastes a gargle, may fall away.

(4.) And have felt the powers of the world to come; that is, they may have such apprehensions of the glory of heaven as to be affected with it, and seem to have some joy in the thoughts of it, yet fall away; as in the parable of the stony ground. Mt 13:20. All this is spoken of the hypocrite; but it does not therefore prove that the true believer, who is effectually wrought upon, can fall away. Though comets fall, it does not follow that true stars fall. That this Scripture speaks not of sound believers, is clear from ver 9: ‘But we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation.

Archer (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties) notes that all four privileges had been experienced by Judas Iscariot, and yet he could not be described as ever having been truly converted.  ‘He had been enlightened and had tasted of the heavenly gift and the goodness of the Word of God as he had sat for three years under the personal teaching of the Lord Jesus. Insofar as he had participated in gospel preaching and the expulsion of demons, he also had been a sharer in the Holy Spirit.’  Moreover, Judas had even ‘tasted of the powers of the coming age…when he came back with the other eleven, exuberantly exulting that in the course of their two-by-two evangelistic campaigns even the demons were subject to them as they preached the Lord Jesus (Luke 10:17).’

It is impossible…to be brought back to repentance – The repentance spoken of here may not be the repentance of a regenerate state (for they could not be restored to that which they never had in the first place) but a being restored to their previous state of mind.

‘The impossibility resides in the apostates themselves, for the complete repudiation of the doctrine which formerly they embraced means that a further preaching of the gospel would be entirely lost upon them.’ (Mt 7:6) (Geoffrey Wilson)

The parable of the sower (Mk 4:3ff and parallels) tells of the rocky-ground hearer, whose growth is vigorous for while, but fails to mature to fruitfulness. It was only when the time of testing came that the difference between this and the good-ground hearer became apparent.

Some commentators take the word in a popular, rather than a strict sense: i.e. making it equivalent to ‘very difficult. So Erasmus & Bengel. Others understand it to mean, ‘impossible for man, but not for God’. So (according to Hughes) Ambrose, Aquinas, Wordsworth, Spicq. Cf. Mk 10:27. Bruce tempers the force of this statement by saying, ‘We know, of course, that nothing of this sort is ultimately impossible for the grace of God, but as a matter of human experience the reclamation of such people is, practically speaking, impossible.’ The impossibility would therefore be from the human side (he is incapable of turning), and experience shows that ‘those who have shared the covenant privileges of the people of God, and then deliberately renounce them, are the mot difficult persons of all to reclaim for the faith…God has pledged himself to pardon all who truly repent, but Scripture and experience alike suggest that it is possible for human beings to arrive at a state of heart and life where they can no longer repent.’

We might well pose the question, ‘Impossible to whom?’ Some things are indeed impossible with God – that he should lie, or that he should clear the guilty. Other things; – many things – are impossible with man. It may be that the writer’s assertion here belongs to the latter category: ‘It is impossible, by any renewed course of elementary instruction, to bring back such apostates to the acknowledgement of the truth.’ (Brown)

Because…they are crucifying the Son of God – Another way of reducing the force of this passage is to read this as, ‘while…they are crucifying the Son of God all over again’. So ARV But to say that they cannot be brought to repentance while they remain unrepentant would be a pointless truism.

This expression implies ‘present, active, continuous, persevering hostility to Christ.’ (Loane) This is not backsliding, be it as severe as that of David, or of Peter. It is determined enmity. It is to act as if they would slay the Son of God all over again. Cf. Heb 10:29.

Crucifying…all over again – Gk. anastauroo. The idea of re-crucifying may not be present in the expression, but rather the idea of crucifying to themselves – i.e., of involving themselves in the guilt that sent the Saviour to the cross. Having professed faith in Christ, they have now joined ranks with his bitterest enemies.

The language of the apostate is “We have known and tried these things, and declare their folly.” Now, no man living can attempt a higher dishonour against Jesus Christ, in his person or in any of his ways, than openly to profess that upon trial of them they find nothing in them for which they should be desired.

“They crucify him again;” they do it as much as in them lieth, and declare that they would actually do it if it were in their power. They call him anathema (1 Cor 12:3) to declare and avow that he was justly crucified as an accursed person, as a public pest. (John Owen, Works, Vol 7, p.49,51)

We are to warn all persons in danger of such apostasies that “if any one so draw back, God’s soul shall have no pleasure in him;” that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God;” that he will harden such sinners, and “give them up to strong delusions, that they may be damned;” that he is not under the engagement of any promise to give them repentance, but hath rather given many severe threatenings to the contrary. He hath told us that such persons are as “trees twice dead, plucked up by the roots,” of which there is no hope; that “denying the Lord that bought them, they bring on themselves swift destruction,-whose damnation slumbereth not;” with the like declarations of severity against them innumerable. (John Owen, Works, Vol 7, p.45)

Subjecting him to public disgrace – ‘To fall is a sin; but to fall away is a greater sin. Apostates cast a disgrace upon religion. ‘The apostate,’ says Tertullian, ‘seems to put God and Satan in the balance; and having weighed both their services, prefers the devil’s, and proclaims him to be the best master.’ In which respect the apostate is said to put Christ to ‘open shame.’ Heb 6:6. This dyes a sin in grain, and makes it greater. It is a sin not to profess Christ, but it is a greater to deny him. Not to wear Christ’s colours is a sin, but to run from his colours is a greater sin. A pagan sins less than a baptised renegade.’ (Thomas Watson)

‘The humbled sinner who pleads guilty, and cries for mercy, can have no ground from this passage to be discouraged, whatever his conscience may accuse him of. Nor does it prove that any one who is made a new creature in Christ, ever becomes a final apostate from him. The apostle is not speaking of the falling away of mere professors, never convinced or influenced by the gospel. Such have nothing to fall away from, but an empty name, or hypocritical profession. Neither is he speaking of partial declinings or backslidings. Nor are such sins meant, as Christians fall into through the strength of temptations, or the power of some worldly or fleshly lust. But the falling away here mentioned, is an open and avowed renouncing of Christ, from enmity of heart against him, his cause, and people, by men approving in their minds the deeds of his murderers, and all this after they have received the knowledge of the truth, and tasted some of its comforts. Of these it is said, that it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance. Not because the blood of Christ is not sufficient to obtain pardon for this sin; but this sin, in its very nature, is opposite to repentance and every thing that leads to it.’ (MHCC)

6:7 For the ground that has soaked up the rain that frequently falls on it and yields useful vegetation for those who tend it receives a blessing from God. 6:8 But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is useless and about to be cursed; its fate is to be burned.

‘In this agricultural metaphor, those who receive final judgment are compared to land that bears no vegetation or useful fruit, but rather bears thorns and thistles. When we recall the other metaphors in Scripture where good fruit is a sign of true spiritual life and fruitlessness is a sign of false believers (for example, Matt. 3:8–10; 7:15–20; 12:33–35), we already have an indication that the author is speaking of people whose most trustworthy evidence of their spiritual condition (the fruit they bear) is negative, suggesting that the author is talking about people who are not genuinely Christians.’ (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p796)

6:9 But in your case, dear friends, even though we speak like this, we are convinced of better things relating to salvation. 6:10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name, in having served and continuing to serve the saints. 6:11 But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of your hope until the end, 6:12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises.

Diligence to the very end – “It is required of us that we give all diligence unto the increase of grace, (2 Pet 1:5-7) and that we abound therein, (2 Cor 8:7) and not only so, but that we ‘show the same diligence unto the end’.” (Heb 6:11) (Owen, III:405)

Early signs of spiritual danger

‘First, we should look for the presence of “thorns and briars” (v. 8). Here Hebrews echoes the words of our Lord in the Parable of the Soils. In some soils (hearts) the good seed of the Word is planted and seems to take root. But in fact the soil is infested with weeds that strangle the fruit of the good seed. “The cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19 NKJV).

‘Second, we should look for the absence of “things that [always] accompany salvation” (v. 9). What are these “things”? They are, surely, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–24). Paul interestingly contrasts verbally the fruit of the Spirit with the works of the flesh. These marks of grace are the natural outcome of regeneration. Furthermore, the Cross has a central place in such a life, for “those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions” (Gal. 5:24 NKJV).

‘The third thing is perhaps the most alarming: The failure to show “diligence” and a tendency to become “sluggish” (vv. 11–12). Earlier the writer had warned how easy it is just to “drift away” (Heb. 2:1). But this drifting happens slowly, and it often goes unnoticed.’

(Sinclair Ferguson)

6:13 Now when God made his promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, he swore by himself, 6:14 saying, “Surely I will bless you greatly and multiply your descendants abundantly.” 6:15 And so by persevering, Abraham inherited the promise. 6:16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and the oath serves as a confirmation to end all dispute.
6:17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 6:18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie.

‘A heathen could say, when a bird, scared by a hawk, flew into his bosom, I will not betray thee unto thy enemy, seeing thou comest for sanctuary unto me. How much less will God yield up a soul unto its enemy, when it takes sanctuary in his name, saying, Lord, I am hunted with such a temptation, dogged with such a lust; either thou must pardon it, or I am damned; mortify it, or I shall be a slave to it; take me into the bosom of thy love, for Christ’s sake; castle me in the arms of thy everlasting strength; it is in thy power to save me from. or give me up into the hands of my enemy; I have no confidence in myself or any other, into thy hands I commit my cause, myself, and rely on thee. This dependence of a soul undoubtedly will awaken the almighty power of God for such a one’s defence. He hath sworn the greatest oath that can come out of his blessed lips, even by himself, that such as thus fly for refuge to hope in him, shall have strong consolation, Heb. 6:17.’ (Gurnall)

6:19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain, 6:20 where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf, since he became a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.

‘Jesus, as our forerunner, has opened up the way for God’s people, who formerly were excluded, so that now in him they have access into the very presence of God, and are encouraged to draw near with full confidence.’ (Hughes)

‘If Christ in his ascension be the forerunner, then are there some to follow after; and not only so, but they which follow are to go in the same way, and to attain unto the same place: and if this forerunner be entered for us, then we are they which are to follow and to overtake him there; as being of the same nature, members of the same body, branches of the same vine, and therefore he went thither before us as the first-fruits before those that follow, and we hope to follow him as coming late to the same perfection.  As, therefore “God hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us up together” by virtue of his resurrection, so hath he also “made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” by virtue of his ascension. [Eph. 2:5, 6]  We are already seated there in him, and hereafter shall be seated by him; in him already as in our head, which is the ground of our hope; by him hereafter, as by the cause conferring, when hope shall be swallowed up into fruition.’ (Pearson, Exposition of the Creed)