By F.B. Meyer
"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." (HEBREWS 6.4-6.)
The sacred writer enumerates four fundamental principles: Repentance from dead works, which in the old dispensation was symbolised by divers baptisms, or washings. Faith toward God, typified by the laying of hands on the head of the victim-sacrifices. The Resurrection of the dead, and Eternal Judgment. And then he proposes not to lay them again, but to leave them. There is no thought, however, of deserting them. The great principles on which God saves the soul are identical in every age, and indispensable.
We can only leave them as the child leaves the multiplication-table, when it is well learnt, but which lies at the root of all after-study, as the plant leaves the root when it towers into the majestic shrub, which draws all its life from that low origin; and as the builder leaves the foundation, that he may carry up stone on stone, and leans on the foundation most heavily, when he has left it at the furthest distance below him.
And we are taught the reason why these principles are not laid afresh. It would be useless to do so. It would serve no good purpose. It would leave in the same state as it found them those who had apostatised from the faith.
And so we are led to one of those passages which sensitive spirits have turned to their own torment and anguish, just as men will distil the rankest poison from some of the sweetest flowers.
HOW FAR WE MAY GO, AND YET FALL AWAY. These apostate disciples had been enlightened (verse 4). They had been led to see their sin and danger, the temporary nature of Judaism, the dignity and glory of the Saviour. Other Hebrews might be ignorant, the folds of the veil hanging heavily over their sight, but it could never be so with them, since they had stood in the midst of the Gospel's meridian light, and had been enlightened.
So may it be with us. Not like the savage, crouching before his fetish, or roaming over the wild; not like the follower of Confucius, Buddha, or Mahomet, groping in the twilight of nature or religious guesswork, not like myriads in our own land, whose hearts are as dark as the chaos into which God commanded the primeval beam to shine. We have been enlightened.
We may know that we are sinners. We may have learnt from childhood the scheme of salvation. We may be familiar with the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, into which angels desire to look. And yet we may fall away.
These Hebrews, here referred to, had also tasted of the heavenly gift. What gift is that? I hear a voice, which we know well, speaking from the well of Sychar, and saying: "The water that I will give shall be in you, springing up into everlasting life." It is the life of God in the soul. It is Christ Himself. And He is willing to be in us, like a perennial spring, unstaunched in drought, unfrozen in frost, leaping up, in fresh and living beauty, like some warm spring that makes a paradise in the arctic circle.
But some are content not to receive it, only to taste it. This is what these persons did. They sipped the sweetness of Christ. They had a passing superficial glimpse into His heart. Like Gideon's soldiers, they caught up a few drops in their hands from the river of God, and hastened on their way.
So we may have some pleasure in thoughts of Christ. His sufferings touch, His beauty attracts, His history moves and inspires. But it is only a taste; and yet we may fall away.
They had also been made partakers of the Holy Ghost. It is not said that they had been converted, regenerated, or filled by the Holy Ghost. The expression is a very peculiar one, and it is used because the sacred writer could not affirm any of these things of them, and yet was anxious to show that they had been brought under His gracious influences.
For instance, He had convinced them of sin, had striven with them, had plied them with warning and entreaty, with fear and hope. And they had so far yielded to Him as to give up some of their sins and assume the outward guise of Christianity.
Moreover, they had tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come. The first of these is obviously the Scriptures, and the second is the usual expression for the age in which we live, and which, with all its spiritual forces, was beginning to thrill the hearts of men when these words were penned. They liked a good sermon. The Bible was full of interest and charm. They had heard the prophets, and seen the apostles of the Pentecostal age. All these had been analysed, weighed, and counted. And yet they were in peril of going back. Let us, therefore, beware!
WHAT IS IT TO FALL AWAY? It is something more than to fall. The real child of God may fall, as David or as Peter did, but there is a vast difference between falling and falling away. This latter experience can no more come to a real believer than a second flood of waters to the earth, but it will certainly find out the counterfeit and the sham.
To fall away is to go back from the outward profession of Christianity, not temporarily, but finally; not as the result of some sudden sin, but because the first outward stimulus is exhausted, and there is no true life beating at the heart, to repair or reinvigorate the wasting devotion of the life.
It is to resemble those wandering planets, which never shone with their own light, but only in the reflected light of some central sun, but which, having broken from its guiding leash, dash further and further into the blackness of darkness, without one spark of life or heat or light. It is to return as a dog to its vomit, and as a sow to her filth, because the reformation was only outward and temporary, and the dog or sow natures were never changed through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit.
It is to be another Judas. To commit the sin against the Holy Spirit. To lose all earnestness of feeling, all desire for better things, all power of tender emotion, and to become utterly callous and dead, as the pavement on which we walk, or the rusty armour hanging on the old castle's walls.
WHY IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO RESTORE SUCH TO REPENTANCE. Notice, there is nothing said here of what God can do. The only question is as to the limits of human power, and the ordinary methods of influencing human wills.
Also notice, we are not told that God could not save those who had fallen away, but that it is impossible to hope that a man who has passed through the experiences just described, and has nevertheless apostatised, can be reached or touched by any of those arguments or motives which are familiar weapons in the Gospel armoury.
If the mightiest arguments have been brought to bear on the conscience in vain, if after some slight response, which gave hopes of better things, it has relapsed into the stupor and insensibility of its former state, there remains nothing more to be done.
There is nothing more potent than the wail of Calvary's broken heart, and the peal from Sinai's brow; and, if these have been tried in vain, no argument is left which can touch the conscience and arouse the heart.
If these people had never been exposed to these appeals, there would have been some hope for them, but what hope can there be now, since, in having passed through them without permanent effect, they have become more hardened in the process than they were at first?
Here is a man dragged from an ice-pond, and brought into the infirmary. Hot flannels are at once applied, the limbs are chafed, every means known to modern science for restoring life is employed. At first it seems as if these appliances will take effect. There are twitchings and convulsive movements. But, alas! they soon subside, and the surgeon gravely shakes his head. "Can you do nothing else?" "Nothing," he replies. "I have used every method I can devise; and if these fail, it is impossible to renew again to life."
This passage has nothing to do with those who fear lest it condemns them. The presence of that anxiety, like the cry which betrayed the real mother in the days of Solomon, establishes beyond a doubt that you are not one that has fallen away beyond the possibility of renewal to repentance. If you are still touched by Gospel sermons, and are anxious to repent, and are in godly fear lest you should be a castaway, take heart! These are signs that this passage has no bearing on you. Why make yourself ill with a sick man's medicine?
But if you are growing callous and insensible under the preaching of the Gospel, look into this passage and see your doom, unless you speedily arrest your steps.
THE NATURAL ILLUSTRATION (verse 7). Behold that field, well situated, prepared by careful culture and arduous toil. The good seed is scattered with lavish hand, the rain comes oft upon it, the sunshine kisses it, the seasons, as they pass, woo it to bear fruit. At first it would appear as if it were about to answer the expectations freely entertained.
But see! The show of green which covers its face turns out to be a crop of briars and thorns. The owner for whom it was dressed comes to visit it. "What," cries he, "have you done all you could, this, and that, and the other?" "All," is the reply. Then the decision comes back, stern and sad, "It is useless to expend more time or care. Leave it to its fate. Let no fruit grow on it henceforth and forever."
We may resemble that field, and yet, whilst there is a spark of devotion, a thrill of holy longing, a sigh after a better life, a yearning to be penitent and holy, there is still hope. The great Husbandman will not cast us off, so long as there is one redeeming feature in our condition. He will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. He will not fail, nor be discouraged, until He has made the desert into a garden, and the wilderness like the paradise of God.