Hebrews 6:4-6: The Believer’s Salvation, Secure or Not? A Study in Soteriology Complied by Jack Kettler
Hopefully the reader does not object to commentary evidence. Written commentary by a scholar is fundamentally no different than listening to a sermon on the text. The advantage of a commentary is that it is written and can be more easily examined. In many cases, the commentator is a better trained scholar than the average pastor. The following commentary material is provided for your edification. With your Bible in hand, see if these things are so?
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
6 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.
From the New Testament Commentary on Hebrews by Simon J. Kistemaker:
In chapters 3 and 4 the author of Hebrews discussed the sin of unbelief that resulted in apostasy. Now in one lengthy sentence (6:4–6) he develops that teaching in greater detail. The emphasis in this sentence falls on the main verb to be brought back to repentance (v. 6), which is introduced negatively by the phrase it is impossible.
4. It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5. who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6. if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
Throughout the epistle the writer has admonished his readers to accept the Word of God in faith and not to fall into the sin of unbelief that results in eternal judgment (2:1–3; 3:12–14; 4:1, 6, 11; 10:25, 27, 31; 12:16–17, 25, 29). In 6:4–6 he does not address the recipients of his letter, but instead he states a truth that emerges from an earlier reference to the Israelites’ perishing in the desert because of their unbelief. This truth also applies to the Hebrews, even though the author omits the personal reference in 6:4–6.
Before we discuss the details of the passage, we need to look at the major points that divide the text. We ask three questions.
a. Who are the people mentioned in 6:4–6? They are those characterized by four participles that in the original Greek display poetic rhythm: enlightened, tasted, shared, tasted. There is no particular connection among these participles, although some commentators like to see a sequence of baptism, Lord’s Supper, ordination, and perhaps even proclamation in this verse.
Those who have once been enlightened. From the second century to the present, writers have associated the verb enlightened with baptism. Added weight is given to this interpretation by the restrictive word once. And in the broader context of the passage, the term baptisms does appear in 6:2. We can point out many similarities between baptism and enlightenment. For example, the early Christian practice of scheduling baptisms at daybreak utilizes the symbolism of the receding night of sin and the rising sun that illumines the baptismal candidate, who enters a new life.
But the verb enlightened also has other meanings. The author uses the word again in 10:32, where the expression seems to be synonymous with “knowledge of the truth” (Heb. 10:26). Besides the two occurrences in Hebrews, the verb appears nine times in the New Testament and has a broader meaning than a reference to baptism (Luke 11:36; John 1:9; 1 Cor. 4:5; Eph. 1:18; 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:10; Rev. 18:1; 21:23; 22:5).
Who have tasted the heavenly gift. Suppose that someone has attended the worship services of the church, has made profession of faith, has been baptized, and has taken part in the active life of the church; he has tasted the broken bread and taken the cup offered to him at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Then this new convert has indeed tasted the heavenly gift.
To limit the interpretation of this phrase (“tasted the heavenly gift”) however, is decidedly narrow. The New Testament itself provides a broader explanation. Jesus identifies himself as the “gift of God” when he talks to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:10). Peter designates the Holy Spirit the gift of God (Acts 2:38; 8:20; 10:45; 11:17). And in his epistles, Paul mentions “the gift of grace” and “the gift of righteousness.” He associates these gifts with Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:15, 17; 2 Cor. 9:15; Eph. 3:7; 4:7).
Who have shared in the Holy Spirit. The original Greek indicates the close connection between the preceding clause and this one. In the general context of 6:4, we may see a link between the phrase the laying on of hands (Heb. 6:2) and the sharing in the Holy Spirit, especially if we understand the heavenly gift to be the Holy Spirit.
Sharing in the Holy Spirit implies that this is done in fellowship with other believers. And the Spirit of God manifests himself in various spiritual gifts given to the members of the church (1 Cor. 12:7–11).
Who have tasted the goodness of the word of God. The writer of Hebrews does not specify the extent of the Word, only that the Word is good. When God speaks, man receives a good gift. Once more the writer of Hebrews uses the verb to taste to indicate the enjoyment of receiving this gift. This enjoyment consists in hearing the Scriptures proclaimed and in obtaining spiritual nourishment from that Word.
And the powers of the coming age. The continuation of tasting the Word of God is experiencing the powers of the age to come. First, note that the author uses the plural form powers. That is, they are part of the “signs, wonders and various miracles” that he has mentioned earlier (2:4). These powers belong to the coming age, but already in this age they are evident. The writer does not say what these powers are, although we note that they are directed toward the advancement of the church throughout the world.
The phrase the coming age (with slight variations) occurs only six times in the New Testament: three times in the Gospels (Matt. 12:32; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30) and three times in the Epistles (Eph. 1:21; 2:7; Heb. 6:5). Because the New Testament writers use this phrase rather infrequently, we ought to exercise prudence in interpreting it. In principle we are able to experience in the present age the powers that belong to the future age. When the coming age dawns, we shall fully realize the supernatural powers we now are allowed to observe.
The author of Hebrews has described a number of experiences some persons have had. In a sense he is deliberatively vague, for he merely lists phenomena but does not clarify who experiences them. He continues, however, and relates what happens to these people.
b. What happens to the people mentioned in 6:4–6? The author adds a participle that many translators preface with the conditional particle if.
If they fall away. I am not sure that the author intends to say that the Hebrews will never be apostate. In the preceding chapters he spoke of apostasy and illustrated this by quoting from Psalm 95. The Israelites who in the desert fell away had put blood on the doorpost in Egypt and eaten the Passover lamb; they had left Egypt, consecrated their first-born males to the Lord, and crossed the Red Sea; they could see the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night; they had tasted the waters of Marah and Elim and daily ate the manna God provided; they had heard the voice of God from Mount Sinai when God gave them the Ten Commandments (see Exod. 12–20). Yet these same Israelites hardened their hearts in unbelief, and because of their disobedience they fell away from the living God (Heb. 3:12, 18; 4:6, 11). The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews teaches that apostasy that rises from unbelief results in a hardening of the heart and an inability to repent (3:13; 4:2; 6:6; 10:26; 12:15).
On the other hand, the writer speaks encouraging words to the recipients of his epistle. In the extended context he writes: “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation” (6:9).
What does the passage (6:4–6) mean for the original readers of Hebrews? Does the author merely sound a warning or does he think that the Israelites’ example would be imitated by the people he addresses in his letter? The constant, repetitive, and heartfelt warnings of the author prove conclusively that apostasy can occur (3:12–13; 4:1, 11; 12:15). Repeatedly he places before the readers the responsibility of guarding the spiritual well-being of each other, “so that no one will fall by following their [the Israelites’] example of disobedience” (4:11).
A distinction must be made at this point. The author speaks about falling away, not about falling into sin. For example, Judas fell away from Jesus and never returned to him; Peter fell into sin but soon afterward saw the resurrected Jesus. The two concepts (apostasy and backsliding) may never be confused. In 6:6, the author refers to apostasy; he has in mind the person who deliberately and completely abandons the Christian faith.
Apostasy does not take place suddenly and unexpectedly. Rather it is part of a gradual process, a decline that leads from unbelief to disobedience to apostasy. And when the falling away from the faith happens, it leads to hardening of the heart and the impossibility of repentance. The author, using the example of the Israelites, has shown the process that results in apostasy (3:18; 4:6, 11).
If the Israelites in the days of Moses deliberately disobeyed the law of God and “received its just punishment” (2:2; and see 10:28), “how much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot” (10:29)?
Where do the recipients of the epistle fit into this process? The author chides them for being slow to learn (5:11), lazy (6:12), and feeble (12:12). Constantly he exhorts them to strengthen their faith (4:2; 10:22–23; 12:2). If their faith continues to weaken, they will fall prey to unbelief that leads to disobedience and apostasy.
It is impossible … to be brought back to repentance. We notice at least two items in this passage that are purposely vague. First, in the preceding verses (5:11–6:3) and the following verses (6:9–12), the writer uses the first and second person plural pronouns we and you, but in verses 6:4–6 the third person plural pronouns those and they occur. Second, the subject of the verb to be brought back is missing. The writer does not reveal the identity of the implied agent. Is he saying that God does not permit (6:3) a second repentance? Or does he mean that a person who has fallen away from the living God cannot be restored to repentance because of the sinner’s hardened heart? Although the writer does not provide the answer, we assume that both questions could receive an affirmative response.
The use of the pronoun we in the broader context of 6:4–6 demonstrates that God never fails the believer who in faith trusts in him. God makes “the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised” (6:17), and he does so by swearing an oath. And the heirs of the promise are the author and readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Is the Christian church unable to bring a hardened sinner back to the grace of God? Again the writer does not provide an answer in the context of the passage. In another connection, however, he repeats the general sentiment of 6:4–6 and writes: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left” (10:26). The author does not say anything about restoring a hardened sinner; what he refers to is the impossibility of removing sin because the person sins deliberately. The word deliberately received all the emphasis in the original Greek because it stands first in the sentence. If a person who is familiar with “the elementary teaching about Christ” sins deliberately, restoration by way of repentance is an impossibility.
c. Why is this so? The writer of the epistle gives two reasons: “to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again” and they are “subjecting him to public disgrace.”
Of course the author obviously is using a metaphor; those who have fallen away do not literally crucify the Son of God and put him to open shame. Note that the writer uses not the personal name Jesus or the official name Christ, but rather the appellation Son of God to express on the one hand the divine exaltation of the Son and on the other hand the utter depravity of the sinner who has turned away from, as well as against, the Son of God.
The one who has fallen away declares that Jesus ought to be eliminated. As the Jews wanted Jesus removed from this earth and thus lifted him up from the ground on a cross, so the apostate denies Jesus a place, banishes him from this earth, and metaphorically crucifies the Son of God again. Thus he treats Jesus with continuous contempt and derision and knowingly commits the sin for which, says the author of the epistle, there is no repentance (6:6) and no sacrifice (10:26). The sinner can expect God’s judgment that will come to him as a “raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (10:27).
Doctrinal Considerations in 6:4–6
The connection between verses 3 and 4 should not be overlooked. The words God permitting must be seen in relation to the phrase it is impossible. Of course, Jesus said in regard to salvation that “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27). The context here, however, differs. God changes the heart of sinful man to make him receptive to the gospel. But God does not permit willful sin to go unpunished. Thus it is impossible to bring such a person to repentance.
The Old Testament, at various places, speaks about the consequences of sinning willfully against God. For example, in Numbers 15:30–31, God says, “Anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the Lord’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.”
Acquainted with the teachings of the Old Testament on this subject, the writer of Hebrews compares the man who sinned by rejecting the law of Moses with someone “who has trampled the Son of God under foot” and “has insulted the Spirit of grace” (10:29). He poses a rhetorical question: Will not the person who has offended the Son of God and the Holy Spirit receive more severe punishment than the one who rejected the law of Moses? The answer is: Of course.
God does not permit anyone to despise willfully his Son, his Word, and his Spirit. Deliberately sinning against God in full awareness and knowledge of God’s divine revelation constitutes sin against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:32; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10). This sin God does not forgive.
Theological questions about the genuineness of repentance and faith of people who fall away from Christ remain unanswered. The writer refuses to judge people; instead he warns them not to fall into the same error that the Israelites in the desert committed. He encourages his readers to grow spiritually and continue to obey God’s Word.
We face a mystery when we see God leading the chosen nation of Israel out of Egypt and then destroying the people who were twenty years old and more in the desert (Num. 14:29); when we see Jesus spending a night in prayer before he appointed Judas as one of his disciples (Luke 6:12, 16) and later declaring that Judas was “doomed to destruction” (John 17:12); and when we see Paul accepting Demas as a fellow evangelist who years later deserted Paul because Demas “loved this world” (2 Tim. 4:10).
The writer of Hebrews observes that disobedient Israelites died in the desert because of unbelief. By analogy, the possibility that individuals who have professed the name of Christ will fall away is real (Matt. 7:21–23). Is it possible for true believers to turn away from Christ? Constantly the author exhorts the recipients of his epistle to remain faithful, for God is faithful. God does not break his good promises to his people. “God is not unjust” (6:10). Therefore, says the writer, “imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (6:12).
Greek Words, Phrases, and Constructions in 6:4–6
ἀδύνατον—this adjective in the neuter singular appears four times in Hebrews (6:4, 18; 10:4; 11:6). As the first word in a lengthy sentence, it receives great emphasis. Note that ἀδύνατον is far removed from its complement ἀνακαινίζειν in 6:6.
ἅπαξ—the word occurs fourteen times in the New Testament, eight of which are in Hebrews. Its placement in 6:4 is significant: between the definite article (those) and the participle (have been enlightened). The word is contrasted with πάλιν (6:6).
φωτισθέντας—it is noteworthy that the first five participles, excluding μέλλοντος (6:5) in 6:4–6 are in the aorist tense and that the last two participles (6:6) are in the present tense. φωτισθένταςis used twice in Hebrews (6:4; 10:32).
γευσαμένους—closely connected to the preceding participial phrase with the adjunct τε is the clause “who have tasted the heavenly gift.” The aorist middle participle from the verb γεύομαι (I taste) governs the noun gift in the genitive case. In 6:5 the same participle takes the accusative case of the noun word. To maintain that the use of the genitive is partitive and that of the accusative holistic in these two instances is not without difficulty. For example, the accusative case is also used in John 2:9 for “the water that had been turned into wine.” A holistic interpretation in that verse is impossible. Therefore, I suggest that the variation in Hebrews 6:4, 5 is stylistic.
γενηθέντας—the aorist passive participle is deponent and is therefore translated in the active voice.
ῥῆμα—the word is described as καλόν (good). Generally the translation goodness of the word is given to indicate that “the gospel and its promises [are] full of consolation.” See the Septuagint reading of Joshua 21:45; 23:15; Zechariah 1:13.
παραπεσόντας—this compound in the aorist active participial form occurs once in the New Testament; it appears in the Septuagint reading of Ezekiel 14:13; 15:8. It is synonymous with the verb ἀποστῆναι (to fall away) in Hebrews 3:12.
ἀνακαινίζειν—not the aorist tense but the present tense is used in this active infinitive to express the progressive idea of the verb. It is introduced by the adjective ἀδύνατον (6:4) and signifies the impossibility of renewing the fallen sinner. The verb occurs in early Christian literature “in connection with regeneration and baptism.”
ἀνασταυροῦντας—this active participle, as well as the one that follows, is in the present tense. The tense of the participles reflects the reason why repentance is impossible. Consequently the translation of the participles expresses cause. The prefix ἀνά signifies “again.”
παραδειγματίζοντας—the word is a compound from the preposition παρά (beside) and δείκνυμι (I show). It can have a favorable connotation in the sense of “to set forth as an example” and a negative connotation of “to subject to public disgrace.” Like the preceding participle, the word appears only once in the New Testament (with the exception of the variant reading in Matthew 1:19). (1)
An Exposition of Hebrews by Arthur W. Pink on versus 6:4-6:
“For 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 passage that is now to occupy our attention is one of the most solemn in the Hebrews’ Epistle, yea, to be met with anywhere in the New Testament. Probably few regenerate souls have read it thoughtfully without being moved to fear and trembling. Careless professors have frequently been rendered uneasy in conscience as they have heard its awe-inspiring language. It speaks of a class of persons who had been highly privileged, who had been singularly favored, but who, so far from having improved their opportunities, had wretchedly perverted them; who had brought shame and reproach on the cause of Christ; and who were in such a hopeless condition that it was “impossible to renew them again unto repentance.” Well does it become each one of us to lift up his heart to God earnestly, beseeching Him to prevent us making such a shipwreck of the faith…
The chief difficulty connected with our passage is to make sure of the class of persons who are there in view. Is the Holy Spirit here describing regenerated or unregenerated souls? The next thing is to ascertain what is meant by, “If they shall fall away.” The last, what is denoted by “It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance.” Anticipating our exposition, we are fully assured that the “falling away” that is here spoken of signifies a deliberate, complete, and final repudiation of Christ—a sin for which there is no forgiveness…
…To prepare the way for our exposition of these verses, the contents of which have so sorely puzzled many, let us recall once more the condition of soul into which these Hebrew Christians had fallen. They had “become dull of hearing” (5:11), “unskilful in the word of righteousness” (5:13), unable to masticate (1) “strong meat” (5:14). This state was fraught with the most dangerous consequences. The Hebrews had become lukewarm, negligent, and inert (2). The Gospel, once clearly seen and dearly loved by them, had become to them dull and vague; the persecutions and contempt of their countrymen a grievous burden, under which they groaned and under which they did not enjoy fellowship with the Lord Jesus. Darkness, doubt, gloom, indecision, and consequently a walk in which the power of Christ’s love was not manifest, characterized them. Now, if they continued in this state, what else could be the result but apostasy? Forgetfulness, if continued, must end in rejection, apathy in antipathy, unfaithfulness in infidelity.
“Such was their danger. And if they succumbed (3) to it, their state was hopeless. No other Gospel remains to be preached, no other power to rescue and raise them. They had heard and known the voice which saith, ‘Come unto me…and I will give you rest’ (Mat 11:28). They had professed to believe in the Lord Who died for sinners and to have chosen Him as their Savior and Master. And now they were forgetting and forsaking the Rock of their Salvation. If they deliberately and willfully continued in this state, they were in danger of final impenitence and hardness of heart.” (4)
“A clear and growing faith in heavenly things was needed to preserve Jewish Christians from relapse. To return to Judaism was to give up Christ, who had left their house ‘desolate’ (Mat 23:38). It was to fall from grace and place themselves not only under the general curse of the Law, but that particular imprecation (5) that had brought the guilt of Jesus’ blood on the reprobate and blinded nation of His murderers.” (6) It should be pointed out, however, that it is just as easy and the attraction is just as real for a Gentile Christian to return to that world out of which the Lord has called him, as it was for a Jewish Christian to go back again to Judaism. And just in proportion as the Christian fails to walk with God daily, so does the world obtain power over his heart, mind, and life; and a continuance in worldliness is fraught with the most direful and fatal consequences…
Three things claim our careful attention in coming closer to our passage: The persons here spoken of, the sin they commit, the doom pronounced upon them. In considering the persons spoken of, it is of first importance to note that the Apostle does not say, “us who were once enlightened,” nor even “you”; instead, he says “those.” In sharp contrast from them, he says to the Hebrews, “Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you” …It is scarcely accurate to designate as “mere professors” those described in verses 4-5. They were a class who had enjoyed great privileges, beyond any such as now accompany the preaching of the Gospel. Those here portrayed are said to have had five advantages, which is in contrast [to] the six things enumerated in verses 1-2, which things belong to man in the flesh under Judaism…Yet were they not true Christians. This is evident from what is not said. Observe: they were not spoken of as God’s elect, as those for whom Christ died, as those who were born of the Spirit. They are not said to be justified, forgiven, accepted in the Beloved. Nor is anything said of their faith, love, or obedience. Yet these are the very things that distinguish a real child of God.
First, they had been “enlightened.” The Sun of righteousness had shone with healing in His wings, and as Matthew 4:16 says, “The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.” Unlike the heathen, whom Christ in the days of His flesh visited not, those who came under the sound of His voice were wondrously and gloriously illumined.
The Greek word for “enlightened” here signifies “to give light or knowledge by teaching.” It is so rendered by the Septuagint (7) in Judges 13:8; 2 Kings 12:2; 17:27. The Apostle Paul uses it for “to make manifest” or “bring to light” in 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Timothy 1:10. Satan blinds the minds of those who believe not, lest “the light of the gospel should shine unto them” (2Co 4:4), that is, give the knowledge of it. Thus, “enlightened” here means to be instructed in the doctrine of the Gospel, so as to have a clear apprehension of it. In the parallel passage in 10:26, the same people are said to have “received the knowledge of the truth” (cf. also 2 Peter 2:20-21). It is, however, only a natural knowledge of spiritual things, such as is acquired by outward hearing or reading, just as one may be enlightened by taking up the special study of one of the sciences. It falls far short of that spiritual enlightenment which transforms (2Co 3:18). An illustration of an unregenerate person being “enlightened,” as here, is found in the case of Balaam (Numbers 24:4).
Second, they had “tasted of the heavenly gift.” To “taste” is to have a personal experience of, in contrast from mere report. “Tasting does not include eating, much less digesting and turning into nourishment what is so tasted; for its nature being only thereby discerned, it may be refused, yea, though we like its relish and savor on some other consideration. The persons here described then are those 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 (8) joy.” (9) The “tasting” is in contrast from the “eating” of John 6:50–56.
Opinion is divided as to whether the “heavenly gift” refers to the Lord Jesus or the person of the Holy Spirit. (10) Perhaps it is not possible for us to be dogmatic on the point. Really, the difference is without a distinction; for the Spirit is here to glorify Christ, as He came from the Father by Christ as His ascension “Gift” to His people. If the reference be to the Lord Jesus, John 3:16, 4:10, etc., would be pertinent references; if to the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:38, 8:20, 10:45, 11:17. Personally, we rather incline to the latter. This Divine Gift is here said to be “heavenly” because [it is] from Heaven and leading to Heaven in contrast [with] Judaism (cf. Act 2:2; 1Pe 1:12). Of this “Gift,” these apostates had “tasted” or had an experience of. Compare Matthew 27:34 where “tasting” is opposed to actual drinking. Those here in view had had an acquaintance with the Gospel, as to gain such a measure of its blessedness as to greatly aggravate their sin and doom. An illustration of this is found in Matthew 13:20-21.
Third, they were “made partakers of the Holy Spirit.” First, it should be pointed out that the Greek word for “partakers” here is a different one from that used in Colossians 1:12 and 2 Peter 1:4, where real Christians are in view. The word here simply means “companions,” referring to what is external rather than internal. It is to be observed that this item is placed in the center of the five, and this because it describes the animating principle of the other four, which are all effects. These apostates had never been “born of the Spirit” (Joh 3:6), still less were their bodies His “temples” (1Co 6:19). Nor do we believe this verse teaches that the Holy Spirit had at any time wrought within them, otherwise Philippians 1:6 would be contravened. (11) It means that they had shared in the benefit of His supernatural operations and manifestations: “The place was shaken” (Act 4:31) illustrates. We quote below from Dr. J. Brown:
“It is highly probable that the inspired writer refers primarily to the miraculous gifts and operations of the Holy Spirit by which the primitive dispensation of Christianity was administered. These gifts were by no means confined to those who were ‘transformed by the renewing of their minds.’ The words of our Lord in Matthew 7:22-23 and of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 seem to intimate that the possession of these unrenewed men was not very uncommon in that age. At any rate, they plainly show that their possession and an unregenerate state were by no means incompatible.”
Fourth, “And have tasted the good word of God.” “I understand by this expression the promise of God respecting the Messiah, the sum and substance of all. It deserves notice that this promise is by way of eminence (12) termed by Jeremiah ‘that good word’ (33:14). To ‘taste,’ then, this ‘good word of God,’ is to experience that God has been faithful to His promise—to enjoy, so far as an unconverted man can enjoy, the blessings and advantages that flow from that promise being fulfilled. To ‘taste the good word of God,’ seems just to enjoy the advantages of the new dispensation.” (13) Further confirmation that the Apostle is here referring to that which these apostates had witnessed of the fulfillment of God’s promise is obtained by comparing Jeremiah 29:10: “After seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.”
Observe how studiously the Apostle still keeps to the word taste, the better to enable us to identify them. They could not say with Jeremiah, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them” (15:16). “It is as though he said, I speak not of those who have received nourishment; but of such as have so far tasted it, as that they ought to have desired it as ‘sincere milk’ and grown thereby.”(14) A solemn example of one who merely “tasted” the good Word of God is found in Mark 6:20: “For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.”
Fifth, “And the powers of the world to come” or “age to come.” The reference here is to the new dispensation that was to be ushered in by Israel’s Messiah according to O. T. predictions. It corresponds with “these last days” of Hebrews 1:2 and is in contrast [with] the “time past” or Mosaic economy. Their Messiah was none other than the “mighty God” (Isa 9:6), and wondrous and glorious, stupendous and unique were His miraculous works. These “powers” of the new Age are mentioned in Hebrews 2:4…Of these mighty “powers” these apostates had “tasted” or had an experience of. They had been personal witnesses of the miracles of Christ and of the wonders that followed His ascension, when such glorious manifestations of the Spirit were given. Thus, they were “without excuse.” Convincing and conclusive evidence had been set before them, but there had been no answering faith in their hearts. A solemn example of this is found in John 11:47-48.
“If they shall fall away.” The Greek word here is very strong and emphatic, even stronger than the one used in Matthew 7:27, where it is said of the house built on the sand, “and great was the fall thereof.” It is a complete falling away, a total abandonment of Christianity that is here in view. It is a willful turning of the back on God’s revealed truth, an utter repudiation of the Gospel. It is making “shipwreck of the faith” (1Ti 1:19). This terrible sin is not committed by a mere nominal professor, for he has nothing really to fall away from, save an empty name. The class here described are such as had had their minds enlightened, their consciences stirred, their affections moved to a considerable degree, and yet who were never brought from death unto life. Nor is it backsliding Christians who are in view. It is not simply “fall into sin,” this or that sin. The greatest “sin” that a regenerated man can possibly commit is the personal denial of Christ: Peter was guilty of this, yet was he “renewed again unto repentance.” It is the total renunciation of all the distinguishing truths and principles of Christianity, and this not secretly, but openly, which constitutes apostasy.
“If they shall fall away.” “This is scarcely a fair translation. It has been said that the Apostle did not here assert that such persons did or do ‘fall away’; but that if they did—a supposition which, however, could never be realized—then the consequence would be they could not be ‘renewed again unto repentance.’ The words literally rendered are ‘and have fallen away’ or ‘yet have fallen.’ The Apostle obviously intimates that such persons might and that such persons did ‘fall away.’ By ‘falling away,’ we are plainly to understand what is commonly called apostasy. This does not consist in an occasional falling into actual sin, however gross and aggravated; nor in the renunciation of some of the principles of Christianity, even though those should be of considerable importance; but in an open, total, determined renunciation of all the constituent (15) principles of Christianity and a return to a false religion, such as that of unbelieving Jews or heathens, or to open infidelity and open godlessness.” (16)
“It is impossible, if they fall away, to renew them again unto repentance.” Four questions here call for answer. What is meant by “renewed unto repentance”? What is signified by “renewed again unto repentance”? Why is such an experience “impossible”? To whom is this “impossible”? Repentance signifies a change of mind: Matthew 21:29 and Romans 11:29 establish this. It is more than a mental act, the conscience also being active, leading to contrition and self-condemnation (Job 42:6). In the unregenerate, it is simply the workings of nature; in the children of God, it is wrought by the Holy Spirit. The latter is evangelical, being one of the things that “accompany salvation.” The former is not so, being the “sorrow of the world,” which “worketh death” (2Co 7:10). This kind of “repentance” or remorse receives most solemn exemplification in the case of Judas (Mat 27:3, 5). Such was the repentance of these apostates…
But what is meant by “renewing unto repentance”? “To be ‘renewed’ is a figurative expression for denoting a change, a great change, and a change for the better. To be ‘renewed’ so as to change a person’s mind is expressive of an important and advantageous alteration of opinion, character, and service. And such an alteration the persons referred to had undergone at a former period. They were once in a state of ignorance respecting the doctrines and evidences of Christianity, and they had been ‘enlightened.’ They had once known not of the excellency and beauty of Christian truth, and they had been made to ‘taste of the heavenly gift.’ They once misunderstood the prophecies respecting the Messiah and were unaware of their fulfillment, and of course were strangers to that energetic influence that the N. T. revelation puts forth. They had been made to see that that ‘good word’ was fulfilled and had been made partakers of the external privileges and been subjected to the peculiar energies of the new order of things. Their view, feelings, and circumstances were materially changed. How great the difference between an ignorant, bigoted Jew, and the person described in the preceding passage! He had become, as it were, a different man. He had not indeed become, in the sense of the Apostle, a ‘new creature.’ His mind had not been so changed as unfeignedly (17) to believe ‘the truth as it is in Jesus’; but still, a great and, so far as it went, a thorough change had taken place.” (18)
Now it is impossible to “renew again unto repentance” those who have totally abandoned the Christian revelation. Some things are “impossible” with respect unto the nature of God, as that He cannot lie or pardon sin without satisfaction to His justice. Other things that are possible to God’s nature are rendered “impossible” by His decrees or purpose (see 1 Samuel 15:28-29). Still other things are “possible” or “impossible” with respect to the rule or order of all things God has appointed. For example, there cannot be faith apart from hearing the Word (Rom 10:13–17). “When in things of duty God hath neither expressed command thereon, nor appointed means for the performance of them, they are to be looked upon then as impossible [as, for instance, there is no salvation apart from repentance, Luke 13:3 (A.W.P.)] and then, with respect unto us, they are so absolutely and so to be esteemed. And this is the ‘impossibility’ here principally intended. It is a thing that God hath neither commanded us to endeavor, nor appointed means to attain it, nor promise to assist us in it. It is therefore that which we have no reason to look after, attempt, or expect, as being not possible by any law, rule, or constitution of God…
“Seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh.” This is brought in to show the aggravation of their awful crime and the impossibility of their being renewed again unto repentance. By renouncing their Christian profession, they declared Christ to be an Imposter. Thus, they were irreclaimable. (19) To attempt any further reasoning with them would only be casting pearls before swine. With this verse should be carefully compared the parallel passage in 10:26-29. These apostates had “received the knowledge of the truth,” though not a saving knowledge of it. Afterward they sinned “willfully”: there was a deliberate and open disavowal of the truth. The nature of their particular sin is termed a “treading underfoot the Son of God (something which no real Christian ever does) and counting (esteeming) the blood of the covenant an unholy thing,” that is, looking upon the One Who hung on the Cross as a common malefactor. (20) For such, there “remain-eth no more sacrifice for sins.” Their case is hopeless as far as man is concerned; and the writer believes, such are abandoned by God also.
“Seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” “They thus identify themselves with His crucifiers—they entertained and avowed sentiments that, were He on earth and in their power, would induce them to crucify Him. They exposed Him to infamy, made a public example of Him. They did more to dishonor Jesus Christ than His murderers did. They never professed to acknowledge His divine mission; but these apostates had made such a profession—they had made a kind of trial of Christianity and, after trial, had rejected it.” (21)
Such a warning was needed and well-calculated to stir up the slothful Hebrews. Under the O. T. economy, by means of types and prophecies, they had obtained glimmerings of truth as to Christ, called “the word of the beginning of Christ.” Under those shadows and glimmerings, they had been reared, not knowing their full import until they had been blessed with the full light of the Gospel, here called “perfection.” The danger to which they were exposed was that of receding from the ground where Christianity placed them and relaxing to Judaism. To do so meant to re-enter that House that Christ had left “desolate” (Mat 23:38) and would be to join forces with His murderers, and thus “crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh,” and by their apostasy “put him to an open (public) shame” …
Taking the passage as a whole, it needs to be remembered that all who had professed to receive the Gospel were not born of God: The Parable of the Sower shows that. Intelligence might be informed, conscience searched, natural affections stirred, and yet there be “no root” in them. All is not gold that glitters. (2)
The Cause of God & Truth by John Gill; Hebrews 6:4-6:
Section 50—Hebrews 6:4-6. For 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.
This scripture is often used to contradict the final perseverance of the saints: and it is said, that "The doctrine of the possibility of the final departure of true believers and penitents from the faith, is fully contained in these words; that it is evident they are spoken of such from the word fwtiaqe>ntev, enlightened, used by the same apostle, speaking to the same persons, in Hebrews 10:32, who were so enlightened as to know they had an inheritance in heaven; and from the words, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, which imply, that they had once truly repented, and were once truly in that state to which they were to be renewed, and their loss of it; and that these must fall totally and finally, because the apostle does pronounce it a thing impossible to renew them to repentance, and, on this account, that they crucified to themselves afresh the Son of God, and put him to an open shame. But, 1. Admitting that these words are spoken of true believers, they will bear such a version and sense as will be so far from furnishing out an argument against the saints’ perseverance that they will conclude one for it; for they may be rendered thus: it is impossible that there should be any who have been once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, parape>sontav, and yet all away, that is, it is impossible that such should fall away; agreeable to which is the Syriac version of the words, it is impossible, etc,. ˆfjn bwtd, that they should sin again, so as to die spiritually, or lose the grace of God, and stand in need of a new work of grace upon them, which would require the crucifying of Christ again, and a re-exposing him to public shame which latter things are impossible; and, therefore, the former, namely, that they should sin in such a manner; for, according to this version, the several other things mentioned, are connected with the word impossible, as it is impossible that they should be renewed again to repentance, that they should again crucify the Son of God, and put him to shame. This sense of the words is also confirmed by the Arabic version. Moreover, should we read the words, if they fall away, they do but at most contain a supposition of the saints falling; et suppositionil ponit in esse, a supposition puts nothing in being, proves no matter of fact; nor can it be concluded from hence that any such have fallen away, and are, at most, only expressive of the danger they are in, and of the difficulty of restoring them when fallen even partially; a total and final falling away being prevented by the grace and power of God. 2. It is not evident, from the characters of those persons, that they were true believers; they are said to be once enlightened, which some understand of their being once baptized; and it is certain, that fw>tismov and fw>tisma, illumination, were used by the ancients for baptism, and fwtizo>menoi, enlightened once, for baptized persons; accordingly, the Syriac version reads the words thus, who once atydwm[ml wtjn have descended into baptism, the Ethiopic, after they are baptized; and it will not be denied that some such, as Simon Magus, may totally and finally fall away; but not to insist on this sense of the words. There are two sorts of enlightened persons, some who are savingly enlightened by the Spirit of God, to see their lost state and condition, their need of salvation by Christ, and their interest in it, who shall never perish; others are enlightened only into the doctrines of the Gospel, and some to such a degree as to be able to preach them unto others, and yet entirely destitute of the grace of God; and when such fall away, they are no proofs nor instances of the apostasy of real saints. The enlightened persons in Hebrews 10:32, are not the same with these here mentioned; for the believing Hebrews are manifestly distinguished from these (v. 9); But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak; and therefore, though the Hebrews were so enlightened as to know that they had an inheritance in heaven, it does not follow that these were enlightened in the same manner, and so sincere Christians and true believers. They are also said to have tasted of the heavenly gift, by which, whether we understand eternal life, or any of the blessings of grace, as a justifying righteousness, or, with the Greek fathers, a[fesin tw<n aJmartiw~n, the remission of sins; the meaning is, that they had some speculative notions about these things, and some desires after them, arising from a natural principle of self love; or should Christ himself he intended by it, tasting of it, stands opposed to eating his flesh and drinking his blood, which is proper to true believers, who feed upon him, internally receive him, and are nourished by him; while hypocrites, and formal professors, only taste of him, have a superficial knowledge of him, and gust for him. In the same sense are they said to have tasted the good word of God, the Gospel, in the bare form and notion of it, and the powers of the world to come, meaning either the state of the church, and the glorious things relating to it, after the first resurrection, which they might have some notional apprehensions of, or the joys and glories of heaven, on which they might be able to make some natural and pleasing reflections; or rather, the duna>meiv, miracles and mighty works in the former part of the Gospel dispensation, or times of the Messiah, the Jews, akh slw[ world to come, which many, as Judas and others, were able to perform, who were not sincere Christians, nor true believers, and yet might be said to be partakers of the Holy Ghost; not of his person, nor his grace, but of his extraordinary gifts, in which sense not only Dr. Hammond but Dr. Whitby himself, understand the phrase. Now it may be observed, that here is nothing said of these persons but what may be applied to hypocrites, nor any thing that is peculiar to true believers; these are not said to be regenerated, nor sanctified, nor justified, nor adopted, nor sealed by the Holy Spirit of God, all which are true of real saints. Besides, true believers are in the context, manifestly distinguished from them, and are compared to the fruitful earth, when others are only likened to the barren land, verse 8, 9; their case is mentioned with a view to stir up the saints to industry and diligence (vv. 11, 12); and so be the means of their final perseverance, which they had reason to expect and believe, from the immutability of God’s counsel, the safe refuge in Christ, the nature of hope, the anchor sure and steadfast, and the entrance of Christ, their forerunner for them, into heaven (vv. 1720). 3. The phrase, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, does not imply that they had once truly repented, and their loss of true repentance; that cannot be lost, it is inseparably connected with life and salvation, and therefore is called repentance unto life, and unto salvation. The repentance of these persons, like that of Cain, Pharaoh, and Judas, was only a show of one, a counterfeit one; and consequently, the renewing them again to repentance designs a renovation of them to that which they only seemed to have, and to make pretensions to. 4. It will be granted, that these persons might, and such as these may, fall finally and totally; but inasmuch as it does not appear that they were true penitents and believers, they are not to be mentioned as, nor allowed to be, instances of the final departure of such from the faith. (3)
Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, observations about the believer’s security:
General consideration regarding security of the believer.
A. The Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints in History.
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is to the effect that they whom God has regenerated and effectually called to a state of grace, can neither totally nor finally fall away from that state, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end and be eternally saved. This doctrine was first explicitly taught by Augustine, though he was not as consistent on this point as might have been expected of him as a strict predestinarian. With him the doctrine did not assume the form just stated. He held that the elect could not so fall away as to be finally lost, but at the same time considered it possible that some who were endowed with new life and true faith could fall from grace completely and at last suffer eternal damnation. The Church of Rome with its Semi-Pelagianism, including the doctrine of free will, denied the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and made their perseverance dependent on the uncertain obedience of man. The Reformers restored this doctrine to its rightful place. The Lutheran Church, however, makes it uncertain again by making it contingent on man’s continued activity of faith, and by assuming that true believers can fall completely from grace. It is only in the Calvinistic Churches that the doctrine is maintained in a form in which it affords absolute assurance. The Canons of Dort, after calling attention to the many weaknesses and failures of the children of God, declare: “But God, who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people even in their grievous falls; nor suffers them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death or against the Holy Spirit; nor does He permit them to be totally deserted, and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction,” (V, Art. 6). The Arminians rejected this view and made the perseverance of believers’ dependent on their will to believe and on their good works. Arminius himself avoided that extreme, but his followers did not hesitate to maintain their synergistic position with all its consequences. The Wesleyan Arminians followed suit as did several of the sects. The Reformed or Calvinistic Churches stand practically alone in giving a negative answer to the question, whether a Christian can completely fall from the state of grace and be finally lost.
B. Statement of the Doctrine of Perseverance.
The doctrine of perseverance requires careful statement, especially in view of the fact that the term “perseverance of the saints” is liable to misunderstanding. It should be noted first of all that the doctrine is not merely to the effect that the elect will certainly be saved in the end, though Augustine has given it that form, but teaches very specifically that they who have once been regenerated and effectually called by God to a state of grace, can never completely fall from that state and thus fail to attain to eternal salvation, though they may sometimes be overcome by evil and fall in sin. It is maintained that the life of regeneration and the habits that develop out of it in the way of sanctification can never entirely disappear. Moreover, we should guard against the possible misunderstanding that this perseverance is regarded as an inherent property of the believer or as a continuous activity of man, by means of which he perseveres in the way of salvation. When Strong speaks of it as “the voluntary continuance, on the part of the Christian, in faith and well-doing,” and as “the human side or aspect of that spiritual process which, as viewed from the divine side, we call sanctification,” — this is certainly liable to create the impression that perseverance depends on man. The Reformed, however, do not consider the perseverance of the saints as being, first of all, a disposition or activity of the believer, though they certainly believe that man cooperates in it just as he does in sanctification. They even stress the fact that the believer would fall away, if he were left to himself. It is, strictly speaking, not man but God who perseveres. Perseverance may be defined as that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart, is continued and brought to completion. It is because God never forsakes His work that believers continue to stand to the very end.
C. Proof for the Doctrine of Perseverance.
The doctrine of perseverance may be proved by certain statements of Scripture and by inference from other doctrines.
1. Direct Statements of Scripture. There are some important passages of Scripture that come into consideration here. In John 10:27-29 we read: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out my hand. My Father, who hath given them unto me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Paul says in Romans 11:29: “For the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of.” This means that the grace of God revealed in His calling is never withdrawn, as though He repented of it. This is a general statement, though in the connection in which it is found it refers to the calling of Israel. The apostle comforts the believing Philippians with the words: “Being confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it unto the day of Jesus Christ,” (Phil. 1:6). In 2 Thessalonians 3:3 he says: “But the Lord is faithful, who shall establish you, and guard you from the evil one.” In 2 Timothy 1:12 he sounds a note of rejoicing: “For I know Him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to guard that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” And in 4:18 of the same Epistle he glories in the fact that the Lord will deliver him from every evil work and will gave him unto His heavenly kingdom.
2. Inferential Proofs. The doctrine of perseverance may also be proved in an inferential way.
a. From the doctrine of election. Election does not merely mean that some will be favored with certain external privileges and may be saved, if they do their duty, but that they who belong to the number of the elect shall finally be saved and can never fall short of perfect salvation. It is an election unto an end, that is, unto salvation. In working it out God endows believers with such influences of the Holy Spirit as to lead them, not only to accept Christ but to persevere unto the end and to be saved unto the uttermost.
b. From the doctrine of the covenant of redemption. In the covenant of redemption God gave His people to His Son as the reward for the latter’s obedience and suffering. This reward was fixed from eternity and was not left contingent on any uncertain faithfulness of man. God does not go back on His promise, and therefore it is impossible that they who are reckoned as being in Christ, and as forming a part of His reward, can be separated from Him (Rom. 8:38-39), and that they who have entered the covenant as a communion of life should fall out.
c. From the efficacy of the merits and intercession of Christ. In His atoning work Christ paid the price to purchase the sinner’s pardon and acceptance. His righteousness constitutes the perfect ground for the justification of the sinner, and it is impossible that one who is justified by the payment of such a perfect and efficacious price should again fall under condemnation. Moreover, Christ makes constant intercession for those who are given Him of the Father, and His intercessory prayer for His people is always efficacious, (John 11:42; Heb. 7:25).
d. From the mystical union with Christ. They who are united to Christ by faith become partakers of His Spirit, and thus become one body with Him, pulsating with the life of the Spirit. They share in the life of Christ, and because He lives they live also. It is impossible that they should again be removed from the body, thus frustrating the divine ideal. The union is permanent, since it originates in a permanent and unchangeable cause, the free and eternal love of God.
e. From the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Dabney correctly says: “It is a low and unworthy estimate of the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and of His work in the heart, to suppose that He will begin the work now, and presently desert it; that the vital spark of heavenly birth is an ignis fatuus, burning for a short season, and then expiring in utter darkness; that the spiritual life communicated in the new birth, is a sort of spasmodic or galvanic vitality, giving the outward appearance of life in the dead soul, and then dying,” (Syst. and Polem. Theol., p. 692). According to Scripture the believer is already in this life in possession of salvation and eternal life, (John 3:36; 5:24; 6:54). Can we proceed on the assumption that eternal life will not be everlasting?
f. From the assurance of salvation. It is quite evident from Scripture that believers can in this life attain to the assurance of salvation, (Heb. 3:14; 6:11; 10:22; 2 Pet. 1:10). This would seem to be entirely out of the question, if it were possible for believers to fall from grace at any moment. It can be enjoyed only by those who stand in the firm conviction that God will perfect the work which He has begun.
D. Objections to the Doctrine of Perseverance.
1. It is Inconsistent with Human Freedom. It is said that the doctrine of perseverance is inconsistent with human freedom. But this objection proceeds on the false assumption that real freedom consists in the liberty of indifference, or the power of contrary choice in moral and spiritual matters. This is erroneous, however. True liberty consists exactly in self-determination in the direction of holiness. Man is never more free than when he moves consciously in the direction of God. And the Christian stands in that liberty through the grace of God.
2. It Leads to Indolence and Immorality. It is confidently asserted that the doctrine of perseverance leads to indolence, license, and even immorality. A false security is said to result from it. This is a mistaken notion, however, for, although the Bible tells us that we are kept by the grace of God, it does not encourage the idea that God keeps us without constant watchfulness, diligence, and prayer on our part. It is hard to see how a doctrine which assures the believer of a perseverance in holiness can be an incentive for sin. It would seem that the certainty of success in the active striving for sanctification would be the best possible stimulus to ever greater exertion.
3. It is Contrary to Scripture. The doctrine is frequently declared to be contrary to Scripture. The passages adduced to prove this contention can be reduced to three classes.
a. There are warnings against apostasy which would seem to be quite uncalled for, if the believer could not fall away, (Matt. 24:12; Col. 1:23; Heb. 2:1; 3:14; 6:11; I John 2:6). But these warnings regard the whole matter from the side of man and are seriously meant. They prompt self-examination, and are instrumental in keeping believers in the way of perseverance. They do not prove that any of those addressed will apostatize, but simply that the use of means is necessary to prevent them from committing this sin. Compare Acts 27:22-25 with verse 31 for an illustration of this principle.
b. There are also exhortations, urging believers to continue in the way of sanctification, which would appear to be unnecessary if there is no doubt about it that they will continue to the end. But these are usually found in connection with such warnings as those referred to under (a), and serve exactly the same purpose. They do not prove that any of the believers exhorted will not persevere, but only that God uses moral means for the accomplishment of moral ends.
c. Again, it is said that Scripture records several cases of actual apostasy, (1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:17-18; 4:10; 2 Peter 2:1,2; cf. also Heb. 6:4-6). But these instances do not prove the contention that real believers, in possession of true saving faith, can fall from grace, unless it be shown first that the persons indicated in these passages had true faith in Christ, and not a mere temporal faith, which is not rooted in regeneration. The Bible teaches us that there are persons who profess the true faith, and yet are not of the faith, (Rom. 9-6; 1 John 2:19; Rev. 3:1). John says of some of them, “They went out from us,” and adds by way of explanation, “but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us,” (1 John 2:19).
E. The Denial of this Doctrine Makes Salvation Dependent on Man’s Will.
The denial of the doctrine of perseverance virtually makes the salvation of man dependent on the human will rather than on the grace of God. This consideration will, of course, have no effect on those who share the Pelagian conception of salvation as autosoteric—and their numbers are great—but certainly ought to cause those to pause who glory in being saved by grace. The idea is that, after man is brought to a state of grace by the operation of the Holy Spirit alone, or by the joint operation of the Holy Spirit and the will of man, it rests solely with man to continue in faith or to forsake the faith, just as he sees fit. This renders the cause of man very precarious and makes it impossible for him to attain to the blessed assurance of faith. Consequently, it is of the utmost importance to maintain the doctrine of perseverance. In the words of Hovey, “It may be a source of great comfort and power, —an incentive to gratitude, a motive to self-sacrifice, and a pillar of fire in the hour of danger.”
Questions for Further Study: What is the real question concerning perseverance: is it whether the elect, or whether the regenerate persevere? Do Augustine and the Lutherans also teach that the elect may finally be lost? How does the analogy of the natural life favor the doctrine of perseverance? Do not such passages as Hebrews 6:4.6; 10:29; 2 Peter 2:1 prove the possibility of falling away? How about John 15:1-6? Is the grace of perseverance something innate, necessarily given with the new nature, or is it the fruit of a special, gracious, and preserving activity of God? Does the doctrine imply that one may be living in habitual and intentional sin, and yet be in a justified state? Does it preclude the idea of lapses into sin? (4)
From my The Tenacity of God for His people:
If you have a deficient view of justification you will never have a correct soteriology.
Justification is judicial act of God in which he pardons sinners and accepts them as righteous on the basis of Christ’s work on their behalf, which includes both his representative obedience to the law and his representative endurance of the penalty for their disobedience.
Doctrinal Considerations; Justification and Covenant:
Of utmost importance is the question of how man is made righteous or justified before the Holy God of Scripture. Most misunderstanding in this area happens because of a confusion between justification and sanctification. Sanctification is a process that starts once a person becomes regenerate and lasts through the entirety of the Christian life. Justification in contrast, is a judicial or forensic one-time act of God that involves the pardoning and forgiving of our sins, and accepting us as righteous in His sight because of what Christ accomplished for us. Moreover, justification is unequivocal or absolute for eternity. Our sins (the breaking of God's law) were imputed to Christ in that he experienced God's judgment on our behalf, and because of this, Christ's righteousness (keeping the law perfectly) is imputed to us. We are therefore pardoned and counted as righteous for His sake. It is not a legal fiction as some may say, it is fact in the courts of heaven based upon Christ's perfect propitiatory sacrifice and accomplishment at Golgotha.
In further consideration, biblical justification involves the Hebrew verb tsayke, to which both the Greek word dikaioun and the Latin justificare refer, and is used in Scripture when dealing with passages on forensic or declared judicial righteousness. As noted, the Hebrew verb is forensic, and means to absolve someone in a trial, or to hold or to declare just, as opposed to the verb to condemn and to incriminate. See Exodus 23:7, Deuteronomy 25:1, Job 9:3. Psalms 143:2, Proverbs 17:15, Luke 18:14, Romans 3-5, Acts 13:39. The Scriptures are unequivocal in establishing our justification because of how Christ bore the wrath of God for us Romans 4:1-7. Justification does not happen over and over again. Christ's died once for our all of sins (not just some) and His death was accepted by the Father on our behalf. It is a finished fact!
In addition, and of particular importance for this study is doctrine of God's covenantal dealings with man in Scripture and how this explains God's transactions with man. What is a covenant? In short, a covenant is an agreement or contract between two parties. The word covenant is translated by the Hebrew word berith. It literally means "to cut." In the scripture there are covenants made between men, and there are covenants made between God and man such as the covenant God made with Abraham in Gen. 15:9-18, 17:2.
It should be noted that there are two types of covenants, the unconditional and conditional. A conditional covenant obligates both God and specifically man to certain responsibilities. In the case of a conditional covenant, God's promises are contingent upon man meeting his part of the agreement such as the land promises made with Israel. Historically, Israel was removed from the promised land by Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon for her unfaithfulness to God's covenant. By way of contrast, in an unconditional covenant, God obliges Himself to certain expressed responsibilities for the fulfilling of the contract regardless of how man responds. An unconditional covenant is a promise made by God to man that is not contingent upon man fulfilling any obligation or conditions. Genesis 15:9-18 is a perfect example of this where we see the cutting of the animals into pieces and God alone walking between the pieces of animals in the form of a smoking furnace and a burning lamp in verse 17, thus guaranteeing the eternal covenant would be fulfilled because of His action. If God did not keep the covenant made with Abraham and ultimately his spiritual descendants in Christ, God is saying that He Himself would be cut in pieces, or bear the judgment for violation of the covenant, which is an impossible thing to happen.
God is our strong tower. He has hedged us about with protection from the outside forces. He has graciously placed his Holy Spirit within us to protect us from inward uncertainties. He is even there to protect us from our own failings. God has purchased our salvation by the death of His Son on the cross and He gives us assurance of our salvation by the fact that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit which is said in Scripture to be "the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession." We are God's purchased possession which is said in the past tense, thus solidifying the reality of our salvation. We have the God's earnest money, or God's down payment, which is the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that He would never leave us or forsake us. He really meant this! Some may raise a question at this point about us forsaking Him. Is this possible in light of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the strong promises of God in Christ? For those that raise this question, consider the testimony of God's promises. (5)
In conclusion, John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. This work has never been biblically refuted by any type of Universalist, Arminian, or Semi-Pelagian.
If you maintain that a believer can lose his salvation, consider one of John Owen's arguments. What exact sin will cause the believer to be lost? Did Christ die for all of your sins, or not?
“The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
1. All the sins of all men.
2. All the sins of some men, or
3. Some of the sins of all men.
In which case it may be said:
That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.
That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.
But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?
You answer, “Because of unbelief.”
I ask, is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!” (6)
From the Westminster Confession of Faith on Perseverance:
Section 1.) They, whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved. (1)
(1) Php 1:6; 2Pe 1:10; Jn 10:28,29; 1Jn 3:9; 1Pe 1:5,9.
Section 2.) This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father;(1) upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ;(2) the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them;(3) and the nature of the covenant of grace:(4) from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.(5)
(1) 2Ti 2:18,19; Jer 31:3. (2) Heb 10:10,14; Heb 13:20,21; Heb 9:12-15; Ro 8:33-39; Jn 17:11,24; Lk 22:32; Heb 7:25. (3) Jn 14:16,17; 1Jn 2:27; 1Jn 3:9. (4) Jer 32:40. (5) Jn 10:28; 2Th 3:3; 1Jn 2:19.
Section 3.) Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins;(1) and, for a time, continue therein:(2) whereby they incur God's displeasure,(3) and grieve His Holy Spirit,(4) come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts;(5) have their hearts hardened,(6) and their consciences wounded;(7) hurt and scandalize others,(8) and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.(9)
(1) Mt 26:70,72,74. (2) Ps 51:(title), 14. (3) Isa 64:5,7,9; 2Sa 11:27. (4) Eph 4:30. (5) Ps 51:8,10.12; Rev 2:4; SS 5:2,3,4,6. (6) Isa 63:17; Mk 6:52; Mk 16:14. (7) Ps 32:3,4; Ps 51:8. (8) 2Sa 12:14. (9) Ps 89:31,32; 1Co 11:32.
1. Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker), pp. 157-164.
2. A.W. Pink, An Exposition Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker), pp. 298-309.
3. John Gill, The Cause of God & Truth, (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker), pp. 55-57.
4. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans), pp. 545-547.
5. Jack Kettler, The Tenacity of God for His People, Online article, Undergroundnotes, article page.
6. John Owen, The Death of Christ, (The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, Penn. 1978), p. 173-174.
For More Research:
John Gill’s the Cause of God & Truth PDF at:
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). “To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen” (Romans 16:27). “heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28, 29).
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com