“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.”
We should observe the general drift of the apostle's argument throughout this epistle, is to show the distinction between the legal and the gospel dispensations, that the one was typical, figurative, and shadowy, and only designed to prefigure eternal realities which should be disclosed under the gospel dispensation, while the other is antitypical, and answers to all that was shadowed forth under the former. Those early converts, many of whom had been brought up under the ceremonial law, were exceedingly dull to comprehend the distinction between the two covenants. In the shadows of good things to come, the carnal or fleshly children of Abraham were required to sustain the Levitical priesthood, which provided for typical offerings continually. So that those who were once purged, cermonially, by the blood of bulls, goats, and other animals, were just as liable to conviction, or consciousness of guilt, after, as before being so purged. But it is far otherwise in the antitypical offering of the Redeemer. He, by one offering, has forever perfected them that are sanctified. His blood effectually cleanseth those for whom it was shed, from all sin. He having through the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot unto God, has obtained eternal redemption for them. Hence he needed not, like the Jewish priests, to repeat his offering from time to time, but only to offer himself once for all. That is once, never to be offered again. In insisting on these disciples of the Redeemer leaving the principles, or first rudiments of the doctrine of Christ, as they had learned them in the types, in the a,b,c, of the shadows, and going on to perfection, the inspired writer proves that the law could make nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope. The gospel makes everything perfect, hence he exhorts these primitive disciples to leave the former, and go on to the perfection of the latter. As an argument in support of his admonition, he shows in the text before us, that the repetition of Jewish offerings are totally inapplicable to the saints under the gospel economy. If we were only Abraham's seed according to the flesh, and under the old priesthood, we might very often receive the purifying and cleansings provided in the ceremonial covenant; but if we are of the character in our text set forth, who have been once enlightened, passed from death unto life, translated from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son, have tasted of the heavenly gift, partakers of the Holy Ghost, and joys of the world to come, then are we very differently situated from those under the law. And it is impossible for these to fall away and be renewed again to repentance, as the Jews were in the habit of falling away and being renewed by the provisions of the Levitical priesthood; for the priesthood of Christ is after order of Melchisedec, and not after the order of Aaron; by the power of an endless life, and not by the law of a carnal, or fleshly, or ceremonial commandment. First. It is altogether impossible for these to fall away, for by his one offering, as we have shown, he has perfected them forever, he has obtained eternal redemption for them, and pledged his veracity that they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of his hand. But in the supposition that it were possible, and these should fall away, what then? Why, in that case the repeated offerings under the law could not avail them, for there remaineth no more offerings for sin. If Christ has given himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, if he has borne our sins in his own body on the tree; if he was delivered for our offenses and raised again from the dead for our justification, and it were possible that we should lose our interest in his blood and righteousness, then might we indeed sink down in everlasting despair. If the gospel fails to save, the law certainly cannot effect for us a salvation; or if the blood of Christ has not efficacy to secure our redemption, we may seek that efficacy in the law in vain.
Those who have contended that christians are liable to fall from grace, have generally also contended that they might be renewed again to repentance, just as the Jews were from time to time cleansed ceremonially by the offerings made under the law. According to their theory, if we understand them, they may get religion as they call it, and lose it as often as they will, and having got it, and lost it, they are to repeat the same process of offerings and operations, and get it again. In truth we have no doubt that they can get and lose, and get again, what they call religion, as often as they please; but unless the Lord in infinite mercy saves them from their gettings, as well as from their losses, they will die in their sins, and perish eternally. But if they had ever been once enlightened, tasted of the heavenly gift, been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, the getting, and losing, and getting again, would be impossible. If these shall fall away, it would be impossible to renew them again unto repentance. Why? Because a second offering would derange the whole plan of grace, and falsify what eternal truth has affirmed. God, in covenant with all those for whom Christ has died, has confirmed his promise by an oath, that by two immutable things in which it is impossible God should lie, that we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us. What is that hope and that promise, confirmed by the oath of Jehovah? Christ is the christian's hope of glory, and this hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast. The promise in the New Covenant is, I will be their God, and they shall be my people, and I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities I will remember no more. Now all these promises must fail, and the everlasting covenant must fail, before any of God's children can fall away, or lose their interest in his one offering; but should all this take place, should the blood of Christ fail to cleanse effectually those for whom it flowed, should his righteousness fail to justify them, should the promise and oath of God fail, and should they fall away, they could not be renewed again to repentance; because such a renewal would involve the necessity of Christ being again crucified, and put to an open shame. As his crucifixion was indispensable to our redemption in the first instance, it would be no less indispensable in a second, and if he were thus required to try again to execute what he supposed he had forever completed, it would show some imperfection in his work, or in his wisdom. The failure of the blood of beasts offered under the law to save from guilt and wrath, proved that the law could make nothing perfect. But what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. There can be no possible failure in this, for the decree was published by the holy prophets. He shall not fail nor be discouraged. Behold, the Lord cometh with a strong hand. Behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall gather his sheep with his arm, and carry them in his bosom. He shall say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; even every one that is called by my name, for I have created him for my glory.
The supposition that those who were once enlightened, and had tasted of the heavenly gift, &c., were not regenerated persons, hardly requires a serious thought; for we venture the assertion that there is not a saint on earth, or in heaven, that has ever experienced more than what is here stated, in describing them. Nicodemus, with all his opportunities for acquiring an acquaintance with the religion of the Jews, had never been once enlightened in regard to the new birth. Knew not how these things could be. When a sinner is enlightened, it is as the apostle has declared, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in your hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Until God commands this light to shine in us, we are held in chains of darkness. Nor can we taste the heavenly gift, until that gift is bestowed, and the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. We could neither receive the Holy Ghost, nor partake of the joys of the world to come, if we were not born of God, for Christ ahs said of the Holy Ghost, “Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him.” A taste of the joys of the world to come, is an earnest of the inheritance of the saints, and of course is given to none but the legitimate heirs. AS it is written, “After that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession.”
Elder Gilbert Beebe
March 15, 1855