John Owen.

An exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews; with the preliminary exercitations (Volume 2) online

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• niifes ; whofc arc the fathers.' Doubtlcfs they bare
themfclves liigh on thcfe things. So when thev contended
with Mofes and Aaron, their plea was, tliat all the people
were holy. Some cry they arc the church, and foinc
boall of other things ; but be men what tlicy will, their
privileges and advantages what they can delirc ; if they
are fecure and obftinate finners, the wrath of God at one
time or other will overtake them. For although the hand
of churcb-privilcgc lliould join in with the hand oi fccidar
advantage^ yet the guilty fhall not go unpuniihcd.

§ 43. Obf. 25. The heart of God is greatly concerned
in the fins of men ; efpecially of thole who on any ac-
count are his people, and fo eftecmed. Men live, and
a(fl, and fpeak, as if they thought God very little con-
cerned in what they do, efpecially in their lins ; they
think that God is altogether as themfclves, [Pfalm 1. 21.]
But it is far otherwife. For God,

(i.) Is concerned in point of honour in what we do.
He made us for his glory and honour ; but nothing of
this can we any way affign to him but by our obedience.
And whatever is contrary to that tends direfllv to his dif-
honour. And this God cannot but be deeply fenfible of.
He cannot deny himfelf. Shall God lofe all his juft re-
venue without exprcffing an indignation againft the guilt
of men w-ho deal fo unjurtly and fraudulently with him ^
Nay, he is as our fovcrcign Lord, deeply concerned in
this matter.

(2.) He is concerned in point of ///•/?.Vr, alfo, as he is
the fupreme ruler and governor of all the works of his
own hands. He is God to whom vengeance belongeth ;
who hath faid, * vengeance is mine, and I will rccom-
* penfe.* And he needs no other rcafon to induce him to

punifli tranlgreffion, but his own holincfs and juilice.

And this he CAprcllcth after the manner of men, afhrming

that he is grieved, or vexed and provoked to indignation

with the iins of men.

§ 44. Obf. 26. In all the fins of men God chiefly re-

jgards the principle, that is, tiic hcayt, or is in ir.



They do err, faith he, * in their hearts.' The heart he
principally requires in our obedience, and this he princi-
pally regards in men's difobedience. * My fon, faith he,

* give me thine heart ;' and ' O thy.t there were fuch an

* heart in them, that they would fear me.' When the
lieart is upright, as to its general frame, God will bear
with many failings, many mifcarriages. And when it is
falfe, thoufands of duties are of no cileem with him.
If once a man begins juflly to fufpeft that the hearts of them
with whom he hath to do, are not upright with him, but
falfe and guileful, let them pretend what they will, and
aft what they pleafe, all is utterly difregarded and defpifed.
And if it be thus with men who judge of the heart of
others only by effedls, how much more muft it be fo with
God, before whofe eyes all the hearts of men lie open and
naked ; whofe glory and property it is to be {xcco^ioyvooa^yig)
the knower^ fearcher and judge of all hearts. Again,

§ 45. Obf. 27. The error of the heart in preferring
the ways of fin, before obedience with its promifes and
rewards, is the root of all great provoking fins and re-
bellions againll God. Many fins are the effects of men's
impetuous lulls and corruptions ; many there are hurried
into by the ^ power and efficacy of temptations ; moll are
produced by both thefe in conjun£lion : but as for great
provocations, fuch as carry in them apoflacy or rebellio!!
againll: God, they proceed from a deceiving and a deceived
heart. There are many noifome and hurtful errors in
the world ; but this is the great foul-ruining error, when
the heart is praflically corrupted to prefer fin and its wa?es
before obedience and its reward. In brief, when the di-
redlhe part of the mind is diverted from attending to the
reafon of the things propofed ; when it is corrupted by
falfe pretences impofed on it by tlie outrage of corrupt
liifcs and alfeftions, which have poiTefied the imagination
with their objefts, and their prefent decciveablenefs. When
the ?iCQu{\\v.^ jud;ring faculty IS, baffled, flighted, and at bell
partially filenced, as wearied with doing its work in vain,
and accuflomed to repulfes : when in its reflexive aflsy
whereby it fhould receive iuiprefnons from its own fclf-
VoL. II. Y V accu-


accufatlons and reproofs, are made obtufc, hard, and
fenfclcfs, not regarding what is fpokcu in it or to it ; and
when by thcfe means carnal affetiions bear fway in the foul,
impctuoufly inclining it to fcek after their fatisfa^ion —
then is the heart under the power of the error we fpealc
of, that error which is the principle of ail great provoca-
tions and ruinous apoftacies from God.

For, this heart error fets all the luils of the foul at

liberty to feek after their fatisfadion in fm ; makes it

flight and contemn all the promifes annexed to obedience,

and difregard the thrcatenings that lie againft iin ; and fo

prepares it for the utmoll rebellion. And of all errors

let us take heed of this pra6tical error of the heart. It

is not men's being orthodox or found in their opinions

that will relieve them, if they are under the power of this

great fundamental error. And it is a matter to be la-

rnented, to fee how men will contefl for their opinions

■under the name of truth, and caft all manner of fevcre

reflc^irjui on thofe that oppofe them, whilft tbemfclves err

in their hearts and know not the ways of God. And

this is a frame which of all others God moft abhorreth.

For when men pretend to be for him, and are really againll

him, as all fuch are, fhall not the fearcher of hearts find

it out r Orthodox liars, fvvearers, drunkards, adulterers,

opprelFors, perfecutors, are an unfp*akable burden to the

patience of God. Again,

§ 46. Ohf. 28. A conftant p^r/ifting in the courfe of
fin, is the utmoll:, highefl, and laft aggravation of fm.
They err always in every inftance of obedience, and that
continually. This filled up their mcafure. For herein
confills that fin'ijhhig of fin which brings foith death,
[I. Jam. i. 14.] Sin may be conceived and brought forth,
and yet death not cnfuc. But if it be finiflicd, if men
err in their hearts * always, ' inevitable defirut'lion will be
the confequent of it. This, as was faid, is the higheft
^nd lall aggravation of fin. For,

(i.) It includes a neglcfl and co)iicn:pt cf all times and
fcalons of amendnxnt. God gives to men, cfpccially
^liofc who live under the difpcnfation oi the word, many



peculiar times or fcafons for their recovery. Tlicy have
their ' day/ their fpecial day, wherein they ought in ai\
efpecial manner to look after the things of their peace.
It may be this day, is often revived to the perfons fpokeii
of, and often returned upon them ; but it is as oftea
defpifed and negle£icd by them.

(2.) It includes a rejeflmi and difappointmeiit of the
means of repentance, which God is pieafed gracioufly to
afford them. Durmg the feafon of his patience towards
finners, God is pieafed to grant them fundry iliean^ and
advantages for their amendment, and that in great va-
riety ; but they are all rejected and rendered fruitlcfs in
an unchanged courfe of finning.

(3.) It includes a contempt of the whole work of con*
fciencc from lirft to laft. Many affillances doth conscience
receive in its work. Conviftions from the word, ex-
citations by judgements, mercies^ dangers, deliverances;
but yet in this condition all its adtings are baffled and
defpifed. And what can be more done againft God?
What can add to the guilt of fuch fins and finners ? And
this may ferve to juftify God in his fc verity againft per-
fons that ^ always err ' in their hearts, that continue in a
courfe of finning. In the day when the fecrets of all
hearts fhall be difclofcd, and all tranfa£lions between
God and the fouls of men laid open, the Rolinefs, righ-
teoufnefs, and juft feverity of God againft impenitent
finners, will, on thefe and other accounts, be glorioufly

§ 47. Obf. 29. None defpife or defert the ways of God,
but thofe that know them not. Or, whatever they may^
profefs ; profligate finners know neither God nor his ways.
* They err in their hearts and have not known my ways.*
Who would feem more fully to have known the ways of
God than his people ? The ways of his providence
wherein he walked towards them, and the ways of his
law wherein they were to walk towards him, were all
before them. And yet all this while, being unbelieving
and obdurate, they knew net the ways of God ; nay,
though they profcjpd that they ki>cw, and that they would

y y 2 obfervc


obfcrvc them, yet in truth they knew them not. And
fuch were ihcir poftcrity and fucceffors in unbelief and
difobcdience, of whom the apoille fpcaks, [Titus i. i6.]

* They profcfs that they know God, but in works they

* deny him, being abominable and difobedicnt, and unto

* every good work reprobate.' Whatever notions fuch
perfons have, or may have, of the ways of God, what-
ever fkill in the outAard letter of his laws and inflitutions,
yet they know neither their righteoufnefs, nor the holinefs,
nor the grace, nor the efhcacy, nor the ufefulnefs, nor
the beauty of any of them. Thefe things are fplrltually
difccrncd^ and they are fpiritually blind \ thefe are fpirit and
life, and they are flefh and dead. And all this is evident
from men's dcfpiftyig the ways of God, or their dcrel'i^lon
of them. This none can do but thofe that know them
not. For they that know the name of the Lord, that is,
any of the ways whereby he reveals himfelf, will put their
truft in him. [Pfalm ix. lo.] Julian, that infamous
apoftatc, was wont to boaft concerning the fcriptures,
that he had read them, known them, and condemned
them : unto whom it was truly replied, that if he had
read them, yet he undcrjlood them not, of which there
needed no other evidence but that he condemned them.

§ 48. Obf. 30. When God exprcllcth great indigna-
tion in himfelf againflfm, it is to teach men the greatnef*
of fm In themfclves. For that end is he faid here, to

* fwear in his wrath.' There are expreflions in fcripturc
about God's refpcdl to the fins of men, that arc ftrangely
cmpliatical As fometimes he is faid to be * prelTcd under

* them r.s a cart is prclTed when laden with Iheaves ;' fome-
times, that he is made to ' ferve with fm,' and ' wearied

* with ini']uity ,' fometimes to be * broken with the who-

* nlh heart of a people ;' and * grieved at the heart that he

* had ever made fuch a creature as man ;' fometimes that
the iins of men are * a funic in his noflrils,' that which,
iiis foul loatlicth ; and very commonly to be angry^ lexedy
.and ^rUvedy to be lurathful^ ftirrcd up to furyy and the
like. Wiiat is it then that God intends by all thefe ex-
prclHons r it is all to exprcls what indeed y//; dcfcrvcs^ and

I that


that a recompeiice of revenge is to be expeded, or that it
is of fo great a demerit as to excite all the perturbations
mentioned in the nature of God, were it any way capable
of them. So doth he make ufe of all ways and means to
deter us from fin. And there is much love, tendernefs,
and care in all thcle cxprclfions of anger, wrath, and
difpleafurc. Again,

§ 49. Obf. 3 I . God gives the fame firmitude and {labi-
bility to his thrcatenings as he doth to his promifes. He
fwears to them alfo. Men are apt fecretly to harbour a
fuppolition of a difference in this matter. The promifes
of God they think indeed are firm and flable ; but as for
his threatemngs, they fuppofe that one way or other they
may be evaded. It was by this deceit fin come into the
world ; namely, that the threatcnings of God either
would not be accompliflied, or that they were to be un-
derftood after another manner than was apprehended.

* Hath God faid fo, that you fliall die if you eat ? Mif-

* take not, this is not the meaning of the threatening ; or,

* if it be, God doth not intend to execute it ; it will be

* otherwife, and God knows it will be otherwife.' This
£ave fin its firft entrance into the world ; and the fame
deceit ftill prevails in the human mind. Hath God faid
that finners fhall die, fliall be curfed, fliall be cafl into
iiell ? Nay, but fure enough it will be otherwife, there
will be one way or other to efcape. It is good enough to
affright men with thefe things, but God intends not fo to
deal with them. Whatever the threatening be, many
things may intervene to prevent their execution. What
God promifcth indeed, fliall come to pafs, we may expc£b
it and look for it. But as for thefe threatenings they depend
on fo many conditions, and may fo eafily at any time be
evaded, as that there is no great fear of their execution.
But what is the ground of this feigned difference between
the promifes and thrcatenings of God, as to their {lability,
>certainty, and accomplifliment ? Where is the difFerencp
between the two claufes in that text^ * he that believeth

* fhall ht favcdy^ and 'he that believeth not fhall be dam^
'* ned P h not the holinefs of God and his/aithfulnefs as



much concerned in the comminatory as in the promifTory
part of his word ? Would not a failure in the one be as
prejudicial to his glory as a failure in the other ? The prin-
ciples from which his threateiiings proceed, arc no lefs ef-
fential properties of his nature, than thofe which arc
fprings of his promifes. And his declaration of them is
no lefs accompanied with the engagement of his veracity
and faithfulnefs, than that of the other. And the end
aimed at in them is no lefs necclfary to the demonflration
of his glory, than that which he defigneth in his promifes.
And we fee, in this particular inflance, that they are alfo
confirmed with the or?//^ of God even as his promifes are.
And let none think that this was an extraordinary cafe,
and concerned only the men of that generation ; this oath
of God is part of his law, it abides for ever ; and all that
fall into the like lin with them, attended with the like
circumftances, do fall under the fame oath of God ; he
fwears concerning them, that they ihall not enter into
his reft. And we little know how many are even in this
world in this predicament ; the oath of God lying againft
them for their eternal punifhment. Let men take heed
of this great felf-deceiving ; and let them not be mockers
in this matter left their bonds be made ftrong ; for,

§ 53. Obf. 32 When men have provoked God by their
impenitency to decree their irrevocable pnnilhment, tiicy
will find fcvcrity in the execution. They fhall not enter,
no not fo much as enter into his reft. Behold, faith onr
apoftle, the fevcrity of God ; towards them that felt fevc-
rity [Rom. ii. 22.] Men will find that tliere is fcverity
in the execution, who defpifed the threatening ; and
that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the
livi^ig God. When fmncrs fhall fee the whole creation
on fire about them, hell opening under them, and the
glorious dreadful judge over them; they will begin to have
a due apprehenfion of his terror. But then cries, repent-
ings and w:iilings, will be of no ufe. Th'a is the time
ind place for foch confiderations, not when the fentencc
is executed, nor when it is irrevocably confirmed.

^51. Obf. 3^. It is the prefence of Go^ alone
renders anv place or condition good or d:hrable. TIkv

111 all


fnall not, faith God, enter into ' my reft.* This makes
heaven to be heaven, and the church to be a dejirahk
place ; every thing anfv/ers the manner and meafure of
the prefence of God. And with this Mofes cxprefllly
preferred the wildernefs before Canaan. * If thy prefence
• go not with us, lead us not up hence.'

Verse 12.

take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of
you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing
from the living god.

§ I, 2. (I.) The wordi explained, § 3. Unbelief is eiiherne^
gativc, or privative. § 4. The unbelief intended conjijh in
either^ I. Refujing to believe^ or, § 5. 2. Rejeding the
the faith. § 6. Ifloich operates in a diflike of go/pel pu-
ritjy and § 7 . Of gofpel myfieries. § 8 . The fpecial evil
is, a departure from the living God, § 9 — 14. (II.)

§ i.XN the three following verfes there are three things In
general propofcd :

Firjly An exhortation to avoid an evil, even that which
it is the apoftlc*s principal deiign to diiTuade them from,
ver. 12.

Secondly, A propofal of one ufeful means whereby they
may be alTifted in its avoidance, ver. 13.

thirdly, An enforcement of the exhortation to the ufe
©f that means, from fundry confiJerations, ver. 14.

§ 2. (I.) * Take heed left there be in any of you.'
The original term (^fi/^-TTCv) is property f video J to fee and



behold, as an aft of fcnfc ; tlicn fca-jeo) to take heed, or
beware, as an aft of the mind ; and when ufcd as an aft
of fcnfc, it commonly refers to expeftation ; cither of
fomc good to be received, or of fomc inconvenience to be
watched againll. And bccanlc look out, or look about
them, to beware of dangers, the word is ufed for ' to

* take liced,' or * beware.' In this Icnfc it is often ufcd
in the New Teflament, vca, fo far as 1 have cbfci vcd, it
is fecunur to the facrcd writers ; and efpccially it is fre-
quently ufed by our apoftle, [as 1. Cor. i. 26. chap. x.
10. Phil. iii. 2. Eph. v. 18. Col. ii. 8.J and fomctimcs
it is ufed tranfitively inftead of to conjulcr^ [I. Cor. i. 26.]

* Conhdcr your calling,' [chap. x. iS.] ' Confidcr Ifracl
' according to the ficfli.' Sometimes it has a reciprocal pro-
noun joined with it; (JlKiTVilz ca\j\^c) [II. John viii.]

* Conlidcr or look well to yourfelves.' Sometimes it is
■ufed absolutely, as here, and lignifies to hcivare of fome-
what. Care, heedfulncfs, circumfpcftion with refpcft to
danger and oppofition, and thofe imminent or near, is
that which the word imports. ' Lcjl there be in any of

* you.' The firfh word {^/,7iojs) is fomewhat more empha-
tical than the ' left,' whereby alone we render it. Some
tranflations lay f?ic forte J Icjl perchance^ with refpeft to a
dubious event. Others, (nc quando) Icjl at anv time. Left

* there be {-v jivi v^Cajv) in any of you ; the apoflle fpeaks to
tbcm collctfively^ to take care that none be found amongft
them with fuch an heart as he cautions them againlL
And this confequentially falls on every individual ; for
where all are fpoken to, each one is concerned. The
fame kind of exprellion is ufed to the fame purpofe, chap.
xii. 15, 6. Watching, overfecing mutuallv with dili-
gence, leji any among you fail of the grace of God, left any
root of bitternefs i'pringing up trouble vou, and thereby
many be defiled ; left there be any fornicator or prophanc
j^erfon as Elau.

§ 3. The principle of the evil is *■ an evil heart of un-

* belief;' {7r,g u7ri(f]iotg) of unbeliefs here denotes th«
principal ctficicnt caufe, rendering the heart fo evil, as
that it liiould depart from the living God. There Is


Ver.12. epistle to the HEBREWS. 351

fomcthlng peculiar In this exprclTion, * an heart of un-
* belief; tliis, under the power of it, principled by it in
its actings. Unbelief is ufualiy diftinguifhed into nega-
tive and privative. Negative unbelief is where-ever any
believe not, or have not faith, although they never had
the means of believing ; and fuch cannot be faid to have
in them an * evil heart of unbelief.' Privative unbelief
is where men believe not, although they enjoy the means
of faith or believing ; and herein conlifts the higheft a6ting
of the depraved nature of man, being on many accounts
the greateft provocation of God that a creature can make
himfclf guilty of. For it is, as might be manifefted, an
oppofition to God in all the properties of his nature, and
in the whole revelation of his will. Hence to gofpel,
which is a declaration of grace, mercy, and pardon, though
it condemn all iin, yet denounceth ihe final condemnation
of perfons only againft this fin. ' He that belleveth iLall
' be faved, and he that belleveth not fhall be damned,'
[Markxvi. 16.]

§ 4. Now this privative unbelief (which the apofllc
intends) is two fold, and confifls, firji, in rcfujing to be-
lieve when it is required; fecondly, in rf/Vt'Z/V/^ the faith
after it hath been received. We Ihall confider both :

I. When the objeft of faith, or that which is to be
believed, is according to the mind of God, and in the
ways of his appointment, propofed to men ; when fuf-
ficlent evidence is given to the truth and goodnefs of what
is fo propofed, and the authority is made known on which
faith is required, yet thev refufe to believe. Now as this
hath its root in the natural darknefs, blindnefs, and de-
pravednefs of the minds of men, fo it is not educed and
aclcd Vv'Ithout new finful prejudices, and flubbornnefs of
the will, refafmg to confider the evidences given to the
truth propofed, or the goodnefs and excellency of the things
themfelves ; nor is It afted without fignal effects of hard-
nefs of hearty love of fm a!id pl-jafure, keeping men ofF
from the obedience required. The root of this unbelief
is in the orjginal depravation of oin- natures with that fpi-
litual impotencv, and enmity to God, wherein it confiilis.
Vol. n. ' 'Z z B«-


Bcfides this general caufe of unbelief, when it comes to
particular inllanccs, and the gofpel is propofcd to this or
that man for his alfcnt and fubmiliion, there is always
fomc fpccial corruption of mind, voluntarily a6led, if the
foul be kept off from believing ; and on that account
principally, and not merely original impotency and en-
mity againfl: God, is the guilt of unbelief rctlcfled upon
iinners. Tlierc is the fame fundamental caufo of unbe-
lief m all that refufc the gofpel ; but the next immediate
proper caufe of it is peculiar to every individual. 'Some
arc kept off from believing the gofpel ; for inllancc, by in-
veterate prejudices in tlicir minds, which they have taken
in upon corrupt principles and intercfls ; and this Ihut up
of old mod of the Jews under their unbelief. Tiiey had
received many prejudices againfl the per/on and docirim of
Chrift, which on all accounts they expreffcd, and fo were
offended at him. And fo it is with many at all times.
Prejudices againft the preachers of the gofpel on fundry
accounts, and againll: their doclrine, as eitiicr ufelcfs, or
falfe, or unintelligible, or fomcwhat thev know not what,
but which they do not like, keep tliem off from attend-
ing to the word and believing, ]^{c^ John v. 44.] — To
fome an efpecial cbftinacy cf will from thofe prejudices
offereth itfclf in this matter ; fo our Saviour tells the
Pharifees, [John v. 40.] * Yc will not come to me that

* yc might have life i' thev put fortli a pojitive atl of their
wills in refufing and rcje£ling him. And on this account
the guilt of mens unbelief is abfolutcly refolved into their
oivn wills. — Love of Jin with fome, (and it is the mofi: com-
mon path to ruin) is tlie immediate caufe of their aflual
unbelief; [John iii. 19.] ' This is the condemnation,

* that light IS come into the world, and men love darkne/s

* rather than lig'nt bccaufc their deeds are evil.' They like
iiot the terms of the gofpel hrcaufe of their refolutely
wilful love of fm, and fo perilh ii\ tiicir inicjuitics. —
Stupid ignorance, arifing from the polieffion, which other

•things inconfillent with faith and obedience, h.ave of the
niin-ls of men, is another caufe. So our apoitlc tells us,
[II. Cor. iv. 4.] That ♦ the God of this world hath

* hlindcU


' blinded the eyes of them that believe not left the light of
* the glorious gofpel of Chrift, who is the image of God,
' fliould fhine unto them.* When the minds of men are
irradiated with the light of the gofpel, it is that they
may believe; for by that light is faith produced. How is
this obftrufted r it is by the darhnejs and blindnefs of
their minds. What darknefs is this ? is it v;hat is com-
mon to all ? no, but that which is in a peculiar manner
brought on the minds of fonie men, who, by the crafts
and deceit of the God of this wor'd, are kept in a flupid
and brutilh ignorance of fpiritual things. This keeps
them from believing, and fully clears the holinefs and

Online LibraryJohn OwenAn exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews; with the preliminary exercitations (Volume 2) → online text (page 31 of 46)