John Owen.

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

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lighteoufnefs of God in his judgements againft final and
impenitent unbelievers, to wiiom the gofpel is preached :
For as that impotency which is in them naturally, is cul-
pable ; and it is no excufe for them for not believing, be-
caufe of themfelves they could not fo do ; feeing it is by
their own default that they are brought into that condi-
tion : fo every one in his own perfon, who believeth not,
doth by a voluntary a^ rejedt the gofpel, and that on
fuch corrupt principles as none can deny to be Mx^ Jin.

§ 5. 2. There is an unbelief that coniifls in a rejeftion
of the truth after it hath been admitted and profefTed.
Some after they have been convinced of the truth, and
made profefTion of it, yet through the temptations of the
world, the corruption of their own hearts, love of fin,
or fear of perfecution, fufFer their conviftions to wear
off, or caft them out, and rcje£l the faith they have
owned. Ke who hath already w^ithilood the efficacy of
the only remedy for his diftempers, who hath rejefted
and defpifed it, what can cure him ? ' It had been better for

* men not to have known the way of righteoufnefs, than

* after they have known it, to turn from the holy com-
' mandments delivered to them,' [II. Pet. ii. 21.J Rene-
gadoes from the gofpel are the greatcil villains in the
w^orld ; nor do men voluntarily renounce the light, but
to give themfelves up to the deeds of darknefs. The cor-
ruptions of fuch men abfolutelv prevail over their con-
vidlions, and the power of fin in their wills and affcc-

Z z 2; tions.


tions, cafts off all influencing light from their undcr-
ftanding. And this is the condition of unfpeakable mul-
titudes in the world.

Satan will be calling fiery darts at the foul, but when'
the Hiield of faith is held up cortftantly and flcdfaflly they
are immediately qucnccd ; [Ephef. vi. i6.] ves, it is the
work of faith to arm the foul on all hands, that afTaults
make no imprefTion upon it ; and when it is brought
but to parley with an objeflion, then unbelief is at work.
Innumerable arc the oppofite inclinations, objections, and
temptations that lie in the way of profefling the gofpel,
cfpccially againfl exemplary iledfaftncfs : and to hearken
to what Satan fuggefls, to reafon with the world, to con-
fult with flcfli and blood, contains the firil a£tings of
unbelief towards corrupting the heart in order to a depar
ture from God. While our Saviour taught the multitude,
in general terms, of ' the bread of God that came down

* from heaven,* they were pleafed with it, and cryed,
' Lord give us evermore of this bread,* [John vi. 34.]
but when he began to acquaint them in particular that he
himjelf w^s that bread, that his flefli was meat, and that his
blood was drink, that is, that they were the fpiritual nou-
rilhmcnt of the fouls of men, efpecially as given for
them in his death ; they began to be offended and to
murmur, crying, * This is an hard faying, who can

* bear it ?' [vcrfc 60, 6 i.'J And what was the efTeCt of this
diflike ? pldin and open apojlacy, \y<iT. 66.] * From
' that time many of his difciplcs went back and walked no

* more wMth pain.' And whence did this dillikc and
murmuring arife ? It was mcrclv the afling of their un-
belief, as our Lord declared, [vcr. 63, 64.] * My words,'
which you fo dillikc, * are fpirit and life, but there arc

* fome of you that believe not.' The young man men-
tioned. Matt. xix. had a great refpe(fl for the teachings o'i
Chrifij, for he comes to him to be inllrucfted in the way
to eternal life ; but when our Lord Jcfus proceeded to
make a particular trial of him in a i'pccial inllance, bid-
ding him ' fell what he had, and give to the poor, ^lui

* follow


• follow hini ;' this he liked not, but went away forrowfal.*
[ver. 21, 22.]

§ 6. Unbelief fometimes operates in a d'tjllhe of the
purity, limplicity, and fplntuality of go/pel worjhip.
This was that wherein our apoflle had principally to do
with the Jews ; who were apt to admire the pompous
worfhip of the temple, and fo to diflike the naked fim-
plicity of the gofpel inflitutions. Hence the pagans of old
objected to the Chriftians, that they had a worfhip with-
out temples, altars, images, or pompous ceremonies ;
whence they looked on them as mere atheifts. And this
diflike of the purity and fimplicity of the gofpel-worfhip
is that which gave rife and incrcafe to the whole Roman
apoftacy. — The feverity and univcrfal'ity of obedience which
it requircth, is another thing that unbelief diilikes ; and
makes abundant ufe of the flefh to this purpofe. Some-
thing or other it would be gratified in, within doors or
without, or at leall be fpared, and not in all things pur-
fued as the gofpel requires. To be always and in all
things, private and public, perfonal and relative, mor -
tified, crucified and denied, and to have no reft given it,
the llelh likes not; and unbelief makes ufe- of fo unwel-
come a tafk to bring the whole foul into a diilike of that
do6lrine whereby it is required. Many profeffors have
becn-quite wearied out yi\i\\ an obfervance of that holinefs
which this profeffion rcquireth ; and hence it is that com-
monly there are moft apoftates from the ftricleft ways of
profelfion. The more univcrfally liolinefs is preffed,
the more weary will prevailing unbelief make men of the
ways of God.

§ 7. A fecret diflike of the principal myjicries of the
gofpel is the original caufe of moft of the degeneracies,
backflidings, and apoftacies that are found amongft pro-
feffors in thcfe latter days. The teftimonies to them be-
ing fo many, fo plain, fo uncontrolable, what is it that can
carry men to contradidl them to their own ruin ? Why,
unbelief doth not like them, and particularly this myftery
of * God manifeft in the flefh ;' and this Anti-chriftian
principle infenfibly alienates the foul from it, however



plainly aflcrted in fcripturc ; and what men pretend to re-
ceive by the condu(St of mere rcafon and argument, is
indeed nothing but prejudices impofcd on their minds by
the power of unbehef. From the power of this proud
principle men tliink it a foolilh thing to look for pardon
and rightcoufnefs folcly from another, and not trufl to
themfclvcs in any thing : ap.d the reafon why they liavc
multiplied inftanccs to the fame purpofe is, becaufe they
can indeed find reft and fatisfa(Slion in none other, and
do therefore pleafe and deceive their fouls 'with this va-
riety. And what is it that hath driven a company of
poor deluded fouls amongfl ourfclves, to trull a faPiCicd
tight ivlthin them, and a iVigntd fcrfethon in their wr:vs ;
They cannot, forfooth, think it wife, prudent, or fufe^
to trull for their all one who lived and died fo long ago.
Men make fundry pretences, ufc divers arguments and
pleas for turning afide to their own crooked paths, and
endeavour by all means poffible to juflify themfelves ; but
tlie bottom of all lies here, that this doclrine of the crofs
is foolilhnefs to them ; and they are under the power of
their unbelief which dillikes the myfterics of it. That
the juft Ihonid fufier for the unjult ; the innocent ww-
dergo the puniihment due to the guilty ; tliat one Ihould
lin, and another fuffer ; that he whom God loved above
all, fliould undergo his wrath for them, and deliver them
whom he had grounds of righteoufnefs to hate and deflroy,
is a foolilh thing to them. This all the Scclnians in the
world defpifc ; and it is reje£led by the fakers amongll
curfelves ; and varioufly corrupted by the Piip'ips, and
others. And there is none of all thefc, but vf'iW plead
reafons and arguments for their opinions : but this that
\\c infill on is the true and real ground of their mifcarriagcs.
They are under the power of that unbelief, which ?.(fts it-
felf by a diflike of the myflcrics of the gofpel.

§ 8. The next thing in the words is X.\\?iX. fpccial evil
which the apolUe cautions the Hebrews againfl ; as that
which an lieart made evil by the prevalency of unbelief
would tend to the ' departing from the living God \ the
objefl of this dcp?.rture is particularly exprelicd [cctto 0Ja


^cjoy\oc) * from the living God.' It is plain that apoilacy
from the profeffion of the gofpel is intended ; and vvc
muft inquire into tlie reafons why the apoille doth thus
peculiarly exprefs it by ' a departure from the living God/
1 fliall propofe thofe which to me feem moil natural :

1 . It may be that thefe Hebrews thought little that their
departure from the profeHion of the gofpel was a depar-
ture y/(?;?z the living God. Probably they rather pretended
and pleaded, that they were returning to him. For they
did not fall off to idols or idolatry, but returned to ob-
ferve, as they thought, the inftitutions of the living God,
and for a relinquilhment whereof the blafpheming and
perfecuting part of them traduced our apoflle himfelf as
an apoflatc. [Acls xxi. 28.] To obviate thefe apprehen-
lions, and that they might not thereby countenance them-»f
fclves in their defection, the apoflle lets them know, that
after the revelation of Chrift and a profeffion of him,
there is no departure from him and his inititutions, but
that men do withal depart from the living of God. So
John pofitivelv declares, [11. Epift. 9.] * whofoever tranf-

* greiTeth and abideth not in the dodlrine of Chrifl, hath

* not God ; but he that abideth in the doflrine of Chrifl,
' he hath both the Father and the Son.' He then that
rejefts Chriil in the gofpel, let him pretend what he will
of adhering to one God, cleaves to an idol of his own
lieart ; for neither is the Father without the Son, nor is
he a God to us but in and by him.

2. It may be he would mind them of the pcrfon and
riaiuie of him from whom he would prevent their depar-
ture ; namely, that however in refpe6l of his office, and
as he was incarnate, he was our mediator, our apoftlc
and high pricll ; yet in his own divine perfon he was one
with his Father and the bleffi^d Spirit, ' the living God.*

3. And as this property oi life, as it is in God eflcntially,
whence he is called the ' living God,* is exceedingly and
eminently accommodated to encourage us to faith, truft,
and affiance in him in all freights and difficulties in the
wav of duty — as our apoille declares, [I. Tim. iv. 10.]
** for therefore v/e both labour and fufFcr reproach, bccaufc

I wc


we trufl in the living God \ or, tliis Is tliat which encou-
rngcth us to, and fupportcth us in all our Libourlngs and
iufllrings, bccauje he in whom we truil, from whom wc
cxpcft prclcntalhllance and a future reward, is the ' living
' God i" — {o it is that which defervcdly calls the grcatell
awe and terror upon the minds of men in their lins and
rebellion againfl hiai. Thus he frcquentlv prctaccth ex-
prefTions of his feverity againfl llubborn Tinners with * ai

* / //ir, laith the Lord ;* as it were bidding them to con-
fider what they were to expe£t. And this Teems to me
X\\^ pviKc'ipal reafon why the apoflle thus ftates the fin of
their apoilacy as ' a departure from the living God.*

4. He may alio exprefs it, at once to intimate the
greutucjs and f oily of their lin. They thought, it may be
that it was but the leaving of thefe or the other obfer-
■vanccs, but, faith he, it is a departure, a flagitious defec-
tion and revolt from the living God. And who knows
not tliat this is the grcateft lin and highcft folly imagi-
nable, to depart from him who will be fo great a reward
to them that obey him, and fo fevere a judge of them
tliat torfake him ; what greater guilt or folly is the na-
ture of man capable of ?

§ 9. (II.) From the words thus explained, the fol-
lowing obfervations offer themfelves :

Obf. I. There is need of great care, heedfulnefs,
watchfulnefs, and circumfpedtion, for a due continuance
in our prcfelfion to the glory of God and advantage of
our own fouls. A carelefs profeiiion will iilbe in either
apoflacy, open or fccrct ; or at leaf! great diflrefs ; [Matt,
xiii. 4. Cant. iii. i — 5.] Our Chriilian profelTion is a
warfare, and thofe who are not circumfped in war, will
afluredly be a prey to their enemies ; be their flrength
never fo great, one time or other they will not avoid n
fatal furprifal. And there is a neceility of this heedful
attendance, for tlie manifold duties that arc incumbent
on us ; our whole life is a life of duty and obedience; if
we fail in matter or manner, we fpoil the whole ; for
(bonum oritur ex tntcgrls^ malum ex quoUbet defeiluj 'any

♦ one d^kd^ is enough to denominate an aflion evil ; bit

' to


* to that which is good there miifi: be a concurrence of
' all nccefTary circumftances.* And who is fufficient for
thefe things ? God alone by his fpirit and grace can enable
us ; but he w^orks theie things by us as well as in us ; and,
where he gives luccefs, gives heedful diligence.

(i.) In a due confideration of our dangers; he that
walks in the midd: of fnares and ferpcnts, and goes on
confidently without confideration of his danger, as if his
paths were all fmooth and fafe, will one tinic or other be
entangled or bitten. ' A prudent man forefeeth the evil
' and hideth himfelf, but the fimple pafs on and are pu-

* niflied," [Prov. xxii. 3.] It is the highefl: folly not to
look out after dangers, which ufually end in forrow,
trouble and punilliment. Men at fea that are in the midft
of rocks and fhelves, and confider it not, will hardly
avoid a fhipwreck. Livy tells us, that Philopoemenes,
that wary Grecian commander, wherever he went, though
he were alone, was ftill conlidering all the places he paded
by, how an enemy might poffefs them, and lay ambufhes
in them to his difadvantage, if he fhould command an
army in thole places. Plereby he became the mod wary
and expert captain of his age. So fliould a Chriflian do :
he fliould always confider where, and by what means, his
fpiritual advcrfaries may enfnare or engage him, and fo
eitiier avoid or oppofe them ; and not like the fimple, pafs
on heedlelfly, and be puniflied.

(2.) In a due confideration of the fpecial nature of thofc
fnares and dangers that we are expofed to. But here
cuflom, fecurity, falfe pleafing confidence of our own
itrength, negligence and floth, all put in to delude us ;
and if we are here impofed upon, that we weigh not
aright the nature and efiicacy of our own peculiar fnares
and temptations, we fliall alTuredly at one time or other
fail in the courfe of our obedience.

(3.) It is fo to heed tliem, as to endeavour to a\jQ'id and
oppofe them ; and that in all their occafions and advan-
tages ; in their whole work and efficacy. "We are not
only to confider them "johcn they aflault us, but to watch
againfl all ways whereby they may do fo ; in being always

Vol. TI. A a a rcadv.


ready, armed, and ftanding on our guard ; in calling in
help and ailillance ; and in improving the fiipplics granted
us with taithfiil diligence. The negligence and floth of
many profelTors can never be enough bewailed; they walk
at all adventure, as if there were no chz'il to tempt them;
no %vor!il to llducc, enfnarc, or oppofe tlicm ; no treachery
in their own hearts to deceive them. And hence it is
that many are fick, and many are weak, and fome are
fallen aflecp in fin ; but what our Saviour faid to all of
old, he fays ftill to us, watci. [Mark xiii. 37.]

§ 10. OhJ\ 2. Godly jcaloufy concerning, and watch-
fulncfs over the whole body, that no beginnings of back-
jliding from Chrill and the gofpel be found amongft them,
is the duty of all churches of believers. Mutual watch-
fulnefs over one another, by each pcrfon in any fociety, is
a prime di6\atc of the law of our creation ; and every neg~
le£t of it implies fomethiiig of murder, [I. John iii. i i —
15.] In a churcJ? relation the obligation is ratified by /;/-
fl'liiition. Upon the officers of the church it is incum-
bent by way oi office \ on all believers, as members of the
church by way oi Ioih\ [Lcvit. xix. 17.] ' Thou flialt
* not hate thy brother in thine heart; thou Ihalt in any
' wife rebuke thy neighbour, and not fuffer fm upon
' him.' He that doth not watch over his brother to pre-
vent his lin, or recover him from it, as much as lies in.
him, he hates him, and is fo far ' a murderer.' And as
for that jealoufy which ought to accompany this watch-
fulnefs, our aportle gives us a flriking example in himfclf,
[11. Cor. xi. 2, 3,] * I am jealous over you with a godly
' iealoufy, for I fear (^i^TT^t^c, as here, yy/iTrfj-} Ujl by ajiy
* mctins your minds be corrupted from the fimplicity of
' the gofpel.' But doth an apol\olic, or minifterial con-
cern excufc other believers, members of churclies, from
a Iharc and intcreft in this duty? no, doubtlefs, unlefs it
renders them Cains, that is, tranfgrcllbrs againll: the light
of nature; and as to the wjiitut'ions of Chrill, they too much
nianifeft thcmfelves not to be members of the fame myfti-
cal body with them that re:illv believe. For in the obfer-
vation of this and tlic like duties of their common intercfl:,



doth the prefcrvatioii of that body confifl. Chriil Is the
J lead ' from whom the whole body fitly joined together
^ and compared, by that which every joint fupplieth,
* according to the cifcftual working in the meafure of
' every part, maketh increafe of the body to the edifying
' of itfelf in love,' [Ephcf. iv. 16.] Every joint, every
part in this myftical body that receives influence of life
from Chrift tlie head, and fo holds of him, is to work
cffcftually, and to give out the fupplies which it receives
from Chriil to the prefcrvation, increafe, and edification
of the whole. There is indeed a caufelefs fufpiclon that
fome are apt to indulge inftead of this v/atchful jealoufy;
which former is the bane of churches and of love, as the
latter is the prefcrvation of them both. The apoftle
piacetlr ' evil furmifcs,' or fufi:!icions, among the works
of men of corrupt minds, [I. Tim. vi. 4.] and that de-
fervedly ; but this gcdiy watchful jealoufy he commends
to otliers in the example of himfeif. And whatever ap-
pearance they may have one of another, they may be
eaiily diftinguiihed. Holy jealoufy is a folicitous care
proceeding from love ; iinful fufpiclon is a vain conjeilur-
ing, proceeding from curiolity, vanity, or envy. The
heart of the former is ruled by love towards the perfons
concerned ; from thence he is afraid left they fnould mif-
carry, left any evil Ihould befall them ; for love is the
willing of all good to others, that they may profper uni-
vcrfally ; but the fufpicious is actuated by curiolity and
vanity of mind ; whence commonly there is fomewhat of
envy and fecret felf-pleaiing in the mifcarriages of others
mixed with it; a fault too often found asnongft profefibrs !
And this vice puts forth itfelf in vain babbling, and un-
heedful defamations; whereas the other works by love,
tendernefs, prayer, and mutual exhortation. Are we not
concerned that an eye doth not go out, that :\\\ar}n do not
wither, that a leg be not broken, yea thr.t a fi.iger be not
cut ? {Prhic'ipus oh/la.) * Supprcfs the rifmg evil,' is tlie
great rule in thefe cafes. And the duty we fpeak of is
one iignal means of preventing this evil. And it is the
^cfeft which is in this and the like kind of duties,

A a a 2 which


which manifcf^s and makes naked that miferablc degene-
racy which Chriflians in general, in thefe latter evil days,
pre fallen into. Who alinoH hath any regard to them ^
Inilcad of thcfc fruits of fpiritual love, men for the mofb
part follow divers luRs aiul plcafurcs, living in envy and
malice, liateful and hatmg one another. The practical
duties of Chriftianity arc amongll: many derided. To
v;atch over one another, to warn, to exhort one another,
are looked on as things, if pofl'ihlc, beneath contempt.
And it is a fliame to mention the ways and means of
dealing: about the fins of men, Vvhicli by fomc arc infti-
tutcd in the room of thofc appointed in tlic gofpcl.

§ II. 0/)f. 3. I'hc root of all backiiidings, of all
apoilacy, whether it be notional or practical, gradual or
total, lies in wih^'l:cf. When, therefore, any heart is faid
to be {Tkcyjc.) e-'il^ a wicked flagitious frame is intended.
Our prcfent intiuiry is only how the heart is gradually
brought under this denomination by the power and efficacy
of unbelief; and that with fpccial refpe£l to that particu-
lar lin of departing from God. And this is done fevcral
ways :

^i.) Unbelief renders the heart * evil,' as it lets all the
corrupt hifis and afic^lions of the heart at liberty to aft ac-
cording to their own pcrvcrfc nature and inclination. The
heart of man is by nature evil ; * All the thoughts and ima-

* ginations of it arc only evil continually,* [Gen. vi. 5.] It
is full of all corrupt affcftion?;. The gofpel cometh in a
dircft: oppofition to thofc luRs and corrupt affeftions, both
in the root and fruit of them. For this * grace of God,

* which bringeth falvation, hath appeared, teaching us

* that denying ali ungodlinefs and worldly luds, wc fliould

* live fobcrly, rightcouily and godly in this prcllnt woild,'
fll. Tit, ii. 13.] It is the work of faitli to purify the
hearty being the great means or inftrument whereby Ciod
is pleafed to cfTcft it ; * purifying our hearts by faith,'
[Afts XV. 9.] For receiving the promifcs, it teacheth,
perfuadcth, and enablcth us to clcanfc ourfelves from all
unclcannefils of flefli and fpirit, pcrfcfting holinefs in the
fear of God. [II. Cor. vii. i.] Now thefe two, faith



and the gofpel, make up our prcfcfTlon ; and they both
concur in the dcfign of purifying the heart, * For they
' that are Chrifi's have crucilicd the riclh with the alTec-
* tions and lulls,' [Gal. v. 24.] But now wherever un-
belief beginncth to iniiucnce the heart towards the frame
defcribed, it fets in the firfl: place thefe corrupt lulls and
:afre61ions at liberty to a6t themfelves according to their
own nature. The way and means whereby the gofpel of
itfelf worketh towards the mortification of the lulls of the
heart is by the propofal of its promifes and threatenings to
the mind ; thefe w^ork morally ; for the confideration of
them induceth men to fet them.felves againfl whatever
may caufe them to come fhort of the one, or make them
obnoxious to the other, [II. Cor. vii. i.] Now all
fuch gracious influence upon the foul is intercepted by un-
belief ; but efpecially it impedes and hinders faith in the
work before defcribed, by depriving it of the means and
inftruments whereby it works, which are care and watch-
fulnefs in oppofing fin. Where this is attained the whole
work of faith is defeated, and lull is fet at liberty: this
renders the heart ' evil,' and depofeth it to an utter depar-
ture from the living God.

(2.) It renders the heart ' evil' by debafing it, and
calling all good, honell, ingenuous, and noble principles
out of it. The gofpel furnilheth the mind of man with
tlie befl and higheil principles towards God and man that,
in this w^orld, it is fufceptible of. Whatever there is of
faith, love, or fubmiffion ; whatever innocency, righteouf-
ncfs, truth, patience, or forbearance ; whatever is pure,
comely, peaceable, or praife-worthy, is all taught and
exhibited by the gofpel. Now principles of this nature
ennoble the foul, and render it good and honourable ;
but the work of unbelief is to call them all out, which
renders the heart bafc and * evil,' and gives it an utter
diflike of communion or intercourfe with God.

(3.) It accumulates upon the heart a dreadful guilt of
ingratitude againft God, which before profelTion it was
incapable of. When a perfon hath been brought to the
knowledge of the gofpel, and thereby emancipated out of



darkncfs, and delivered from the fenfuality of the world,
and hath, moreover, it may be, tafled of the good word
of God, and of the powers of the world to come ; for
luch a one to draw back, to forfake the Lord and his
ways, through the power of unbcl'uf^ there is a great ag-
gravation attending his fin, [II. Pet. ii. 21.] And when
once the heart is fcduccd by this horrible fin of ingrati-
tude, it will proftitute itfclf of its own accord to all man-
ner of abominations. And it is good for us to have this

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