John Owen.

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

. (page 34 of 46)
Online LibraryJohn OwenAn exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews; with the preliminary exercitations (Volume 2) → online text (page 34 of 46)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

or 4 participation of him. It is enduring faith that is
true faith, and which proves us indeed to be partakers of
(thrift. Here take notice,

Vol. IL Ccc (i.) Th^f


(i.) That there are many feeming evidences of union
with Chrift that may fail. The blade is an appearing
evidence of wcU-rooted corn, but it often fails, and that
for want of root, [Matt. xiii. 12.] Things of this na-
ture may fathfy them in whom they are, that they are
really united in Chrift ; but this they conclude through
their own darknefs and millakes. And fometimes there
are figns, and which yet are but fadhig Jigns^ fuch as
others may, nay ought to be fatisfied m, as not being able
to evince them to be otherwife, by any rule of truth.

(2.) There may be certain and undeceiving rzW^wc^j of
a prefent participation of Chrifl, or, which is all one,
men may have a certainty, fufficient at prefent to fupport
and comfort them in their obedience ; and which in the
iffue will neither fail them, nor make them alhamcd,
that they are partakers of Chrift. Now faith is that
which giwts fub/yhncc to the things believed, in our minds,
and is fuch an argument of them as will not deceive ;
and nothing can pofTibly give the mind a more undecei-
ving affurancc than that which caufeth its obje6l to fubflft
in it, which unites the mind and the truth believed in
one fubfiftence. This faith doth. Hence our apoftlc
afcribes to it, [Ephcf. iii. 12.] a grciindcd bolJnefsy
with a confident truj}^ which are the higheft exprcflions of
the mind's aflurance. It is then in the nature of faith it-
felf, rightly exercifed and improved, to evidence this
matter to our fouls ; and when the holy Spirit givcth this
Tiew name of a child of God to any believer, he knows it
though others underftand it not. [Rev. ii. 17.] Hence
we are faid to receive the Spirit of God ; that we may
know the things which are freely given us of God :
fl. Cor. ii. 12.] Our apoftle declares in the name of all
believers, [Rom. viii. 38, 39.] * I am perfuadcd, faith he,
' that nothing fliall fcparate us from the love of God,

* which is in Chrift Jefus our Lord.* And fo the apoftle
John tells us, that we both * perceive the love of God

* towards us,* and that we * know that we arc palled

* from death to life;* [I. Epift. iii. 14 — 16.] both which
depend on our unio!i with Chrift, and which by them is



made evident and fure to us. This is alfo confirmed to us
from the nature and ufe of the facramcnts\ and if we may
Jiot, if we oi(ght not to reft aflured of what God teftifies
and fets his feai to, it cannot but be our duty fometimes,
(Ihocking fuppolition) to make God a liar ; for fo we do
when we believe not his teftimony. [I. John v. 10.]
But to prevent any helitation in this matter, he hath not
left it under a brre teftimony, but hath alfo confirmed it
by his oath ; and to this very end, that we might have
ftrong confolation ; wiiich, without an undeceiving ajjurance^
wc cannot obtain, [Heb. vi. 17,18.]

(3.) No grace, no fign or mark will any longer, or
any further, be an evidence or teftimony in this matter,
but only as the foul is effe6tually influenced to perfeverance.
If any grace whatever once lofe its efficacy upon the foul,
to all fuch a6^s of obedience as are required for con-
ftancy, and perfevering fidelity in our profeflion, it lofetli
all its evidencing power, as to our prefent ftate and con-
dition: for inftance ; faith, as to the nature of it, and as
to its main effed, our adherence to Chrift, may abide ia
■us, when yet by reafon of the power of temptation, or
prevalency of corruption, it may not a6l effeftually to
fpiritual experience, for the conftant performance of du-
ties, and abftinence from all fin ; but when it doth fo fail,
it can no longer evidence our union with Chrift, and the
foul, in that cafe, will be left to many difquietments and

(4.) Our perfeverance is an evidence of union, in that
it is an effe^ of it, and there is a good demonftration of
a caufe from its proper and peculiar eifefl. Where an .
cfFe(fl is produced that cannot be wrought but by fuch a
caufe, the latter is infallibly manifefted by the former ;
as the magicians concluded from the miracles of Mofes,
that the finger of God was in them. Befides, this perfe-
verance is the due illue and exurgcncy of grace conftantly
cxercifed and improved ; and all growth in grace, in what
kind foevcr it be, is at once an emanation from this one
fountain of our union with Chrift, and its moft corrobo-
j"Ati ng evidcjicc.

Coca (5.) This


(5.) This alfo may be added, whatever proftjjion hath
been made, whatever yr«//j of it have been brought forth,
whatever conUnuance in it there hath been, if it fail totally,
it is a fulficient evidence that thofe who have made it,
were never ' partakers of Chrift.' So our apoftle, having
declared, that fome of great name had apoftatized from the
gofpel, adds, that yet ' the foundation of God flandcth
' fure,' that God knoweth who are his, [II. Tim. ii.
1 7 — 19.] manifel\ing,that thofe who fell off, notwithlbmd-
ing their profeliion and eminence, were never yet owned of
God as his in Chrift. And another apoftle tells us, that
thofe who went out from them by a defe£tion from the faith,
were in truth not of them, or really united to Chrift. [John
ii. I 9.] And where there Tivepartuii decays in faith and pro-
fefiion, it gives great gro a:id of fufpicion and jealoufy,
that the root of bitternefs is yet remaining in the heart,
and that Chrilt was never formed in it. Let not men,
therefore, pleafe themfclvcs in their prefent attainments
and conditions, unlefs they find that they are thriving,
growing, palling on towards perfcdion, which is the bell
evidence of their union with Chriil.

§ 6. Olf. 3. Our fubliftcncc in Chrifl maintained to
the end, is a matter of great endeavour and diligence to
all believers. This is plainly included in the apoflle's
exprcliion. The words denote our utmoi\ endeavours to
hold it fail:, and to keep it iirm and l^edfaih Shaken it
will be, oppofed it will be ; hut kept it will not, it cannct
be, without our utmofi: diligence and ciidcavours. It is
true, our perlillency in Chriil doth not, as to the event,
depend abfolutcly on our own diligence ; the unalterable-
nefs of this privilege, on account of the faTthfulnefs of the
covenant of ^yace, is that which eventually fecurcs it ;
but vet our own diligent endeavour is fuch an indifpcn-
Able means for that end, as that without it, it will not be
brought about. For it is neccllary, not only (nccejjitaie
fraceptiy) as which God hath commanded us to make
life of for thai end, but alfo (neccjjltate mcd'ilj by a neceffity
$J means, or the order and relation of fpiritual things one
to another, ordamcd of God to cffc6t it. For the con-



tinuation of our fubfiftence in Chrifl is the emergency
and efi'ea of our aning grace to that purpofe. Diligence
and endeavours in this matter are Uke Paul's mariners,
when he was ihipwrecked at Melita ; God had beforehand
given him the lives of all that failed with him in the Ihip;
[Afts xxvii. 24.] and he believed that it 'fhould be even
as God toM him, [verfe 25.] fo now the prefcrvation of
their lives depends ahfolutely on the faithfulnefs and power
of God ; but yet when the mariners began to fly out of
the Ihip, Paul tells the centurion and the foldiers, that
unlefs thofe men ftaid, they could not be faved, [verfe
31.] But what need he think of fliip-men, when God
had promifed and taken upon himfelf the prefervation of
them all ? He knew full well that he would preferve them,
noX. without, but by the ufe of means. If we are in Chrift,
God hath given us the lives of our fouls, and hath taken
upon himfelf in his covenant the prefervation of them ;
but yet we may fay with reference to the means he hath
appointed, when fiorms and trials arife, unlcfs w^e ufe our
own diligent endeavours, we * cannot be faved.' Hence
are many cautions given us, * Let him that thinketh he

* flandeth, take heed left he fall ;* and, ' take heed that
< we lofe not the things which we have wrought,' and

* hold faft that thou haft, left another take thy crown ;*
with the like innumerable.

§ 7. Thefe warnings are not given merely to profefjors
in general, whofe condition is dubious, to thofe that arc
only entering on the ways of Chrift, left they fliould recoil
and defcrt them ; but they are given to all true believers^
' thofe of the greateft growth and attainments not excepted,
[Phil. iii. II — 13.] that they may know how indifpen-
fably neceHTary, from the appointment of God, and the
nature of the thing itfelf, our watchful diligence and en-
deavours are to our abiding in Chrift. And they are thas

I. On account of the oppojition, power, and craft of
our fpiritual adverfaries. For this end are the gates of
hell, that is, the counfcl and ftrength of Satcvi, peculiarly
engaged. His great defign is to caft them dowi> and pre-


Tail agalnfl them who arc built upon the rock ; that is,
who arc united to Chrift. Our Saviour, indeed, hath
promifcd, * that he fhall not prevail,* [Matt. xvi. 15.] but
tliathe (hall not prevail, argues a difappointincnt in con-
teft ; but wc arc to watch and contend that they may not.
This allb is tlK" principal dcllgn of the ii'orld ■ it fJts all
its engines on work to fcparatc us from Chriih

2. It is necLlTaryon account of our peace, confolation,
and frultfulnefs in tliis world Without the two former,
we have no fatisfaaion in ourfclves, and without the latter,
we are of no ufe to the glory of God, or good of others.'
It is altogether vain to expcd true peace, folid confolation,
era thriving in fruitfulnefs, in a ilothful profclfion. Aleii
complain of the fruit, but will not be perfuaded to dig at
the root ; for all our fpiritual troubles, darknefs, difcon-
loJations, ftars, doubts, barrcnnefs, proceed from this
bitter root of negligence, which fprings up and defiles us.
Si?rs wholj defign is to impair or dcllroy our intercft and
perfiftcncy in Chrifl, and lb to draw us off from the
living God. Negkeicd grace will wither, and be ready to
die, [Rev. iii. 2.] yea, as to fome degrees of it, and as
to its work in evidencing the love of God to us, or our
union with Chrift, it will utterly decay. Some of the
churclies in tlie Revelation had loll their firft love, as well
as left their fuft works. Hence is that command that wc
fliould * grow in grace,' and we do fo, when grace grows
and thrives in us. And is it any wonder if we fee fo
many either decaying or unthrifty profclfors, and fo many
that are utterly turned off" from their lirft engagements ?
I'or confider what it is to abide in Chriil ; what watch-
fulnefs, what diligence, what endeavours arc required.
Men would have it to be a plant that needs neither water-
ing, manuring, nor pruning, but ihat which will thrive
of itfelf ; but, what then do they think of the oppolltioii
tliat is continually made to it, the endeavours that arc
ulbd utterly to root it out ^ Certainly, if thefc be not
watched againll with our utmoft indullry, decays, if not
ruin will cnfue. Wc may allb add here, that not only

• ur


our profelTion and exiftence in Chrlfl:, but the gracious be-
ginnings of it alfo, are to be fecured with great fpiritua)
care and induflry.

Verses 15 — 19.

while it is said, to day if ye will hear his
voice harden not your hearts, as in the pro-
vocation, for some, when they heard did
provoke ; how be it not all that came out
of egypt by moses. but with whom was he
grieved forty years ? was it not with them
that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the
wilderness? and to whom sware he that thet
should not enter into his rest, but to them
that believed not. so we see that thex"
could not enter in because of unbelief.

% I — 7. (I.) I'he fever al claufes of the pcifjage explained,
§ 8, 9. (II.) Obfervat'ions^ I. Every clrcumfiance of holy
fcr'ipture IS inftruBive. § 10. 2. Afany hear the voice of
God to no profit. § 11, 12. 3. In the moft general ap of -^
tac'ies God refervcs a remnant for h'lmfelf. § 13. 4. God
Is not df plea fed with any thing in his people hut fin. § 1 4»
15* 5« God fometimes infills on exemplary finncrs^ exem-
plary pun'ifhments. § 16. 6. Great dcflrutiions by way of
judgement^ are infi'itnted reprefentations of future venge^
ance, § 17. 7 . All unbelief is accompanied with contn-
macy. § 18. 8 . Unbelief juftifies the feverity of God.
§ 19 — 21. 9. ^be oath of God is engaged againfl 710 fin
but unbelief.

% I. (I.) X HE genuine fenfc and proper contexture of
the apoflle's difcourfe require their connexion with what
went before. The introdudtion is, * whilfl it is faid ;*



the words therefore are to be taken fimply and abfolutcly,
fo as to indicate a repetition of the former tcflimony, and'
its improvement to fome farther ends and purpofcs. {Ev
TO }^'zy:(j-^aL) ' whereas it is faid \ whereas thefe words arc
ufcd in the pfahnill, and arc recorded for our inibuclion.
And herein the apollle intends not only the repetition of
the precijc words^ but by them calls over again the iJuhoU
Jlory that depends upon them, which is ufual in fuch quo-
tations. Out of the whole, he intends now to tak- new
obfervations to his purpofe ; as if he had faid» confidcr
what hath been fpoken, that the fame befall not you, as
did them who provoked and pcrifned.

§ 2. They all came out of Egypt, they all heard the
voice of God ; howbeit all did not pro:;okc^ but only
fome. {^ici^larr-CAjg] By Aloft s, that is, either under his
conduit and guidance, or through the prcvalency of the mi-
raculous works which God wrought by him. Both theic
fcnfcs the prophet cxprjffcth, [Ifa. Ixiii. ii, 12. j ' Then

* he remembered the davs of old, Mofes and his people,

* faying, Where is he that brought them up out of the fea,

* with the fliepherd of his flock? Where is he that put

* his holy Spirit within him ? That led him by the right

* hand of Mofes with his glorious arm, dividing the water

* before them, to make himfelf an everlafling name.* This
alfo is afcrihcd to them, that ' ihiy heard.'' And this may be
taken either {lri£lly, for the hearing of the voice of God
at the giving of the law on mount Sinai, when the whole
congregation heard thofc voices of God in thundering and
dreadful agitations of the mount wherewith it was accom-
panied ; or it may be taken more largely for a participa-
tion in all thofe inftrudions which God granted them in,
the wildernefs. There fecms, indeed, to be a fpccial rc-
fpe<fl: to the giving of the law ; not merclv the promul-
gation of the ten words on Sinai, but the whole fyrtcm of
attendant precepts and ordinances of worlliip ; for therein
they were evangelized even as we, [chnp. iv. 2.] Alfo their

* hearing* is fpoken of as tliat which was paf \ * When

* they had hcard^^ before their provoking, which yet fig-
nally happened in the fecond year after their coming cut of

2 Esyp^«— ^9- EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS. 383

Egypt. What they heard then was the voice of God ;
and their (in was that (TrocosTriKDccyO'y) they provoked; that
is, God, whoTe voice they heard. [Hof. xii. 13.] ' Eph-

* raim hath provoked h'lttenicjfefs \ that is, very bitterly.
Great provocations have a b'ltternefs in them, as the word
liere denotes, which caufeth God to loath the provokers.
Ey thefe coniiderations doth the apollle enforce his exhor-
tations ; fr-", faith lie, when the people of old heard the
voice of God in that difpenfation of his law and grace,
which was fuited to their condition, fome of th&m pre-
"joked God ; and whereas, they may do fo alfo who hear his
voice in the difpenfation of the gofpel, therefore doth it
highly concern them to take care ; for, under every dif-
penfation, dreadful is the event of abufed mercy.

§ 3. The apoflle adds exprefsly a limitation, with re-
fpe6l to the perfons who heard and provoked ; * howbe'it

* not alL* In his preceding difcourfe he had expreffed the
fin and punifhment of the people indefinitely, fo as at firft
view to include the whole generation in the wildernefs ;
here he puts in an exception^ which may refer to three forts
of perfons: Firjiy thofe who were under twenty years of
agej not being numbered in the wildernefs of Sinai, in
the fecond year after their coming out of Egypt, [Num.
i. I — 3.] For of thofe that were then numbered, there
was not a man left fave Caleb and Jofhua, when the people
were apaiu numbered in the plains of Moab by Mofes and
Eleazcr, [chap. xxvi. 63, 64. but thofe who were num^
leredy were they who died, becaufe of their provocation.
Secondly^ the tribe of Levi ; for, as now obferved, the
threatening and oath of God was againft all of them
only that were numbered in the wildernefs of Sinai ;
[Num. xiv. 29.] And Mofes was exprelTIy commanded in
the taking of the firft mufter-roll not to take the number of
the Levites, [chap. i. 47, 48,49.] However, I much fear,
by the courfe of the ftory, that the generality of this tribe
fell alfo. Thirdly, Caleb. and Jofhua ; and it is certain
that thefe are principally intended. The apoftle exprelleth
the limitation 'of his former general aflertion, tjiat he
might enforce his exhortation with the example of thenii

Vol. 11. D d d wha


who believed and obeyed the voice of God, and who there-
on enjoyed the proaiifc, and entered into his rci\ ; as
well as thole who provoked. So that he takes his argument
not only from the fevcrity of God, whicli at firft view
fccms only to be reprefented in this inilance, but alio
from his \m^Y\c^ faithfulnefi and grace.

§ 4. The apodle's language, though in form of fpeech
an interrogation, is in reality a flrong anfwcr. The
anfwer to this firll inquiry, ' But with whom was he angry
^ forty vears r' confifts in a double dcfcription of them,
firfl by X\\civ Jin ; Was it not with them that finned ?
Secondly, by their puniJJjment \ * Whofc carcafes fell in
* the wildcrnefs.' And we may conlider, both what is
Included, and then what is exprefjed, in this anfwer. It is
plainly included that God was not thus difpleafed with
them all ; let not any apprehend that God took, a caufe-
lefs diilafte at that whole generation, and fo cafl them
off and dcflroyed them promifcuoully. As they were
feme oyily, and not all, that provoked-, fo it was vi\\\\ fame
onlyy and not all, that God was difpleafed. With thofc
\;\\o linncd not, who provoked not, God was not dil-
pleafcd, but according to his promife they entered into
his reft ; which promife in a more excellent fenfe ilill re-
mains for the benefit of the prcf.Mit generation ot them,
jf they were not difobcdient. — I'hc firft thing exprejjed in
the words, or the firft part of the defcription of them
with whom God was difpleafed, is theiry/,'z ; * was it not
« with them th:it:fnnedP ' The ' lins' here principally in-
tended, are the general fins of the whole congregation,
which confiftcd in their frequent murmurings and rebel-
lions, which came to an bead as it were in that great pro-
vocation upon the return of the fpies, [Numb, xiv.] when
they not only provoked God by their own unbelief, but
encouraged one another to dellroy thcfe two pcrfons,
Jolhua and Caleb, who would not concur in their dil-
obediencc ; * All the congregation bade {\onc them with
* llones,' [vcr. 10.] This diflinflion was obfervcd by the
daughters of Zelopheliad, in their addrefs for an inhcri-
lance auion^ their breiluL*n ; * Our father, fay they, died

* ia


* in the wildernefs, and he was not in the company of

* them that gathered themfelves together againft the Lord,

* in the company of Corah, but died in his own fin.'
, [Num. xxvii. 3.] They acknowledge him guilty o^ per-
fond fins, and deny not but that he joined in the general
provocation of the whole congregation ; but only that he
had no hand in thofe fpecial provocations, which God
lixed an eminent mark of his dilpleafure upon, by cutting
off the provokers with fearful, fudden, and fignal judge-
ments ; whereas others were gradually confumed by death
in a natural way.

§ 5. The apoflle defcribes them next by their piimjh-
mcnt. * Whofe carcafes fell in the wildernefs.' I fuppofe
the (cD»iJs) * Carcafes ' of the people may here be called
their {kooKo^) members, or \kit\x bones, as Suidas renders the
word, becaufe probably in thofe great plagues and de-
ilru£lions that befell them, their rebellious carcafes, at
leaft many of them, were left on the ground in the wilder-
nefs, where, after the moft perifliable parts were con-
fumed, their greater bones lay fcattered up and down. So
the pfalmifl complains, that it befell them at another fea-
fon, [Pfalm cxli. 7.] ' Our bones are fcattered at the

* grave's mouth, as when one cutteth and cleaveth wood

* on the earth.' A fore deftrudlion, or judgement, this is
accounted amongft men ; and therefore is it made a re-
prefentation of hell, [Ifa. Ixvi. 24.] ' They Ihall go forth

* and look upon the carcafes of the men that have tranf-

* grelfed againft me ; for their worm fhall not die, neither

* fliall their fire be quenched ; and they fhall be an abhor-

* ring unto all flefh.' — Their carcafes (c'ttsg-ov) fell, that is,
pocnally ; which is an aggravation of their deftruftion.
He doth not fay, they died ; but ' their carcafes/^//,' which
intimates contempt and indignation.

§ 6. ' Was it not with them who believed not ?' [joig
aTTH^Yia-aa-i \) this word, as before flicwn, is varioufly
rendered ; obeyed not, believed iiot, afjented not, acqiaefced
not. The original verb [tth^u:) is to pcrfuadc, by words,
or any other means ; and the word compounded (^vrf/yio;)
is properly n^t to be perfuaded, or not to do vyhat the per-
D d d 2 fuafioa


fuaflon leads to , and if that pcrfuafjon be with authority,
the difjent \s ciif obedience^ or contumacy ; and thcfe arc varied
according as the pcrruafion hath been propofcd. The
Greek noun {cctTcI^-icc) is ufually di [obedience^ jJubbornnefs, or
rebellion ; but in the New Tellament it is often rendered by
unbelief, [Rom. xi. 30 — 32. Hcb. iv. 11.] and, indeed,
the word (77/c*c) faith itfclf, is from (TZinoc) to perfuade.
And in other authors (TTtgig) faith is nothing but that
ferfuajion of mind which is begotten by arguments pro-
poled ; but the promifcuous rendering of that word by
either difobcdience or unbeliefs feeing thefe formally differ, is
not fo fafe, and ought to be reduced to fomc certain rule.
This, for ought I can perceive, interpreters have not doi^e,
but have indifferently rendered it, by the one word or
the other. The two words («7ri/^i*« and aTTci^co;) do cer-
tainly denote a denial of the proper elfecl of the primi-
tive (7rf;^w) t\\Q effeH of perfunjion is not produced. Now
this perfualion is not merely and folely an exhortation by
words ; but whatever hath a moral tendency to prevail
with the mind of man to do or not to do any thing, hath
the virtue of a pcrfuafion. Thus in commands, in pro-
mifes, in tlncatcnings, there is a pcrfuaCion \ and is com-
mon to them all, that they are fuited to prevail with
the minds of men, to do or not to do the things which
they refpe<^. But there is fome peculiar adjunf^ whereby
they are diflinguifhed as to their perfuafive efhcacy ; as
authority in commands, faithfuhicfs in promifes, fcverity
in threatenings, power and holinefs in all. Look then \\\
anv place what is the formal rcafon of the pe: fuafion whofc
difappointmcnt is expretltd by the terms in quclVion, and
we fhall underftand what it is that primarily and direOly
is intended bv them. That whereby v»'e anfwer a * com-
* mand' is obedience^ bccaufe of the authority wherewith it
is attended, and our not being perfuadcd or prevailed on
thereby is difobcdicnce ; that whereby we anfwer a * promife'
is fnith^ trufl, or believing, and our failing herein is w;;-
helief. Not that thefe things can be fo fcparated, as though
we could obey and not believe, or believe and not obey ;
but yet thtry arc thus properly diiVmguilhcd. Wh.ercvcr



then thefe exprefTjons occur, we mufl confider whether
they dire6lly exprcfs the ncgle6l of the command of God,

Online LibraryJohn OwenAn exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews; with the preliminary exercitations (Volume 2) → online text (page 34 of 46)