John Owen.

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

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Uon oi X\\c future judgciiiciit ; wlicrciii .unbelievers ihall
be call off for cvci : tor, as they fell viiilily under the
wrath and dilplcafurc of God, and their carcafcs were
call out in tlic wildernef.s as a loatiiibnie ahoniination, fo
their judgeaient overtook thcai under this formal coniidc-
ration, that they wcic excluded out oi \\\q. reft of Cod.
And thcfc things together give an evident refemblance of
the judgement to come ; wlicn finners fhall pcrilh eter-
nally under tlic wratli of God, and be for ever excluded
cut of his rcil.

<^ 17. Ohf. 7. All un!;clief Is accompanied with con-
tumacy and rebellion. When the obje£l to be believed
is fufficicntly propofcd and made known to any perfon,
wliich renders it his duty actually to believe, efpecially
when it is propofed in the way and manner prefcribcd by
God in the gofpel^ that is, with the highell reafons, mo-
tives, and perfuafive inducements conceivable ; if fuch a
perfon mix not the word fpoken with taith, his unbelief
is ruinous to his foul ; and that bccaufe it hath contumacy
2nd rebellion accompanying it. If among the arguments
ufed to prevail with the mind, tliat of fuprcme authority
be one, then rebellion is added to difobedience and ftub-
bornnefs. The gofpcl makes it appear that its commands
and exhortations to believe are moft reafonablc in them-
fhes^ and mofl: reafotiably to be accepted by finncrs ; and
that on all accounts of reafon whatever. As for inllance;
upon tlic account of divine ri?hteoufnefs, that icquireth
faith or belief of men ; on account of necejfuy^ on the
part of them who are required to bcHcve ; on account of
tiie ^Qod.'jtfsy grace, and condefccnlion, that is, in the
propofed <?/yW/ of faith, and the ro.'w??;^;/^ of believers ; for
the things thcmfelves are excellent and precious, and our
advantages by an intcrefl in them, fo great and unfpcak-
able, as that tliey arc everywhere in the gofpel manilellcd
to b-: the cffeds of infjultc grace and love. On account of
fifeiv: the end pro})ofed is deliverance from iin, death,
hell, and ven;c:ince everlafling; with the attainmcytt of
teft, peace, and bklTtJncfs, in the enjoyment of God.



Now the gofpel propofcth the things which it requires to
be believed, as the only way and means for the attaining
of this end ; and that this way is fafe, and fecure, that
never any one mifcarried in it, or fhall do forever; it
gives all the alTurance that the word, promifes, covenant,
and oath of God can afford. On all which accounts it
follows, that it is a rcafonable thing that we fhould bc^
I'lcver — Again ; confider the manner how the gofpel pro-
pofcth to us the objeft of faith, or the things which it
requireth us to believe ; for it doth not do this by a mere
naked declaration of them, attended with a fevere com-
mand ; it adds entreaties, exhortations, reafonings, en-
couragements, promifes, threatenings, and every generous
and moving topic that is calculated to prevail on the
minds of rational creatures. All the things of our own
eternal concernment are propofed to us with that gentle-
nefs, tendcrnefs, and condefcenfion ; that love, that ear-
neftnefs, that evidence of an high concern for our good,
^md that compaiTionate afFe£l:ion, as will alTuredly aggra-
vate the guilt of rejecting the tender it makes. And
hence it is that the fcripture every where layeth the caufe
of men's unbelief on their wills^ their love of fin, their
obftinacy, and hardnefs of heart.

§ 18. Obf. 8. Unbelief not only juftifies, but alfo
glorifies^ the greatefl feverities of God, againfl them in
whom it prevails. The apoftle having declared the feve-
rity of God towards the people in the wildernefs, adds
this as the realon of it — ' becaufe of their unbelief/
They provoked him by their unbelief, and therefore were
fo feverely deflroyed, as he had declared. And befides, his
principal intention is to manifeft, that thofe who follow
them in the fame fin, now under the gofpel, fliould in like
manner perilh — eternally perilh — by which God will glo-
rify himfelf His dcfign in the gofpel, and by the obje£ls
propofed to our faith, is to glorify himfelf, and all the
the holy attributes of his nature ; and it is that which
becomes him, becaufe it is natural and necclTary to him in
all things to will his own glory. Now unbelief is no-
thing but the attempt of fin and Satan to frujirate the

Vql. H, F ff whok


whole dclign of God, to make him a liar, [I. John v.
I O.J to keep him from being known and worlhipped, as
Ciod only wife, infinitely righteous, holy, faithful, gra-
cious, and bountiful. And where then is the glory of
God ? Or what is left him for which he fhould be glori-
fied or worlhipped ? And can atheifljcal rebellious
attempt be too feverely revenged? Is not God not only
jujiificd in that decretory fentence, ' He that belleveth not,

* ihall be damned ?' but doth it not, even in the hearts
of all the creation, call aloud for the vindication of his
glory, from this great contempt calt upon it, and horri-
ble attempt to frurtrate his defign for the advancement of
it ? As fure as God is God, unbelief Ihall not go unpu-
nifhed. Yes, from the gracious falvation of believers,
and righteous condemnation of them who will not be-
lieve, doth arife that great and triumphant glory, wherein
God will be admired and adored by the whole rational
creation to eternity.

§ 19. Obf. 9. The oath of God is engaged againfl no
fin but unbelief. As God hath given his oath for the
confirmation and confolatlon of believers, both as to the
things themfelves which they are to believe, and as to
their affured fafety on their believing, and to nothing elfc
directly in a way of grace ; fo he hath, in a way of juf-
tlcc, engaged his oath againfl no fin but that of unbelief,
and for the cxclufion of unbelievers from eternal reft.

* To whom fwear he that they Ihould not enter into his
' reft, but to them that believed mtf Other fins there are
that have great provocations in them ; fo had the mur-
murings of the people In the wildernefs. But it is their
relation to unbelief, their growing upon that ftock, that
gives them fuch an height of provocation, as that God
at any time enters a caveat againft them by his oath. And
in this ^zw{<i ir is not faid amifs, that ' unbelief is the only

* damning fin ,' bccaufe as there is no other fin but may
be, but ^W/ be remitted to men upon believing; fo the
formal confidcration, on which other fins, in gofpcl
hearers, fall under judgement, is unbelief.

§ 20.


§ 20. Some doubt whether they fhould believe or no ;
not notioiially and indefinitely, but pra6lically and in
particular ; which caufeth them to fiu£tuate all their days.
But what is it they doubt of in this matter ? Is it whether
it be their iiuty to believe or no ? It is indifpenfably re-
quired of them by the command of God ; fo that not to
do fo, is the grcatcji height of dif obedience that they can
make themfelves guilty of. Is it whether they may do fo,
and whether they Ihall find acceptance with God in their
fo doing ? This calls his righteoufnefs and faithfulnefs in
tjucilion. Is it becaufe of the many objeftions which they
find arifing againil themfelves, which leave them no hope
of a perfonal participation of the good things promifed?
But v/hat are all their objeftions before thofe evidences
that are rendered in the gofpel to the contrary ? The
truth is, if men will not believe, it is out of love to Jin, and
a diflike of the dcfign of God, to glorify himfelf by Jefus
Chiift; if then it be a queftion with you, whether you
Should believe or not, confider if you do not, what will
be the event. The demerit of your fin is fuch, as that it
\s\\\ jujlify, yea, and glorify God in his greatefl feverity
againft you ; and his oath is engaged that you fhall never
enter his reft. What like this can you fear on the other
hand ; and why do you doubt what courfe to take ?

§21. To the foregoing obfervations let the following
be added :

1. Whatever we confider in fin, God principally con-
fiders xht fpring of it in unbelief, as that which maketli
the moft dire<^ and immediate oppofition to himfelf.

2. Unbelief is the immediate root and caufe of all pro-
voking fins. As faith is the fpring of all obedience, fo is
•unbelief of all fin ; all fins of flefli and fpirit have no
other root. Did men believe either the promifcs or threat-
cnings of God, they would not by their fins fo negled him
as they do. And as this is fo with rcfpc«ft to the total
prevalency of unbelief; fo it is as to its partial efficacy.
As our difobedience follows /// proportion to the operation
of our faith; fo do all our fins and irregularities anfwer
the working and prevalency of unbefief in us.

f' f f 2 3. To


3. To difbelicve God, with rcfpe£l to ?lX\w fpecial defzgn
of glorifying hinilclf, is the grcatcll and highcll provoca-
tion. Unbelief deprives men of all intcrell in, or right to
tiic promifes of God ; for no unbeliever fliall ever enter
into the rcil of God.

Chap. IV. Ver. 1,2.


§ I. IntfoduSf'ion. § 2. (I.) Tlje kind of fear intended.
§ 3. fVhat meant by the promife being left. § 4. Pphat
the rejl here meant. § 5. Its nature defcribed. § 6 — 9.
The remaining claufes explained. § lO — 15. (II.) Ob-
fervations. § 16 — 18. 7 he great msjlery of profitable
believing confijls in the proper mixing of truth and faith.

§ I. X HIS chapter is of the fame nature, and carrieth
on the fame delign with that foregoing. That contained
an exhortation to faith, obedience, and pcrfcverancc, en-
forced by a moft appofite and flriking inftancc in the
punifhmcnt which befell fonic ancient profeflTors who were
guilty of fins contrary to thofe duties. And this was done
by the cxpofition and application of a prophetical tcflimony^
fuggclling an example of God's dealing with former un-
believers. Now whereas ni the words of the pfalmift
tlicrc is not only a moral example propofcd, but a pro-
Z phic^

Ver.1. epistle to the HEBREWS. 40;^

-phecy alfo interwoven concerning the reji of God in
Chrill by the gofpel, and our duty thereon ; the apoftle
proceeds to expound, improve, and confirm his exhorta-
tion from the fcope and words of that prophecy. They
might be apt to fay, what have we to do with the people
in the wiidernefs, with the promife of entering into Ca-
naan; or, with what the pfahiiiil from thence exhorted
our fathers to ? Nay, thefe things, faith the apoftle, belong
Xo you in an efpecial manner: for, befides that, you may
in the example propofed fee evidently what you are to ex-
pert if you fall into the fame lins ; the things treated of in
the pfalm are a prophctictil direction dcfigned for your fpc-
cial ufe in your pre [cut condition.

§, 2. (I.) {<\>o^YfiMiLiv.^ * Let us fear.' The noun
(':po(3og,) and the verb ((pofiso^oa,) are ufed in the New
Teftament to exprefs all forts oi fears ; natural, civil, finful,
and religious fear. The fear here intended is religious^
relating to God, his worfhip, and our obedience ; and
this is fourfold, (i.) oi terror, (2.) oi diffidence, (3.) of
reverence, (4.) of care, folicitoufnefs, and watchfulnefs.
Let us inquire which of them it is that is intended.

In this example of God's dealing with their progenitors
in the wiidernefs, he declares alfo that there is included a
commination of fimilar dealing with all others who Ihall fall
into the fame fin of unbelief ; none may flatter themfelves
with vain hopes of any exemption in this matter ; for
unbelievers fhall never enter into the reft of God, which
he farther confirms in thefe two verfes, though his pre-
fent exhortation be an immediate inference from what
went before ; * Wherefore let us fear.' How muft we
do this? With what kind of fear? Not with a fear of dif^
fidcncc, of doubting, of wavering, of uncertainty as to the
event of our obedience ; this is enjoined to none, but is
evidently a fruit of unbelief, and therefore cannot be our
duty. Neither can it be a dlfmaycdnefs of mind upon a
profpe6t of difficulties and dangers in the wav; for this is
the fluggard's fear, who cries, * there is a lion in the
• ftreets, I fnall be llain.' Nor is it that general fear of



reverence with which wc ought to be poflerfcd in all our
concerns with God ; for that is not particularly intiuenccJ
by thtcatenings and the I'cvcrity of God ; fcuing we arc
bound always, in that fcnfe, to * fear the Lord and his

* goodncfs.' It remains, tlvcrcforc, that the fear here
intended, is compounded of an awful apprehenfion of
the holinefs and greatncfs of God, with his feverity
againft fni, balancing the foul againfl temptation, and
careful diligence, in tlie ufe of means to avoid the threat-
ened evil.

§ 3. ' Left a promife being left us,' (u'/jTrfj- xajccXct'
TTo^-VYig i'/ig cTra^yy^Kiotg.) I'hc intention of thefe words
is variouily apprehended by interpreters; but the diffe-
rence comes to tliis, whether by {KuloiKsi7rc'>j.z';v,g) * being

* left,* the a^ of God in giving the promife, or the negletl
ef men in rcfufing it, be intended. The verb here ufed,
(KcTjccXuTrcAj) is of an amb;::aous fignification ; fomctimes
it is ufed for fJrfsro, nrg/igoj to dcfcit^ firglctJ^ or forfakc
in a culpr.ble manner. VVequcnt inftanccs of this occur
in all authors ; and if that fenfe be here admitted, it con-
fines the meaning of the words to the liUtcr interpretation ;

* Left the promife being forfaken or negle£lcd.' The
word may here well denote the ail of God, in leaving or
propofing the promife to us ; a promife remaining for us to
mix with faith. Whichever of th.em you embrace, the
main dclign of the npolllc, in the whole verfe, is kept
entire, and either wav the rcfult of the whole verfc is the
fame. According to the fnft, this is the fum: feeing
therefore that they mifcarried through contumacy and
unbelief, let us fear left wc fall into the fame Jin 5 by leav-
ing the promifes, and fo come fhort of entering mto the
reft now propofed. In the fccond way : take heed left by
your unbelief, rejeiJing the ^promife gracioufly left us, you
fall fhort of the reft of God. I fi^.all not abfoiutcly de-
termine upon cither itn^Q^ but am inclined to embrace the
former ; becaufc the apoftlc feeins in thefe words to lay
the fourulntion of all his cnfuing arguments and exhorta-
tions in chnptcri and tli-'- i^ tiiat ^l promi/eo( enter-


ing into tlie reft of God is left us now under the gofpel,
Beiides, the laft claulc of the words, ' Left any of you
' fiiould feem to come fliort of it,' do primarily and di-
reftly exprefs xhtfui and not the /)?/;;//^;?zf«f of unbelievers,
as wc fliall fee afterwards ; the pronujc^ and not the rcjl: of
God, is therefore the objeft in tliem confidered. More-
over, the apoftle after fundry arguments gathers up all
into a concluiion, [ver. 11.] ' there remaincth, therefore^
* a reft for the people of God ;' Where the word (a7ro7K:-L^
TTsjoci) rendered rcmaineth, of I he fame root with this, is
ufed in the fenfe of the Jir/i interpretation.

§ 4. ' Of entering into his reft.' Expofitors gene-
rally grant, that it is the reft of glory which is here in-
tended ; but I muft take the liberty to diUent from that
fuppofition, upon the following reafons :

1. The reft here propofed is peculiar to the gofpel, and
contradiftin6l from that propofed to the people under the
oeconomv of Mofes ; for, whereas it is faid, that the
people in the wilderne.fs failed, and came fliort of enter-
ing into the reft promifed them, the apoftle proves from
the pfalmift, that there is another reft propofed under the
gofpel ; and this cannot be the eternal reft of glory, be-
caufe thofe under the Old Teftament had the promife of
that reft, no lefs than we have under the gofpel. For
with refpe£l that, our apoftle affirms, that the gofpel was
preached to them as well as to us ; no lefs truly, though
lefs clearly. And this reft multitudes of them entered
into ; for they were both jnftified by faith, [Rom. iv,
3 — 8.] and had the adoption of his children, [Rom.
ix. 5.] And when they died, entered into eternal reft with
God. This, therefore, cannot be that other re/l which
is provided under the gofpel, in oppofitlon to that propofed
under the law.

2. He plainly carrieth on, throughout his difcourfe, an
antlthcfis Qow^i^^mg of many parts : the principal fubjed of
it is, the two people ; thofe in the wildemefs, and the
Hebreivs to whom the gofpel was nozv preached. Now
that reft whereinto they entered not, was the quiet fettled
ilate of God's folcmn worlhip in the land of Canaan, or,



in other words, a peaceable churcli-ftate for tlie worfhip
of God, in the land and place cliofcn for that purpofc.
Now it is not the rell of heaven that, in the antithefis
between the law and gofpel, is oppofcd to that juft men-
tioned ; but the rcll that believers have in ChriJ}, with
that church'Jlate and worlliip, which, as the great pro-
phet of the church, he has cre(^ed ; and into the polfcf-
lion of which he powerfully leads them, as did Jolliua the
people of old into the reft of Canaan.

3. The apoftle plainly affirms tins to be his intention,
[vcr 3.] ' For we which have believed do enter into reft \
it is fuch a reft, it is that very reft, which believers enter
into in this world \ and this is the reft which we have by
Chrift in the grace and worftiip of the gofpel.

4. Chrift and the gofpel were promijcd of old to the
people, as a means and ftate of reft ; and in anfwer to
thofe promifcs, they are here a£lually propofcd to their
enjoyment. This is that which the people of God in all
ages looked for, and which in the preaching of the gofpel
was propofcd to them.

5. The true nature of this reft may be difcovered from
the pYomije of it ; for a promife is faid to remain of en-
tering into his reft. Now this promife is no other but
t!ie gofpel itfelf, as preached lo us, as the apoftle exprelTly
declares in the next verfe. The want of a due confidera-
tion of this particular is what, I prefume, hath led ex-
pofitors into a miftakc in this matter. For they eye only
the prouiifc of eternal life y given in the gofpel; which is
but a part of it, and that confcquentialty to fundry other
promifcs. That promife concerns only them who atlually
bcheve, hut the apoftle principally intends a promife pro-
pofcd to men as the prime object of their faith and encr.u-
ragcmenl to believin^y Chrift himfelf, and the benefits of hi'^
mediation ; which we niuft be iirft intereftcd in, before
wc can lay any claim to the promife of eternal life.

6. The apoftlc*s delign is — not to prefer heaven^ im-
rnortality, and glory, above the law^ and that reft in God's
worlhi]) which the people had in the land of Canaan, for
who, even of the Hebrews themfelves, ever doubted of this r



but — to fet out the excellency of the gofpel, its worfhip,
and the church-Jiate, to which we are called by Jefus Chrilt,
above all prior privileges ; and if this be not always duly
confidered, ilo part of the epiflle can be rightly under*

§ 5. This being the reft here propofed, as promifed in
"the gofpel ; our next inquiry is into the nature of it, or
wherein it conlifts. And we fhall find that it conlifts,

1. In peace with Gcd^ in the free and iuil jujiification of
the perfons of believers from all their fins by the blood of
Chrift, [Rom. V. i.] * Being juftified by faith we have

* peace with God,' [Ephef. i. 4.] * In whom we have re-

* demption through his blood, the forgivenefs of our fins.*
This is fully exprefled, [Ads xiii. 32, 33 — 38, 39.] * We

* declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promife that

* was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the fame

* unto us their children, ill that he hath railed up Jefus
'again. BcU it known unto you therefore, men and bre-

* thren,that through this man is preached unto you the for-

* givenefs of fins ; and by him all that believe are juftified

* from all things, from which ye could not be juftified by

* the law of Mofes.' Nor is it of force to except, that
this was enjoyed alfo under the Old Teftament ; for
although it were fo in the fubftance of it, yet it was not
fo as a complete rejl. Juftification, and peace with God
thereon, are properly and dlre^lyaurs ; they were theirs by
a participation in our privileges ; God having < ordained

* fome better things for us, that they without us fhould

* not be made perfect, [Heb. xi. ult.'\

2. In our freedom from bondage, a fervile frame of
fpiritin the worfhip of God. Under the Old Teftament
they had the fpirits of fcrvants, though they were fons ;

* For the heir as long as he is [r/\iTiog) an infant^ unable
' to guide himfelf, differeth nothing from a fervant, but

* is under tutors and governors, until the time appointed

* of the Father.* And this kept them from that full and
complete reft, which now is to be entered into, and
which cannot be but where there is liberty.

Vol. II. G g g 3. Evan-


^. Evangelical reft coiilifts in a delivery from the yoke
and bondage of Mofaical inllitutions. tor as the people
of old had a fplrii of bondage, fo they had upon them
f^yc;) a yoJi:r. And this reft in the confcicnces of men,
from an obligation to a multitude of anxious fcrupulous
obfervanccs, under moft fcvere revenging penalties, is no
fmalip.irt of that reft, which our Saviour propoics as an
encouragement to finners for coming to him, [xMatt. ii.


4. Hiis reft confifts in tliat gofpel zL'orJ^jip to which we
are call-d. This is a bleiled reft on account, for inftance,
of that liberty of fpirit which believers have in obeying
it ; of the ajjijlance which the worlhippcrs have for tliJC
performance of the worlhip in an acceptable manner ;
and, finally, the wordiip itfelf, and the obedience it re-
quires, 2i\t not gilt jous \ but eafy, gentle, rational, fuited
to the principles of the new nature of the worfliippers.

4. This alfo is God's rejl ; for God reftcth, ultimately
and abfolutely, as to all the ends of his glory, in Chr'ijU
as exhibited in the gofpcl ; and through him he rcfts in
his love towards believers alfo ; and this is that worlhip
which he ultimately and unchangeably requires in this
world, nor is it liable to any alteration or change to the
confummation of all things. This, therefore, is GocV s reft
and ours.

§ 6. * Left any of you fhould feem to come fliort of
* it ;' [iig :-'^ vuujv) any of you, Wc all ought to take care
of one another, or fear each other's dangers and temp-
tations, labouring to prevent their efficacy, by mutual
brotherly care and aliiftancc, {lcx7]) J^ou/d /avfiy refers to
at any time. The apoftle intends to warn them againft all
appearance of any fuch failing as that he cautions them
againft ; deliring them to take heed that none of them do,
by remitting their former zeal and diligence, give any
figns of adcclenfion from, or deftrtion of their profcllion ;
let there be no apparent rejhnhluuce of any fuch thing
found amongft you. — * To come Ihort,* {vo^iy.:,y-^v(xi) to
he left behind, that is, ia the work of \n^ receiving the
promlfc when pvopoied. If men fail in the beginning,
2 probably


probably they will quite give over in their progrefs. Ge-
nerally,' expofitors think here is an allufion to them who
run in a race, but tlic allulion is taken from the people in
the wildernefs, and their palling into the land of Canaan.
Moft of them were heavy through unbelief, lagging in
their progrefs, and, as it were, left behind in the wilder-
neis, where they pcrilhcd, and came Ihort of entering
jnto the promifcd land.

§ 7. * For unto us was the gofpel preached, as well as
* unto them,' or, ' For we were evangelized even as they.'
The word (:-vayysKiQiJ.-y.i) evangelized, though of various
conftruaion, is here 'u fed pofiiivcly, and the nominative
cafe (;;a5/c) ar is included in the verb fubilantive (ccr/xfj/)
1VC are evangdi%cd \ we have the gofpel preached unto us.

Online LibraryJohn OwenAn exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews; with the preliminary exercitations (Volume 2) → online text (page 36 of 46)