Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
~ 1 Corinthians 10:12
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
~ Mark 7:21-23
As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,
~ 1 Thessalonians 2:11
Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,
~ Hebrews 3:7
That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
~ Ephesians 4:22
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
~ 1 John 1:3
And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:
~ Hebrews 6:11
An Exposition of Hebrews 3:12-14, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from the text.
Hebrews 3:12-14. — βλέπετε, ἀδελφοὶ, μή ποτε ἔσται ἔν τινι ὑμῶν καρδία πονηρὰ ἀπιστίας, ἐν τῷ ἀποστῆναι ἀπὸ θεοῦ ζῶντος· ᾿αλλὰ παρακαλεῖτε ἑαυτοὺς, καθ᾿ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν, ἄχρις οὗ τὸ σήμερον καλεῖται, ἵνα σκληρυνθῇ τις ἐξ ὑμῶν ἀπάτῃ τῆς ἀμαρτίας. ΄έτοχοι γὰρ γεγόναμεν τοῦ χριστοῦ, ἐάνπερ τὴν ἀρχὴν τῆς ὑποστάσεως μέχρι τέλους βεβαίας κατάσχωμεν.
΄ή ποτε. ποτέ is omitted or neglected in many translations, as the Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic; “ne sit,” “that there be not,” “let there not be.” Vulg. Lat., “ne forte,” “lest haply;” with respect unto the uncertainty of the event; some, “ne quando,” “ne ullo tempore,” “lest at any time,” “that at no time,” with respect unto the season of such event.
῎εν τινι ὑμῶν, “in aliquo vestrum,” so the Vulg. Lat. Ar.; “in ullo vestrum,” Beza, more properly; so we “in any of you.” בֵּאנָשׁ מֵנְכוּן, “in homine ex vobis,” “in a man,” “in any man of you.” Arab., “in corde ullius vestrum,” “in the heart of any of you;” taking in the word “heart” out of the next clause which there it supplies by adding “wickedness,” “the wickedness of unbelief.”
καρδία πονηρὰ ἀπιστίας, “cor malum incredulitatis; so the Vulg. Lat., — a an evil heart of unbelief.” לֵבָא בִּישָׁא דְּלָא מְהַיְמַן“cor malum quod non fidele sit,” “an evil heart that is not faithful” or “believing.” Others, “cor malum et incredulum,” “an evil and unbelieving heart.”
᾿εν τῷ ἀποστῆναι. Ar., “in discedere.” Vulg. Lat., “dicedendi.” Beza, “ut desciscatis.” Properly “descisco” is “to depart unlawfully,” “to withdraw wickedly;” that is, to apostatize from an engagement of duty. Syr., וְתֶפְרְקוּן“and you should withdraw,” or “draw back.”
παρακαλεῖτε. Vulg. Lat., “adhortamini vosmetipsos,” “exhort yourselves.” Eras., “vos invicem,” to the same purpose. Beza, “exhortamini alii alios,” “exhort one another:” as we also. Syr., אֶלָא בְּעוּ מֵן נַפְשְׁכוּן, “sed postulate ab anima vestra,” “but ask” (or “require”) “it of your soul;” that is, of yourself. Tremel., “sed examinate vos ipsos,” “but examine yourselves;” that is, by inquiry. This expresseth somewhat another duty as to the manner of its performance, but to the same purpose.
καθ᾿ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν. Arias, “per unumquemque diem.” Vulg. Lat., “per singulos dies,” “every day;” that is, “sigillatim,” “separately and distinctly considered, Syr., כֻּלְהוּן יַוְמָתָא, “omnibus diebus,” “always.” Beza, “quotidie;” that is, as ours, “daily,” “every day.”
῎αχρις οὗ σήμερον καλεῖται. Vulg. Lat., “donec hodie cognominatur;” Arias, “usque quo;” Beza, “quoad dies appellatur hodiernus,” — “whilst it is called the present day, to-day.” עד מאָ ליַוְּמָא דְּמֶתְקְרֵא יַוְמָנָא, “until the day which is called to-day,” or, “this day.” It is uncertain what day is intended by that translator. It seems to be the day of death; which answers the “omnibus diebus” before; that is, “hujus vitae,” “all the days of this life.” ῞ινα μὴ σκληρυνθῇ ἐξ ὐμῶν. Vulg. Lat., “ut non obduretur quis ex vobis;” Beza, “nequis ex vobis;” — “lest any of you be hardened.” The Ethiopic adds, “that there be none that may say that any one of them is hardened in any sin.”
᾿απάτῃ is rendered by some “deceptio,” by some “seductio,” — “a seducing deceit.”’Rhemists, “that none of you be obdurate with the fallacy of sin;” most darkly and corruptly.
΄έτοχοι γεγόναμεν τοῦ χριστοῦ, “Christi participes facti, effecti sumus,” Beza; “consortes.” Syr., אֶתְחַלַטַן, “commixti sumus Christo,” — “we are immixed with Christ;” that is, as I suppose, “united unto him.” Ethiop., “we are as Christ.”
᾿εάνπερ. Vulg. Lat., “si tamen;” but πέρ is not exceptive. Beza, “si modo,” “if so be.” The Syriac takes no notice of it; nor we in our translation, “if.”
᾿αρχὴν τῆς ὑποστάσεως. Vulg. Lat., “initium substantiae ejus;” adding” ejus” to the text and corrupting the sense. Beza, “principium illud quo sustentamur,” — “that beginning” (or “the beginning”)” of that whereby we are supported.” We, “the beginning of our confidence.” Rhemists, “yet so as if we keep the beginning of his substance firm.” Castalio, “hoc argumentum ab initio ad finem usque,” — “ this argument” (or “evidence”) “from the beginning unto the end.” Syr., “if from the beginning unto the end we abide in this firm substance” or “foundation.” Ethiop, “if we persevere to keep this new testament.” All to the same purpose.
Hebrews 3:12-14. — Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing (wickedly) from the living God. But exhort one another (yourselves) daily (every day) whilst it is called To-day; lest any of you (among you) be hardened through the (seducing) deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if so be we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.
In these three verses there are three things in general proposed by the apostle: —
First, An exhortation unto the avoidance of an evil, even that which it is his principal design to caution them against, and to dissuade them from, Hebrews 2:12.
Secondly, A proposal of one useful means whereby they may be assisted in its avoidance, Hebrews 2:13.
Thirdly, An enforcement of the exhortation from that evil, and unto the use of that means, from sundry considerations, is added, Hebrews 2:14.
In the first of these we may consider what is included in it, namely, —
1. The dependence of this exhortation on the discourse foregoing.
2. The compellation used by the apostle in this renovation of an especial address unto the Hebrews, “Brethren.”
3. The duty he exhorts them unto; and that,
(1.) As to the act of it, “Take heed;”
(2.) “As to the persons concerned, “Lest there be in any of you;”
(3.) As to object of it, or the evil dehorted from, “An evil heart of unbelief;” which is further described by its effects, “In departing from the living God.”
1. The means of the prevention of the evil dehorted from is presented, Hebrews 2:13; and this in general is by exhortation against it, “Exhort:” which hath a treble qualification, —
(1.) As to the persons by whom it is to be performed or the means used, “One another;”
(2.) The season of its performance, which also includes the manner of it, “Every day;”
(3.) With a limitation of that season, “Whilst it is called Today.”
2. An especial enforcement of this preventive duty from the danger of their condition, which would be increased by a neglect thereof. And this is described, —
(1.) From the cause of it, “The deceitfulness of sin;”
(2.) From its tendency and effects, “Lest any be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
THIRDLY, There is a general enforcement of the whole, both as to the evil to be avoided and the means to be used for that purpose; and this is taken from their state and condition on supposition of the avoidance of the one and observance of the other, Hebrews 2:14. And this is, —
1. Expressed, “For we are partakers of Christ;” and,
2. Declared as to its dependence on the preceding exhortation, “If so be we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.”
In the exhortation proposed, in the first place, there is included, —
1. A dependence on the discourse foregoing. Some suppose a hyperbaton in the words, and that this “take heed” depends immediately on the “wherefore” which is in the beginning of Hebrews 2:7, as was intimated on that place. So the following words are introduced only as an instance to enforce the exhortation by. In this sense the reference here is to be taken immediately from the authority of Christ over his house, and the necessity of our perseverance to the securing of our interest in that house, as Hebrews 2:5-6; “Wherefore, take heed, brethren.” But the truth is, the matter of this exhortation is educed so directly and immediately out of the foregoing example, that we must in it own a respect thereunto; for the words are a plain inference from that discourse, though the note of illation be omitted. As if the apostle had said, ‘Seeing it is thus, seeing our forefathers, who were our types, and are proposed for an example unto us, did so miscarry under a dispensation of God representing that which he exerciseth now towards us, let us take heed.’This is the dependence of the words.
2. The apostle returning unto the Hebrews with an especial address and exhortation, renews his former affectionate compellation, “Brethren.” This hath been spoken unto, Hebrews 2:1 of this chapter, where the reader may find the reason of it., and what is contained in it. Only the cause wherefore he repeats it again seems to be, that it might appear that he had no commotion of spirit upon him in his pressing the severe instance and example insisted on. A minister must be ἐπιεικής, 1 Timothy 3:3, “meek,” “patient,” not easily provoked; μὴ οῤγίλος, Titus 1:7, “not soon angry” with his flock, or any of them. And tenderness, gentleness, demonstrations of love and care towards them with whom we have to do, secretly soften them, and open their ears and hearts to let in a word of instruction and exhortation. ῾ο ἥλιος τόν ἄνεμου ἐνίκησε. Besides, he obviates any suspicion that might arise as though he insinuated a fear of such an evil in them, and might make them think that he had hard thoughts of them. By this appellation he removes all such jealousies, and lets them know that the best of saints had need be cautioned sometimes against the worst of evils.
3. The manner of the performance of the duty exhorted unto, and,
(1.) The act of it, is expressed in the first word, βλέπετε, “Take heed.” βλέπετε is firstly and properly “to see” and “behold,” as that is an act of sense; then “to take heed,” or “beware,” an act of the mind; — by an easy translation, first “video,” then “caveo.” And when it is used for “to see” as an act of sense, it commonly hath respect unto expectation, either of some good to be received, or of some inconvenience to be watched against. And because men look out or about them to beware of dangers, the word is used for “to take heed” or “beware.” In this sense it is often used in the New Testament, yea, so far as I have observed, it is peculiar unto the sacred writers; especially it is frequently used by our apostle, as 1 Corinthians 1:26; 1 Corinthians 10:18; Philippians 3:2; Ephesians 5:15; Colossians 2:8. And sometimes it is used transitively affecting the object, merely for “to consider:” 1 Corinthians 1:26, βλέπετε τὴν κλῆσιν ὑμῶν, — “ Consider your calling;” 1 Corinthians 10:18, βλέπετε τὸν ᾿ισραὴλ κατὰ σάρκα, — “Consider Israel according to the flesh.” Sometimes it hath a reciprocal pronoun joined with it, βλέπετε ἑαυτούς, 2 John 1:8, “Consider” or “look well to yourselves.” Sometimes it is used absolutely, as here, and signifies to beware of somewhat; but in this sense it hath often rip, joined with it; as Mark 8:15, βλέπετε ἀπὸ τῆς ζύμης τῶν φαρισαίων: which in Matthew 16:6 is προσέχετε, “take heed of” (beware of) “the leaven of the Pharisees.” And ἀπό is sometimes omitted, Philippians 3:2, βλέπετε τοὺς κύνας, βλέπετε τοὺς κακοὺς ἐργάτας, βλέπετε τὴν κατατομήν, and so of the rest; — “Take heed of dogs, take heed of evil workers, take heed of the concision,” ‘that ye neither join with them nor be hurt by them.’This is here the use of the word; “care,” “heedfulness,” “circumspection with respect to danger and opposition, and those imminent or near,” is that which the word imports: whence observe that, —
Obs. 1. There is need of great care, heedfulness, watchfulness, and circumspection, for a due continuance in our profession, to the glory of God and advantage of our own souls. A careless profession will issue in apostasy open or secret, or great distress, Matthew 13:5-6, Song of Solomon 3:1; Song of Solomon 3:5. Our course is a warfare; and those who take not heed, who are not circumspect in war, will assuredly be a prey to their enemies. Be their strength never so great, one time or other they will not avoid a fatal surprisal.
And there is a necessity of this heedful attendance in us, from the manifold duties that, in all things and at all times, are incumbent on us. Our whole life is a life of duty and obedience. God is in every thing to be regarded by us. So that we are to be attentive unto our duty on all occasions, Psalms 16:8; Genesis 17:1. If we fail in matter or manner, what lies in us we spoil the whole; for “bonum oritur ex integris, malum ex quolibet defectu.” Any one defect is enough to denominate an action evil; but unto that which is good there must be a concurrence of all necessary circumstances. See Ephesians 5:15-16. And who is sufficient for these things? God alone by his Spirit and grace can enable us hereunto. But he works these things by us as well as in us, and gives heedful diligence where he gives success.
But it is with especial reference unto difficulty, oppositions, dangers, temptations, that this caution is here given us to be cautious. And who can reckon up the number or dispose into order these things, and that whether we consider those that constantly attend us or thee that are occasional? Among oppositions, snares, and dangers, that we are constantly exposed unto, and which without heedfulness we cannot avoid, the apostle here instanceth in one, namely, that of “an evil heart of unbelief,” which must be spoken unto. And he giveth an instance in those that are occasional, Ephesians 5:15-16, “Walk circumspectly,… because the days are evil.” There is an especial evil in the days wherein we live, which we cannot avoid without great circumspection. Now this taking heed consisteth, —
(1.) In a due consideration of our danger. He that walks the midst of mares and serpents, and goes on confidently, without consideration of his danger, as if his paths were all smooth and safe, will one time or other be entangled or bitten. Blind confidence in a course of profession, as if the whole of it were a dangerless road, is a ruining principle, 1 Peter 1:17; Proverbs 28:14; “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished,” Proverbs 22:3. It is the highest folly not to look out after dangers, and which usually ends in sorrow, trouble, and punishment. Fear is necessary in continual exercise; not a fear of distrust or diffidence, of anxious scrupulosity, but of care, duty, and diligence. Continually to fear dangers in all things, brings a useless, perplexing scrupulosity, where men’s principle of duty is only a harassed, convinced conscience, and the rule of it is the doctrines and traditions of men. But where the principle of it is the Spirit of grace, with all this fear there is liberty; and where the rule of it is the Word, there is safety, peace, and stability. Men at sea that are in the midst of rocks and shelves, and consider it not, will hardly avoid a shipwreck. Livy tells us that Philopoemen, that wary Grecian commander, wherever he went, though he were alone, he was still considering all places that he pained by, how an enemy might possess them and lay ambushes in them to his disadvantage, if he should command an army in those places. Hereby he became the most wary and expert captain of his age. So should a Christian do: he should always consider how, where, by what means, his spiritual adversaries may ensnare or engage him, and so either avoid them or oppose them; and not be like the simple, pass on heedlessly and be punished, Ephesians 6:11-12, etc.
(2.) In a due consideration of the especial nature of those and dangers that we are exposed unto. It is not enough that in general we know and reckon on it that we are obnoxious unto dangers, but we must learn what are the especial dangers, as things are circumstanced in our lives, callings, ways, times, and seasons, that are apt easily to beset us. To know and continually ponder their nature and advantages, this is wisdom, the greatest wisdom we can exercise in the whole course of our walking and profession, 1 Peter 5:8. He that takes heed in this will not likely fail in any other instance. But here custom, security, false-pleasing, confidence of our own strength, negligence, and sloth, all put in to delude us And if we are here imposed on, that we weigh not aright the nature and efficacy of our own peculiar snares and temptations, we assuredly at one time or another fail and miscarry in the course of our obedience. This was David’s wisdom when “he kept himself from his own iniquity,” Psalms 18:23. God would have us cast all our care about earthly things on him, but be watchful ourselves, through his grace, about spiritual. But we are apt to fail on both hands.
(3.) It is so to heed them as to endeavor to avoid them, and that in all their occasions, causes, and advantages, in their whole work and efficacy. We are not only to consider them when they assault us, but to watch against all ways whereby they may so do. This is the duty of a man that stands armed on his guard. He is very regardless of his enemy who never seeks to avoid him but when he sees him or feels him. Men will consider the lion’s walk, so as not without good means of defense to be found in it. The lion is in all the especial oppositions we are exercised with. We had need continually to be “fenced with iron and the staff of a spear,” as 2 Samuel 23:7, and yet to avoid them what we are able. God expresseth his great dislike of them that “walk contrary, to him,” as we have rendered the words, Leviticus 26:21, וְאִם תֵּלְכוּ עִמִּי קֶרִי; — ‘If you walk with me at a peradventure, or at all adventures, carelessly, negligently, without due consideration of your duty and your danger,’— this God will not bear.
(4.) Consider them so as to oppose them. And this consisteth in these things: —
1st. In being always ready armed and standing on your guard, Ephesians 6:13; Mark 13:37; 2 Samuel 23:7.
2dly. In calling in help and assistance, Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:16.
3dly. In improving the supplies granted us with faith and diligence, Hebrews 12.
And these are some of the things that belong unto this duty; and they are but some of them, for it is diffused through the whole course of our profession, and is indispensably required of us, if we would abide in the beauty and glory of it unto the end. And therefore the negligence and sloth of many professors can never enough be bewailed. They walk at all adventure, as if there were no devil to tempt them, no world to seduce, ensnare, or oppose them, no treachery in their own hearts to deceive them. And hence it is that many are sick, and many are weak, and some are fallen asleep in sin. But what our Savior said to all of old, he says still to us all, “Watch,” Mark 13:37.
(2.) There are the persons concerned in this duty, ΄ή ποτε ἔσται ἔν τινι ὑμῶν, — “Lest there be in any of you.” ΄ή ποτε is somewhat more emphatical than the “lest,” whereby alone we render it. “Ne forte,” say some translations, — “Lest perchance,” with respect unto a dubious event. Others,” quando,” — “Lest there be at any time,” “lest so, that there should be,” ἔν τινι ὑμῶν, “in any of you.” The apostle doth not seem in these words strictly to intend every individual person, as if he had said, ‘ Let every one of you look to himself and his own heart, lest it be so with him;’but he speaks unto them collectively, to take care that there be none such amongst them, — that none be found amongst them with such a heart as he cautions them against. And this, consequently, falls on every individual; for where all are spoken unto, every one is concerned. The same kind of expression is used to the same purpose, Hebrews 12:15-16, ᾿επισκοποῦντες μή τις ὑστερῶν, — “Watching,” overseeing mutually, “with diligence, lest any” among you “fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau.” Here the caution is evidently given unto the whole church, and the duty of the whole is expressed thereon. So is it likewise in this place, as appears from the direction that he gives for the right performance of this duty, in and by mutual watchfulness and exhortation, in the next verse. This, then, is proposed,
(1.) To the whole church, to the whole society, and consequentially to every member thereof; so that we may hence observe, —
Obs. 2. Godly jealousy concerning, and watchfulness over the whole body, that no beginnings of backsliding from Christ and the gospel be found amongst them, is the duty of all churches of believers.
He that first put in an exception to this rule was the first apostate from God, who did it to cover a former sin. הַשֹׁמֵר אָחִי אָנֹכִיּsays Cain, Genesis 4:9, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” — ‘Is it my duty to look after him, to take care of him, or what becomes of him?’God proposed the question so unto him as it was apt in its own nature to lead him to confession and repentance. But he was now hardened in sin, and having quarrelled with God and slain his brother, he now casts off all the remaining dictates of the law of nature, accounting that one brother is not bound to take care of the welfare of another. Mutual watchfulness over one another by persons in any society is a prime dictate of the law of our creation, which was first rejected by this first murderer; and every neglect of it hath something of murder in it, 1 John 3:11-12; 1 John 3:15. In a church relation the obligation unto this duty is ratified by institution. Upon the officers of the church it is incumbent by the way of office; on all believers, as members of the church, in a way of love: Leviticus 19:17, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart; thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him.” He that doth not watch over his brother to prevent his sin, or recover him from it, as much as lies in him, he hates him, and is so far a murderer. And the necessity of this duty is expressed in the word used to declare it, and the manner of its usage: הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ— “rebuking thou shalt rebuke him;” that is, plainly and effectually, and that with such rebukes as consist in arguings, reasonings, and pleadings, to bring on a conviction. So the word signifies, and is used as to the pleadings or reasonings of men with God to prevail with him: Job 13:3, “Surely I would speak to the Almighty, I desire הוֹכֵחַ אֶלאּאֵל,” “to reason” (argue, plead) “with God, until I can prevail with him.” And it is used of God’s pleading with men, to bring them to conviction, Isaiah 1:18, וְנִוָּכְחָה לְכואּנָא— “Go to” (or “come now”), “and let us plead together.” So that an effectual dealing with a brother about sin is included. And this is enforced in the latter clause of the words, חֵטְא וְלִאֹאּתִשָּׁא עָלָיו; which may well be rendered, “And thou shalt not bear iniquity for him,” — that is, make thyself guilty of his sin, by not reproving him. And for that jealousy which is to accompany this watchfulness, and the effects of it, our apostle gives in an example in himself, 2 Corinthians 11:2-3, “I am jealous over you with godly jealousy:… for I fear,” ( μή πως, as here μή ποτε,) “lest by any means… your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” This belongs to their watch, as they watch for the souls of their people, “as they who must give account,” Hebrews 13:17. The discharge of this duty will be required of them on the account of their office, and that when, I fear, some will be hard put to it for an answer. For the Scripture is full of threatenings and denunciations of sore judgments against those that shall be found neglective herein. But doth this excuse other believers, members of churches, from a share and interest in this duty? No, doubtless, unless it renders them Cains, — that is, transgressors against the light of nature, and who, as to the institutions of Christ, manifest themselves not to be members of the same mystical body with them that really believe. For in the observation of this and the like duties of their common interest doth the preservation of that body consist. Christ is the head, “from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in love,”
Ephesians 4:16. Every joint, every part in this mystical body that receives influences of life from Christ, the head, and so holds of him, is to work effectually, and to give out the supplies which it receives from Christ, unto the preservation, increase, and edification of the whole. There is, indeed, a causeless suspicion that some are apt to indulge unto, instead, of this watchful jealousy. But this is the bane of churches and of love, as that is the preservation of them both. The apostle placeth ὑπόνοιας πονηρας, “evil surmises,” or “suspicions,” among the works of “men of corrupt minds,” 1 Timothy 6:4, and that deservedly; but this godly, watchful jealousy, is that which he commends unto others in the example of himself. And whatever appearance they may have one of the other, they may be easily distinguished. Jealousy is a solicitous care, proceeding from love; suspicion, a vain conjecturing, proceeding from curiosity, vanity, or envy. He that hath the former, his heart is ruled by love towards them concerning whom he hath it. From thence he is afraid lest they should miscarry, lest any evil should befall them; for love is the willing of all good unto others, that they may prosper universally. Suspicion is an effect of curiosity and vanity of mind; whence commonly there is somewhat of envy, and secret self-pleasing in the miscarriages of others, mixed with it, — a fault too often found amongst professors. And this vice puts forth itself in vain babbling and unheedful defamations; whereas the other works by love, tenderness, prayer, and mutual exhortation, as in the next verse. Again, this jealous watchfulness hath for its end the glory of Christ and his gospel, with the good of the souls of others, This is that which the apostle aims to ingenerate and stir up in the Hebrews, as is evident from his discourse; when vain suspicion hath no end but the nourishing of the lusts from whence it doth proceed. The foundation whereon this duty is built is the common concernment of all believers in the same good or evil, which are the consequents of men’s abiding in Christ or departing from him, in reference whereunto this jealous watch is to be ordered. “Take heed lest there be among you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” The good that will ensue on the avoidance of this evil is twofold: the glory of Christ, and the salvation of the souls of them who make profession of his name. And have we not a concernment in these things? Is it not our concernment that Christ be glorified by the professed subjection of the souls of men unto him, and their perseverance therein? that his name, his grace, his power, be glorified, in the holiness, fruitfulness, and stability in profession, of all that are called by his name? If we are not concerned in these things, if we are not deeply concerned in them, we are none of his.
In like manner, are we not concerned that the members of the same body with us should be kept alive, kept from putrefying, from being cut off and burned before our eyes? Are we not concerned that an eye doth not go out, that an arm doth not wither, that a leg be not broken, yea, that a finger be not cut? If it be so, we are not ourselves members of the body. The like may be said of the evil that ensues on the sin of apostasy, which in this duty we labor to obviate and prevent. That which principally of this kind might be insisted on, is the troublesome, defiling infection wherewith apostasy in any is attended; which our apostle speaks unto, Hebrews 12:15. The failing of one is commonly the infection and defiling of many. There is a filthy leaven in apostasy, which if not carefully heeded may leaven the whole lump. Ofttimes also it springs from or accompanied with some word of error that eats like a gangrene. “Principiis obsta” is the great rule in these cases. And the duty spoken unto is one signal means of the prevention of this evil. And herein lies our concernment; as also in the preventing of that punishment that may befall the whole for the sins of some, Joshua 22:18; Joshua 22:20. And it is the defect which is in this and the like kind of duties which manifests and makes naked that miserable degeneracy which Christians in general, in these latter evil days, are fallen into. Who almost hath any regard unto them? Instead of these fruits of spiritual love, men for the most part follow “divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.” The practical duties of Christianity are amongst many derided. To watch over one another, to warn, to exhort one another, are looked on as things, if possible, beneath contempt. And it is a shame to mention or report the ways and means of dealing with and about the sins of men, which by some are substituted in the room of those appointed in the gospel unto their utter exclusion. But the rule is stable, and will in due time, through the strength of Christ, prevail against the lusts of men.
Obs. 3. (2.) It is the duty of every individual believer to be intent on all occasions, lest at any time, or by any means, there should be found in him “an evil heart of unbelief.”
This, as was showed, follows on the former, and is a necessary consequence of it. But this so directly falls in with what will be offered from the next clause that thereunto we refer it.
(3.) The evil thus earnestly cautioned against is expressed,
(1.) In the principle of it, and that is, καρδία πονηρὰ τῆς ἀπιστίας: and,
(2.) In the work or effect of that principle, in these words, ᾿εν τῷ ἀποστῆναι ἀπὸ θεοῦ ζῶντος.
(1.) The principle of the evil is “an evil heart of unbelief.” What is meant by καρδία, “the heart,” in the sense wherein it is here used, was declared on the verses preceding; what is meant by πονηρά, “evil,” shall be showed in its proper place. In special, it is said to be an evil heart τῆς ἀπιστίας, — of unbelief;” that is, say most, ἄπιστος, “cor malum et incredulum,” “an evil heart, and incredulous,” or “unbelieving,” — an evil and unbelieving heart. So the genitive case of the substantive is put for the adjective, — ἀπιστίας for ἄπιστος, by a Hebraism not unusual. In this sense “unbelieving” is either exegetical, declaring what is meant by the “evil heart” in this place, even an unbelieving heart; or it is additious, and so a heart is signified which in general is evil, and in particular unbelieving. But there seems to me to be more in this expression; and that ἀπιστίας here is “genitivus efficientis,” — denoting the principal efficient cause rendering the heart so evil as that it should “depart from the living God.” καρδία ἀπιστίας, then, “a heart of unbelief,” is more than καρδία ἄπιστος, “an unbelieving heart;” for this latter word is sometimes used to express a defect in believing, and not unbelief absolutely. So John 20:27, ΄ή γίνου ἄπιστος, ἀλλὰ πιστός, — “Be not unbelieving, but believing.” They are the words of Christ unto Thomas, who, though he failed in his faith, yet was not absolutely without faith. I confess the word is generally used in Scripture to express a negative unbeliever, or an infidel; but there is something peculiar in this expression, “A heart of unbelief,” — that is, under the power of it, principled by it in its actings. What this unbelief is, and how the heart is rendered πονηρά, “evil,” thereby, we must now inquire.
As for unbelief, it is usually distinguished into that which is negative and that which is privative.
1st. Negative unbelief is whenever any man or men believe not, or have not faith, although they never had the means of believing granted unto them. For when men believe not, they are unbelievers, whether they have had any means of believing or no, or whether their unbelief be culpable or no, whatever may be the nature or degree of its demerit. So the apostle calls him an unbeliever who comes in accidentally to the assembly of the church, who never heard the word preached before, 1 Corinthians 14:23-24. In this sense, all those persons and nations who have never had as yet the gospel preached unto them are infidels, or unbelievers; that is, they are so negatively, — they believe not, but yet cannot be said to have in them “an evil heart of unbelief.”
2dly. It is privative, when men believe not, although they enjoy the means of faith or believing. And herein consists the highest acting of the depraved nature of man. And it is on many accounts the greatest provocation of God that a creature can make himself guilty of. For it is, as might be manifested, an opposition unto God in all the properties of his nature, and in the whole revelation o£ his will Hence the gospel, which is a declaration of grace, mercy, and pardon, though it condemns all sin, yet it denounceth the final con-detonation of persons only against this sin:
“He that believeth shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned,” Mark 16:16.
Now this privative unbelief is twofold: —
(1st.) In refusing to believe when it is required;
(2dly.) In rejecting the faith after it hath been received
(1st.) The first is, when the object of faith, or that which is to be believed, is according unto the mind of God, and in the way of his appointment proposed unto men; when sufficient evidence is given unto the truth and goodness of what is so proposed; and when the authority is made known on which faith is required; yet they refuse to believe. For these three things, — a revelation of the things to be believed made known in the way of God, sufficient evidence given unto the truth proposed, and a just assertion of the authority of God requiring faith and obedience, — do render the unbelief of men privative. Now, as this hath its root in the natural darkness, blindness, and depravedness of the minds of men, so it is educed and acted not without new sinful prejudices, and stubbornness of the will, refusing to attend unto and consider the evidences that are given unto the truth proposed, or the goodness and excellency of the things themselves contained in the propositions of truth; nor without signal effects of hardness of heart, love of sin and pleasure, keeping men off from the obedience required. Some instances may clear these particulars: —
(1st.) The root of this unbelief is in the original depravation of our natures, with that spiritual impotency and enmity to God wherein it doth consist. There is such an impotency in us by nature, that no man of himself, by his own strength, can believe, can come to Christ. So himself informs us, John 6:44, “No man,” saith he, “can come to me, except the Father draw him;” — that is, none can believe unless they are in an especial manner “taught of God,” as he explains himself, John 6:45. Again, by nature that “carnal mind” is in all men, which is “enmity against God,” which is “not subject unto his law, neither indeed can be,” Romans 8:7. Hereunto maybe referred all that is spoken about the death of men in sin, their blindness and distrust, their alienation from God and obstinacy therein. This is the root and remote cause of all unbelief. Men in the state of nature neither can nor will believe the gospel; but, —
(2dly.) Besides this general cause of unbelief, when it comes unto particular instances, and the gospel is proposed unto this or that man for his assent and submission unto it, there is always some especial corruption of mind or will, voluntarily acted, if the soul be kept off from believing; and on the account thereof principally and not merely of original impotency and enmity against God, is the guilt of unbelief reflected upon the souls of the sinners. There is the same fundamental remote cause of unbelief in all that refuse the gospel; but the next immediate proper cause of it is peculiar to every individual unbeliever: —
First, some are kept off from believing the gospel by inveterate prejudices in their minds, which they have taken in upon corrupt principles and interests. This shut up of old most of the Jews under their unbelief. They had received many prejudices against the person of Christ, which on all occasions they expressed; and so were offended at him and believed not. That he was poor, that he came out of Galilee, that the rulers and teachers of the church rejected him, were their pleas against him. So also they had against his doctrine, and that principally on two false principles; — one of justification by the works of the law, as our apostle directly declares, Romans 9:31-32; Romans 10:3; the other, of the perpetuity or unchangeableness of the institutions of Moses, with which the apostle deals in this epistle. And these prejudices arose partly from their pride in seeking after righteousness by the works of the law, and partly from a corrupt desire of earthly things, riches, dominion, and wealth, which they expected with and by their Messiah, whereof I have treated elsewhere at large. These were in many the immediate causes of their unbelief, as is everywhere manifest in the gospel. And so is it with many at all times. Prejudices against the preachers of the gospel on sundry accounts, and against their doctrine, as either useless, or false, or unintelligible, or somewhat they know not what, which they do not like, keep them off from attending to the word and believing. See John 5:44.
Secondly, An especial obstinacy of will from those prejudices offereth itself in this matter. So our Savior tells the Pharisees, John 5:40, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” It is not the perverseness and obstinacy that is in the wills of all men by nature that our Savior here intendeth, but an especial perverseness in them, arising out of an especial envy unto and hatred of him and his doctrine. Hence they did not only not receive him, — which might be charged on their natural impetency, — but they put forth a positive act of their wills in refusing and rejecting him. And on this account the guilt of men’s unbelief is absolutely resolved into their own wills. And whether it be discovered or no, this is the condition with many in all times and seasons.
Thirdly, Love of sin is with some the immediate cause of their actual unbelief: John 3:19,
“This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
The light of the gospel is brought unto a place or people; they come so near it as to discover its end and tendency; but so soon as they find that it aims to part them and their sins, they will have no more to do with it. And on this account doth condemnation follow the preaching of the gospel, though its own proper end be salvation and that only. And this is the common way of the ruin of souls: they like not the terms of the gospel, because of their love of sin; and so perish in and for their iniquities.
Fourthly, Stupid ignorance, arising from the possessing of the minds of men with other things, inconsistent with the faith and obedience of the gospel, through the craft and subtilty of Satan, is another cause hereof. So our apostle tells us, 2 Corinthians 4:4, that
“the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”
It is when the minds of men are beamed into with the light of the gospel that they do believe; for by that light, is faith produced. How is this hindered, how is it obstructed? It is by the darkness and blindness of their minds. What darkness is this, — that which is natural and common unto all? No, but that which is in a peculiar manner brought and reflected on the minds of some men by the craft and deceits of the god of this world; that is, through his temptations and suggestions, he so fills and possesses their minds with the things of this world (whence he is here peculiarly called “the god of this world”, that they are kept in a stupid and brutish ignorance of spiritual things, And this keeps them off from believing. These are a few of the many instances that might be given of the immediate causes of their privative unbelief, which consists in the rejecting or not receiving the truths of the gospel, when they are proposed in a due manner unto the minds of men.
And this fully clears the holiness and righteousness of God in his judgments against final and impenitent unbelievers to whom the gospel is preached; for as that impotency which is in them naturally is culpable, — and it is no excuse for them for not believing because of themselves they could not so do, seeing it is by their own default that they are brought into that condition, — so every one in his own person who believeth not doth, by a voluntary act of his will, reject the gospel, and that on such corrupt principles as none can deny to be his sin.