And if the whole congregation of Israel sin through ignorance, and the thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done somewhat against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which should not be done, and are guilty;
~ Leviticus 4:13
And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:
~ Daniel 5:22-23
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
~ James 4:17
The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?
~ Isaiah 33:14
And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.
~ Numbers 16:35
Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.
~ Deuteronomy 32:43
An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews 10:26-27, by John Owen.
Hebrews 10: 26, 27
Ἑκουσίως γὰρ ἀμαρτανόντων ἡμῶν μετὰ τὸ λαβεῖν τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν τῆς ἀληθείας, οὐκ ἔτι περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν ἀπολείπεται θυσία, φοβερὰ δέ τις ἐκδοχὴ κρίσεως, καὶ πυρὸς ζῆλος ἐσθίειν μἐλλοντος τοὺς ὑπεναντίους.
Ver. 26, 27.—For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
In these verses the apostle gives a vehement enforcement of his preceding exhortation, from the dreadful consequences of a total neglect of it, or uncompliance with it. And this he doth, 1. By expressing the nature of the sin which lies therein. 2. By an impossibility of deliverance from the guilt of it. 3. The punishment that would unavoidably follow upon it.
Interpreters have greatly perplexed themselves and others in the interpretation and exposition of these verses, and those that follow. Their conjectures in great variety have proceeded principally from a want of a due attendance unto the scope of the apostle, the argument he had in hand, the circumstances of the people unto whom he wrote, and the present state of God’s providence towards them. I shall not trouble the reader with their various conjectures, and censures of them; but I shall give such an evident sense of the words as themselves and the context do evince to be the mind of the Holy Ghost in them.
Ἑκουσίως. 1. As unto the words wherein the sin and state of such men is expressed, “If we sin wilfully,” he puts himself among them, as is his manner in comminations: both to show that there is no respect of persons in this matter, but those who have equally sinned shall be equally punished; and to take off all appearance of severity towards them, seeing he speaks nothing of this nature but on such suppositions as wherein, if he himself were concerned, he pronounceth it against himself also. “We sinning,” or, “if we sin ἑκουσίως,” “wilfully,” say we: our former translations, “willingly;” which we have now avoided, lest we should give countenance unto a supposition that there is no recovery after any voluntary sin. “If we sin wilfully;” that is, obstinately, maliciously, and with despite; which is the nature of the sin itself, as is declared verse 29: but the word doth not require, nor will scarce bear any such sense. “Willingly,” is of choice, without surprisal, compulsion, or fear; and this is all that the word will bear.
The season and circumstance which state the sin intended is, “after we have received the knowledge of the truth.” There is no question but that by “the truth,” the apostle intends the doctrine of the gospel; and the “receiving” of it is, upon the conviction of its being truth, to take on us the outward profession of it. Only there is an emphasis in that word, τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν. This word is not used anywhere to express the mere conceptions or notions of the mind about truth, but such an acknowledgment of it as ariseth from some sense of its power and excellency. This, therefore, is the description of the persons concerning whom this sin is supposed: They were such as unto whom the gospel had been preached; who, upon conviction of its truth, and sense of its power, had taken upon them the public profession of it. And this is all that is required to the constitution of this state. And what is so required may be reduced to one of these two heads: (1.) The solemn dedication of themselves unto Christ in and by their baptism. (2.) Their solemn joining themselves unto the church, and continuance in the duties of its worship, Acts 2:41, 42.
Ἑκουσίως. On this opening of the words, it is evident what sin it is that is intended, against which this heavy doom is denounced; and that on these two considerations: (1.) That the head of the precedent exhortation is, that we should “hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering,” verse 23; and the means of continuing in that profession, verses 24, 25. Wherefore the sin against this exhortation is, the relinquishment and renouncing of the profession of the faith, with all acts and duties thereunto belonging. (2.) The state opposite unto this sin, that which is contrary unto it, is “receiving the knowledge of the truth;” which what is required thereunto we have now declared. Wherefore the sin here intended, is plainly a relinquishment and renunciation of the truth of the gospel and the promises thereof, with all duties thereunto belonging, after we have been convinced of its truth, and avowed its power and excellency. There is no more required but that this be done ἑκουσίως, “willingly;” as, (1.) Not upon a sudden surprisal and temptation, as Peter denied Christ; (2.) Not on those compulsions and fears which may work a present dissimulation, without an internal rejection of the gospel; (3.) Not through darkness, ignorance making an impression for a season on the minds and reasonings of men: which things, though exceedingly evil and dangerous, may befall them who yet contract not the guilt of this crime.
But it is required thereunto, that men who thus sin, do it, (1.) By choice, and of their own accord, from the internal pravity of their own minds, and an evil heart of unbelief to depart from the living God. (2.) That they do it by and with the preference of another way of religion, and a resting therein, before or above the gospel. (3.) That whereas there were two things which were the foundation of the profession of the gospel; (1.) The blood of the covenant, or the blood of the sacrifice of Christ, with the atonement made thereby; and (2.) The dispensation of the Spirit of grace; these they did openly renounce, and declared that there was nothing of God in them, as we shall see on verse 29. Such were they who fell off from the gospel unto Judaism in those days. Such are they whom the apostle here describeth, as is evident in the context. I will say no more unto the sin at present, because I must treat of it under its aggravations on verse 29.
Obs. I. If a voluntary relinquishment of the profession of the gospel and the duties of it be the highest sin, and be attended with the height of wrath and punishment, we ought earnestly to watch against every thing that inclineth or disposeth us thereunto.
Obs. II. Every declension in or from the profession of the gospel hath a proportion of the guilt of this great sin, according unto the proportion that it bears unto the sin itself. Hereof there may be various degrees.
Obs. III. There are sins and times wherein God doth absolutely refuse to hear any more from men in order unto their salvation.
2. The first thing which the apostle chargeth as an aggravation of this sin is, that it cannot be expiated, “There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins;”—words not unlike those of God concerning the house of Eli, 1 Sam. 3:14, “I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever.” An allusion is had herein unto the sacrifices of the law. As there were certain sins which— from their nature, as murder, adultery, blasphemy; or from the manner of their commission, with obstinacy and a high hand—had no sacrifice allowed for them, but those that were so guilty were to be “cut off” from the people of God, and to “die without mercy,” as the apostle declares his own mind, verse 28: so is it with them that thus “sin willingly;” there is no relief appointed for them, no means for the expiation of their sin. But yet there is an especial reason of this severity under the gospel, which the apostle hath principal respect unto. And this is, that there is now no multiplication or repetition of sacrifices for sin. That of Christ, our high priest, was “offered once for all;” henceforth “he dieth no more,” he is offered no more, nor can there be any other sacrifice offered for ever.
Οὐκ ἔτι ἀπολείπεται. This the words express, Οὐκ ἔτι ἀπολείπεται, “There remaineth not;” there is not, in the counsel, purpose, or institution of God, any other sacrifice yet left, to be offered in this, or any other case. To suppose there is yet any such left, it must be on one of these two accounts: (1.) That God would change the whole dispensation of himself and his grace by Christ, because of its weakness and insufficiency. But it may be said, ‘Whereas God did thus deal with the Mosaical law and all its sacrifices to bring in that of Christ, why may not therefore there be another way of expiation of sin yet remaining, whereby they may be purged and purified who are guilty of apostasy from the gospel?’ (2.) ‘Although men have justly forfeited all their interest and benefit by the one offering of Christ, why may he not appoint another for them, or cause himself to be offered again for their recovery?’ But both these suppositions are not only false, but highly blasphemous; for it is certain “there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.”
Θυσία περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν. Θυσία περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν compriseth all sorts of offerings and sacrifices whereby sin might be expiated. Wherefore the apostle plainly expresseth, that as persons, by a voluntary relinquishment of the gospel, did forfeit all their interest in the sacrifice of Christ, as he further declares, verse 29, so there was no way appointed for the relief of them by the expiation of their sin for ever.
Further to clear the mind of the Holy Ghost herein, I should answer some inquiries that may arise on this interpretation of the words, but in this place I shall only propose them:—
1. Whether this commination may be extended to all ages, times, and seasons? or whether it were confined unto the present state of the Hebrews, with the circumstances they were in? The reasons of the inquiry are, (1.) Because their circumstances were eminently peculiar, and such as cannot befall others in any season. (2.) Because there was a temporal destruction then impendent over them, ready to devour apostates; which cannot be applied unto them who fall into the same sin at other seasons.
2. Whether the sin intended may include great actual sins after the profession of the gospel, answering such as under the law were said to be committed “with an high hand?”
3. Whether there may be hopes for the persons here intended, though no express provision be made in the covenant for the expiation of this sin?
4. Whether there be any defect in the priesthood of Christ, that it hath but one sacrifice for sins, which if it be neglected and despised can never be repeated, nor can any other sacrifice be added unto it?
5. If a person who hath voluntarily forsaken and renounced the gospel, with a great appearance of all the circumstances that concur unto the state of the sin here mentioned, should make profession of repentance, what may be conceived concerning his eternal condition? what is the duty of the church concerning such an one?
These things shall be spoken unto elsewhere.
Obs. IV. The loss of an interest in the sacrifice of Christ, on what account or by what means soever it fall out, is absolutely ruinous unto the souls of men.
Ver. 27.—”But a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.”
When a man under the law had contracted the guilt of any such sin as was indispensably capital in its punishment, for the legal expiation whereof no sacrifice was appointed or allowed, such as murder, adultery, blasphemy, he had nothing remaining but a fearful expectation of the execution of the sentence of the law against him. And it is evident that in this context the apostle argues from the less unto the greater: ‘If it was so, that this was the case of him who so sinned against Moses’ law, how much more must it be so with them that sin against the gospel, whose sin is incomparably greater, and the punishment more severe?’
The connection of the words with those foregoing, by the adversative δέ for ἀλλά, includes or brings along with it the verb ἀπολείπεται, “there remaineth:” ‘No sacrifice for sin is left or remains; but there doth remain or abide for such persons a fearful expectation of judgment.’
There are two things in these words: 1. The punishment due unto the sins of apostates, which is three ways expressed: (1.) By the general nature of it, it is “judgment;” (2.) By the special nature of that judgment, it is “fiery indignation;” (3.) By the efficacy of it unto its end, it “devours the adversaries.” 2. The certain approach of this judgment, “there remaineth a fearful expectation.”
1. This last lies first in the words. And,—
Τίς. (1.) That which we render “certain,” is in the original only τίς. It doth not denote an assured expectation, nor the certainty of the punishment; but only a certain kind of expectation, “a kind of fearful expectation.” Nor is this spoken in the way of diminution, but to intimate something that is inexpressible, such as no heart can conceive or tongue express. 1 Pet. 4:17, 18, “What shall be the end of them who obey not the gospel?… Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
Ἐκδοχή. (2.) Ἐκδοχή, an “expectation,” is the frame of mind with respect unto any thing that is future, good or bad, wherein we are concerned, that we are to look for, whatever it be,—which we have reason and grounds to think will come unto us or befall us.
Φοβερά. (3.) This expectation is said to be φοβερά, “fearful,” tremendous, which men can neither conflict withal nor avoid, as we shall see further, verse 31;—that which fills the mind with dread and horror, depriving it of all comfort and relief. An expectation of this dreadful and terrible nature may be taken two ways: (1.) For the certain relation that is between the sin and punishment spoken of; the punishment is unavoidable, as any thing is which upon the most certain grounds is looked for. So they are said only metaphorically to look for that which will certainly ensue. (2.) As it expresseth the frame of the minds of them concerning it. And though the assertion may be used in the former sense, yet I doubt not but this latter also is included in it; and that also on two accounts: 1st. Because if they did set themselves unto the consideration of the event of their apostasy, nothing else could befall their minds, nothing could present itself unto them for their relief; their minds will not admit of other thoughts but what belongs to this dreadful expectation. 2dly. On the account of that dread and terror that God sends at times into the minds and consciences of such persons. They may bear it high, and with an ostentation of satisfaction in what they have done, yea, commonly they proclaim a self-justification, and prove desperate persecutors of them who sacredly adhere unto the truth; but as he said of old of tyrants, that if their breasts were opened, it would appear what tortures they have within, I am persuaded it is probable that God very seldom lets them pass in this world without tormenting fear and dread of approaching judgments,—which is a broad entrance into hell.
Obs. V. There is an inseparable concatenation between apostasy and eternal ruin.
Obs. VI. God oftentimes visits the minds of cursed apostates with dreadful expectations of approaching wrath.
Obs. VII. When men have hardened themselves in sin, no fear of punishment will either rouse or stir them up to seek after relief.
Obs. VIII. A dreadful expectation of future wrath, without hope of relief, is an open entrance into hell itself.
2. This dreadful punishment is described by the general nature of it.
Κρίσεως. (1.) It is κρίσις, “judgment.” It is not a thing that is dubious, that may fall out, or may not do so. It is not an unaccountable severity that they are threatened withal; but it is a just and righteous sentence, denouncing punishment proportionate unto their sin and crime. “Judgment” is taken sometimes for punishment itself, Ps. 9:16; James 2:13; 1 Pet. 4:17; 2 Pet. 2:3. But most commonly it is used for the sentence of judicial condemnation and trial, determining the offender unto punishment; and so it is most commonly used to express the general judgment that shall pass on all mankind at the last day, Matt. 10:15, 11:22, 24, 12:36; Mark 6:11; 2 Pet. 2:9, 3:7; 1 John 4:17. I doubt not but that in the word as here used both these are included, namely, the righteous sentence of God judging and determining on the guilt of this sin, and the punishment itself which ensues thereon, as it is immediately described. And although respect be had herein principally to the judgment of the great day, yet is it not exclusive of any previous judgments that are preparatory unto it and pledges of it; such was that dreadful judgment which was then coming on the apostate church of the Hebrews.
Obs. IX. The expectation of future judgment in guilty persons is, or will be at one time or another, dreadful and tremendous.
Πυρὸς ζῆλος. (2.) The punishment and destruction of those sinners is described by its particular nature; it is a “fiery indignation,”—πυρὸς ζῆλος. For these words do not relate unto ἐκδοχή, as κρίσεως doth, nor are regulated by it, (it is not the expectation of fiery indignation,) but refer immediately unto ἀπολείπεται. As there remains an expectation of judgment, so there is a fiery indignation that remains. And so the words following, “which shall,” μέλλοντος, refer to “fire,” πυρός, and not to “indignation,” ζῆλος;—the indignation, the vehemency, the power of fire.
What is this fire? and what is this indignation of it?
God himself is in the Scripture said to be “a consuming fire,” Deut 4:24, 9:3; Isa. 33:14; Heb. 12:29. What is intended thereby is declared in a word, Deut. 4:24, ζηλότυπος, as here ζῆλος πυρὀς. The essential holiness and righteousness of God, whereby he cannot bear with the iniquities and provocations of men who betake not themselves unto the only atonement, and that “he will by no means quit the guilty,” are intended in this metaphorical expression.
The judgment of God concerning the punishment of sin, as an effect of his will in a way consonant unto the holiness of his nature and the exigence of his righteousness, is called “fire,” 1 Cor. 3:13. But that is not the fire that is here intended. It is devouring, consuming, destroying, such as answereth the severity of God’s justice unto the utmost, as Isa. 9:5, 30:33, 66:15; Amos 7:4; Matt. 18:8; 2 Thess. 1:8; Ps. 11:6; Deut. 32:22. Therefore this “indignation,” or “fervour of fire,” hath respect unto three things: (1.) The holiness of the nature of God; from whence originally this judgment doth proceed, as that which is most suitable thereunto. (2.) The righteous act of the will of God; sometimes called his wrath and anger from the effects of it, being suitable unto the holiness of his nature. (3.) The dreadful severity of the judgment in itself, in its nature and effects, as it is declared in the next words.
I doubt not but respect is had unto the final judgment at the last day, and the eternal destruction of apostates. But yet also it evidently includeth that sore and fiery judgment which God was bringing on the obstinate, apostate Jews, in the total destruction of them and their church-state by fire and sword. For as such judgments are compared to and called “fire” in the Scripture, so this was so singular, so unparalleled in any people of the world, as that it might well be called “fiery indignation,” or “fervour of fire.” Besides, it was an eminent pledge and token of the future judgment, and the severity of God therein. Wherefore it is foretold in expressions that are applicable unto the last judgment. See Matt. 24:29–31; 2 Pet. 3:10–12.
(3.) This indignation, to be executed by fire, is described in the last place by its efficacy and effects. It is the fire that shall “devour” or eat up “the adversaries.” The expression is taken from Isa. 26:11. For, “the fire of thine enemies,” is there, not that which the enemies burn with, but wherewith they shall be burned. Concerning the efficacy and effect of this fire we may consider, (1.) The season of its application unto this effect, μέλλοντος. (2.) The object of it, “the adversaries.” (3.) The way of its operation, “it shall devour them.”
Μέλλοντος. (1.) It “shall” do so; it is not yet come to the effect, it is future. Hence many of them despised it, as that which would never be, 2 Pet. 3:3–6. But there are three things intimated in this word: 1st. That it is “in procinctu,” in readiness; not yet come, but ready to come: so is the word used to express that which is future, but ready to make its entrance. 2dly. That it is certain, it shall and will be; whatever appearances there are of its turning aside, and men’s avoiding of it, it will come in its proper season: so speaks the prophet in a like case: Hab. 2:3. 3dly. The foundation of the certainty of the coming of this fiery indignation, is the irreversible decree of God, accompanied with righteousness, and the measures which infinite wisdom gave unto his patience. This was the unavoidable season that was approaching, when the adversaries had filled up the measure of their sin, and God’s providence had saved the elect from this wrath to come.
Obs. X. There is a determinate time for the accomplishment of all divine threatenings, and the infliction of the severest judgments, which no man can abide or avoid. He hath “appointed a day wherein he will judge the world.” So at present there is a sort of men “whose damnation slumbereth not,” concerning whom he hath sworn that “time shall be no more;” which is the present state of the antichristian world.
Obs. XI. The certain determination of divine vengeance on the enemies of the gospel is a motive unto holiness, and a supportment under sufferings, in them that believe. “Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.” “What manner of persons ought we to be?” See 2 Thess. 1:7–10.
Τοὺς ὑπεναντίους. (2.) There is a description of those on whom this fiery indignation shall have its effect, and it is “the adversaries,”—τοὺς ὑπεναντίους. He doth not say, those that believe not, and obey not the gospel, as he doth elsewhere, when he treats absolutely of the day of judgment, as in that place, 2 Thess. 1:8, 9, now mentioned; but it confines them unto those that are “adversaries,”—who, from a contrary principle, set themselves against the Lord Christ and the gospel. This is the peculiar description of the unbelieving Jews at that time. They did not only refuse the gospel through unbelief, but were acted by a principle of opposition thereunto; not only as unto themselves, but as unto others, even the whole world. So is their state described, 1 Thess. 2:15, 16, “Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary unto all men: forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles, that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them unto the uttermost.” They laid the foundation of this enmity in killing the Lord Jesus; but they rested not therein, they continued in their unbelief, adhering to their old Judaism, and their sins therein. Nor did they rest there, but persecuted the apostles, drove them out from amongst them, and all that preached the gospel; and this not only with respect unto themselves alone, and those of their own nation, but they set themselves with fury all the world over against the preaching of the gospel unto the Gentiles, and that of cursed malice, that they might not be saved. See instances of this rage, Acts 13:45, 22:22, 23. They were properly “the adversaries” whom the apostle intends; and therefore the judgment which was peculiar unto them and their sins, in that fearful temporal destruction which did then approach, is intended herein, as well as the equity of the sentence as extended to the general destruction of all unbelievers at the last day.
Obs. XII. The highest aggravation for the greatest sin, is, when men, out of a contrary principle of superstition and error, do set themselves maliciously to oppose the doctrine and truth of the gospel, with respect unto themselves and others.
Obs. XIII. There is a time when God will make such demonstrations of his wrath and displeasure, against all adversaries of the gospel, as shall be pledges of his eternal indignation. He will one day deal so with the antichristian, persecuting world.
Ἐσθίειν. (3.) What is the effect of this fiery indignation against those adversaries? “It shall eat them up,” or “devour them.” The expression is metaphorical, taken from the nature and efficacious operation of fire; it eats, devours, swallows up and consumes, all combustible matter that it is applied unto, or is put into it. That intended is destruction, inevitable, unavoidable, and terrible in the manner of it. See Mal. 4:1, whence those expressions are taken. Only the similitude is not to be extended beyond the proper intention of it. For fire doth so consume and devour what is put into it, as that it destroys the substance and being thereof, that it shall be no more. It is not so with the “fiery indignation” that “shall consume” or “devour the adversaries” at the last day. It shall devour them as to all happiness, all blessedness, all hopes, comforts, and relief at once; but it shall not at once utterly consume their being. This is that which this fire shall eternally prey upon, and never utterly consume. But if we make the application of it unto the temporal destruction that came upon them, the similitude holds throughout, for it utterly consumed them, and devoured them, and all that belonged unto them in this world: they were devoured by it.
Obs. XIV. The dread and terror of God’s final judgments against the enemies of the gospel is in itself inconceivable, and only shadowed out by things of the greatest dread and terror in the world.