And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said: He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open:
~ Numbers 24:15-16
But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
~ Matthew 13:20-21
But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; 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. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
~ Hebrews 10:32, Hebrews 10:26-29
For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
~ 2 Peter 2:20
And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
~ Luke 23:35-39
And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
~ Isaiah 1:28
A Commentary on Hebrews 6:4-6, by William Gouge. The following contains an excerpt from the text.
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
~ Hebrews 6:4-6
Sec. 31. Of five steps on which apostates may ascend towards salvation.
In setting forth the danger whereunto professors are subject, the apostle sheweth how far such as fall may ascend1 upon the ladder to salvation; and withal how far they may fall from thence.
There are five steps, each higher than other, whereon he that falleth clean away may ascend. Some refer those five steps to the fore-mentioned principles of the doctrine of Christ, as
1. Illumination, to ‘repentance from dead works.’ For till a man be enlightened, he cannot know his natural, miserable condition; but being enlightened, he well discerneth the same; so as he is brought to think of repentance from dead works.
2. The taste of the heavenly gift, to ‘faith towards God.’ For faith is an heavenly gift, and the means whereby we partake of such gifts as come from God, who is in heaven.
3. Participation of the Holy Ghost, to *the doctrine of baptisms,’ for they who having heard the word were baptised, had gifts of the Holy Ghost bestowed upon them, as a seal of God’s accepting them, Acts ii. 38.
4. A taste of the good word of God, to ‘the laying on of hands,’ for they who having given evidence of their faith were baptised, were further by imposition of hands confirmed. Thus the gospel, which is here called the good word of God, was of use to build them up further, 1 Pet. ii. 2, Acts xx. 32.
1 Junius in Paral.
5. A taste of ‘the powers of the world to come,’ to ‘ resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment’, which are the two last principles, and they are the very beginning of that full happiness and glory, whereof hero we have a taste.
By this comparing of these things together, some light is brought to a more full opening of them.
We will further proceed in handling the foresaid five steps distinctly by themselves.
Sec. 32. Of the Illumination of hypocrites.
The first step is thus expressed, ‘ once enlightened.’ The Greek word for enlightened, is metaphorical. The noun whence it is derived, signifieth light. The active verb, to give light, Luke xi. 36; metaphorically to give knowledge or understanding. Thus it is attributed to Christ, John i. 9. The passive word signifieth to he endued with knowledge, or understanding, Eph. i. 18. So it is here taken.
Illumination, then, is a work of the Holy Ghost, whereby man’s mind is made capable of understanding the things of God, and able to discern divine mysteries. In one word, the grace or gift of a mind enlightened is knowledge: not such knowledge as heathen had, who by the heavens and other works of God, might somewhat conceive many invisible things of God, Rom. i. 20, Ps. xix. 1, but such as the word of God revealed concerning the mysteries of godliness. This is that knowledge whereof Christ speaketh, Luke xii. 47, and his apostle, 2 Pet. ii. 21.
This knowledge may make men acknowledge, profess, maintain, and instruct others in the mysteries of godliness, though they themselves be but hypocrites and reprobates. Judas did all these, for he was ordained ‘an apostle, Luke vi. 13, 16, and therein so carried himself, as none of the other apostles could judge of him amiss, till Christ manifested his hypocrisy.
This kind of illumination is here said to be once, in two especial respects:
1. Because there was a time when they were not enlightened, for they were ‘ once darkness,’ Eph. v. 8. By nature men are blind in regard of spiritual matters, 2 Pet. i. 9, Rev. iii. 17. ‘That desire which man had to know more than God would have him know. Gen. iii. 5, 7, brake his eye-strings, so as man is not now capable of understanding the things of God, 1 Cor. ii. 14.
Though the word be a bright light, yet to a natural man, it is but as the bright sun to a blind man. He must be enlightened before he can understand the mysteries of godliness.
2. Because, if after they are enlightened, they grow blind again, there is no recovery of their illumination. In such a sense ‘the faith’ is said to be ‘ once delivered unto the saints,’ Jude 3. In, this sense also Christ is said to be ‘ once offered up.’ And we are said ‘ once to die,’ Heb. ix. 27, 28. Therefore, ‘ it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness,’ 2 Pet. ii. 21.
This gift of illumination is fitly set in the first place, because the Spirit first worketh this gift in a man. For it is the ground of all other spiritual gifts, Though it be not sufficient, yet is it of absolute necessity, a gift to be laboured after, 2 Pet. i. 5, Prov. iv. 5. Yea, we must seek to be ‘ filled with knowledge,’ Col. i. 9, and to ‘ abound therein,’ 2 Cor. viii. 7.
Quest. Wherein lieth the difference betwixt this knowledge, and the knowledge of them that are effectually called, which doth not thus vanish away?
Ans. 1. The knowledge of hypocrites is only a general knowledge of the word, and the mysteries thereof, that they are all true, but it is not an experimental knowledge of them in themselves. The power, wisdom, mercy, and other divine attributes of God are not experimentally known in themselves, nor the virtue of Christ’s death, nor the misery of man, nor other like points. But this experimental knowledge is in those that are effectually called, Eph. i. 18,19, Philip, iii. 8, Rom. vii. 24.
Ans. 2. It swimmeth only in the brain of hypocrites, it diveth not into their heart, to make them fear, and love God, and trust in him, to make them carry themselves according to that which they know of God’s word, of God, and of themselves. But the knowledge of them who are effectually called doth so affect them, as it is accompanied with other saving graces. This knowledge is said to be life eternal, John xvii. 3.
Ans. 3. The knowledge which hypocrites have is as a wind that puffeth them up, 1 Cor. viii. 1; it makes them cast their eyes on their own parts, and to be too much conceited therein, John ix. 40, Rev. iii. 17; but the knowledge of them that are effectually called, maketh them abhor themselves. Job xlii. 6.
This, as it may be a trial of our knowledge, whether we may rest in it or no, so it may be an admonition unto such as know much, not to be proud thereof, in that it may be no other gift than that which an hypocrite and reprobate may have, and which may aggravate thy damnation, Luke xii. 47. Use all thy good means thou canst to get that eyesalve of the Spirit, whereunto Christ adviseth. Rev. iii. 18, which may sharpen thy eyesight, and make thee fully and distinctly know the word of salvation, and the mysteries thereof, to thy eternal happiness.
Sec. 33. Of tasting the heavenly gift.
The second step whereon hypocrites may ascend towards salvation is thus set down, and have tasted of the heavenly gift.
Of the meaning of this word tasted, see Chap. ii. 9, Sec. 79.
Tasting, or gustus, is properly an effect of that sense which we call taste.
It is here metaphorically taken. Applied to the soul, it intendeth two things:
1. The beginning of true sound grace. For by taste, the sweetness and goodness of a thing is discerned, and an appetite after it provoked, yea, and much comfort received thereby, 1 Sam. xiv. 29. In this sense it is said, ‘ Oh taste and see that the Lord is good,’ Ps. xxxiv. 8.
2. A shallow apprehension of the good and benefit of a thing; for by tasting only, and not eating, some sweet smack and relish may be in a man’s mouth, but little or no nourishment received thereby. By this kind of taste the benefit of a thing is lost. A man may starve, though after this manner he taste the most nourishing meat that can be. In this sense this metaphor is here twice used: once in this verse, and again in the next verse.
In the former sense tasting is a preparation to eating, and it is opposed to an utter refusal and rejection of a thing, and implies a participation thereof.
In this sense Christ saith of those that refused to come, ‘ None of them shall taste of my supper,’ Luke xiv. 24; that is, none of them shall any way partake thereof.
In the latter sense tasting is opposed to eating, and implieth no true and real participation of a thing; as they who, being at a feast, do only taste of that which is set before them, lose the benefit of that meat.
To follow this metaphor, Christ is set before all that are in the church as dainty, wholesome meat.
They who are effectually called, being as guests bidden to the table, do by a true justifying faith so eat, and digest this spiritual meat, as they are refreshed, nourished, strengthened, and preserved thereby unto everlasting life. But they who are only outwardly called, do only see, touch, and taste how comfortable and profitable a meat it is; yet in that they eat not thereof, the sweet taste in time vanisheth without any good, or benefit thereby.
By tasting faith is here meant. For faith is that gift whereby we do in any kind receive or apply Christ.
Of the nature of faith in general, and of the different kinds thereof, see The Whole Armour of God, treat, ii., part 6, on Eph. vi. 16, sec. 11, 12, &c.
Hypocritical and temporary faith is set out by tasting only, as opposed to eating; and this is the faith here meant. But justifying and saving faith is set forth by tasting, as it implieth participation of a thing. This cannot be here meant, because this kind of faith never falleth away.
The object of this faith is here styled, the heavenly gift. Hereby Christ himself is meant, together with all those blessings which, in him and with him, are received, Eph. i. 3.
Christ is called a gift, because he is given to us of God, John iii. 16, and iv. 10; so are all manner of spiritual graces, they are given of God. In this respect they are to be sought of God; and those means are to be used for partaking thereof which God hath appointed and sanctified. And the praise and glory of this gift is to be ascribed to God, by those that are made partakers thereof, Rom. xi. 35, 3G. This gift is called, heavenly — 1. In general, by reason of the excellency thereof, for excellent things are styled heavenly. See Chap, iii. 1, Sec, 15.
2. In a particular reference to the prime author, who is above in heaven, James i. 17, and to the kind of gift, which is sent down’ from heaven. Col. iii. 1, and worketh in us an heavenly disposition, Philip, iii. 20, Col. iii. 2; and also is a means to bring us to heaven, 2 Thes. ii. 12.
The description of the object of faith doth,
1. Aggravate the wretched disposition of apostates, who content themselves with a bare taste of such an heavenly gift.
2. It putteth us on more earnestly to seek after this gift, and not to rest till we find that we are truly and really made partakers thereof.
3. It should make us careful in proving our faith, whether it be a true justifying faith, or rnerely hypocritical and temporal1. Hereof see The Whole Armour of God, on Eph. vi. IG, sec. 12, 35, &c.
Sec. 34. Of being made partakers of the Holy Ghost.
The third step whereupon apostates are here said to ascend is in these words, ‘ And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost.’
Of the meaning of this word partakers, see Chap, iii. 1, Sec. 17.
Of this title Holy Ghost, see Chap. ii. 4, Sec. 35.
The Holy Ghost is here metonymically put for the gifts and operations of the Spirit of God, which he worketh in men. In this sense this title Holy Ghost is frequently used, as Acts viii. 15, and xix. 6. This is evident by joining of the gifts themselves to the Spirit; thus, ‘ The Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of counsel, the’Spirit of knowledge,’ &c., Isa. xi. 2. So, ‘ The Spirit’ of faith,’ 2 Cor. iv. 13.
They properly are said to be ‘ made partakers of the Holy Ghost,’ in whom the sanctifying Spirit hath wrought special spiritual gifts, such as are above nature; even such as cannot be attained either by the instinct of nature, or by any help of man, without an especial work of the Holy Ghost. Such were those moral virtues which were wrought in him, of whom it is said, ‘ Jesus loved him,’ Mark x. 20, 21. Such was that counsel wherewith Ahithophel was endued, 2 Sam. xvi, 23, and that ability which Saul had to govern the kingdom, 1 Sam. x. 9, and xi. G, and that gift of prophecy and working of miracles that was bestowed on them whom Christ would not acknowledge. Mat. vii. 22, 23, and that obedience which Herod yielded to John’s ministry, Mark vi. 20, and that rejoicing which the Jews had in that light which John held forth, John v. 35.
1 That is, temporary.’— Ed.
Quest. Can hypocrites and reprobates partake of the gifts of the sanctifying Spirit?
Ans. Yes, they may partake of such gifts as the sanctifying Spirit worketh, though not of his sanctifying gifts. They are said to be made partakers of the Holy Ghost, because that Spirit which sanctifieth others doth work these gifts in them; and because many of those gifts which are wrought in them prove in others to be sanctifying gifts; as knowledge, wisdom, faith, repentance, fear of God, temperance, and such like.
The difference betwixt that participation of the Holy Ghost, which they who are effectually called and they who are only formally called have, lieth in three things especially.
1. In the kind of them. For the former are altered, and renewed in their nature. In this sense saith David, ‘ Create in me a clean heart, 0 God; and renew a right spirit within me,’ Ps. Ii. 10. The other are only restrained; as Saul and Ahithophel were.
This difference is herein discerned, in that they who .are effectually called are wrought upon throughout, as David, who is said to have a perfect heart; but the other in some respects only, as Abijam, 1 Kings xv. 3, and Herod, Mark vi. 20.
2. In the use of them. Renewing gifts are for the J good of the parties themselves, even their own salvation, Eph. ii. 8, 1 Peter i. 9. Restraining gifts are for the good of others; in which respect the apostle saith that they are ‘ given to profit withal,’ 1 Cor. xii.
7; such was Ahithophel’s prudence, 2 Sam. xvi. 23. These gifts are as the lantern in the admiral’s ship, for the good of the whole navy.
3. In the continuance of them. Renewing gifts are permanent, they never decay, Rom. xi. 29.
The other are like the corn sown in stony ground, which endureth but for a while, Mat. xiii. 21. If they continue the whole time of a man’s life, yet then they clean fall away. ‘ For when a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish,’ Prov. xi. 7.
Quest. What difference is there betwixt the second and third step; namely, betwixt tasting the heavenly gift, and being made partakers of the Holy Ghost?
Ans. Though the second may be comprised under the third, for the taste of the heavenly gift is wrought by the Holy Ghost; yet by the latter, such effects as follow upon the former, and are extraordinary evidences of the work of God’s Spirit in men, are meant. The effects are such as make a difference betwixt a diabolical and hypocritical faith. For the devil believes and trembles, James ii. 19; but many hypocrites who are outwardly called believe and rejoice, aa the Jews did, John v. 35, and Herod, Mark vi. 20. This joy presupposeth comfort and contentment; and restraineth from many sins, and putteth upon the practice of many duties. Extraordinary evidences of God’s Spirit are those gifts which the apostle reckoneth up, 1 Cor. xii. 8-10. These confirm the truth of God’s word to themselves and others. Thus they prove the more useful; in which respect they who fall from them are the more inexcusable.
That which is here said of hypocrites being ‘ made partakers of the Holy Ghost,’ should work care and diligence about trying and proving those gifts of the Spirit which we think we have, and not upon every work of the Spirit too rashly infer that we are certainly sanctified, and shall undoubtedly be saved.
Sec. 35. Of tasting of the good word of God, ver. 5.
The fourth step whereon hypocrites ascend towards salvation is thus expressed, ‘ And have tasted the good word of God.’
This metaphor, taste, is here used in the same sense wherein it was before, Sec. 33.
Of this phrase, word of God, see Chap. iv. 12, Sec. 69.
By the good word of God1, he meaneth the gospel, which, according to the Greek, and our English notation, also signifieth a good word, a good speech, or good message and tidings. Hereof see more Chap, iv. 2, Sec. 16.
The gospel brought the best tidings that ever was brought to any. The sum thereof is expressed John iii. 16.
The law also is called good, Rom. vii. 12; but a thing may be styled good two ways: 1, in the matter of it; 2, in the effect that proceedeth from it.
The law, in regard of the matter of it, is most pure and perfect, no corruption, no falsehood therein; and in this respect it is also styled holy and just, Eom. vii. 12.
The gospel is not only good in the matter of it, but also in the profit and benefit of it. The law to a sinner, in and by itself, brings no profit; but the gospel doth, by making known a Saviour, and the means of attaining to salvation by him; yea, further, the gospel is a word of power, enabling sinners to observe the condition which it requireth of them. In this respect it is styled ‘the power of God unto salvation,’ Rom. i. 16; for want of this power, the law is said to be a killing letter, a ministration of death, 1 Cor. iii. 6, 7, but the gospel the word of life. To taste of the good word is not only to be enlightened in the truth thereof, which was comprised under the first step. Sec. 32, but also to have an apprehension and sense of the benefit of it, namely, of God’s love to man, and of his gracious offer of Jesus Christ, and of pardon of sin and eternal salvation in and with Christ; such a taste this may be as for the time to work a sweet smack, but yet to bring no true fruit nor lasting benefit to him that hath it.
This degree exceeds the other three in two especial respects:
1. In that it followeth after them, and pre-supposeth
1 Of the extent of this epithet good, see Chap. xiii. 9, Sec. 127.
them to be first wrought in a man; for upon enlightening and tasting of the heavenly gift, and partaking of the Holy Ghost, a man feels such sweetness in the means whereby those gifts were wrought as he doth exercise himself the more therein. He reads the word, and performs other duties of piety privately, and frequents the public ordinances of God, and that with some joy, in that he feels a smack of sweetness in them, Mark vi. 20, Mat. xiii. 20, John v. 35.
2. In that this good word is a means further to build up them who have been enlightened, and tasted of the heavenly gift, to build them up further in grace, and more and more to assure them of God’s love, and of all those good and precious things which Christ by his blood hath purchased. Acts xx. 32.
The difference in tasting the good word of God betwixt the upright and hypocrites consisteth especially in this, that the upright do not only taste the sweetness of it, but also feel the power of it in their souls. There is such a difference between these as is betwixt the corn sown in the stony ground and in the good ground. Mat. xiii. 20, 23. Hypocrites only taste it. The upright eat it also, Ezek. iii. 3. David hid God’s word in his heart, Ps. cxix. 11. The gospel came unto the Thessalonians ‘ not in word only, but also in power,’ &c., 1 Thes. i. 5. The Romans * obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered to them,’ Rom. vi. 17. This is that hearing and keeping of the word whereupon Christ pronounceth a man blessed.
This nearly concerns us who have any way tasted the sweetness of this good word of God, not to content ourselves with a mere taste, but so to eat it, so to believe it, so to conform ourselves thereby, as we may live thereby both here and hereafter, Isa. Iv. 3.
Sec. 36. Of tasting the powers of the world to come.
The fifth and last step whereon hypocrites ascend toward salvation is in these words, and the powers of the world to come. The verb in the former clause, thus translated, have tasted, is here understood, and that in the same sense wherein it was there used.
Many expositors do here understand the militant church under the gospel to be meant by this phrase, world to come, as it was Chap. ii. 5, Sec. 41. But,
1. There is not the same Greek word here put for the world as was there. The word there used, signifieth a place of habitation, and is frequently put for the earth. But the word here used, signifieth a perpetual duration of time. Hereof see Chap. i. ver. 2, Sec. 18.
2. This text doth not so well bear the interpretation of the militant church as that; here the triumphant church is meant. For this clause hath reference to the two last principles before mentioned, of the resurrection and eternal judgment. Besides, it is the highest step and degree that an hypocrite can attain unto.
3. The things which they intend who take the world to come, in this place, for the militant church, are gifts conferred on the church of the New Testament, which are comprised under the third step, namely, partaking of the Holy Ghost.
I take the state of the triumphant church in heaven to be here meant by the world to come.
Thus is this phrase most properly and frequently used. Thus it is opposed to the world where here we live. For every one hath two worlds: one here present, the other to come. The world to come is indefinitely put for the future glorious estate of saints, though to the reprobate the world to come is a time and place of horror and torment, Luke xii. 36. Thus resurrection is indefinitely put for resurrection to life, because resurrection to condemnation is as no resurrection; for such as are raised thereto were better not be raised at all.
By the powers of this world to come, those excellent privileges whereof saints are made partakers in heaven are meant. These are, communion with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; with glorious angels and glorified saints; the perfection and glory of their souls and bodies, and of all the powers and parts of them; immunity from all evil; fulness and satiety of all happiness; and these unchangeable, everlasting.
These privileges are called powers.
1. Because they are evident effects of God’s mighty power.
2. Because they are ensigns and trophies of power, victory, and triumph over all our enemies.
3. Because no adverse power can ever prevail against them that are in that world to come. They are firmly established in Christ.
Hypocrites are said to taste of these powers, in that they have such an apprehension of that surpassing glory as to be enamoured and affected therewith; as he that said, ‘ Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God,’ Luke xiv. 15. Balaam had a taste hereof, which moved him to say, ‘ Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his,’ Num. xxiii. 10. Though that glory and happiness be here concealed from our sight and sense, yet by faith, and that a temporary faith, it may be discerned and tasted. Thus they who are enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, may also taste the powers of the world to come.
This step of an hypocrite’s ascending towards heaven, is apparently higher than all the rest. The things themselves are the greatest privileges of saints, and a taste of them far surpasseth all the former tastes. Hereby an hypocrite’s conceit may be, as
it were, rapt out of his body, and out of this world into heaven; and he may be brought lightly to esteem all this world in comparison of the world to come.
It was the greatest prerogative that any had, who died in the wilderness, to see the land of Canaan, which was vouchsafed to Moses alone, Deut. xxxiv. 1. Even so, it is the greatest privilege of any that never enter into that glory, to have this taste of the powers of the world to come.
In this privilege there is a great difference betwixt the hypocrite and upright, in that the hypocrite contents himself with a bare apprehension of such excellencies, and a presumptuous conceit of some right that he may have thereunto; but he doth not thoroughly examine himself, whether he be fitly qualified for the same, nor is he careful to get true and sure evidences thereof, which the upright with the uttermost of his power endeavoureth to do. Briefly to sum all, these are the steps whereupon such as miss of salvation may ascend towards it:
1. Their mind may be supernaturally enlightened in the mysteries of the word.
2. They may have faith in those heavenly promises, 1 which by the word of God are revealed.’
3. They may have spiritual fruits of faith wrought in them by the Holy Ghost; as outward restraint from sin, practice of many good things, inward joy, &c.
4. A sweet apprehension of the gospel to be that good word of grace which bringeth salvation unto all men.
5. An inward sight and sense in spirit of that eternal glory and happiness which is provided for the saints.
Seeing that a hypocrite may go thus far, and yet come short of heaven, how diligent ought we to be in the trial of the truth of grace. We have before shewed in every branch differences betwixt the upright and hypocrite. In brief, the knowledge of the upright is experimental, their faith unfeigned, the work of the Holy Ghost renewing, the good word abideth ever in them, and they have assured evidence of their future happiness.
Sec. 37. Of an hypocrite’s fall, ver. 6.
The apostle having declared in the two former verses how far an hypocrite may ascend on the ladder of salvation, in this sixth verse he declareth how far he may fall down. The main point is expressed in this phrase, i/ they shall fall away. In Greek thus, and falling away. For it depends on the former, thus, ‘it is impossible, that person enlightened, &c.; and falling away,’ &c.
The Greek particle is a compound, and here only used, and nowhere else throughout the New Testament. The simple verb, signifieth to fall. Of it see Chap. iii. 17, Sec. 168. The preposition with which it is compounded, signifieth from. The compound verb to fall from a thing, or to fall clean away. The metaphor may be taken from an house that is fairly built above ground, but the foundation thereof not sound. The fall of such an house useth to be a total or universal fall, not of this or that part alone. Christ, speaking of the fall of such an house, saith, ‘great was the fall of it,’ Mat. vii. 27.
This metaphor may also be taken from a man that, having ascended high on a ladder, falleth down to the bottom, and so bruiseth his body and breaketh his bones, as he is not able to rise up again. Thus the falling here spoken of, is not a falling away only from some particular graces and gifts received, nor from some measure of them, but a total and universal falling from them all, as in ‘ the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation,’ Jude 6.
That the fall here spoken of may the better be discerned, I will here more distinctly shew how far such as profess the gospel (for the description before mentioned, vers. 4, 5, is of such) may fall.
Falling away may have respect to the measure or continuance of grace.
In regard of the measure, some fall away in part, some in whole.
In regard of continuance, some so fall as they recover themselves again, some so as they can never be recovered.
Both the degrees of the measure, namely, partial and total, have respect to the outward profession, and to the inward disposition of him that falleth away.
In profession he falleth away in part who denieth some of those principles of religion which formerly he professed, as Peter and Barnabas, Gal. ii. 12.
In disposition he falleth away in part, who, through his own weakness, carelessness, or temptations, decayeth in those graces which once he had, at least in the measure, power, and comfort of them. Hereof, see Chap. iii. 12, Sec. 136.
In profession, he wholly falleth away who renounceth all his religion, even that whole faith which once he professed; as those Levites in the captivity, whom God afterwards, though they repented, would not admit to offer sacrifice before him, Ezek. xliv. 9, 10, and many Christians in the ten fiery persecutions, f and many of our countrymen in Queen Mary’s days.
They in disposition wholly fall away who do not only deny the faith, but also clean put away a good conscience, 1 Tim. i. 19, and iv. 1, 2. Hence followeth hatred of the truth, persecution against the preachers and professors thereof, and blasphemy against Christ himself. Such were many of the Pharisees, Mark iii. 30; Hymeneus and Alexander, 1 Tim. i. 20, and Julian. These and such other fall away toti, wholly, in outward profession and inward disposition, in tongue and heart; and a toto, from the whole, even from all the articles of Christian religion; and in totum, to the whole, or for ever, even with a settled peremptory resolution never to return to the religion again.
They that fall away in these last respects are such as are here meant.
Seeing there are such degrees of falling away, let us take heed of proceeding from one degree to another. Let us carefully look both to our profession and disposition. If by our own weakness, or any temptation, we be brought any way to decay in grace, let us not renounce the faith. If by fear or other temptation we be brought to deny it, let us not put away a good conscience. If in part we be brought to do it, let us not still go on to add one degree to another, so as we should wholly fall from the whole for ever, which is a most fearful case.