For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
~ Romans 9:15
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD concerning things which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them:
~ Leviticus 4:2
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
And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
~ Luke 12:47
Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger: the LORD shall swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire shall devour them. When the boughs thereof are withered, they shall be broken off: the women come, and set them on fire: for it is a people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour. But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them.
~ Psalm 21:9, Isaiah 27:11, Isaiah 63:10
John Owen’s Commentary on the Book of Hebrews: Chapter Ten, Verses Twenty-Six through Twenty-Nine. The following are excepts from the text.
Hebrews 10, Verses 26-27
῾εκουσίως γὰρ ἁμαρτανόντων ἡμῶν μετὰ τὸ λαβεῖν τὴν ἐπίγνωσιν τῆς ἀληθείας, οὐκ ἔτι περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν ἀπολείπεται θυσία, φοβερὰ δέ τις ἐκδοχὴ κρίσεως, καὶ πυρὸς ζῆλος ἐσθίειν μέλλοντος τοὺς ὑπεναντίους.
Hebrews 10:26-27. — 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.
Obs. 1. 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. 2. 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. 3. 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 Samuel 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.
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 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. 4. 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.
Hebrews 10:27. — “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, —
(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 Peter 4:17-18, “What shall be the end of them who obey not the gospel? … Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
(2.) ᾿εκδοχή, 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.
(3.) This expectation is said to be φοβερά “fearful,” tremendous, which men can neither conflict withal nor avoid, as we shall see further, Hebrews 10:31; — 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.
2ndly. 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. 5. There is an inseparable concatenation between apostasy and eternal ruin.
Obs. 6. God oftentimes visits the minds of cursed apostates with dreadful expectations of approaching wrath.
Obs. 7. When men have hardened themselves in sin, no fear of punishment will either rouse or stir them up to seek after relief. Obs. 8. 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.
(1.) It is κρίοις, “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, Psalms 9:16; James 2:13; 1 Peter 4:17; 2 Peter 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, Matthew 10:15; Matthew 11:22; Matthew 11:24; Matthew 12:36; Mark 6:11; 2 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 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. 9. The expectation of future judgment in guilty persons is, or will be at one time or another, dreadful and tremendous.
(2.) The punishment and destruction of those sinners is described by its particular nature; it is a “fiery indiguation,” — 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,”
Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 9:3; Isaiah 33:14; Hebrews 12:29. What is intended thereby is declared in a word, Deuteronomy 4:24, ζηλότυπος, as here ζῆλος πυρός. 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 Corinthians 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 Isaiah 9:5; Isaiah 30:33; Isaiah 66:15; Amos 7:4; Matthew 18:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; Psalms 11:6; Deuteronomy 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 Matthew 24:29-31; 2 Peter 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 Isaiah 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.”
[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 Peter 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: Habakkuk 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. 10. 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. 11. 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 Thessalonians 1:7-10.
[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 Thessalonians 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 Thessalonians 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; Acts 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. 12. 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. 13. 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.
[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 Malachi 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. 14. 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. Whence it is so, I shall now declare.
Hebrews 10, Verses 28-29
᾿αθετήσας τις νόμον ΄ωϋσέως, χωρὶς οἰκτιρμῶν ἐπὶ δυσὶν ἣ τρισὶ μάρτυσιν ἀποθνήσκει· πόσῳ, δοκεῖτε, χείρονος ἀξιωθήσεται τιμωρίας ὁ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ καταπατήσας, καὶ τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης κοινὸν ἡγησάμενος ἐν ᾧ ἡγιάσθη, καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς χάριτος ἐνυβρίσας;
Hebrews 10:28-29. — 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 counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
The apostle confirms what he had spoken of the sore and certain destruction of apostates from the gospel, by an argument “A comparatis,” and “a minori ad majus;” that is, by the consideration of the two states of the church, which he had all along compared and expressed. Wherefore, to convince the Hebrews not only of the certainty and severity of the judgment declared, but also of the equity and righteousness of it, he proposeth unto them the consideration of God’s constitution of punishment under the old testament with respect unto the law of Moses, which they could not deny to be just and equal.
In verse 28 he lays down the matter of fact as it was stated under the law; wherein there are three things:
1. The sin whereunto that of apostasy from the gospel is compared, “He that despised Moses’ law.”
2. The punishment of that sin according to the law; he that was guilty of it “died without mercy.”
3. The way whereby according unto the law his sin was to be charged on him; it was “under two or three witnesses.”
FIRST, Unto the first, two things did concur: —
1. It was such a sin as by the law was capital; as murder, adultery, incest, idolatry, blasphemy, and some others. Concerning them it was provided in the law that those who were guilty of them should be put to death. God alone, by virtue of his sovereignty, could dispense with the execution of this sentence of the law, as he did in the case of David, 2 Samuel 12:13; but as unto the people, they were prohibited on any account to dispense with it, or forbear the execution of it, Numbers 35:31.
2. It was required that he did it “presumptuously,” or with an high hand, Exodus 21:14; Numbers 15:30-31; Deuteronomy 17:12.
He that was thus guilty of sin, in sinning is said to “despise Moses’ law;” ἀθετεῖν, to “abolish” it, to render it useless, — that is, in himself; by contempt of the authority of it, or the authority of God in it. And it is called a contempt and abolishing of the law, as the word signifies, —
1. Because of God’s indulgence unto them therein. For although the general sentence of the law was a curse, wherein death was contained, against every transgression thereof, Deuteronomy 27, yet God had ordained and appointed, that for all their sins of ignorance, infirmity, or surprisals by temptations, an atonement should be made by sacrifice; whereon the guilty were freed as unto the terms of the covenant, and restored to a right unto all the promises of it. Wherein they would not abide in those terms and conditions of the covenant, but transgress the bounds annexed to them, it was a contempt of the whole law, with the wisdom, goodness, and authority of God therein.
2. They rejected all the promises of it which were given exclusively unto such sins; nor was there any way appointed of God for their recovery unto an interest in them. Hereby they made themselves lawless persons, contemning the threatenings and despising the promises of the law; which God would not bear in any of them, Deuteronomy 29:18-21.
Obs. 1. It is the contempt of God and his authority in his law that is the gall and poison of sin. — This may be said in some measure of all voluntary sins; and the more there is of it in any sin, the greater is their guilt and the higher is their aggravation who have contracted it. But there is a degree hereof which God will not bear with; namely, when this presumptuous contempt hath such an influence into any sin, as that no ignorance, no infirmity, no special temptation can be pleaded, unto the extenuation of it. “I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief,” 1 Timothy 1:13. And sundry things are required hereunto:
1. That it be known unto the sinner, both in point of right and fact, to be such a sin as whereunto the penalty of death without dispensation was annexed.
2. That therefore the sense of God in the law be suggested unto the soul in and by the ordinary means of it.
3. That the resolution of continuing in it, and the perpetration of it, doth prevail against all convictions and fear of punishment.
4. That motives unto the contrary, with reluctancies of conscience, be stifled or overcome. These things rendered a sinner “presumptuous,” or caused him to “sin with an high hand,” under the law; whereunto the apostle adds in the next verse the peculiar aggravations of sin against the gospel. This it is to despise the law of Moses, as it is explained, Numbers 15:30-31.
SECONDLY, The punishment of this sin, or of him that was guilty of it, was, that “he died without mercy.” He “died,” — that is, he was put to death; not always, it may be, “de facto,” but such was the constitution of the law, he was to be put to death without mercy. There were several ways of inflicting capital punishments appointed by the law, as hanging on a tree, burning, and stoning. Of all which, and the application of them unto particular cases, I have given a description in the Exercitations unto the first volume of these commentaries. And it is said that he “died without mercy,” not only because there was no allowance for any such mercy as should save and deliver him, but God had expressly forbidden that either mercy or compassion should be showed in such cases, Deuteronomy 13:6-10; Deuteronomy 19:13.
This is expressly added unto the highest instance of despising the law, namely, the decalogue in the foundation of it, whereon all other precepts of the law were built; and that which comprised a total apostasy from the whole law. Wherefore I doubt not but the apostle had an especial respect unto that sin in its punishment, which had a complete parallel with that whose heinousness he would represent. However, —
Obs. 2. When the God of mercies will have men show no mercy, as in temporal punishment, he can and will, upon repentance, show mercy as to eternal punishment; for we dare not condemn all unto hell which the law condemned as unto temporal punishment.
THIRDLY, The way of execution of this judgment: it was to be done “under two or three witnesses;” that is, that were so of the fact and crime. The law is express in this case, Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:13; Numbers 35:30. Although God was very severe in the prescription of these judgments, yet he would give no advantage thereby unto wicked and malicious persons to take away the lives of innocent men. He rather chose that those who were guilty should, through our weakness, go free for want of evidence against them, than that innocence should be exposed unto the malice of one single testimony or witness. And such abhorrency God had of false witnesses in criminal causes, as that which is most contrary unto his righteousness in the government of the world, as that he established a “lex talionis” in this case alone; — that a false witness should suffer the utmost of what he thought and contrived to bring on another. The equity of which law is still continued in force, as suitable to the law of nature, and ought to be more observed than it is, Deuteronomy 19:16-21.
On this proposition of the state of things under the law, by God’s appointment, as to sin and punishment, the apostle makes his inference unto the certainty and equity of the punishment he had declared with respect unto sins against the gospel, verse 29, “Of how much sorer punishment,” etc. And there is in these words three things:
1. The nature of the sin unto which the punishment is annexed.
2. The punishment itself, expressed comparatively with and unto that of the transgression of Moses’law.
3. The evidence of the inference which he makes; for this is such as he refers it unto themselves to judge upon, “Suppose ye shall he be thought worthy.”
The sin itself is described by a threefold aggravation of it, each instance having its especial aggravation:
1. From the object sinned against;
2. From the act of the minds of men in sinning against it.
1. The first aggravation of the sin intended is from the object of it, the person of Christ, — “the Son of God;” and that included in it is the act of their minds towards him, “they trod,” or “trampled upon him.”
2. The second is against the office of Christ, especially his sacerdotal office, and the sacrifice of his blood which he offered therein, — “the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified;” and the aggravation included therein from the act of their minds towards it is, that “they accounted it an unholy thing.”
3. A third aggravation as unto the object, is the Spirit of Christ, or “the Spirit of grace;” and the aggravation included therein is, that “they do despite unto him.”
In general, the nature and aggravation of the sin intended may be reduced unto these heads: —
1. The object of it, which is the sum and substance, a divine constellation of all the blessed effects of infinite wisdom, goodness, and grace, yea, the whole divine wisdom, goodness, and grace of God, in the most glorious manifestation of them. All these things are comprised in the person, office, and glory of the Son of God, as the Savior and Redeemer of the church.
2. The actings of the minds of men towards this object, which is in and by all the vilest affections that human nature is capable of. Contempt, scorn, and malice, are ascribed unto such sin; they “trample on,” they “despise,” and “do despite.” Wherefore, if it be possible that any thing, any sin of men, can provoke the heat of divine indignation; if any can contract such a guilt, as that the holiness, righteousness, truth, and faithfulness of God, shall be engaged unto its eternal punishment, the sin here intended must do it.
FIRST, We shall therefore consider it in its nature and distinct aggravations.
The sin in general is that which we have spoken to before, namely, sinning wilfully, after we have received the knowledge of the truth, and in an absolutely total relinquishment and rejection of the gospel.
1. In the description of the special object of this sin, that which is first expressed is the person of Christ, — “the Son of God.” I have on sundry occasions before showed how the apostle doth vary in his expression of Christ. Here he calls him “the Son of God;” and he maketh use of this name to give a sense of the glorious greatness of the person with whom they had to do, against whom this sin was committed. For although he is a man also, who had blood to shed, and did shed it in the sacrifice of himself, and notwithstanding what cursed, blasphemous thoughts they might have of him, yet indeed he is and will appear to be, the eternal Son of the living God.
But how comes this “Son of God” to be concerned herein? what injury is done him by apostates from the gospel? I answer, that as the Lord Christ in his own person was the special author of the gospel; as his authority is the special object of our faith in it; as his office with all the fruits of it is the subject, sum, and substance of the gospel: so there is no reception of it in a due manner, unto salvation, no rejection of it unto final condemnation, but what is all of it originally, fundamentally, and virtually contained in the reception or rejection of the person of Christ. This is the life, the soul, and foundation of all gospel truth; without which it is of no power or efficacy unto the souls of men. But I have treated at large of these things elsewhere.(8) I cannot but observe, that, as whosoever rejects, refuses, forsakes the gospel, rejecteth and forsaketh the person of Christ; so on what account soever men take up the profession of it, and perform the duties of it, if the foundation be not laid in a reception of Christ himself, of the person of Christ, all their profession will be in vain.
This is the first aggravation of this sin, it is committed immediately against the person of the Son of God, and therein his authority, goodness, and love.
But it may be thought, if the person of Christ be concerned herein, yet it is indirectly or consequently only, and in some small degree. ‘No,’saith the apostle; ‘but he that is guilty of this sin doth trample on the Son of God, or tread him under foot.’The word is rendered with great variety, but that of our translation is proper; and it is the highest expression of scorn, contempt, and malice amongst men. To “tread under foot,” is to despise and insult over, as is plain in the metaphor. And this contempt respects both the person of Christ and his authority. He is proposed in the gospel, was professed by this sort of sinners for a while to be the Son of God, the true Messiah, the Savior of the world. Hereon faith in him and all holy reverence unto him are required of us, as on him whom God had exalted above all principalities and powers; and whom therefore we ought to exalt and adore in our souls. But now by this sort of persons he was esteemed an evildoer, a seducer, one not at all sent of God, but one that justly suffered for his crimes. Herein they “trod under foot the Son of God” with all contempt and scorn. Again, it respects his authority. This the gospel declared; and those who had come unto any profession of it, — as those had done whereof he speaks in this place, and all must have done who contract the guilt of this sin, — did avow, and submit themselves unto. The profession they made was, to observe and do all that he had commanded them, because all power was given unto him in heaven and earth. This they now utterly rejected and despised; as unto the outward observance of his commands, ordinances, and institutions of divine worship, they openly rejected them, betaking themselves unto other modes and rites of divine service, in opposition and contradiction unto them, even those of the law. Neither did they retain any regard in their minds unto his authority.
Obs. 3. Though there may be sometimes an appearance of great severity in God’s judgments against sinners, yet when the nature of their sins and the aggravations of them shall be discovered, they will be manifest to have been righteous, and within due measure.
Obs. 4. Take we heed of every neglect of the person of Christ or of his authority, lest we enter into some degree or other of the guilt of this great offense.
Obs. 5. The sins of men can really reach neither the person nor authority of Christ; they only do that in desire which in effect they cannot accomplish. — This doth not take off or extenuate their sin; the guilt of it is no less than if they did actually trample upon the Son of God.
2. The second aggravation of the sin spoken of, is its opposition to the office of Christ, especially his priestly office, and the sacrifice that he offered thereby, called here “the blood of the covenant.” And that included in it, is the frame of their minds in that opposition, “they counted it an unholy thing;” both which have a third aggravation from the use and efficacy of that blood, — it is that “wherein he was sanctified.”
For the first, in what sense the blood of Christ was “the blood of the covenant,” hath been fully declared on Hebrews 9; — that whereby the new covenant was ratified, confirmed, and made effectual as unto all the grace of it unto them that do believe; and it was the foundation of all the following actings of God towards him in his exaltation, and of his intercession. See Hebrews 13:20. The “blood of the covenant” was the great expression of the grace of God, and of the love of Christ himself, as well as the cause of all good unto us; the centre of divine wisdom in all the mediatory actings of Christ, the life and soul of the gospel. Of this blood of the covenant it is said, that they who were guilty of the sin intended, “counted it an unholy thing;” they judged it so, and dealt with it accordingly. Both the judgment of the mind, and practice thereupon are intended.
κοινόν is “common,” and opposed unto any thing that is dedicated and consecrated unto God, and made sacred. Hence it is used for “profane” and “unholy,” — that which no way belongs unto divine worship. They did no longer esteem it as that blood wherewith the new covenant was sealed, confirmed, established; but as the blood of an ordinary man shed for his crimes, which is common and unholy, not sacred, — not of so much use unto the glory of God as the blood of bulls and goats in legal sacrifices: which is the height of impiety. And there are many degrees of this sin, some doctrinal, some practical; which though they arise not unto the degree here intended, yet are they perilous unto the souls of men. Those by whom the efficacy of his blood unto the expiation of sin, by making satisfaction and atonement, is denied, as it is by the Socinians, will never be able to free themselves from making this blood in some sense a common thing. Yea, the contempt which hath been cast on the blood of Christ by that sort of men will not be expiated with any other sacrifices for ever. Others do manifest what slight thoughts they have of it, in that they place the whole of their religion within themselves, and value their own light as unto spiritual advantages above the blood of Christ. And practically there are but few who trust unto it for their justification, for pardon, righteousness, and acceptance with God; which is in a great measure to account it a common thing, — not absolutely, but in comparison of that life, excellency, and efficacy that are in it indeed. But as Christ is precious unto them that believe, 1 Peter 2:7, so is his blood also, wherewith they are redeemed, 1 Peter 1:19.
Obs. 6. Every thing that takes off from a high and glorious esteem of the blood of Christ as “the blood of the covenant,” is a dangerous entrance into apostasy: such is the pretended sacrifice of the mass, with all things of the like nature.
The last aggravation of this sin with respect unto the blood of Christ, is the nature, use, and efficacy of it; it is that “wherewith he was sanctified.” It is not real or internal sanctification that is here intended, but it is a separation and dedication unto God; in which sense the word is often used. And all the disputes concerning the total and final apostasy from the faith of them who have been really and internally sanctified, from this place, are altogether vain; though that may be said of a man, in aggravation of his sin, which he professeth concerning himself. But the difficulty of this text is, concerning whom these words are spoken: for they may be referred unto the person that is guilty of the sin insisted on; he counts the blood of the covenant, wherewith he himself was sanctified, an unholy thing. For as at the giving of the law, or the establishing of the covenant at Sinai, the people being sprinkled with the blood of the beasts that were offered in sacrifice, were sanctified, or dedicated unto Gel in a peculiar manner; so those who by baptism, and confession of faith in the church of Christ, were separated from all others, were peculiarly dedicated to God thereby. And therefore in this case apostates are said to “deny the Lord that bought them,” or vindicated them from their slavery unto the law by his word and truth for a season, 2 Peter 2:1. But the design of the apostle in the context leads plainly to another application of these words. It is Christ himself that is spoken of, who was sanctified and dedicated unto God to be an eternal high priest, by the blood of the covenant which he offered unto God, as I have showed before. The priests of old were dedicated and sanctified unto their office by another, and the sacrifices which he offered for them; they could not sanctify themselves: so were Aaron and his sons sanctified by Moses, antecedently unto their offering any sacrifice themselves. But no outward act of men or angels could unto this purpose pass on the Son of God. He was to be the priest himself, the sacrificer himself, — to dedicate, consecrate, and sanctify himself, by his own sacrifice, in concurrence with the actings of God the Father in his suffering. See John 17:19; Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:7; Hebrews 5:9; Hebrews 9:11-12. That precious blood of Christ, wherein or whereby he was sanctified, and dedicated unto God as the eternal high priest of the church, this they esteemed “an unholy thing;” that is, such as would have no such effect as to consecrate him unto God and his office.
Obs. 7. However men may esteem of any of the mediatory actings of Christ, yet are they in themselves glorious and excellent. — So was the sacrifice of his own blood, even that whereby not only the church was sanctified, but himself also was dedicated as our high priest for ever.
3. The third aggravation of this sin is taken from its opposition unto the Spirit of Christ; they “do despite unto the Spirit of grace.” And as in the former instances, so it is here, there are two parts of this aggravation; the first taken from the object of their sin, “the Spirit of grace;” the second taken from the manner of their opposition unto him, “they do him despite.” The Holy Spirit of God, promised and communicated under the gospel by Jesus Christ from the Father, as the author and cause, actually communicating and applying of all grace unto the souls of them that believe, is this Spirit of grace. And this carries in it innumerable aggravations of this sin. This person, the Holy Spirit of God, God himself, his communication of grace and mercy, in the accomplishment of the most glorious promises of the Old Testament, was he whom these apostates renounced. But there is a peculiar notion or consideration of the Spirit, with respect whereunto he is sinned against; and that is this, that he was peculiarly sent, given, and bestowed to bear witness unto the person, doctrine, death, and sacrifice of Christ, with the glory that ensued thereon, John 16:14; 1 Peter 1:12. And this he did various ways. For by him the souls of multitudes were converted unto God, — their eyes enlightened, their minds sanctified, their lives changed. By him did those who believe come to understand the Scriptures, which before were as a sealed book unto them; they were directed, encouraged, supported, and comforted, in all that they had to do and suffer for the name of Christ. By him were all those mighty works, wonders, signs, and miracles wrought, which accompanied the apostles and other preachers of the gospel at the beginning. Now all these things, and the like effects of his grace and power on all who made profession of the gospel, were owned, believed, and avowed to be the works of the Holy Spirit, as promised in the days of the Messiah; and they pleaded the evidence of them unto the confusion of all their adversaries. This, therefore, was done also by these apostates before their apostasy. But now, being fully fallen off from Christ and the gospel, they openly declared that there was no testimony in them unto the truth, but all these things were either diabolical delusions or fanatical misapprehensions; that indeed there was nothing of truth, reality, or power in them, and therefore no argument to be taken from them unto the confirmation of the truth of Christ in the gospel. Now this proceeding from them who had once themselves made the same profession with others of their truth and reality, gave the deepest wound that could be given unto the gospel. For all the adversaries of it, who were silenced with this public testimony of the Holy Spirit, and knew not what to say, considering the many miracles that were wrought, did now strengthen themselves by the confession of these apostates, ‘That there was nothing in it but pretence: and who should better know than those who had been of that society?’
Obs. 8. There are no such cursed, pernicious enemies unto religion as apostates.
Hence are they said to “do despite unto the Spirit of grace,” — ἐνυβρίσας. They do injure him so far as they are able. The word includes wrong with contempt. And this they did upon a twofold account. For,
(1.) The works, many of them which he then wrought, were eminent and evident effects of divine power; and to ascribe such works unto another cause is to do despite unto him.
(2.) They did so principally, in that by all his works, and in the whole dispensation of him, he gave testimony unto Christ in the gospel; and what greater despite and wrong could be done unto him, than to question his truth and the veracity of his testimony? No greater despite can be done unto a man of any reputation, than to question his truth and credit in that wherein he engageth himself as a witness. And if lying unto the Holy Ghost is so great a sin, what is it to make the Holy Ghost a liar? Herein did such persons do him despite. For notwithstanding the public testimony he gave in, with, and by the preaching of the gospel, they rejected it as a fable, in despising his person and authority.
All these great and terrible aggravations are inseparable from this sin of apostasy from the gospel, above those of any sin against the law of Moses whatever. They were none of them in the vilest sin prohibited by the law under capital punishment.