Believer’s Duty

And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
~ Matthew 24:4

For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
~ Jeremiah 2:13

Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,
~ Hebrews 3:7

For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
~ Hebrews 12:10

And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;
~ Romans 11:17

An Exposition of Hebrews 3:12-14, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from his work.

Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
~ Hebrews 3:12-14

Obs. 3. (2.) It is the duty of every individual believer to be intent on all occasions, lest at any time, or by any means, there should be found in him “an evil heart of unbelief.”

This, as was showed, follows on the former, and is a necessary consequence of it. But this so directly falls in with what will be offered from the next clause that thereunto we refer it.

(3.) The evil thus earnestly cautioned against is expressed,

(1.) In the principle of it, and that is, Καρδία πονηρὰ τῆς ἀπιστίας : and,

(2.) In the work or effect of that principle, in these words, ᾿Εν τῷ ἀποστῆναι ἀπὸ Θεοῦ ζῶντος .

(1.) The principle of the evil is “an evil heart of unbelief.” What is meant by καρδία , “the heart,” in the sense wherein it is here used, was declared on the verses preceding; what is meant by πονηρά , “evil,” shall be showed in its proper place. In special, it is said to be an evil heart τῆς ἀπιστίας , of unbelief;” that is, say most, ἄπιστος , “cor malum et incredulum,” “an evil heart, and incredulous,” or “unbelieving,” an evil and unbelieving heart. So the genitive case of the substantive is put for the adjective, ἀπιστίας for ἄπιστος , by a Hebraism not unusual. In this sense “unbelieving” is either exegetical, declaring what is meant by the “evil heart” in this place, even an unbelieving heart; or it is additious, and so a heart is signified which in general is evil, and in particular unbelieving. But there seems to me to be more in this expression; and that ἀπιστίας here is “genitivus efficientis,” denoting the principal efficient cause rendering the heart so evil as that it should “depart from the living God.” Καρδία ἀπιστίας , then, “a heart of unbelief,” is more than καρδία ἄπιστος , “an unbelieving heart;” for this latter word is sometimes used to express a defect in believing, and not unbelief absolutely. So John 20:27, Μή γίνου ἄπιστος , ἀλλὰ πιστός , “Be not unbelieving, but believing.” They are the words of Christ unto Thomas, who, though he failed in his faith, yet was not absolutely without faith. I confess the word is generally used in Scripture to express a negative unbeliever, or an infidel; but there is something peculiar in this expression, “A heart of unbelief,” that is, under the power of it, principled by it in its actings. What this unbelief is, and how the heart is rendered πονηρά , “evil,” thereby, we must now inquire.

As for unbelief, it is usually distinguished into that which is negative and that which is privative.

1st. Negative unbelief is whenever any man or men believe not, or have not faith, although they never had the means of believing granted unto them. For when men believe not, they are unbelievers, whether they have had any means of believing or no, or whether their unbelief be culpable or no, whatever may be the nature or degree of its demerit. So the apostle calls him an unbeliever who comes in accidentally to the assembly of the church, who never heard the word preached before, 1 Corinthians 14:23-24. In this sense, all those persons and nations who have never had as yet the gospel preached unto them are infidels, or unbelievers; that is, they are so negatively, they believe not, but yet cannot be said to have in them “an evil heart of unbelief.”

2dly. It is privative, when men believe not, although they enjoy the means of faith or believing. And herein consists the highest acting of the depraved nature of man. And it is on many accounts the greatest provocation of God that a creature can make himself guilty of. For it is, as might be manifested, an opposition unto God in all the properties of his nature, and in the whole revelation o£ his will Hence the gospel, which is a declaration of grace, mercy, and pardon, though it condemns all sin, yet it denounceth the final con-detonation of persons only against this sin:

“He that believeth shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned,” Mark 16:16.

Now this privative unbelief is twofold:

(1st.) In refusing to believe when it is required;

(2dly.) In rejecting the faith after it hath been received

(1st.) The first is, when the object of faith, or that which is to be believed, is according unto the mind of God, and in the way of his appointment proposed unto men; when sufficient evidence is given unto the truth and goodness of what is so proposed; and when the authority is made known on which faith is required; yet they refuse to believe. For these three things, a revelation of the things to be believed made known in the way of God, sufficient evidence given unto the truth proposed, and a just assertion of the authority of God requiring faith and obedience, do render the unbelief of men privative. Now, as this hath its root in the natural darkness, blindness, and depravedness of the minds of men, so it is educed and acted not without new sinful prejudices, and stubbornness of the will, refusing to attend unto and consider the evidences that are given unto the truth proposed, or the goodness and excellency of the things themselves contained in the propositions of truth; nor without signal effects of hardness of heart, love of sin and pleasure, keeping men off from the obedience required. Some instances may clear these particulars:

(1 st .) The root of this unbelief is in the original depravation of our natures, with that spiritual impotency and enmity to God wherein it doth consist. There is such an impotency in us by nature, that no man of himself, by his own strength, can believe, can come to Christ. So himself informs us, John 6:44, “No man,” saith he, “can come to me, except the Father draw him;” that is, none can believe unless they are in an especial manner “taught of God,” as he explains himself, John 6:45. Again, by nature that “carnal mind” is in all men, which is “enmity against God,” which is “not subject unto his law, neither indeed can be,” Romans 8:7. Hereunto maybe referred all that is spoken about the death of men in sin, their blindness and distrust, their alienation from God and obstinacy therein. This is the root and remote cause of all unbelief. Men in the state of nature neither can nor will believe the gospel; but,

(2 dly .) Besides this general cause of unbelief, when it comes unto particular instances, and the gospel is proposed unto this or that man for his assent and submission unto it, there is always some especial corruption of mind or will, voluntarily acted, if the soul be kept off from believing; and on the account thereof principally and not merely of original impotency and enmity against God, is the guilt of unbelief reflected upon the souls of the sinners. There is the same fundamental remote cause of unbelief in all that refuse the gospel; but the next immediate proper cause of it is peculiar to every individual unbeliever:

First, some are kept off from believing the gospel by inveterate prejudices in their minds, which they have taken in upon corrupt principles and interests. This shut up of old most of the Jews under their unbelief. They had received many prejudices against the person of Christ, which on all occasions they expressed; and so were offended at him and believed not. That he was poor, that he came out of Galilee, that the rulers and teachers of the church rejected him, were their pleas against him. So also they had against his doctrine, and that principally on two false principles; one of justification by the works of the law, as our apostle directly declares, Romans 9:31-32; Romans 10:3; the other, of the perpetuity or unchangeableness of the institutions of Moses, with which the apostle deals in this epistle. And these prejudices arose partly from their pride in seeking after righteousness by the works of the law, and partly from a corrupt desire of earthly things, riches, dominion, and wealth, which they expected with and by their Messiah, whereof I have treated elsewhere at large. These were in many the immediate causes of their unbelief, as is everywhere manifest in the gospel. And so is it with many at all times. Prejudices against the preachers of the gospel on sundry accounts, and against their doctrine, as either useless, or false, or unintelligible, or somewhat they know not what, which they do not like, keep them off from attending to the word and believing. See John 5:44.

Secondly, An especial obstinacy of will from those prejudices offereth itself in this matter. So our Savior tells the Pharisees, John 5:40, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” It is not the perverseness and obstinacy that is in the wills of all men by nature that our Savior here intendeth, but an especial perverseness in them, arising out of an especial envy unto and hatred of him and his doctrine. Hence they did not only not receive him, which might be charged on their natural impetency, but they put forth a positive act of their wills in refusing and rejecting him. And on this account the guilt of men’s unbelief is absolutely resolved into their own wills. And whether it be discovered or no, this is the condition with many in all times and seasons.

Thirdly, Love of sin is with some the immediate cause of their actual unbelief: John 3:19,

“This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

The light of the gospel is brought unto a place or people; they come so near it as to discover its end and tendency; but so soon as they find that it aims to part them and their sins, they will have no more to do with it. And on this account doth condemnation follow the preaching of the gospel, though its own proper end be salvation and that only. And this is the common way of the ruin of souls: they like not the terms of the gospel, because of their love of sin; and so perish in and for their iniquities.

Fourthly, Stupid ignorance, arising from the possessing of the minds of men with other things, inconsistent with the faith and obedience of the gospel, through the craft and subtilty of Satan, is another cause hereof. So our apostle tells us, 2 Corinthians 4:4, that

“the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”

It is when the minds of men are beamed into with the light of the gospel that they do believe; for by that light, is faith produced. How is this hindered, how is it obstructed? It is by the darkness and blindness of their minds. What darkness is this, that which is natural and common unto all? No, but that which is in a peculiar manner brought and reflected on the minds of some men by the craft and deceits of the god of this world; that is, through his temptations and suggestions, he so fills and possesses their minds with the things of this world (whence he is here peculiarly called “the god of this world”, that they are kept in a stupid and brutish ignorance of spiritual things, And this keeps them off from believing. These are a few of the many instances that might be given of the immediate causes of their privative unbelief, which consists in the rejecting or not receiving the truths of the gospel, when they are proposed in a due manner unto the minds of men.

And this fully clears the holiness and righteousness of God in his judgments against final and impenitent unbelievers to whom the gospel is preached; for as that impotency which is in them naturally is culpable, and it is no excuse for them for not believing because of themselves they could not so do, seeing it is by their own default that they are brought into that condition, so every one in his own person who believeth not doth, by a voluntary act of his will, reject the gospel, and that on such corrupt principles as none can deny to be his sin.

(2dly.) There is an unbelief that consists in a rejection of the truth of the gospel after that it hath been admitted, acknowledged, and professed.

Some, after they have been convinced of the truth, and made profession of it, yet, through the temptations of the world, the corruption of their own hearts, love of sin, or fear of persecution, do suffer their convictions to wear off, or do cast them out, and reject the faith they have owned. Hereof is frequent mention made in the gospel, and no less frequent caution given against it. And this in general is the highest aggravation of this sin. For although the former kind of privative unbelief will certainly prove destructive to them that continue in it, and it may be said that this can do no more, yet this hath two great evils attending it that the other hath no concernment in.

The first is, the difficulty that there is in being recovered out of this condition. He who hath already withstood the efficacy of the only remedy for his distempers, who hath rejected and despised it, what can cure him? This he who never received the gospel, be he never so bad or sinful, is not obnoxious unto. He hath not as yet, as it were, made a trial of what it is; and is free from that contempt cast upon it which is done by the other, who declares that he hath made trial of it, and valueth it not. This, on many reasons, renders his recovery difficult, almost impossible.

Again, There is a degree of this unbelief which puts a soul absolutely into an irrecoverable condition in this world. For wherein-soever the formality of the sin against the Holy Ghost that shall not be pardoned doth consist, yet this is the matter of it, and without which it is impossible that any one should be guilty of that sin. There must be a renunciation of truth known and professed, or the guilt of that sin cannot be contracted. Now this, be they never so wicked, they are free from who never received, admitted, or professed the truth. The sin against the Holy Ghost is a sin peculiar unto them who have made profession. And from this ariseth an especial aggravation of their punishment at the last day. So the apostle Peter determines this matter: “It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them,” 2 Peter 2:21.

Again, This unbelief in rejecting the gospel is either notional and practical, or practical only.

(1 st .) If it be notional it will also be practical. If men once reject their profession of the truth of the gospel, quenching their light into it and understanding of it, their practice of sin will be answerable thereunto. Renegadoes from the gospel are the greatest villains in the world. Neither do men voluntarily renounce the light, but to give themselves up to the deeds of darkness.

(2 dly. ) It may be practical only. So is it in them who

“profess that they know God, but in works deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate,” Titus 1:16,

men who walk in some kind of profession, yet “their end is destruction,” and that because “their god is their belly, and their glory is their shame, who mind earthly things,” Philippians 3:19. The corruptions of such men do absolutely prevail over their convictions, and the power of sin in their wills and affections casts off all influencing light from their minds or understandings. Such men as these, although they do not in words deny the truth of the gospel, yet they yield no obedience unto it. They neither expect any good from its promises, nor fear any great evil from its threatenings, which formerly had made some more effectual impressions upon them. And this is the condition of unspeakable multitudes in the world.

Now, the unbelief here intended by the apostle is this privative unbelief, consisting in the rejection of the truth of the gospel after it. hath been received and professed. And this also may be considered two ways:

(1 st .) Initially, as to some degrees of it;

(2 dly .) As it may be finished and completed.

Of these our apostle treateth severally and distinctly. Of the former in this place, and Hebrews 4:11-13, Hebrews 12:15-16; of the latter, Hebrews 6:4-6, Hebrews 10:26-27. The first consists in any declension of heart from Christ and the gospel. This may be in various degrees and on several accounts. The latter is a total renunciation of the gospel, of which we spake before. It is the former that the apostle here intends, and therein a prevention of the latter: and therefore concerning it we must consider two things:

(1 st .) Wherein it consists, or what are the ways of its entrance into and prevailing upon the minds of men.

(2 dly .) By what means it renders the heart evil when it is brought under the power thereof.

(1 st .) It consists in the soul’s receiving impressions from arguments and reasonings against profession, in the whole or any degrees of it. Satan is and will be casting “fiery darts” at the soul, but when the “shield of faith” is held up constantly and steadfastly, they are immediately quenched, Ephesians 6:16; yea, it is the work of faith to arm the soul on all hands, that assaults make no impression upon it. If that fail, if that faint, more or less they will take place. And when or wherein the soul is brought but to parley with an objection, then and therein unbelief is at work, whether it be as unto a particular fact or as unto our state. It was so with our first parents in the very entry of their treaty with Satan, in giving a considering audience unto that one question, “Hath God said so?” Our great Pattern hath showed us what our deportment ought to be in all suggestions and temptations. When the devil showed him “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them,” to tempt him withal, he did not stand and look upon them, viewing their glory, and pondering their empire, though he was fully assured that after all he could despise and trample upon the offer, and him that made it; but instantly, without stay, he cries, “Get thee hence, Satan,” and further strengthens his own authority with a word of truth, which was his rule, Matthew 4:10. Innumerable are the inclinations, objections, temptations, that lie against the profession of the gospel, especially in times of difficulty, particularly against steadfastness and preciseness in profession. That the whole of it be laid aside, or the degrees of it be remitted, is the great design of Satan, the world, and the flesh. To hearken unto what Satan suggests, though but under a pretense of seeing what is in it, to reason with the world, to consult with flesh and blood, contains the first actings of unbelief towards corrupting the heart in order unto a departure from God.

(2 dly .) It consists in or acts itself by a secret dislike of something, notionally or practically, in the gospel. This was a common thing in the hearers of our Savior. They disliked this or that in his doctrine or teaching, and that sometimes in things concerning faith, sometimes in things concerning obedience. So did those with whom he treated, John 6:0. Whilst he taught them in general of the “bread of God that came down from heaven,” they were pleased with it, and cried, “Lord, evermore give us this bread,” John 6:34; but when he began to acquaint them in particular that he himself was that bread, that his flesh was meat, and his blood was drink, that is, that they were the spiritual nourishment of the souls of men, especially as given for them in his death, they began to be offended and to murmur, they disliked it, crying, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” John 6:60-61. And what was the effect of this dislike? Plain and open apostasy: John 6:66, “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” And whence did this dislike and murmuring arise? It was merely the acting of their unbelief, as our Lord declared, John 6:63-64, My words, which you so dislike, are spirit and life, “but there are some of you that believe not.” You pretend exceptions against my words, apprehended in your gross and carnal manner, but the true reason of the dislike of them is your own unbelief. God, saith he, hath not as yet given faith unto you; for I told you before, that “no man can come unto me” (that is, believe in me and the gospel) “except it were given unto him of my Father” (John 6:65); and in this doth your unbelief act itself.’This was in matter of faith; and we have an instance unto the same purpose in the matter of obedience. The young man mentioned, Matthew 19:0, had a great respect unto the teaching of the Lord Christ, for he comes unto him to be instructed in the way to eternal life. And this he did with so much zeal and sincerity, according to his present light, that our Savior approved them in him; for it is said he looked on him and “loved him,” Mark 10:21. And he likes his first lesson or instruction, according to his understanding of it, very well; but when the Lord Jesus proceeded to make a particular trial of him in an especial instance, bidding him sell what he had and give it to the poor, and follow him, this he liked not, but went away sorrowful, Mark 10:21-22.

Now, there are three things in the gospel and the profession of it about which unbelief is apt to act itself by this dislike; which if not obviated, will prove a beginning of turning away from the whole: First, The purity and spirituality of its worship; secondly, The strictness and universality of its holiness or obedience; and, thirdly, The grace and mystery of its doctrine.

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