The Terrible Hypothesis
July 5th, 1959 @ 7:30 PM
THE TERRIBLE HYPOTHESIS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Hebrews 5:10 – 6:9
7-5-59 7:30 p.m.
Last Sunday we left off at the ninth verse of the fifth chapter of Hebrews. Tonight we begin at the tenth verse of chapter 5 and preach through the ninth verse of chapter 6. Now let us read together this text. This is one of the most difficult of all of the passages in the Bible, and has in it the sternest warning to be read in all the Word of God. We begin reading in the Book of Hebrews, chapter 5, verse 10, through chapter 6, verse 9. Now together, Hebrews 5:10:
Called of God an High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,
Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
And this will we do, if God permit.
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.
For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God:
But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.
But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.
The heart of the passage is Hebrews 6:4-6:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, have tasted of the heavenly gift, were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 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.
We have read the context because no small part of the meaning of that unusually stern and awful word is found in the context.
He started off by saying, in the sixth verse of the fifth chapter, "Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" [Hebrews 5:6]. Then in the tenth verse he comes back to it: "Called of God an High Priest after the order of Melchizedek" [Hebrews 5:10]. Then he pauses, and he writes a long passage in here [Hebrews 5:11-6:19], before he comes to the twentieth verse of the sixth chapter, "Even Jesus, made an High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek [Hebrews 6:20]. For this Melchizedek" [Hebrews 7:1]; between the introduction of the name of Melchizedek and the somewhat lengthy discussion of Melchizedek, he pauses and in between he speaks this long passage here that concerns our message tonight [Hebrews 5:11-6:20]. The reason he pauses, he says, in the eleventh verse, "Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, but you are dull of hearing" [Hebrews 5:11]; and he hesitates before what he has to say concerning Melchizedek [Hebrews 6:20]. For this author is just about to avow that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, greater than Isaac, greater than Jacob, greater than Levi, greater than Aaron, and greater than the Aaronic priesthood [Hebrews 7:1-17].
Now to a devout Jew, who’d been taught to reverence all of his life the patriarch Abraham as the father of the faithful, and Isaac and Jacob and Levi as numbered among the fathers of the people of Israel, and to look upon the Aaronic priesthood as ordained of God, to say of Melchizedek, who is mentioned only twice in the Bible – once in the fourteenth chapter of Genesis [Genesis 14:17-20], and another in the fourth verse of the one hundred [tenth] Psalm [Psalm 110:4] – for the author here to begin to say that Melchizedek was a greater man and a greater figure in the Bible than Abraham and the fathers would immediately cause him pause. For he says, "You are dull of hearing, and it is difficult for you to understand these things that I am about to say" [Hebrews 5:11]. Then he carries forward in a passage that you’ve just read [Hebrews 5:12-6:9], their lack of progress in the Christian faith; and he likens them to little babes who have never grown [Hebrews 5:12-13].
I went to see a hospital one time – not because I wanted to, but because the administrator of the hospital was a member and a devout leader in the church where I was holding a revival meeting – and I went to see the children in this hospital. I suppose it is a part of a man’s education to look upon a thing like that, but I still wish I had never seen it. There were children in that hospital that were old enough to be middle-aged men, who were still infants, little children. They were afflicted in ways that I had never, never dreamed of. But the affliction that seemed to me the most tragic was little children who had never grown. In the Book of Ecclesiastes it says, "There is a time to be born" [Ecclesiastes 3:2]; and the sweet infancy of a precious baby is indeed precious to behold and to possess. But infancy has a terminus; and for a grown man to be an infant is of all things most pitiable. So the author here says that these Christians, this church to whom he’s addressing his letter, when they should have advanced in the faith, they should have been men of full age, they are still infants and still require milk and not strong meat [Hebrews 5:12-13].
Then he goes on, he says, "But I’m not going to stop and lay again this foundation; I’m not going back and repeat these first principles of Christ that you ought already to know and to know well. But having laid that foundation, and you having been conversant with it, now let us go on unto teleios, unto perfection, unto maturity, unto the goal for which the Lord has called us" [Hebrews 6:1]. That word teleios in the Greek, I’ve spoken of it several times because he uses it so often here in the Book of Hebrews, translated "perfect" [Hebrews 6:1], it has nothing to do with freedom from sin. The word teleios translated "perfect" means to reach that goal for which a thing is intended [Hebrews 6:1]. A seedling becomes a teleios, it becomes perfect, when it grows to be a big tree. That’s the purpose of the seedling. An infant is a teleios, it has reached the goal, it is perfect when it is grown into a full man. So the author here says that we ought to go on now unto that maturity in Christian life and faith, that God expects of us. And we’re not to keep back there in those foundational things that are a primer, an a-b-c, in the Christian life [Hebrews 6:1].
Then he names those things, this foundation that he’s not going to take time to discuss, and he names some of them: repentance from dead works [Hebrews 6:1]. Heretofore they had believed that by doing good they could find salvation; by observing certain rituals and certain ceremonies they could be saved. But he calls those works "dead works." They are unspiritual things. You can observe rites and rituals and ordinances forever and still be lost, and you can try to do good and still be not saved. He calls them "dead works."
They were taught to look to God now in faith; then he names that second one: "and faith toward God" [Hebrews 6:1]. That was the great doctrine that Luther taught the church in the sixteenth century: not to look to works in order to be saved, but to look toward God and to have faith in God [Romans 1:17].
"And of the doctrine of baptisms" [Hebrews 6:2]: we’re not to stay back there always in just those things concerning the initiation of the Christian life, the doctrine of baptisms. He uses the word plural because as a Jewish congregation they were familiar with many kinds of baptisms. There was the baptism of John the Baptist [John 1:26]; there were many immersions, many baptisms observed by the Jewish people, ablutions and washings and immersions [Mark 7:3-4]. Then there was Christian baptism, he calls that an initial doctrine of the church [Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:38].
"And of laying on of hands" [Hebrews 6:2]: there were many ceremonies in the Jewish religion that entailed the laying on of hands. For example, on the Day of Atonement the priest came out before all of the people and laid his hands on the head of the scapegoat and confessed on it all the sins of the people, then sent it away into the wilderness [Leviticus 16:21-22]. The Jewish people were familiar with the laying on of hands. Then when they saw the ordinance in the church, like ordaining a man to preach, the laying on of hands, why, it demanded an explanation to them [Acts 13:3; 1 Timothy 5:22]. "And of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment" [Hebrews 6:2]; what the faith of Jesus Christ teaches concerning the resurrection and the judgment that is to come [Hebrews 9:27].
Now all of these things, he says, are rudimentary, they are elemental, they are primary, they are foundational, they are of first things. And these things we should know should have been taught when we first became Christians. But to stay back there all our lives, and discuss nothing but repentance, and nothing but baptism, and nothing but the laying on of hands, and the resurrection from the dead and the judgment to come, and never learn anything else, and never go forward in any other way [Hebrews 6:1-2], is of all things, he says, pitiable; it’s to be an infant all of our lives [Hebrews 5:11-13]. But he says we are to go on, we are to grow, we are to continue [Hebrews 6:1-2].
Then he writes this passage, "For" [Hebrews 6:4]. He gives a reason for the earnestness of his appeal. "For," he says, if we do not grow we shall die [Hebrews 6:8]. He says what little knowledge we have will dwindle away and disappear. If we stay feeble and infantile we shall grow feebler, and finally unable to grow and to live at all. So he is making an earnest appeal to this little congregation of Jewish Christians, who are equivocating between forsaking the faith altogether or going on and learning more and better of the Lord Jesus. He is making an earnest appeal unto them to go on in that confession that they made back there when they took Jesus Christ as Savior [Hebrews 6:11-12].
Then he utters the sternest warning to be read in the Bible: "For," and that word "for" is all important,
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, it is impossible
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.
That passage in the New Testament stands stern and forbidding, tempestuous, in grandeur and solitude [Hebrews 6:4-6]. When I read it I’m reminded of Mount Sinai, on the top of which the Lord God came down in thunder and in lightning and in flame and in fury. And when the people saw the presence of God, and when they heard the unearthly voices, they stood afar off in fear and in dread and in trembling [Exodus 19:16-18]. They dared not even approach to touch the mount that burned with fire; but asked Moses to be their representative and to speak to God in the flame and in the thick darkness. So it is with us here in this terrible passage [Hebrews 6:4-8]. We are like the children of Israel, standing afar off, and looking at that stern and dark and terrible pronouncement [Exodus 19:18-21]. For the author says here that if a man apostasizes, if he deliberately and willfully turns from the faith of Christ, then he can never repent, then he can never be saved, then he can never be touched when he falls into that dark and abysmal night [Hebrews 6:4-8].
Now, I cannot but be honest with you in delivering this message to say that all men believe this passage like I believe it. Now I’m going to take just a moment to show you how men interpret it in some other way. I’m going to take, for example, F. B. Meyer, and to disagree with that great Baptist divine and marvelous famous London preacher is something to think about. But I do. F. B. Meyer is typical of a great many expositors and a great many preachers who believe that this description here is of men who have never been really saved. And he interprets it like this: he says that these five descriptive passages here, phrases here, describe a man who doesn’t know the Lord. These men "were once enlightened" [Hebrews 6:4]; he says that is they were not saved, but they were not like a heathen. They were not like a savage; they knew the gospel, didn’t mean they’d accepted it, but they knew it. They were enlightened in the sense they were different from a savage or a heathen. Then Dr. Meyer says the passage here, "and have tasted of the heavenly gift" [Hebrews 6:4], they have sipped of the goodness of Christ but they haven’t accepted it. Then he says here, "and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost" [Hebrews 6:4]; Dr. Meyer says that that refers to people who had experienced the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, but they had never been regenerated. Then he says, "and they have tasted the good word of God," he says that refers to people who like a good sermon, and are sometimes moved by an eloquent peroration, but they haven’t been converted. "And the powers of the world to come" [Hebrews 6:5], they are entranced by the prospect of the kingdom of God, but they never share in it themselves. Now that’s a little brief resume of what Dr. Meyer might write in a whole book.
Now, I do not at all believe that this fivefold description here could ever refer to a man who had never been saved, because all of those phrases there, every one of them, are used elsewhere in the Bible, some of them many times, and they inevitably refer to people who are regenerated and to people who are the children of God. "Those who were once enlightened," the god of this world has blinded the hearts of the lost; they’re not enlightened. Paul says in Corinthians, "The god of this world has blinded their hearts; but the God who made the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" [2 Corinthians 4:4-6]. "Once enlightened" means we have found the truth, we’ve found the Lord.
"Have tasted of the heavenly gift" [Hebrews 6:4]; how many times in the Bible will you find "that heavenly gift" referring to Jesus our Savior? "The gift of God, it is not of works lest any man should boast" [Ephesians 2:8-9]. It is a gift of God. "Were made partakers of the Holy Ghost" [Hebrews 6:4], that very phrase is used in the Scriptures to refer to God’s regenerated children. "And have tasted the good word of God" [Hebrews 6:5]; Simon Peter says, "Taste and see that the Lord is gracious" [1 Peter 2:3]. And "the powers of the world to come" [Hebrews 6:5], that refers to the kingdom of Jesus here and now; and then of course ultimately in its glorious consummation. As I read the passage, all of those descriptive phrases are purposely used by this author to describe a man who had been regenerated.
All right, I have a second reason why I believe the passage refers to the children of God, the people who are born again: the context demands it; you cannot read this passage and come to any other conclusion. "For" [Hebrews 6:4], the "for" refers back to his argument; and what he’s pleading is that these Christians, that these people in the church who’ve been regenerated and saved, that they go on in that confession and profession, and that they grow in Christian knowledge. Some of those people have already begun forsaking the assembly of the church. Some of those people are already toying with the idea of repudiating the faith of the Lord volitionally, deliberately, and willfully. Others have done it and gone back into Judaism. And this little church is contemplating doing the same thing. Now, if these people had not been converted, he would lay the foundation of the faith before them. But he says, "I’m not going to do that; there’s no need to do that" [Hebrews 6:1-2]. He would have been doing precisely that had they not been saved. These people he’s pleading with to go on lest they fall into a worse condition, he would not have been pleading that if they were not saved, because they were already condemned if they were not already saved; they were already condemned, and he’d have been pleading with them to accept Jesus as Savior. There’s no point in what he says here, that, "I’m not going to lay the foundation again, and I’m not going back to those first principles" [Hebrews 6:1], unless they had already accepted those first principles and already been saved and already on the way in the faith and love and mercy of the Lord Jesus. The precise point of the text is this: that these people knew the doctrine of the faith, they had accepted the Lord Jesus, they had felt the power of the Holy Spirit of God, they had become a part of the world that is to come, they had given themselves to it; and now, and now, they were facing a deliberate decision of apostasy, of repudiation, of willfully turning away.
Now, I have another reason for it: in the sixth verse here there is a turning, a distinct change in the tenses that the man uses. Heretofore he’s been using an aorist, or a past tense; but here he begins to use a continuous action verb: "If they fall away, to keep on renewing them again unto repentance; keeping on crucifying the Son of God, and keeping on putting Him to an open shame" [Hebrews 6:6]. The author says you cannot do that! The author says that it may be possible to keep on crucifying the Son of God, but you cannot keep on repenting from it; it cannot be done.
In my much poring over the books, and trying to find what God means really in this text, I came across one of the worst stories I ever read in my life. The story says that down there in the South was an old, fine aristocratic southern gentleman, living on a beautiful plantation with his wife and one son. And being affluent, they put the boy in a university; and because of his incorrigible obstreperous nature they expelled him. The father took his son, put him in another school; same thing. Put him in a third one, the same thing. Because the man was an aristocrat of great means he took his boy to a fourth university, and they allowed him to come. And for the fourth and the last time, they expelled him. Boy came back home. He’d go downtown and get drunk, and the father’d bring him back home, and the mother would bathe him with her tears and comfort him and plead with the boy. He’d go out, get drunk again. And that continued again and again and again. And the people said, "If I had a boy like that," and the father would say, "Don’t say it. He’s the only child we have, don’t say it."
After the passing of time, the boy was gone for several days, and the mother said to the father, "You better go see about our boy." So he went down into the town, looking for his boy; first, toward the jail, to see if he’d been locked up. And as he made his way to the jail, the boy met him on the street. The boy looked into the face of his father and cursed him, and spit in his face. And the father wiped the spittle away. And the boy cursed his father again and spit in his face. And the father wiped the spittle away. And the boy cursed his father again, and this time instead of spitting in his face, that boy took his fist and knocked his father to the street and knocked out his teeth. When the father got up, he turned and went back home.
Then in that story is one of the most pitiful passage I ever read in my life. The father went to a place in a grove, where he was want to make prayer. And there in agony, and in sobs, and in tears, poured out his soul unto God. He never went back for the boy, he never sought the boy, he never made another appeal to the boy; and about two months later, the story said, the boy died in delirium treatments.
There seems to be, according to the Word of God, there seems to be a limit to the appeal of the Holy Ghost to the human heart. "My Spirit shall not always strive with man" [Genesis 6:3]. And Esau, "though he sought the birthright with tears, found no place for repentance" [Hebrews 12:16-17]. There is a sin unto death. I ask not that you pray for it [1 John 5:16]. Every sin against the Father shall be forgiven, against the Son shall be forgiven; but any sin against the Holy Ghost shall never be forgiven, neither in this life nor in the life that is to come [Matthew 12:31-32],It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God [Hebrews 10:31]. For our God is a consuming fire [Hebrews 12:29]. This context speaks of these who have deliberately apostasized; they have volitionally turned away from the truth of God.
Then I find it also in the illustration that he uses. "For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh from heaven, and bringeth forth herbs meet for those that dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned" [Hebrews 6:7-8]. To leave it like that would be pitiful; it’d be tragic. But look how he closes the passage: "But beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak" [Hebrews 6:9]. Though I point out to you that abysmal darkness, and though I have spoken this stern and awful warning, there are some people who go beyond the pale of God’s appeal; there are some people who are going to be damned and lost. There are some people who go too far, too far. There are some people who say no for the last time. "Though," he says, "I have spoken thus to you, this stern and terrible warning," he says, "But beloved we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation" [Hebrews 6:9].
And that’s the avowal that I would make concerning the true regenerated believer of Christ. I would call this "the terrible hypothesis"; I would call this "the horrible possibility." It is a warning there that God has placed in the Book. We let it stand. It is a terrible thing to turn from God. It is an awful thing to repudiate Christ. It is a horrible prospect to deny the faith that saves our souls [Ephesians 2:8]. But this author here avows what I also believe, and would believe if he said it, no matter what I might think: the true child of God will never do that, never. It would be as possible for a second flood to destroy this earth as it is for a true child of God to repudiate the faith of Jesus Christ our Lord. You could not, you would not. It is the same thing as I read in the last book of the Bible:
I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the Book of Life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
No true child of God would ever seek to add to or to take away from what God hath written in the Holy Scriptures. There are many higher critics who do, and they are lost. They are condemned, they are judged; they shall stand some day before a consuming fire, and be cast into outer darkness because they have taken away and they have added to God’s Holy Book. They’re not regenerated, they’re not born again, they’re not saved.
So it is with this terrible hypothesis in the sixth chapter of the Book of Hebrews [Hebrews 6:1-9]. He is saying that when a man is saved he’s saved forever and forever. And if a saved man could fall away, it would be impossible for him ever to be saved again because Christ died one time. We are saved one time. And for a man to come to be saved again would be to avow, to proclaim, that the sacrifice of Christ was not infinite and therefore had to be repeated again, and then again and again and again. You can’t come down that aisle and be saved one time, and then down that aisle and be saved a second time, and then down that aisle be saved a third time. You can’t get saved at a revival meeting last spring, and then next spring be saved again. It is an impossibility; for that is to make Christ die again, and again, and again, and again [Hebrews 6:6]. A man is saved one time. And if he is ever really, actually regenerated, he is saved forever and forever and forever [John 11:25-26]. He may fall, but he will not fall away.
A Christian can fall; he can fall like David [2 Samuel 11:1-12:9], he can fall like Simon Peter [Matthew 26:69-75]. A Christian can fall. But a true Christian will never fall away. If he turns to his vomit, if he turns to his wallowing in the mire, it’s because he has a dog nature and a sow nature; he’s never been truly regenerated. But if a man has the nature of Christ, and the gift of God, and is truly a child of the King, he may falter, he may stumble, he may hesitate, he may tremble, he may make mistakes, he may backslide, he may fall; but he will never ultimately and finally fall away. He’ll be back. He’ll be coming back. He’ll be seeking God’s face. For the hand that holds him is the unchanging hand of God [John 10:27-29].
The gospel we preach has in it an everlasting salvation: if a man will take it, God will write his name in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]. God will give him a new heart and a new spirit and a new love and a new desire [2 Corinthians 5:17]. If a man will let God have His way in his life, if a man will trust God, the Lord will reach down into his inmost soul and put seeds of love and devotion that never die, but grow with the growing years. Even though for a while may be stunted, for a while may fall into drought, but by and by, under the gracious providential blessings of God, it grows, and it fruits, and it flowers to life eternal. Well, I could, it would be impossible in a nighttime to describe people in this church, boys and girls, who in their teenage have been the antithesis of what it is to be a devout, humble, true follower of Jesus; just as drive you crazy. But they’re missionaries now, they’re preachers now, they’re some of the most devout young people we have in our church. But back yonder, back yonder, you see, we may not follow a perfect line all of our lives, but if we’ve ever been regenerated, the seed of God is within us. We may stumble and fall, but we will never fall away. That is a terrible hypothesis: if a man can do it, he can never be saved.
O Lord, with what feeling of holy, heavenly need, when we handle the sacred things of God.
Now we sing our song. And while we make this appeal, while we sing the song, in this throng in the balcony round, in this lower floor, somebody you to give your heart in trust to God: "I’ve said no to the Lord for the last time, and here I come tonight, here I am. Preacher, I give you my hand; I have given my heart to God." Would you come and stand by me? Is there a family you to come into the fellowship of the church? As God shall say the word and shall make appeal, would you make that decision tonight and with us? If God calls, if the Lord says the word, would you come? Would you come? While we stand and sing.
5:10 – 6:9
A. Author introduces
Melchisedec(Hebrews 5:6, 10)
hesitates before what he has to say concerning him(Hebrews
Melchisedec, who is mentioned only twice, is greater than Abraham and the fathers(Genesis 14:18, Psalm 110:4)
a. This would be
difficult for devout Jew
2. Their lack of
progress in the Christian faith(Hebrews 5:12-14)
a. My visit to a
children’s hospital(Ecclesiastes 3:2)
II. His appeal(Hebrews
A. Teleios – to
reach the goal for which a thing is intended
B. We ought to go on to
maturity, not staying in foundational things
reason for the author’s earnest insistence on the necessity of their advancing
1. If we do not grow,
we shall die(Hebrews 6:4-6)
are great differences of opinion on this passage
B. Meyer – a description of people who had never been saved
III. To me, the author is speaking to
five-fold description of the spiritual experience has phrases used elsewhere in
the Bible to refer to people who are regenerated(2
Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:8-9, Hebrews 6:4-5, 1 Peter 2:3)
context demands it
significant change of tense in Hebrews 6:6
to keep on crucifying the Son of God, but you cannot keep on repenting from it
One of the worst stories I’ve heard – boy expelled over and over
to be a limit to the appeal of the Spirit to the heart(Genesis 6:3, Hebrews 12:16-17, 29, 1 John 5:16, Matthew 12:31)
Context speaks of those who have deliberately apostasized(Hebrews 6:7-8)
The terrible hypothesis
child of God would never repudiate the faith(Hebrews
6:9, Revelation 22:18-22)
Christian can "fall", but not "fall away"