Romans 9, we have seen, surely establishes the particular and wholly unconditional character of the promise or promises of God. To this we called attention in the two previous numbers of our paper. The apostle Paul, we noted, was struggling with a great problem. He was confronted, on the one hand, with the word or promise of Jehovah that the Lord would bestow the salvation of His eternal covenant upon Abraham and his seed. And, on the other hand, he was troubled because of the rejection of Israel. We do well to bear in mind that this constituted for the apostle a great problem, that it caused him great heaviness and sorrow of heart. The perishing of many Israelites according to the flesh was painful and distressing to Paul. And the same heaviness and sorrow of heart must characterize the people of God throughout the ages. Reprobation is not a doctrine which can accord anyone personal and carnal satisfaction.
Nevertheless, the truth of God must be proclaimed. Whatever our personal wishes and desires may be, never may we detract one iota from the sovereignty of God. Hence, according to the apostle, one thing is sure: it is not true that the word of God has taken none effect. Such would be impossible. God cannot lie. If, therefore, the promise of the Lord was not realized in many Israelites according to the flesh, this is due only to the fact that this promise of Jehovah is particular, was never intended for all, and is realized by the alone sovereign Lord in those whom He has loved from before the foundation of the world. To substantiate this truth the apostle directs us, successively, to the examples of Isaac, Jacob and Esau, the many Israelites who perished in the wilderness, Pharaoh, the figure of the potter and the clay. And it is especially the example of Pharaoh, as well as the figure of the potter and the clay, which illustrates the truth, not only that the Lord is merciful to whom He will be merciful, but also that whom He will He hardeneth. The Lord, therefore, not only grants life; He also inflicts death. He not only makes alive; He also killeth. He not only calleth some unto eternal salvation through the preaching of the gospel; He also causes that same gospel to be a savor of death unto death. He not only wills the salvation of some; He also, according to His eternal good pleasure and unto the greatest manifestation of the glory of His name, wills the damnation of others. The Lord not only performs all His good pleasure in those who are saved; He is equally sovereign and irresistible with respect to the others who never know the way and the precepts of Jehovah. This is the pure and unadulterated truth which the holy writer holds before us in the ninth chapter of his epistle to the Romans. And now we will turn to other passages of the Word of God.
The passage which will engage our attention in this article, Hebrews 6:16-18, reads as follows: “For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of the promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.”
A key-word in this chapter of Hebrews, especially in the verses 11-20 is the word “promise.” Another word of great significance in this passage, closely related to “promise”, is the word “hope”. This must be obvious to anyone who reads the latter half of Hebrews 6. Hope and promise, in this part of Holy Writ, we quickly surmise, are intimately related. Both refer to the same thing: our eternal salvation. The one views this salvation from the viewpoint of God, Who has promised it. The other regards this eternal glory from the viewpoint of the Christian as he hopes for it. And the question is of supreme importance, “How can we with certainty hope for that eternal salvation?” Is the promise conditional or unconditional? This question is of the greatest significance.
In verses 1-3 the apostle exhorts the church of God “to go on unto perfection.” We must not remain with the principles, the beginnings of the doctrine of Christ. We cannot remain young catechumens and continue satisfied with “Borstius Primer”. We must advance beyond the foundation stage. When engaged in the erection of a building we are not satisfied merely with the foundation; we continue our labors until the entire structure has been completed. We, too, as Christians, must go on to perfection; we must advance and grow, intellectually and spiritually. This we will do, we read in verse 3, if God permit. Our growth depends upon the Lord. Fact is, all do not advance, and this, too, is dependent upon God.
Fact remains, according to verses 4-8, some who were once enlightened fall away. We need not at this time quote these verses, 4-8. Of these people we read that it is impossible that they be renewed unto repentance. It is definitely the thought of the holy writer here that it is impossible for God to renew them unto repentance. Only God can renew unto repentance. If, then, we read that it is impossible that they be renewed unto repentance, the implication of the expression is surely that such is Divinely impossible. Hence, their spiritual renewal and advance the Lord does not permit. However, according to verse 9, the apostle is persuaded better things of the Hebrews, things that accompany salvation.
Hereupon the apostle proceeds to exhort the church of God once more unto spiritual diligence. He admonishes them in verses 11-12, that they be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the premises. Notice “as in all covenants there are contained two parts” this is our part, namely, that we be not slothful but followers of them who inherit the promises. Upon this calling and obligation of the people of God, that they must fight the good fight of faith and conduct themselves as the party of the living God, Scripture surely lays abundant emphasis. And now, to comfort this struggling church of God, to assure her of the certainty of her victory, the holy writer concludes this chapter by directing her to the living God, Who, to show unto the heirs of the promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed that promise with an oath.
Heirs Of The Promise.
Evidently, the promise in this passage must not be understood in the subjective sense of the word. Emphasis does not fall upon the promise as the solemn declaration of the living God, promising them eternal glory and salvation. The promise here must be regarded objectively, that which has been promised. The apostle is referring us to the promise of everlasting life. Notice also that the holy writer speaks of the heirs of the promise, not heir of the promise. Hence, it is evident that he does not merely refer to Abraham but to all the people of the Lord throughout the ages, also to the people of God of the New Dispensation. This fact surely establishes the heavenly character of the promises of God, also of the promise given to Abraham. Abraham, therefore, is but one of the heirs of the promise and shares it with all the people of God of all the ages. We all are heirs of the same promise. Hence, the promise given to the father of believers was not earthy, as the Chiliasts would have us believe. That promise was heavenly. The one God proclaims only one promise. We all are heirs of the promise of the Lord unto eternal and heavenly salvation and glory.
And we are heirs of the promise. The apostle does not say that we are children of the promise. That expression, we know, occurs in the ninth chapter of Romans. Children of the promise are the people of God because they are brought forth through the irresistible and almighty power of the promise, the power of God whereby He realize His promise in the hearts of His own. We, according to this passage in Heb. 6, are heirs of the promise, as we also read in Romans 8. We are all, more or less, acquainted with the idea of an heir. An heir is one who has obtained a legal right to a certain possession. To be an heir does not necessarily imply actual possession. One can be an heir and be as poor as a church mouse. An inheritance is a legal possession. And an heir is he who has obtained legal rights to such a possession. God’s people are heirs of the promise of everlasting life. They are entitled to, have a right to that eternal glory. They are heirs of that glory because Christ redeemed them out of the power of the devil and merited for them eternal happiness and glory. Hence, we are co-heirs with Christ, heirs together with Christ. He is the Heir of eternal life. He merited it, surely also for Himself. And we are co-heirs with Him, in fellowship with Him, and because he merited it for us.
God’s Confirmation of the Promise With an Oath.
We should note the connection between verses 16 and 17. To quote these verses again: “For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of the promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath.” Verse 17 is introduced by the word, “wherein” we read: “Wherein God, willing more abundantly. . .” The expression, translated “wherein”, may also be translated “wherefore” God, then, confirmed His promise with an oath. Why? What prompted the Lord to do this? To this question we have an answer in the verses 16 and 17. On the one hand, the Lord, in behalf of His people, desired to shew them more abundantly the immutability of His counsel, the counsel of His salvation. We read “more abundantly” because the Lord had already given them the promise. And the promise is in itself an abundant proof of the unchangeable character of the counsel of His salvation. But now, to shew this immutability the more abundantly, He adds the oath to the promise. Fact is, according to verse 16, the oath is the end of all strife, of all disputing and opposition. An oath always implies three things. Firstly, in an oath the Name of God is used to witness to the truth of what is said or testified. Secondly, when a person is placed under oath such a person is called into the conscious presence of the Lord. Of course, we are always in the presence of God. In the Lord we move and live and have our being. And it lies in the very nature of the case that no man can remove himself out of the presence of the Lord. God always beholds all the children of men. Besides, man is always obliged to speak the truth whether or not he is placed under oath. This, however, does not necessarily imply that every man, although really always in the presence of the Lord, is therefore also consciously in that divine presence.
The contrary is true. Hence, an oath places a person, at that very moment, consciously and sharply before the very face of God, directly in the presence of the date preceding, the oath implies that God is called in Lord. And thirdly, in close connection with the immediate preceding, the oath implies that God is called in as a witness; the Lord of heaven, who knoweth man’s heart, will Himself reveal the truthfulness of his testimony. Now we can more readily understand verse 16, that “an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.” Fact is, when an oath is sworn, man verily swears by the greater, by the living God, and declares that He is Witness of what is said or testified and will confirm the testimony. It is for this reason that, when an oath is sworn, not only man’s but also God’s truthfulness and veracity is involved. The oath is God’s institution; He instituted it. Hence, the God of truth must condemn him who lies under oath because He must maintain His own unchangeable holiness and truthfulness. The use of the oath was the end of all strife and dispute. The matter was simply given into the hand of the Lord. God, now, to shew more abundantly the immutability, unchangeableness of His counsel, His eternal decree to save, and also to establish His people in the faith, also made use of the oath; and, inasmuch as His is God and there is therefore none greater than He, He swore by Himself: “As truly as I live, saith the Lord. . . .”
Notice, this divine oath shews more abundantly the immutability of His counsel. We do not read here of the Lord’s “immutable counsel” but of “immutability of His counsel”. The reason is evident. All emphasis is laid upon the unchangeableness of the Lord’s decree. His counsel is immutable, cannot be revoked or changed. According to our Confessions, and specifically our Canons of Dordrecht in their rejection of errors, the Arminians taught exactly such a changeableness in the counsel of God. They taught a divine decree which adapted itself to conditions among men, so that God’s counsel to save in the Old Dispensation differed from His decree to save as in the New Dispensation. Be this as it may, the counsel of salvation is immutable, can never be revoked or changed. And this immutable character of the counsel, we read, is evident from the divine oath. God’s counsel, we remarked, is His eternal decree to save His people even to the uttermost. God’s oath is the word of the Lord whereby He swears by Himself to fulfill His promise. The Lord, the holy writer continues in verse 18, cannot lie. We do not merely read that He does not lie. The Lord cannot lie. It is impossible for God to lie. He is God. As God He is the absolute good, the eternal, and self-sufficient, and self-existent fount of purest life and perfection. He is a light and in Him is no darkness whatever. He is pure holiness and righteousness. He is such a light. Holiness and righteousness and truth constitute His very being. As, in a faint and creaturely sense of the word, it is impossible for fire not to throw heat, for water not to moisten, for the sun not to give light, so, in an absolute sense of the word, it is impossible for the Lord to lie. To lie would constitute a violation, a denial by the Lord Himself. And as the eternal and overflowing fount of all good God cannot deny Himself. When He speaks He always speaks of Himself, as the infinitely good and perfect God, in whom is no darkness but infinite and perfect light. The very fact that the unchangeable God swears by Himself, “backs up”, guarantees His own promise by appealing to Himself, is evidence that His decree to save is as unchangeable as He Himself is unchangeable. The Lord, therefore, to shew unto us the immutability of His counsel, did not hesitate to support His promise with His infinite self, as a guarantee of the unchangeableness of His decree, His counsel to save His own even unto the end.
A Powerful Consolation.
What a strong, mighty consolation, what a powerful comfort this particular Scripture presents unto the fighting and struggling people of God! This mighty consolation of the people of God constitutes the purpose of this divine pledge. We read in verse 18: “That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us,” The word “that” or “in order that”, ‘hina’ in the original, signifies purpose and result. That we might have a mighty consolation is, therefore, the purpose of the divine oath but also the result. Result and purpose are always one, identical in all to the works of the Lord. We do not always attain, unto our purpose. The Lord’s purposes, however, never fail. It is well that we always bear this in mind. When, therefore, some are hardened through the preaching of the gospel the Lord, also with respect to them, attains unto His purpose. God, then, confirmed His promise with an oath in order that we might have a strong comfort in the midst of our struggle in the world.
No wonder this is a mighty consolation! We have, so we read, two immutable things here of a God Who cannot lie. The one immutable thing is the divine promise. That word of the Lord is itself unchangeable. God cannot lie. Hence, His word or pledge to save His own is unchangeable. And in addition to His promise He gave us the oath. He did this because of our weaknesses. The word of the promise should have been sufficient. If, however, we should at times experience the feeling of despair, and complain that the Lord has forgotten His promise to save, we may remember the solemn oath of the Lord whereby He swore by Himself to fulfill unto His people His pledge to save.
Hence, what a mighty consolation we have! The apostle declares that we have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us. We have fled for refuge from the wrath to come! The love of God He has poured out into our hearts! We earnestly seek His face and long for the blessedness of His fellowship which is everlasting life. Hence, we have fled for refuge from the wrath to come, have sought safety and everlasting peace. And we have fled for refuge and safety unto the living God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We have sought peace in the blood of the cross and have tasted that the love of God in Christ has fully blotted out all our sin and merited life and eternal glory for us. And having fled for refuge from the wrath to come we now lay hold upon the hope set before us. Hope in this text must not be understood in the subjective sense of the word, as an activity within us (our hoping), but in the objective sense. The object of our hoping, of our longing and expectation is meant here. That hope is set before us, is always before us. It does not consist of the things of this world, is not earthy. Hence, it is always before us. We never obtain it in this life. It belongs to the world to come, is heavenly and, therefore, otherworldly, and will not become ours until the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we lay hold upon it by faith. It is the object of all our longing and expectation. It sustains us in all our suffering and afflictions. It enables the child of God to endure all the afflictions of this present evil world, gives him strength and courage to suffer for Christ’s sake, and to run with patience and faith even unto the end.
In this we have a powerful consolation, a mighty force which supports namely, the promise of eternal life. And this promise has been further confirmed by the divine oath. This promise of God can truly comfort and strengthen us. Because it is contingent, dependent upon us, and therefore conditional? God forbid! Please notice that we are heirs of the promise. As heirs we have a right to eternal life, are entitled to it, through and because of the blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord. And, as heirs of everlasting life, we will surely obtain it. Fact is, that promise is anchored in the immutable counsel of the Lord. And it has been promised unto us by the unchangeable God. It is not what we do or must do which comforts and strengthens us in the battle; it is not our willing and running, although it is true that we must will and run even unto the end; it is never of him that runneth or of him that willeth; it is God, God alone, and what He will do which strengthens us in the fight. Let us therefore take hold of the promises of the Lord, fight the good fight of faith unto the end, and cling unto Him Who cannot lie. Then, then only will we be assured of the eternal crown of glory. Such is the glorious teaching of the Word of God in Hebrews 6:16-18. It proclaims unto us the particular and unconditional character of the promises of Jehovah. Nothing less can comfort us. God’s faithfulness can fully strengthen us. May we, too, be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.