A question has been sent in to the Question Box concerning Hebrews 6:4-6. The writer asks whether those who have tasted of heavenly gifts and were partakers of the Holy Ghost, and later fell away, were actually in the sphere of the covenant before they fell away. He likes some clarification on this matter.
The passage before us reads as follows: “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.”
It immediately becomes evident that these individuals who are described here must be outstanding members of the church institute as long as they are on its rolls. They were once enlightened, that is, they were well instructed in the Scriptures. They understand the doctrines of the Scriptures very thoroughly, so that they can very well be scribes, teachers, ministers, or doctors of theology. They tasted of the heavenly gift. This gift is Christ. They know about the riches of salvation which are in Christ Jesus. The glad tidings of salvation have a pleasant ring in their ears. They were made partakers of the Holy Ghost. We think of Saul, the first king of Israel, who for a time had the gift of the Holy Spirit which enabled him to be a king over Israel, the theocracy. We think of Judas who had the power to heal and to cast out devils for a time. We think of those in the early church who prophesied, performed miracles and spoke in tongues. We can even think of preachers and evangelists who by their oratory seem to be filled with the Holy Spirit. They have tasted of the good word of God. They give others the impression that they are sincere Christians, for they can speak enthusiastically about the sermon they heard, about the worship service and the works of “charity” that they are privileged to perform. They give evidence of all the exuberance of those who experience temporal faith, an external excitement about salvation, even of the glories of the world to come, of which they speak and sing with vim and vigor.
They fall away. They are in no sense of the word the elect of God, children of the Most High. They never know regeneration or conversion, nor the gift of a true and saving faith. Upon this we are fully agreed, for there is no falling away of saints. Scripture is very clear on that. Also the text points out that they are guilty of crucifying Christ anew, just as the Jews once did, both in their sham-enthusiasm and in their departure from the way of truth. They fall away, not from grace, but from the way of truth as professed by the church. They put Christ to open shame. In the verses 7 and 8 they are set in contrast to the soil that produces wheat. They belong to the soil that is full of seed of tares and produces nothing but tares. They are so corrupt that even the fruits they produce, their knowledge of the Scriptures, their powers of the Spirit, their enthusiasm about the Word of God and their exuberance concerning the world to come are fruits of darkness, mere thorns and thistles, worthy only to be condemned by God, exposed, and destroyed, so that they are cast into hell.
From this it must be evident that these temporary members of the church institute were not and are not members of the church in the real sense of the word, neither of the church invisible nor of the church visible, which is the body of Christ. It is not all Israel that is called Israel.
Thus it must also be maintained that these individuals who fall away are in no sense within God’s covenant. They are not the true seed of Abraham. For God establishes His covenant with Abraham and his seed, which are the believers and their spiritual seed. Yet these unbelievers are for a time in the sphere of the covenant. They come in very close contact with that which is holy. That is evident, first of all, from the description that is given of them. That is evident, in the second place, from the fact that in verse 8 they are compared to thorns and briers, which have had the rain fall and the sun shine upon them. It is true, that they temporarily enjoyed the rain and the sunshine. But it is equally true that this rain and sunshine exposed them for what they are, corrupt soil that can only produce thorns and briers, which is fit for destruction.*
I hope that this may help to clarify the problems that arise in connection with Hebrews 6:4-6. If not, call again, and I shall give it another try.
*See further The Standard Bearer, volume 55, page 222, and “The Believers and Their Seed,” by Rev. H. Hoeksema, pp. 137-145.