Ver. 1-2. Wherefore leaving the word, &c. This is to be taken as connected with what he had said in the last chapter, (v. 12.) of the elements, or rudiments of Christian faith, concerning which, though some seemed not sufficiently instructed, yet he thinks it here enough to name them, and pass them over: to wit, 1. Penance, or the dispositions of a sincere repentance. 2. Faith, when they are come to the years of being instructed. 3. The doctrine of baptisms, which he expresseth in the plural number, either because all the faithful must be baptized once, if we speak of Christian baptism; or he means that persons ought to know they cannot receive Christ's baptism over again. Or, in fine, he means that the baptisms used by the Jews, which they so frequently repeated, could not make them justified. 4. The doctrine of imposition of hands, by which is commonly expounded that which was given in the sacrament of confirmation. 5. Of the resurrection of the dead. 6. Of the judgment, by which God would judge all mankind. Of these things he supposeth them already instructed. Wi.
--- We see here the order in which the apostles taught the Christian doctrine to the catechumens: 1. They excited them to sorrow for their sins. 2. They required of them acts of faith in God and his Son Jesus Christ. 3. They explained the nature of Christ's baptism, its virtue, and difference from the baptism of the Baptist and others. 4. After baptism, they laid their hands on them, that they might receive the strengthening grace of the Holy Ghost in confirmation; and finally, they excited them to perseverance, by the hope of a glorious resurrection, and of eternal life, and by setting before their eyes eternal damnation as the consequence of apostacy.
Ver. 3. And this we will do, meaning what he said in the first verse, that his design was to proceed to things more perfect, which, after some admonitions, he comes to in the next chapter, when he speaks of the priesthood of Christ. Wi.
Ver. 4. &c. For it is impossible,† &c. This is an obscure place, differently expounded, which shows how rash it is for the ignorant to pretend to understand the holy Scriptures. Many understand these words, it is impossible, &c. of the sacrament of penance, or of returning to God by a profitable repentance, especially after such heinous sins as an apostacy from the true faith. But then we must take the word impossible, to imply no more than a thing that is very hard to be done, or that seldom happens, as when it is said, (Matt. xix. 26.) that it is impossible for rich men to be saved: and (Luke xvii. 1.) it is impossible that scandals should not come. For it is certain that it is never impossible for the greatest sinners to repent by the assistance which God offers them, who has also left the power to his ministers to forgive in his name the greatest sins. But others (whose interpretation seems preferable) expound this of baptism, which can only be given once. The words here in the text very much favour this exposition, when it is said, who were once enlightened. For baptism in the first ages was called the sacrament of illumination. See S. Denis de cælesti Hierar. c. iv. S. Greg. Naz. &c. The following words also agree with baptism, when they are said to have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost; to have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come; all which signify the interior graces, the miraculous gifts, and power of working miracles, which they who were baptized frequently received in those days.
--- They cannot be renewed again unto penance. That is, they cannot be renewed again by baptism, which is also called a renovation. Tit. iii. 5. Their sins may indeed be forgiven them in the sacrament of penance, but this is not a renovation like that in baptism, in which both the guilt, and all pain due to past sins, is remitted; whereas in the sacrament of penance, though the guilt, and the eternal punishments due to sins be remitted, yet many times, temporal punishments, to be undergone either in this world or the next, still remain due to such as have been great sinners, to them who by relapsing into the same sins, have crucified again to themselves the Son of God, making a mockery of him; i.e. who, insensible of the favours received, have ungratefully renewed sin; to take away which Christ suffered, was mocked, crucified, &c. Wi.
--- Macknight observes that Beza, without any authority from ancient MSS. hath inserted in his version Si, If they shall fall away, that this text might not appear to contradict the Calvinistic doctrine of the assurance of salvation. The English translators have followed Beza. The biblical student will be glad to find Dr. Wells, in his elegant edition of the New Testament, frequently restoring and preferring those readings which agree with the Latin Vulgate. The same just tribute is paid to the Vulgate by Walton, Mills, Gerard, Griesbach, Harwood, and others. Indeed the Vulgate has been declared authentic in a general council, and probably expresses more of the true reading of the original or autograph, than any Greek edition that is now to be found, and certainly much more than modern versions, which are stained more or less by the preconceived sentiments of the translators.
--- For the earth that drinketh in the rain, &c. He bringeth this comparison, to give them a horror of abusing God's graces and favours, and of making themselves guilty of hell fire. Wi.
[†] V. 4. Impossible, adunaton. See Corn. a Lapide and Estius, who say of this exposition of baptism, Sic omnes Græci, et Latinorum maxima pars. Baptism is often called, fwtisma. See S. Greg. Naz. orat. xxxix. in Sta Lumina.
Ver. 9, &c. We trust better things of you, &c. That is, though I have admonished you in this manner, I hope the best, especially knowing how charitable many of you have been to your Christian brethren. Wi.
--- Faith begins the work of salvation; good works from a principle of charity continue it; perseverance in virtue, and patience under afflictions complete it. To assert the contrary is not to derogate so much from the work of man, as from the grace of God, which is the cause and ground of all that is good in man. "Mark," says S. Austin, "that he to whom our Lord gave grace, hath our Lord, also his debtor. He found him a giver in the time of mercy: he that him his debtor in the time of judgment." In Ps. vi.
--- It is certain God, who is not unjust, will reward these good works, if you continue in the same, to the accomplishing of hope even to the end.† for the obtaining the happiness you hope for. Be not therefore slothful, and negligent; it is by faith, patience, and perseverance, that you will inherit God’s promises. Wi.
[†] V. 11. Ad expletionem spei usque ad finem, proV thn plhroforian. See the signification of this word, Lu. i. 1.
Ver. 13, &c. For God promising to Abraham, to bless all nations in his seed; i.e. by the coming of Christ, swore by himself, having no greater to swear by, &c. He shews them how certain they may be of eternal happiness, unless they be slothful. First, it is God himself, who hath promised to make them happy. Secondly, he promised it with an oath; and these are two unchangeable things in God, who cannot lie. And the oath was: unless blessing, I will bless thee, &c. The sense is, unless I give thee great blessings, let me not be esteemed the true God. By this God hath given the strongest consolation to us, who have fled from the imperfect works of the former law of Moses, by believing and hoping in Christ. This hope is as a sure and firm anchor of our souls, amidst all persecutions and dangers, which will make us enter in, even within the veil, as it were into that part of the temple called the holy of holies, which was a figure of heaven, into which Christ Jesus himself entered first, by his glorious ascension after his sufferings. He entered as our high priest, and to prepare us there a place. Wi.