From H. A. Ironside's expository commentary on the Book of Hebrews
These excerpts are provided by Verne Carty, who comments, "Hebrews is one of the books George Geftakys mutilated to our spiritual detriment."
Let us be very clear as to this. The urge of the Spirit here is not to leave earlier Christian experiences and go on to a deeper work of grace, as some put it. Neither is it to cease from being occupied with the elementary truths of Christianity and go on to deeper things. It is a call to leave the typical for the actual; the shadow for the substance; the partial revelation of Judaism (using the word in its very best sense) for the full unfolding of the truth of the new dispensation. Judaism is called the "word of the beginning of Christ" as in the marginal reading of the first part of verse 1. This of course includes entire Mosaic revelation, the teaching of the prophets, and the ministry of John the Baptist. "The law and the prophets were until John, but now the kingdom of God is come and every man presses into it." In six items the Spirit of God epitomizes these preliminary principles whereby the godly in Israel were prepared for the coming of Christ. These are:
Here then we have all that was basic in the former dispensation. Throughout the Old Testament and in the ministry of John the Baptist, the people were called to repentance from dead works and urged to put their faith in God, the God of Israel. Through the ceremonial baptisms or washings of the law (as in chap 9,10, 13) the people were taught the need of cleansing, in order that they might have fellowship with God, a cleansing which was from physical defilement alone, "the putting away of the filth of the flesh" as Peter puts it.
The laying on of hands has no reference whatever either to the laying on of the apostles' hands for the reception of the Holy Spirit as in Acts, or to ordination to the Christian ministry, as many have supposed. There is no doctrine of the laying on of hands to be found anywhere in the New Testament. Practice and doctrine are not the same thing. But under the Levitical economy when the offerer laid his hands upon the head of the sacrifice which was presented to God on his behalf, he was picturing the tremendous truth upon which this Epistle strongly insists. It was the identification of the offerer with the victim, and practically involved the transference of the offerer's sins to the offering which was put to death in stead of the sinner.
Resurrection of the dead is a cardinal Old Testament doctrine, denied indeed by the worldly-minded Sadducees, but insisted on by the Pharisees, and recognized by the apostle as eminently Scriptural, when he declared himself in this respect still a Pharisee after he had been converted to Christ for many years. Eternal judgment too is part of the former revelation. "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil (Eccles. 12:14).
Now let us note the contrast between these six items and the outstanding truths of Christianity.
In the latter revelation we have:
Note how vividly the contrast is developed in the New Testament.
The believer not only repents from dead works, but there is a complete change of attitude toward God. Faith is now in the Lord Jesus Christ definitely set forth as the sinner's only Savior. No outward cleansing will suffice; no washings with literal water or sprinkling of the blood of animal sacrifices, but cleansing from every sin by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus and the washing of water by the Word applied in the Spirit's power. In place of the laying on of hands upon oft-repeated sacrifices, the believer can now say in the words of the well-known hymn:
My faith would lay her hand
On that blest head of Thine
While like a penitent I stand
And there confess my sin...
Then we have today the blessed unfolding of the truth that there are two resurrections; not as some put it, a general resurrection of the dead at the last day, but the resurrection from among the dead at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ for all His own. And as to judgment we now know, or at least we should know, that the believer shall not come into judgment but has already passed out of death into life. It is, then to this full unfolding of the New Testament truth that these Hebrews believers are called to "go on".
This is Christianity, and Christianity is here designated as "perfection", distinguishing it from the imperfect or partial revelation of former days.
This then clears the way for the perplexing passage in verses 4 to 8. There were many Hebrews who in the beginning professed to acknowledge the Messiah-ship of Jesus and were eye-witnesses of the marvelous things that took place at Pentecost and afterwards. But as the Lord did not return and the promised kingdom was not immediately established, it was easy to understand how many of these, if lacking personal faith in Christ as Savior, would eventually give up the Messianic confession and go back to Judaism which they knew to be a divinely revealed religion.
This was a very serious thing, and yet it was something to which all Hebrews would be exposed if they did not make a clean break with Judaism and go on to the perfection of Christianity. As those who had already apostatized, it was too late to help them. They had made their choice and acted accordingly; and having experienced so much that was new and wonderful and then turned away from it all, they would be the hardest people on earth to change again.
"It is impossible to renew again to repentance those once enlightened."
It is important to notice that the word "renew" does not imply, as J. N. Darby has pointed out, a renewal or change, but to make what is entirely new. This could never be true again for those who had given up their Christian profession. It is not a definite statement that there is no possible hope for the recover of such, but it is a declaration that they could never come into all the blessing of Christianity as a new thing. They had already tried it out, they would tell you, and had deliberately given it up. Such must be left with God, whereas those who really valued the truth were urged to press on to fuller knowledge.
Some object to the thought that anyone could go as far as these apostates had gone without being regenerated, but verse nine is proof positive that such is the case. Notice the five things that are stated of these who turned back.
Now as we consider each one of these items separately it will, I think, become clearly manifest that all might be true of persons who had never experienced the regenerating grace of the Spirit of God.
Everyone who listens to the message of the new dispensation is thereby enlightened, for "the darkness is passing and the true light now shineth", and that Light illuminates all who come under its gracious influence. But alas, men may refuse the Light and by turning away from it, go back into darkness. How many there are who have been deeply stirred as they heard of the Gift of God's son from heaven and yet have never, like the Samaritan woman, judged themselves in the presence of the Lord and truly eaten this Sacred Food.
To be a "partaker of Holy Spirit" is not at all the same thing as to be born of the Spirit, sealed by the Spirit, indwelt by the Spirit, anointed by the Spirit, baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ, or filled with the Holy Spirit. It is simply to be made aware of the mighty power of the Spirit working upon the hearts and minds of men bringing conviction, and wooing the hearer toward Christ.
One might tremble under this supernatural power and yet turn away from the message of the Spirit which if truly believed would bring life and peace. Many too, who have listened eagerly to the Gospel, the good Word of God, and have recognized to a certain extent the preciousness of the message, have failed to eat the Word. Jesus did not say, "He that tasteth of Me shall live by Me" but "He that eateth Me shall live by Me". It is a definite act of faith which becomes a habit of life. Then it is important to notice that the powers of the coming age (not the world to come, merely) are the works that will characterize the return of our Lord and the millennial kingdom; in other words, miracles which were given as a sign to the Jews in order to authenticate the ministry of our Lord and His apostles.
We read in John of many who believed on Him when they saw the signs that He did, yet who went back and walked no more with Him. And it seems clear that these apostates were persons who had an outward acquaintance with Christianity but they never knew what it was to receive the Lord Jesus as their own personal Saviour. Definitely authenticated by works of power as He was, they still turned away from Him, and in so doing crucified for themselves the Son of God afresh, making a show of Him. This would be true of all who turned back from Christianity to Judaism.