3. And this will we do, if God permit.
3. Et hoc faciemus, siquidem permiserit Deus.
4. 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,
4. Nam impossibile est eos qui semel fuerunt illuminati, gustaveruntque donum coeleste, et participes facti fuerunt Spiritus sancti,
5. And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
5. Et gustaverunt bonum Dei verbum, virtutesque futuri seculi,
6. 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.
6. Prolapsi sunt, iterum renovari ad poenitentiam, rursum crucifigentes sibi ipsis Filium Dei et ostentui habentes.
3. This will we do, etc. A dreadful denunciation follows; but the Apostle thus fulminated, lest the Jews should indulge their own supineness, and trifle with the favor of God; as though he had said, |There ought not in this case it to be any delay; for there will not always be the opportunity for making progress; it is not in man's power to bound at once, whenever he pleases, from the starting point to the goal; but progress in our course is the special gift of God.|
4. For it is impossible, etc. This passage has given occasion to many to repudiate this Epistle, especially as the Novatians armed themselves with it to deny pardon to the fallen. Hence those of the Western Church, in particular, refused the authority of this Epistle, because the sect of Novatus annoyed them; and they were not sufficiently conversant in the truth so as to be equal to refute it by argument. But when the design of the Apostle is understood, it then appears evident that there is nothing here which countenances so delirious an error. Some who hold sacred the authority of the Epistle, while they attempt to dissipate this absurdity, yet do nothing but evade it. For some take |impossible| in the sense of rare or difficult, which is wholly different from its meaning. Many confine it to that repentance by which the catechumens in the ancient Church were wont to be prepared for baptism, as though indeed the Apostles prescribed fasting, or such things to the baptized. And then what great thing would the Apostle have said, by denying that repentance, the appendage of baptism, could be repeated? He threatens with the severest vengeance of God all those who would cast away the grace which had been once received; what weight would the sentence have had to shake the secure and the wavering with terror, if he only reminded them that there was no longer room for their first repentance? For this would extend to every kind of offense. What then is to be said? Since the Lord gives the hope of mercy to all without exception, it is wholly unreasonable that any one for any cause whatever should be precluded.
The knot of the question is in the word, fall away. Whosoever then understands its meaning, can easily extricate himself from every difficulty. But it must be noticed, that there is a twofold falling away, one particular, and the other general. He who has in anything, or in any ways offended, has fallen away from his state as a Christian; therefore all sins are so many fallings. But the Apostle speaks not here of theft, or perjury, or murder, or drunkenness, or adultery; but he refers to a total defection or falling away from the Gospel, when a sinner offends not God in some one thing, but entirely renounces his grace.
And that this may be better understood, let us suppose a contrast between the gifts of God, which he has mentioned, and this falling away. For he falls away who forsakes the word of God, who extinguishes its light, who deprives himself of the taste of the heavens or gift, who relinquishes the participation of the Spirit. Now this is wholly to renounce God. We now see whom he excluded from the hope of pardon, even the apostates who alienated themselves from the Gospel of Christ, which they had previously embraced, and from the grace of God; and this happens to no one but to him who sins against the Holy Spirit. For he who violates the second table of the Law, or transgresses the first through ignorance, is not guilty of this defection; nor does God surely deprive any of his grace in such a way as to leave them none remaining except the reprobate.
If any one asks why the Apostle makes mention here of such apostasy while he is addressing believers, who were far off from a perfidy so heinous; to this I answer, that the danger was pointed out by him in time, that they might be on their guard. And this ought to be observed; for when we turn aside from the right way, we not only excuse to others our vices, but we also impose on ourselves. Satan stealthily creeps on us, and by degrees allures us by clandestine arts, so that when we go astray we know not that we are going astray. Thus gradually we slide, until at length we rush headlong into ruin. We may observe this daily in many. Therefore the Apostle does not without reason forewarn all the disciples of Christ to beware in time; for a continued torpor commonly ends in lethargy, which is followed by alienation of mind.
But we must notice in passing the names by which he signalizes the knowledge of the Gospel. He calls it illumination; it hence follows that men are blind, until Christ, the light of the world, enlightens them. He calls it a tasting of the heavenly gift; intimating that the things which Christ confers on us are above nature and the world, and that they are yet tasted by faith. He calls it the participation of the Spirit; for he it is who distributes to every one, as he wills, all the light and knowledge which he can have; for without him no one can say that Jesus is the Lord, (1 Corinthians 12:3;) he opens for us the eyes of our minds, and reveals to us the secret things of God. He calls it a tasting of the good word of God; by which he means, that the will of God is therein revealed, not in any sort of way, but in such a way as sweetly to delight us; in short, by this title is pointed out the difference between the Law and the Gospel; for that has nothing but severity and condemnation, but this is a sweet testimony of God's love and fatherly kindness towards us. And lastly, he calls it a tasting of the powers of the world to come; by which he intimates, that we are admitted by faith as it were into the kingdom of heaven, so that we see in spirit that blessed immortality which is hid from our senses.
Let us then know, that the Gospel cannot be otherwise rightly known than by the illumination of the Spirit, and that being thus drawn away from the world, we are raised up to heaven, and that knowing the goodness of God we rely on his word.
But here arises a new question, how can it be that he who has once made such a progress should afterwards fall away? For God, it may be said, calls none effectually but the elect, and Paul testifies that they are really his sons who are led by his Spirit, (Romans 8:14;) and he teaches us, that it is a sure pledge of adoption when Christ makes us partakers of his Spirit. The elect are also beyond the danger of finally falling away; for the Father who gave them to be preserved by Christ his Son is greater than all, and Christ promises to watch over them all so that none may perish. To all this I answer, That God indeed favors none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and that by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts. But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why he should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace, why he should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, and in some sort engrave his word on their hearts. Otherwise, where would be the temporal faith mentioned by Mark 4:17? There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up.
And by this bridle the Lord keeps us in fear and humility; and we certainly see how prone human nature is otherwise to security and foolish confidence. At the same time our solicitude ought to be such as not to disturb the peace of conscience. For the Lord strengthens faith in us, while he subdues our flesh: and hence he would have faith to remain and rest tranquilly as in a safe haven; but he exercises the flesh with various conflicts, that it may not grow wanton through idleness.
6. To renew them again into repentance, etc. Though this seems hard, yet there is no reason to charge God with cruelty when any one suffers only the punishment of his own defection; nor is this inconsistent with other parts of Scripture, where God's mercy is offered to sinners as soon as they sigh for it, (Ezekiel 18:27;) for repentance is required, which he never truly feels who has once wholly fallen away from the Gospel; for such are deprived, as they deserve, of God's Spirit and given up to a reprobate mind, so that being the slaves of the devil they rush headlong into destruction. Thus it happens that they cease not to add sin to sin, until being wholly hardened they despise God, or like men in despair, express madly their hatred to him. The end of all apostates is, that they are either smitten with stupor, and fear nothing, or curse God their judge, because they cannot escape from him.
In short, the Apostle warns us, that repentance is not at the will of man, but that it is given by God to those only who have not wholly fallen away from the faith. It is a warning very necessary to us, lest by often delaying until tomorrow, we should alienate ourselves more and more from God. The ungodly indeed deceive themselves by such sayings as this, -- that it will be sufficient for them to repent of their wicked life at their last breath. But when they come to die, the dire torments of conscience which they suffer, prove to them that the conversion of man is not an ordinary work. As then the Lord promises pardon to none but to those who repent of their iniquity, it is no wonder that they perish who either through despair or contempt, rush on in their obstinacy into destruction. But when any one rises up again after falling, we may hence conclude that he had not been guilty of defection, however grievously he may have sinned.
Crucifying again, etc. He also adds this to defend God's severity against the calumnies of men; for it would be wholly unbecoming, that God by pardoning apostates should expose his own Son to contempt. They are then wholly unworthy to obtain mercy. But the reason why he says, that Christ would thus be crucified again, is, because we die with him for the very purpose of living afterwards a new life; when therefore any return as it were unto death, they have need of another sacrifice, as we shall find in the tenth chapter. Crucifying for themselves means as far as in them lies. For this would be the case, and Christ would be slandered as it were triumphantly, were it allowed men to return to him after having fallen away and forsaken him.