07 July, 2016

Hebrews 6:4-8—“… those who were once enlightened [and] tasted of the heavenly gift …”

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 (Heb. 6:4-8).

In the sphere of the visible church, the understanding of some reprobate, who are said to be “living under the administration of the gospel,” can be said to be “enlightened” by the Spirit, so that they have a clear, natural understanding of spiritual things (Heb. 6:4) and a sense or “taste” of the beauty of the Scriptures, the glory of heaven and the power of God (vv. 4-5).

This passage is used by proponents of common grace to suggest that the gifts which God especially pours upon His church and for her benefit (i.e. the ministry of the gospel, the sacraments, the Scriptures, and the communion of the saints, etc.) are said to be “blessings” and “special privileges” bestowed upon all who are outwardly members of the church institute, head for head, including the members who are non-elect. These things are therefore thought to be proofs of a “common grace.”

To come to any intellectual understanding of the truth is said to be “grace” in that such is a fruit of the Spirit’s work, and is totally undeserved by the reprobate (the popular idea being that ‘grace,’ per se, is “getting what you don’t deserve”).


Rev. Angus Stewart

[Source: Covenant Reformed News, vol. XIV, issue 14 (June 2013)]

The erroneous notion of common grace is variously understood. For most who hold this view, it means that Jehovah loves the reprobate (those whom He has eternally ordained to destruction in the way of their sins) and that by His love He makes them something less than totally depraved, thus enabling them to do things ethically good in God’s sight in this world.

Aside from the polemical aspect of the issue, it is worthwhile to underscore that the Holy Spirit certainly does work upon unbelievers, not just externally but also internally. This necessarily flows from the universal scope of God’s providence and the truth of the Holy Trinity, that the Father works all things through the Son and by the Holy Spirit.

We can distinguish three ways in which the Spirit works upon and in all men, including the reprobate. First, the Spirit (being equal with the Father and the Son) gives all men (including reprobate unbelievers) physical life and strength, for it is only in God—the Triune God—that we, both elect and non-elect, “live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Second, God by His Spirit gives the reprobate intellectual understanding of natural things, for the good gift of knowledge in all spheres (reading, writing, cooking, farming, construction, medicine, etc.) comes from the God of all wisdom through His Son, the Word or Logos, and by the all-knowing Spirit. Third, the Spirit even gives the reprobate a natural understanding of spiritual things (though not a spiritual understanding of spiritual things). Those not elected who are brought up in covenant homes or attend church services or read Christian literature may have some intellectual understanding of biblical truths. This cannot be apart from the Holy Spirit, for all knowledge comes by Him.

In the sphere of the visible church, the understanding of some reprobate can even be said to be “enlightened” by the Spirit, so that they have a clear natural understanding of spiritual things (Heb. 6:4) and a sense or “taste” of the beauty of the Scriptures, the glory of heaven and the power of God (vv. 4-5). The ungodly prophet Balaam (II Pet. 2:15-16) certainly experienced this, as one can see from his four prophecies concerning Israel (Num. 23:7-10, 18-24; 24:3-9, 15-24) and especially certain parts of them (e.g., 23:10, 23; 24:5, 9, 17, 23), for he “knew the knowledge of the most High” (24:16) and spoke by “the spirit of God” (v. 2). Through the preaching, the Spirit even gives some non-elect “joy” in their natural understanding of spiritual things, before they fall away from their (hypocritical) profession of faith (Matt. 13:20-21). After all, it is only through the Spirit that unbelievers experience (an earthly) joy in the pleasant things of God’s creation like a beautiful sunset or a good meal or finally grasping a difficult concept. Even so, it is the Spirit who gives some reprobate a natural understanding of spiritual things and a (temporary) natural joy in spiritual things. Moreover, reprobate unbelievers, such as Judas Iscariot, were given power to exorcise demons (7:22; 10:1, 4) of the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit (10:1; 12:28).

In connection with the three proof texts often listed with Westminster Confession 10:4, we note, first, that those who merely receive the “common operations of the Spirit,” such as, a natural illumination in, and a natural taste of, spiritual things in Hebrews 6:4-5 are subject to God’s “cursing” (v. 8), which is His powerful, damning wrath (Matt. 25:41). Second, sandwiched between the parable of the sower (13:3-9) and its explanation (vv. 18-23), including its word about those who experience natural joy over the mysteries of the kingdom for a time (vv. 20-21), is Christ’s affirmation of God’s election and reprobation as determining man’s response to the gospel (vv. 14-15; cf. Isa. 6:9-10; John 12:39-40). Third, to those not elected to salvation who have uttered prophecies, exorcised demons and performed miracles (Matt. 7:22), the Lord states that He will say, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (v. 23). Since Christ, the incarnate Son of God, knows all men head for head intellectually, and must know everybody in order to proclaim this judgment upon many at the last day, “I never knew you” refers to His knowledge of love: “I never loved you, not now, not before the foundation of the world, not during your life on earth, never!” Thus all these good gifts to the reprobate come to them not in God’s love and grace (Ps. 73; Prov. 3:33; Rom. 9:13; 11:7-10) but by His sovereign, all-controlling providence, which is of the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit.

These “operations of the Spirit” are “common” to the elect and the reprobate in that some elect and some reprobate have performed miracles (Matt. 7:22) and all elect and some reprobate have been enlightened and given joy in, and a taste of, the mysteries of the gospel by the Spirit (13:20; Heb. 6:4-5). There are especially three differences, however, with regard to the “operations of the Spirit” in the elect and the non-elect. First, the Spirit gives to some reprobate a natural understanding, joy and taste of or in spiritual things, whereas the elect receive a spiritual understanding, joy and taste of or in spiritual things (John 17:13; I Cor. 2:14). Second, the “operations of the Spirit” come to the two groups of people with a different divine motivation and in a different way: the elect receive them in God’s grace but the reprobate receive them in providence and not grace.



Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)


[Source: A Power of God Unto Salvation, Or, Grace Not An Offer]

It is true that those who abide under the gospel and are not saved do, according to Hebrews 6:4ff. taste gifts of the Spirit, enlightenment, heavenly gifts, etc. But it is also true that this same passage teaches that all this does not serve as a blessing to them, but as a curse. They reject that which they taste and their situation becomes hopeless, so that they can never more come to conversion.


[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, Dec. 1968]

We would almost think they were people who had actually received the grace of God in their hearts, for here it is not a matter of food and raiment, of rain and sunshine, but of the blessings of grace on the church. They have been enlightened, they have tasted of the heavenly gift, they have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and they have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come. Yet they received no grace, for they are described as those who have fallen away. They have fallen so deeply that it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.

They are therefore people who live very near the central current of God’s grace. They live in the church. They are under the influence of the good word of God. They understand it; they even see its beauty. They live in the sphere where the Spirit of grace operates, and they partake of the sacraments. They even taste some of these things. They are sometimes enraptured by the view of the age to come. They are very near the central stream of God’s grace. Yet the result for them is hardening. They become worse than heathen. They cannot come to repentance. They evidently commit the sin against the Holy Spirit, doing despite to him, trampling underfoot the blood of the New Testament, and crucifying Christ afresh.

The author of the epistle explains this phenomenon by the illustration of a field: “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 briars is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned” (vv. 7–8). Notice the significance of this illustration. There is a field, and rain descends often on that field. There is no question as to the quality of the rain; it is good. If under the influence of rain the field brings forth good herbs, it receives blessing from God in that rain. But if it bears thorns and thistles, the field is unable to stand the test and is disapproved and rejected. It received the rain, but it brought forth only thorns and thistles.

Through the rain that came often upon it, the evil nature of the field was brought to light and developed. Therefore, the rain is nigh unto a curse. Thus the author explains that there are some upon whom the rain of God’s grace falls often, who live under the continued influence of that rain, and who yet receive no blessing.5 The accursed nature of their wickedness is brought out and developed, and they fall so deeply that they cannot be brought to repentance.


5. As the preceding context makes abundantly clear, Hoeksema is not affirming that the grace of God is actually bestowed on the reprobate ungodly. Rather, in keeping with the figure in Hebrews 6 of rain falling on a field, Hoeksema acknowledges the close contact that some reprobate unbelievers in the church institute have with the grace of God. They live in the sphere of grace—under the preaching of the gospel, using the sacraments, reading the Bible, and formally participating in the fellowship of the saints. But by their own unbelief and according to God’s predestination, gospel, sacraments, the Bible, and Christian fellowship are not grace and blessing to them personally.—Ed.



Philip Rainey

These verses teach a work of the Holy Spirit in some non-elect that “enlightens” them and grants them a “taste” of heavenly things. It is clear that these verses refer to the reprobate within the sphere of the visible church; it is there that the gospel is preached and by it the things of heaven are brought near to them, for they “have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come” (v. 5). Such people receive a natural understanding of spiritual things and a corresponding natural sense or taste of such things. However, those who receive the “common operations of the Spirit” as described in these verses are subject not to the common grace of God but to his curse. This is clear from verse 8, where it is said of such persons that they are “nigh unto cursing.”



Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Another Look at Common Grace (2019 edition), pp. 96-97]

It is more puzzling that Murray should refer to Hebrews 6:4-5 in support of his views on common grace. He apparently means, by appealing to this text, that the enlightenment of the wicked, the heavenly gift given to them especially in the Holy Spirit, and the powers of the world to come which they taste, are all blessings.
But this will never do.
In the first place, the apostle is speaking, here, of people who are born and raised in the church—for their sin is crucifying the Son of God afresh and putting Him to open shame (v. 6). The good gifts which they receive are, therefore, the outward good things of the preaching of the gospel. These wicked even have a certain understanding of the blessedness of the preaching and can appreciate the blessings of the world to come. Nevertheless, they never receive these gifts in their hearts.
That this is the meaning is evident from the fact that these gifts are compared to the rain which falls upon the earth (v. 7). But that rain brings forth thorns and briers.
If an inward gift of these blessings were referred to in the text, then one can only conclude that the text speaks of a falling away of saints. After all, if these people who commit the unpardonable sin actually receive these blessings inwardly, then they are actually saved. But we know that Scripture teaches exactly the opposite: the preservation of the saints.



More to come! (DV)

This passage is used by Arminians to teach a falling away of saints, since it speaks of those who were enlightened, tasted of the heavenly gift, were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the world to come, and who yet fell away and cannot be renewed to repentance.


Ronald Hanko & Ronald Cammenga

[Source: Saved By Grace: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism (RFPA, 2002), pp. 163-164]

We must remember that the Holy Spirit gives other gifts and does other works than salvation, and that it is not impossible for an unbelieving person to see, at least intellectually and emotionally, the blessedness of salvation to the extent that he feigns faith and obedience (Matt. 13:19-21; Acts 8:9-23; Acts 26:28). Also, it may not be forgotten that this passage, rather than teaching that it is possible to be saved over and over again, teaches instead the impossibility of renewing to repentance the people described. Finally, if this passage does indeed teach a falling away of saints, it contradicts the context, for in verses 9-19 the chapter teaches the perseverance of saints, founding the hope of perseverance on the immutability of God’s own counsel and oath.

We must conclude, therefore, that the text speaks of those who come under the gospel and its call, are taught the Scriptures, hear the promises, and perhaps even respond emotionally to the gospel, but who are nevertheless spiritually dead and never bear true fruit. They are like the barren earth of which Hebrews 6:8 speaks. Rather than teaching a falling away of saints, the passage, then, speaks of the terrible judgment that shall come on all those who hear the gospel and turn from it, and of their greater damnation. It stands as a warning to all hearers of the Word.



Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Covenant Reformed News, vol. 4, no. 20]

The Hebrew Christians, under some persecution—though not unto blood (12:4)—were in danger of returning to Judaistic beliefs in salvation by the works of the law rather than in the blood of Jesus Christ. The epistle is a warning of the serious consequences of doing that.

Both [Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-29] speak of being a member of a church and of what is implied in such membership.  Chapter 6 speaks of them as enlightened, tasting of the heavenly gift, partakers of the Holy Ghost, tasting the good word of God and the powers of the world to come; Chapter 10 speaks of treading under foot the Son of God, counting the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and doing despite to the Spirit.  But, quite clearly, both refer to the same thing.

And both texts speak of the terrible punishment upon those who do this in terms of the impossibility of their ever being saved: Chapter 6 speaks of the impossibility of their being renewed unto repentance; Chapter 10 speaks of the fact that there is for them no more sacrifice for sins. Thus both texts deal with what is sometimes called the unpardonable sin.

Both texts have been appealed to in support of the Arminian doctrine of the falling away of saints. Do they actually teach that?

This conclusion is drawn from the strong and sharp statements which the text uses to describe the condition of those who were once in the church, but who wilfully reject what once they professed to believe. It would seem that they were once saved people of God, but have, through their great sin, fallen forever from grace.

Hebrews 10 speaks of them as sanctified by the blood of the covenant. Hebrews 6 speaks of them as being enlightened and having tasted heavenly things.

Our readers will recall that in our last article we spoke of the false teachers, mentioned in II Peter 2:1, as those who at one time, while they were members of the church, confessed that they were bought with the blood of Christ.

The same idea is here in Hebrews 10. They were not in fact sanctified by the blood of the covenant, but the text looks at it from the viewpoint of their confession which now they deny. They confessed the truth that the blood of Christ alone can sanctify; they confessed that they were, as a part of the church, sanctified by that blood. Now they deny both. That sin of denial is dreadful. They do not deny out of a measure of ignorance; they deny out of hatred of Christ as His precious blood spilled on Calvary. They trod on the Son of God and speak of His blood as an unholy thing.

Hebrews 6 looks at these same people, not from the viewpoint of their confession so much, as from the viewpoint of their own life in the church. They were so completely a part of the church and so committed to it in their outward confession that certain benefits of God’s people were their possession. This happens repeatedly in the church.

It is all outward, of course. But it is very real, for all that. They are enlightened in that they understand clearly the truth. There is no doubt about it at all that they know as well as anyone that salvation comes only through the blood of Christ crucified.

They tasted the heavenly gift, were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come. That is, they could see and understand how good the Word of God is and what blessed truths it brings to us. They could know all about the salvation which the Holy Spirit works and they even became partakers of the Holy Spirit in the sense that they had an idea of the blessedness of salvation. They even knew all about the joys of heaven and the spectacular blessedness which comes to those who are forever with Christ.

They are like those of whom Jesus speaks in the parable of the four kinds of soil in Matthew 13. They even receive the Word with joy and are very excited about it. But they turn their backs on it all, not only, they even deny it. They deny Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. And they deny that salvation comes through the blood of atonement.

This is a terrible sin and for it there is no pardon. These crucify the Son of God afresh and put Him to open shame. But they never were saved. It was a matter of outward profession. “Let him that thinketh he standeth beware lest he fall.”



More to come! (DV)

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