The Epistle to the Hebrews.
It is said, "That the Epistle to the Hebrews was manifestly written to prevent the apostasy of the believing Jews: and that as the excellent Dr. Barrow used to say, it was written against the doctrine of perseverance, and that it certainly contains many cogent arguments, against that doctrine, as is evident from the exhortations, cautions, promises, declarations, and threats, to true believers, of whom the apostle there speaks; which suppose that they unquestionably might fall away, both finally and totally."
1. It is very awkwardly expressed, and sounds a little oddly, that this epistle should be written to prevent the apostasy of believing Jews, and yet written against the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance, since all means to prevent apostasy tend to establish and secure perseverance, and can never be contrary to the doctrine of it; and among the means of perseverance may be reckoned the exhortations, cautions, promises, declarations, and threats mentioned, and, therefore, ought not to be considered as so many cogent arguments against the doctrine of it. Besides, this church of the Hebrews, like other churches, no doubt, consisted of real and nominal professors, true believers, and hypocrites; and, perhaps, with a particular view to the latter, many of these exhortations, cautions, promises, and threats are given out; and, supposing them to be all true believers, these directions were not unseasonable and improper, but very useful to stir them up to duty, diligence, care, and watchfulness, since there might be danger of a partial, though not of a total and final falling away; and, at most, these can only imply a possibility or danger of such a falling, considered in themselves, and if left to themselves, through sin, Satan, and false teachers, but prove no matter of fact, or furnish out any instance of any one true believer that ever did finally and totally fall away.
2. It seems strange that this epistle should be written against the doctrine of perseverance, when there are so many strong proofs of this doctrine in it; the author of represents the unchangeableness of God’s counsel, purpose, and promise, respecting the salvation of his people, in the strongest light, when he says, Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath; that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us (Heb. 6:17, 18); but where would be the immutability of God’s counsel, or the strong consolation of the saints, if the heirs of promise could possibly perish? In it, also, Christ is set forth as having, by one offering, perfected for ever them that are sanctified (Heb. 10:14; 7:25; 2:10, 13); as able, and as one that will save to the uttermost, all that come unto God by him; as one that ever lives to make intercession for the saints; and, as the Captain of their salvation, who has brought, and will bring, many sons safe to glory, even all the sons of God; for, at the great day, he will say, Behold, I and the children which God hath given me, which he would not be able to do should any of them be lost and perish. The graces of the Spirit are spoken of as sure and certain things, faith is said to be the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen; and hope, as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast (Heb. 11:1; 6:19); yea, the apostle says of these believing Hebrews (Heb. 12:28; 10:34, 38, 39; 6:9), as well as of himself, that they had received a kingdom which cannot be moved, and knew in themselves that they had in heaven a better and a more enduring substance; that they were not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul: and that the just shall live by faith. He was persuaded better things of them, and things that accompany salvation, when such who were not true believers, finally and totally fell away, to whom alone the threats in this epistle are directed. From all which it is plain, that this epistle was not written against the doctrine of perseverance; nor are the exhortations, cautions, promises, and declarations, made to true believers, cogent arguments against it, since these were designed as means to promote and secure it, and do not in the least imply that any of the true believers in this church might, or should, finally and totally fall away.