Impossible to Restore
“For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened” (Heb. 6:4a).
We see in the book of Hebrews the author's resolve to lead his audience into maturity. Yet this resolve was tempered by an awareness that his plan would only be actualized if God was so willing (Heb. 6:3).
At this point, we must ask the question as to why the author made reference to God’s permission being necessary if he was to guide his audience into maturity. The first answer is the simple fact that God is sovereign and has foreordained whatever comes to pass. The second answer is to be found in Hebrews 6:4–6. Only those who have not fallen away, who have not held the Son of God up to contempt, can be restored to repentance and thus led on to maturity. Those who have fallen away are impossible to restore, and God will not permit those who have committed such apostasy to come to maturity.
Today, we come to one of the most difficult passages in all of Scripture. Hebrews 6:4–6 has often been used with the attempt to prove that genuine Christians can lose their salvation. Because of this text, the Novatians and Donatists in the early church denied readmission to the church to those who had fallen into idolatry under persecution — even when some of these lapsed people repented and later died for the Gospel. Arminians believe this passage destroys any confidence that the saints will persevere. Calvinists deny that the passage should be understood in this way but sometimes have trouble articulating the reasons why.
And so we must ask: Does Hebrews 6:4–6 refer to genuine believers who once really believed in Christ but then later fall away? At first glance, we might answer yes. The person described in these verses has done many things that might lead us to believe he once was a true Christian. He has professed repentance, been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit, and has tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come.
But before we decide that these verses refer to genuine believers, let us conclude today with some comments by John Calvin. He says that there is not any good reason why the Lord should not grant to the reprobate “some taste of his grace,” or “irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light.” These verses do not refer to genuine believers and we will study the reasons why over the next few days.
As we consider this sincere exhortation to the Hebrews, it is important that we always keep in mind the promises of God. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, man is not the author and finisher of his faith. Rather, Jesus Christ is the great High Priest who alone is the Author and Finisher of our faith.
Passages for Further Study
Gen. 15; Jer. 30:10–22; John 10:27–29; Phil. 1:6
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