Is Hebrews Ten Warning Us To Obey the Law?
Hebrews 10: 8 If anyone disregards Moses’ law, he dies without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, regarded as profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace?
Reformed: the people of God in the new covenant are both believers and unbelievers because some of the people of God end up in hell. The future tensed in Greek indicates that this will in fact happen and so this passage can’t be taken hypothetically. So you have got a problem here the covenant people of God end up in hell…. You haven’t even attempted yet to deal with the fact the God’s people are being sent to hell in verses 30-31 you have merely ignored this issue.
Thanks for reminding me of your questions. I am sure I can’t answer everything to your (or my) satisfaction, but let me quickly rehearse some things I know about Hebrews chapter 10.
1. The particular sin being warned against is the sin of going back to the Mosaic law and the Levitical economy for salvation. And there is (and never was) any salvation to be found in the Mosaic law or the Levitical economy. I am not denying that some people living during the Mosaic economy were justified by grace through hearing and believing the gospel of Christ, the seed of Abraham. I am saying that there is no salvation ever to be found in our law-keeping, nor was there ever any salvation to be found in the old ceremonies. Those ceremonies pointed to Jesus, and the way Jesus opened for the elect through His flesh. In context, it seems we have some people who have professed to have believed in the gospel, to trust in Christ, and yet some of them have, or are tempted to, go back to that Judiasm which has rejected the blood of Jesus.
2. There is nothing “hypothetical” about this warning (or the others in Hebrews). The logic of “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin” is not that Christ died for every sinner, and that every sinner had a “chance” or an “opportunity” to be saved, if they accepted “the offer”. No. The logic rather is that now and always there has been only sacrifice that really takes away sin, and that’s the sacrifice of Christ. The old economies had their place because their ceremonies pointed to this one sacrifice of Christ. Now that Christ has come, now that the new covenant has arrived, not only in promise, but in fulfillment, still there remains one (and only one) sacrifice for sins.
Put it this way— for every sinner, for any sinner, there is only one sacrifice that can take away sins, and it’s Christ’s propitiatory death. This does not at all mean that Christ has died for every sinner. It means every sinner needs Christ’s death. But only the sins of the elect the Father has given the Son were imputed to the Son, and the Son has only made a propitiation for those sins. Christ’s death is not enough for every sinner, because it was never intended for every sinner. But the point is—Christ is the only propitiation there is, and if you don’t trust Christ, then there can be no propitiation for you. Go back to Judiasm, (and without getting into the longish question about if apostates can come back to the gospel), and don’t come to Christ, then there “remains no other sacrifice”.
3. And you might read this, and say, well there you have it, it’s the supralapsarians who can’t make a distinction between covenant and election. And the guy denies “common grace” also!
It’s true that I say “providence” instead of ‘common grace”. It’s even true that I am supralapsarian, but I would insist that what I have indicated in the paragraph above is true even on an infralapsarian understanding, unless one is an Amyraldian who thinks Christ obtained some kind of “general fund” of atonement, and then somehow the elect get applied the efficacy of it. In other words, if you believe in definite atonement, this is a fair reading of the warning: no hope but in Christ’s grace, no mercy except in Christ’s bloody death. (I do of course disagree with the sufficient/efficient formula as used in Dordt.)
4. But to repeat, there is nothing hypothetical about these warnings. Yes, there are some contrary “feelings”: Hebrews 6:9–”yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things, that belong to salvation”. But in principle, the Hebrew warnings are no different from those found in places like Galatians and Philippians. It’s not a warning about immorality, but about going back to another gospel, about not trusting Christ, but instead trusting Christ and also your “covenantal nomism” (for which nomists as non-Pelagians thank their god!).
Because if you trust Christ and your Spirit enabled obedience, then you don’t trust Christ! Galatians 2: 21–”If justification were through the law, then Christ died for NO purpose. (not for some purpose, not to provide a “plan” to get started!). Galatians 5:2–If you accept circumcision, Christ will be of NO advantage to you. (Of course, Nanos and Doug Wilson think this only applies to gentiles) So this is a serious real, life or death warning. Although Paul does not tell the Galatians that he thinks most of them are lost judiasers, he does not discount the possibility that some who profess to trust Christ are in reality still in their sins, without grace, without propitiation.
5. It was not hypothetical then, and the danger is not hypothetical now. “Legal preaching” does not mean not preaching the law and the seriousness of sin and the wrath of God. It means confusing the law of God with the gospel of God which is about Christ’s satisfaction of the law for the elect. Christ preached this gospel in John 5: 24. “As many as hear my word and believe him who sent me has eternal (lasting quality) life! HE DOES NOT COME INTO JUDGMENT
And this warning to trust this gospel and not going back into “works and ceremonies” is not at all hypothetical. Let me give you an example from my personal experience, which is NOT from the “federal visionists”, to show that I know that they are not the only legalist heretics in town. This was in a rather large “Reformed Baptist” congregation, quite some time ago. The clergyman took this Hebrews 10 text and attempted to put us all in the “sweat-box” for about 50 minutes one night before the Lord’s Supper. I suppose the idea was to prepare us for the gospel by smiting the sheep with the law. (What else could a shepherd do with his stick?)
Don’t you know, he asked us, that most of the threats of hell are not to those outside the church? Most of the language about hell is directed to God’s people, not only to motivate them, but to make them examine themselves if they are really are trusting Christ. So back to the OT, a couple examples of no mercy in the Mosaic economy, and then on to Hebrews 10, you think that covenant was pretty bad, will it be worse for you if you don’t start living and not merely professing to be Christians! The “Lord will judge His people”
Deuteronomy 32: 35
Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand,
and their doom comes swiftly.’
36 For the Lord will judge/vindicate his people
and have compassion on his servants,
39 “‘See now that I, even I, am he,
and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
45 And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”
The basic strategy of the Reformed Baptist preacher was to say–since God is going to condemn some of his people, what we need to do now is have a dress rehearsal of that, and let me judge you for what you are doing and what you are not doing.
I could elaborate, but I think you get the point. One, I am not saying that this kind of thing is true of most Reformed Baptists. I bring it up because I myself am baptist, and don’t want to be seen as only picking on federal visionists. (After all, I am told, their problem is the same as baptists, since they can’t tell the difference between election and covenant, although they do talk about becoming non-elect, and baptists who know the gospel don’t say “become non-elect” but say something about those who did not belong having professed faith visibly)
….Two, I am not saying that my example of what this clergyman did wrong is an excuse or a substitute for doing all the exegetical work on the details of the text, or for not dealing with questions about “the substance of the covenant of grace”.
But before I get to those questions, I do want to emphasize one point. Not only did the Reformed Baptist get chapter 10 of Hebrews wrong, but he really turned it upside down. He ended up doing the very thing that the writer to the Hebrews was warning against. The writer is saying—don’t look to your own obedience, not to the Mosaic economy, not to any other system but Christ’s death as the only answer for sins. Because Christ’s death (which has now happened!) IS the only hope we have for escaping God’s wrath against sins.
The preacher wasn’t saying to go back to Judiasm, and since he was a baptist, he wasn’t even saying –obey to stay in “the covenant of grace”, but he was saying that assurance of salvation depended on the Holy Spirit enabling us to obey God’s law. (No more law-gospel antithesis once you are in God’s house?).
What number am I on? 6. The word “covenant” is in verse 29. Don’t let me forget about. The phrases “old covenant” or “Mosaic covenant” are not in verse 26, which says the “law of Moses”, but I think we could agree that the thought is about the old covenant economy. The reference is to the covenantal curses on folks who are Abraham’s sons but not Abraham’s sons (Ishmael, Esau, Judas, etc).
So which covenant is it in “profaned the blood of the covenant”?
How can there be a new covenant if there is but one covenant of grace?
I think Reformed people tend to have three answers at once here:
answer one: the new covenant is “substantially” the “one covenant of grace”
answer two: because of the contrast with Moses, the covenant here is “the new covenant” (which of course has always existed along side the old covenant, since the gospel has always existed)
answer three: it’s not really the “new covenant” which the apostates were in but only the “administration” of the new covenant
I am not sure how you can have all three different answers at the same time, but maybe it’s best to use only one or two as needed.
Since my confession (First London Baptist, 1644) does not have all the answers on this either, let me jump to Hebrews 13:20 — the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal (permanent lasting quality!) covenant….
This takes me back to the gospel Jesus preached in John 5:25—He who believes….does not come into judgment, but HAS passed from death to life.
Does this guy have no shame, reading John’s (or Paul’s) categories into Hebrews? Not much. Not that “analogy of Scripture” answers everything, but I begin with what I know, and not what I don’t.
7. John Owen makes sense to me on it being Christ who is sanctified. I know that category exists in John 17. But if Owen is not correct, I don’t need to say that nobody except sovereign grace baptists understand “eternal security” or perseverance/ preservation. Owen was not baptist. And Mike Horton was wrong to imply only his kind of “covenant theology” can make sense of warning texts. Even if it turns out that “the covenant by which he was sanctified” is in reference to those who professed and left but never belonged, this does not prove any of the three answers above.
a It does not prove that there is “one covenant of grace”. (The covenant in question is not the Mosaic covenant, which is also supposed to be included –in some sense–in the “one covenant of grace”, is it not?)
b. Even if “the covenant by which he was set apart” is phenomenological, by appearance, this does not prove that the new covenant includes the infants born of one professing parent (as opposed to all infants to all ethnic Abrahamic seed, professing or not professing).
c. Instead of contracting “the one covenant of grace” to one professing parent, why not expand it to all sinners, all who need the blood of Christ, and who will be saved if they only believe it? In other words, Hebrews 10 does not in any way prove that the “genealogical principle” continues in this “covenant”. Assuming that “his people” that the Lord will judge is the visible congregation of professors does not in any way tell us who is and is not to be admitted to that visible congregation.
Perhaps it is only those you would admit to the Lord’s table. But of course not all who are admitted to the Lord’s table are the justified elect, and no baptist denies that there is “judgment” involved in the Lord’s Supper. We don’t have to say God is doing it “sacramentally” to get there. But some Reformed folks assume that baptists can’t make a distinction between visible and invisible. We can, and we don’t have to admit (only some) infants to do so.
We don’t have to have “two kinds of water baptism” to get there either. Of course there are different kinds of baptism, such by Christ with the Holy Spirit, such as “into Christ’s death”, but we don’t see how can you have one water baptism but with two meanings, without confusing a lot of people about what God is doing.
Let me repeat– as serious as our questions about the nature of “covenants” are, I think some of us can agree that the larger more important warning in Hebrews 10 (not hypothetical) is the danger of people being distracted from the gospel by the idea of a grace which enables them to enter into the holy by the Spirit causing them to do works of faith. That “faith” is not in the gospel, because it is not trust in Christ the great Shepherd who kept the covenant (for the elect alone) by His obedience even unto death.