‘The just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.’
‘The just shall live by faith’ is a quotation from Habakkuk (Heb_2:4), who predicted not only the Chaldean invasion, but the Chaldeans’ subsequent humiliation; the devout Jews looked almost hopelessly for the fulfilment of this latter event, and the verses quoted here were to encourage them in their expectation. The application of this to the Hebrews was in the fact that even under the Old Covenant God declared that perseverance in faith was the mark of His justified ones. If we had to prove this we should hardly turn to the minor prophets, but the writer of this Epistle is dealing with Jews, and finds an unanswerable proof that apostasy denies the possession of Divine life.
I. The test of justification is continuance. That the word ‘just’ here means ‘justified’ is evident from the use of the quotation in the Epistle to the Galatians: ‘That no man is justified by the law is evident, for the just shall live by faith.’ A great thing to have some plain evidence of our justification, and that evidence is found in continuity of adherence to Christ, and the production of the natural fruits of this. Men are apt to base their hopes of justification on a faith they had years ago. But ‘the righteous shall hold on his way.’
II. The temptation to draw back is consistent with continuance (Heb_10:39). Not a mere utterance of the ‘charity which hopeth all things,’ but a meaning full of tenderness. The Hebrews were sorely tempted to shrink back, and were not yet victorious over that temptation, but still listening to the tempter; this was highly dangerous, though not necessarily fatal: it had led to coolness, but not necessarily to severance from Christ: and the writer seems to meet the fear of humble believers which the declaration about ‘shrinking back’ might induce, that their case was hopeless. The tempted, wavering, cold-hearted disciple is in peril; but temptation is not sin; wavering is not rejection; cool-heartedness is not deadness; and though they are there, the ‘shrinking back unto perdition’ is not yet reached.
III. There is a more terrible perdition for those who fail of continuance.—That is implied here. Let none be disheartened, but let none presume. These words had not been written unless it were possible to shrink back—shrink back from what looked like Christian life, and from cherished hopes of Christian life, as Judas did, into perdition. Think of a member of the Church shrinking back into perdition!—perdition tenfold worse because it is darkness after light, despair after hope, a fall into the depths from the gate of heaven. What a tremendous appeal to the wavering!