Monday, 13 June 2016

Hebrews 3:12-19 - Partakers in Christ through faith and the sacraments

Today's text continues the discussion of Psalm 94:
12 Take care, brethren, that there is no heart among you so warped by unbelief as to desert the living God. Each day, while the word To-day has still a meaning, strengthen your own resolution, to make sure that none of you grows hardened; sin has such power to cheat us. 
Videte fratres, ne forte sit in aliquo vestrum cor malum incredulitatis, discedendi a Deo vivo: sed adhortamini vosmetipsos per singulos dies, donec hodie cognominatur, ut non obduretur quis ex vobis fallacia peccati. 

The exhortation: He says, therefore, take care. For every man should consider the state in which he is: ‘Let everyone prove his own work’ (Gal. 6:4); ‘See your ways in the valley’ (Jer. 2:23). Take care therefore, brethren, each one to himself, because each is part of the assembly, and ‘to each one God gave commandment concerning his neighbor’ (Sir. 19:12): take care, i.e., let one prove the other, lest there be in any of you an evil unbelieving heart leading you to fall away form the living God.

As if to say: many of you are in a perfect state, yet because of weakness and free will, there could be evil in some of you: ‘Behold, they that serve him are not steadfast; and in his angels he found wickedness. How much more shall they that dwell in houses of clay, who have an earthly foundation’ (Jb. 4:18-19)? ‘Have I not chosen you twelve and one of you is a devil’ (Jn. 6:71). Therefore no one should be solicitous for himself only, but also for each member of his group. 

But why? Lest there be in any of you an evil unbelieving heart. This is the evil about which the Apostle speaks, namely, an unbelieving heart, i.e., not firm in faith. In this does wickedness consist, because just as the soul’s good consists in clinging to God, ‘It is good for me to adhere to my God’ (Ps. 72:27), through faith, so man’s evil consists in withdrawing from God: ‘Know and see that it is an evil and a bitter thing for you to have left the Lord, your God’ (Jer. 2:19). And again he says, of falling away, because one departs by unbelief, from the living God: ‘They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water’ (Jer. 2:15). But he says, from the living God, because He is life in Himself and is the life of the soul: ‘In him was life’ (Jn. 1:4). He says this to show that by withdrawing from God, man incurs spiritual death.

Mutual help: But if that evil should be found in anyone, should he despair? No; he should be admonished all the more. Therefore, he says, but exhort one another every day, i.e., continually, namely, by discussing your conscience and by exhorting to good, as long as it is called today, i.e., while the present time of grace lasts: ‘I must work the works of him that sent me, whilst it is day’ (Jn. 9:4). And this in order that none of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For, as has been stated above, the heart is hardened by persisting in evil. But a person clings to sin because he is deceived. Or, it is natural for the appetite to cling to the good; but it withdraws from good, because it is deceived: ‘They err who work evil’ (Pr. 14:22); ‘I have strayed form the path of truth’ (Wis. 5:6).
14 We have been given a share in Christ, but only on condition that we keep unshaken to the end the principle by which we are grounded in him.That is the meaning of the words, If you hear his voice speaking to you this day, do not harden your hearts, as they were hardened once when you provoked me;  those who provoked him were the people (some, though not all of them) whom Moses had rescued from Egypt. 
Participes enim Christi effecti sumus, si tamen initium substantiæ ejus usque ad finem firmum retineamus.  Dum dicitur: Hodie si vocem ejus audieritis, nolite obdurare corda vestra, quemadmodum in illa exacerbatione. Quidam enim audientes exacerbaverunt: sed non universi qui profecti sunt ex Ægypto per Moysen. 

Faith and the sacraments: Then he explains their condition. As if to say: That condition is more powerful than the other, because they only hear, but we share in Christ. And he speaks properly, because in the Old Testament, there was only hearing, and grace was not conferred ex opere operato; but in the New Testament there are both the hearing of faith and the grace given to the very one acting. Hence, we are partakers of grace, first, by accepting the faith: ‘That Christ by faith may dwell in your hearts’ (Eph. 3:17); secondly, by the sacraments of faith: ‘As many of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ’ (Gal. 3:27); thirdly, by partaking of the body of Christ: ‘The bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of Christ’ (1 Cor. 10:16)?

But it should be noted that there are two ways of sharing in Christ: one is imperfect through the faith and the sacraments; the other is perfect through the presence and vision of the reality. But the first we already possess in reality; the second we possess in hope. But because hope has this condition, namely, that we persevere, he says, if only we hold our first confidence firm unto the end. For whoever is baptized in Christ receives a new nature and Christ is somehow formed in him: ‘My little children, of whom I am in labor again, until Christ be formed in you’ (Gal. 4:19). This will be truly completed in us in heaven, but here it is only the beginning; and this by formed faith, because unformed faith is dead: ‘Faith without works is dead’ (Jas. 2:26). Hence, unformed faith is not a beginning of partaking of Christ, but formed faith: ‘Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for’, i.e., the foundation and the beginning.

He says, therefore, we are partakers of Christ; yet so, if we hold our first confidence firm unto the end. But it seems that fear is the beginning, because it says in Ps. 110: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ I answer that faith is formed by charity; but charity does not exist without chaste fear. Therefore, formed faith always has charity annexed to it. Hence, faith and fear are the beginning.
17 Who was it, during all those forty years, that incurred his enmity? Those who sinned; it was their corpses that lay scattered in the wilderness. To whom did he swear that they should never attain his rest? Those who refused to believe in him. We see, then, the consequences of unbelief; this it was that denied them entrance.
Quibus autem infensus est quadraginta annis? nonne illis qui peccaverunt, quorum cadavera prostrata sunt in deserto? Quibus autem juravit non introire in requiem ipsius, nisi illis qui increduli fuerunt? Et videmus, quia non potuerunt introire propter incredulitatem.

The faithful remnant: Then when he says, who were they that heard, he explains what he had said about their sin. As if to say: ‘You are made partakers of Christ, if you do not harden your hearts, as they who have heard and yet were rebellious. Was it not all? No, not all; for two, namely, Caleb and Joshua remained and consoled the others. And by this we are given to understand that, since not the whole Church falls but only some, the wicked are punished, but not the good, as in those two: ‘And I will leave me seven thousand men in Israel, whose knees have not been bowed before Baal’ (1 Kg 19:18); ‘There is a remnant saved according to the election of grace’ (Rom. 11:5).

The punishment:  With whom was he provoked forty years? Was it not with them that sinned? From this it is clear that forty years, refers to the statement, I was provoked. Hence, he says that he was offended through those forty years. Here it should be noted that all who left Egypt died in the desert, as it is stated in Jos. (5:4), but not all were laid low, but only some: either by God, as when the earth opened and swallowed Dathan and Abiram: (Ps. 77); but others were laid low by Moses, as in the construction of the golden calf (Ex. 32); still others were killed by enemies, and some died a natural death. Therefore, not all were laid low. Hence, it was not a general punishment, although it was general enough so that only two should enter the promised land.

And he says of that land, and to whom did he swear, i.e., firmly decree, that they should never enter into his rest, but to them that were incredulous. Hence, it is clear that they could not enter into His rest because of their unbelief. Therefore, he says, we see, because we have experienced that they could not enter because of their unbelief. Or we see by their punishment that they could not enter because of unbelief.

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