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MATT. XII. 31, 32.
Wherefore I say unto you : all manner of sin and
blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men : but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of
man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him: neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
THESE words of our blessed Lord seldom, if ever, fail to excite a peculiar attention and alarm in the minds of all, who read or hear them : and the doctrine, which they contain, appears to some, either so difficult to be understood, or so improper to be admitted; and fills others with such terrors, or sinks them into such despondency; that, for the sake of great numbers, it should be well explained from time to time. And men ought to have the nature of this crime laid before them, when they are not disturbed within by the imagination of having committed it. For when they are, the agitation of their minds too commonly disqualifies them from judging rightly concerning either the sense of the text, or even their own actions.
Now there are several sins against the Holy Ghost, mentioned in Scripture; Lying to*, resisting f, tempt
+ Acts vii. 51.
* Acts v. 3.
ing *, grieving t, quenching the Spirit 1: yet none of these is ever said to be unpardonable ; and therefore, we may be sure, none of them is so: because, if it had, undoubtedly the word of God would have given us that warning in relation to it: whereas on the contrary, the text itself, in the plainest words, assures us, that every sin is pardonable, excepting one, which is different from all these. If then either the wicked, reflecting on their guilt, or the innocent, overcome with groundless fears, are apprehensive, that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, as they usually call it, and therefore cannot be forgiven: they should, in the first place, be asked, or ask themselves, and answer distinctly, what sin against the Holy Ghost they have committed ? What the particular thing is, that weighs so heavy upon them? For unless it be precisely blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, there is no pretence for saying, they cannot be forgiven. There are but three passages in the Bible, that mention this matter : the text; Mark iii, 28, 29, and Luke xii. 10: in every one of which, the very same word, blasphemy, is used; and no other. So that, of whatever sin else against the divine Spirit they may have been guilty, if they have not been guilty of that, they may undoubtedly be forgiven. And this single observation duly attended to, is sufficient to preserve, or even restore, the quiet of multitudes. But still too many, for want of understanding the nature of the blasphemy which our blessed Lord here means, may falsely conceive themselves to be chargeable with it: whilst others, of a different turn, may wonder, or be much offended, at finding so terrible a denunciation against it: and a third sort, if they perceive no danger of actually
+ Eph. iv. 30.
I 1 Thess. v.
Acts v. 9.
incurring this condemnation, may by no means consider, so seriously as they ought, how near it they may
I shall therefore endeavour to shew,
mentioned by our Saviour, is.
shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, nor
that to come. III. Why he passes so heavy a sentence on this
IV. What things do, or do not, approach towards it.
I. What the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, mentioned by our Saviour, is.
Now the term blasphemy, in the original language of the New Testament, whence we have derived it into our own, signifies nothing else, than speaking evil of any one unjustly. And it is frequently used to denote speaking evil of our equals; but more peculiarly of our superiors; and therefore, most eminently of God the Father Almighty, his Son and Spirit: to which three alone this expression is confined in our vulgar tongue. Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost therefore is speaking irreverently and injuriously of the Holy Ghost: which may be done by vilifying either his person, or his works. But of the former our Saviour doth not speak: for nothing had happened, which could lead him to it. The Jews, whom he was reproving, professed, and had, the highest veneration for the Spirit of God: therefore they had certainly uttered no personal reproaches against him: indeed it doth not appear, that they had named him in what gave rise to the declaration, made in the text. But the
case, to lay it before you in the words of the Gospel, was this.
There was brought to him one possessed with a devil, blind and dumb; and he healed
him: and all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cust out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. It follows, And Jesus knew their thoughts *. Upon which he argued with them, that destroying the works of the devil, his influence over the bodies and souls of men, could not proceed from the devil himself, for that would be overturning his own kingdom; but evidently shewed a power opposite and superior to his : and then he subjoined the words now under consideration; which many learned interpreters have understood thus : that such, as were ignorantly led by common prejudice to speak against Christ, appearing only as a Son of Man; and, taking him for a mere man, reproached him with being the carpenter's son t, or even gluttonous and a wine-bibber, and a friend of publicans and sinners f; might, notwithstanding, come to see their mistake, and be forgiven ; but when he performed miracles, before their eyes, to rectify their opinion, as he had just done then; if they reviled these also, ascribing them to the agency of the devil, contrary to all reason, and perhaps to their own consciences too; (for thus some understand the observation, that Jesus knew their thoughts ;) this was adding sin to sing; was in effect imputing wickedness to the Holy Spirit of God, by representing what was plainly done by him, as done by an evil Being ; and should not be pardoned. Nor can it be denied, but this interpretation seems to be much confirmed by St. Mark; who observes, that our Saviour gave them this warning, because they said, he had an unclean spirit ||.
Matth. xii. 22-25. + Matth. xii. 55. | Matth. xi. 19. Luke vii. 34.
s Is. xxx. 1. || Mark iii. 30. VOL. I.
But still other eminent men, though they allow, that he cast out devils, as himself expressly affirms *, and performed the rest of his wonderful works, by the Spirit of God, which is the same with the Holy Ghost; yet remark very truly, that this phrase, the Holy Ghost, these words thus joined, in the Gospels and Acts never signify the power of working miracles, but often signify the spiritual gifts, of speaking with tongues and the like, which the Apostles received: and that accordingly, though they had long before done many miracles, as well as their master, we are told notwithstanding in the New Testament, that the Holy Ghost was not yet given t; but promised, after our blessed Lord's ascension. From hence then they argue, that conformably to this manner of speaking, blasphemy against the Holy Ghost must mean vilifying, not the miraculous operations, of which the Spirit was the author then; but the farther manifestations of himself, which were soon to follow them; and our Saviour must design in the text to inform his opposers, that all they had said, and all they should say, of him, while he remained on earth, as a deceiver of the people I, and even one that had a devils, might be forgiven them : but if, when he was gone to the Father; and the comforter, or advocate, for so it should be translated, come \l, by supernatural gifts to convince the world of sin, because they had not believed on him [; if they should go on then to speak evil of these also, their guilt should never be remitted. And, in confirmation of this exposition, they observe further, that Christ at his death, prayed the Father to forgive ** his cruci
* Matth. xii. 28. + John vii. 39. # John vii, 12.
Il John xv.