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.–MATT. xii. 31, 32.
THERE are few Christians who have not paused and pondered over these divine words: few who have not felt perplexed at their meaning and solemn import. Can it be that I have committed this sin? has been the spirit-searching inquiry of many a thoughtful soul. What is this sin? How is it committed? Why is it so much more fatal then any other sin? To answer these deep ponderings of many a tender conscience, let us now devote ourselves, and look up with prayerful thought, while we do so, to Him whose Holy Spirit is the light which illuminates and the love which warms.
And, first, let me observe, that part of the difficulty which surrounds our text is due to inaccuracy of translation; part, also, to mistake in the ordinary doctrinal teaching. The word which is here rendered forgiveness, is the same word which is elsewhere translated remission, and sometimes deliverance. In Greek it is the same word for both. In English, the two words, forgiveness and remission, have a very different signification.
Forgiveness implies a change of mind in the person offended against. It is believed to mean, in relation to God, a change from a stern determination to punish the sinner, to a state of favor and approbation towards the penitent. Remission has more especial relation to man, and means loosing off, setting free, removal; and remission of sin signifies the removal of sin from its government and activity in the soul. When the Lord said he had come to preach deliverance to the captives (Luke iv. 18), the word for deliverance is orphesin, the same word which is here rendered forgiveness; and in the same passage we have to set at liberty them that are bruised, where again it is orphesin which is rendered by to set at liberty. The verb from which this word for remission is derived is used very frequently in the New Testament, and is rendered by such words as leave, Matt. v. 24; forsaken, Matt. xix. 29; omit, Matt. xxiii. 23; suffer, Matt. xix. 14; let, remit, John xx. 23,all yielding the same radical idea of separating from, or, loosing off. Far deeper are the teachings of the Divine Word, than the suggestions of human thought. Man craves forgiveness. He fears the consequences of his misdoing from a retaliating Deity, whom he supposes revengeful, like himself (Ps. l. 21). God requires a change of heart, a removal of the sin, and with it the source of all his sorrows.
In the Old Testament, as well as the New, the removal of sin is the one thing insisted on as needful to; restore peace and every blessing. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions: so INIQUITY shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby you have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit; for why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezek. xviii. 30, 31). If thou doest well, shalt then not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at thy door (Gen. iv. 7). Let Israel hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from ALL HIS INIQUITIES (Ps. cxxx. 8). I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy TRANSGRESSIONS for MINE OWN SAKE, and will not remember thy sins (Isa. xliii. 25).
We shudder at pain, but we neglect the purity that brings peace. We sap the foundations of our happiness, and then wonder that the edifice falls.
We suffer worms to burrow in our gourd, and then are astonished that it dies. We allow the wild beasts of evil passions to strengthen and increase within us, and then are alarmed and distressed bemuse they bite, and tear, and howl. Not so, the Divine Teacher; not so His Holy Word. The lesson, the all-necessary lesson of Infinite Wisdom is, Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder; the young lion, and the dragon, thou shalt trample under foot (Ps. xc. 13).
By power from the Great Savior, used in persevering effort, we can subdue our iniquities, and we MUST. There is no deliverance from pain, but by deliverance from sin. The hell of passion can be crushed out, and the heaven of peace can be unfolded in the soul by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, received by obedience to his commandments. Our text then is the announcement not of what sins the Lord is willing to forgive, for God our Savior willeth that all men should come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved,1 Tim. ii. 4; but, of what sins can be removed from the soul of man, and what sins are too deeply seated in the perverse will, too much loved, and defended, and hugged, for the Spirit of the Lord to remove them, without destroying the man altogether.
Let us rejoice, then, at our escape from the first soul-benumbing fallacy, that the Lord does not pity his creatures, that He is unwilling that some sinners should be saved, and made happy. As well, might you believe, that the sun is unwilling to warm the stunted tree. The Lord unwilling! why, God. is Love. The Lord unwilling I why, the Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. The Lord unwilling! who makes His soul to shine on the evil and the good, His rain to descend upon the just and upon the unjust? Oh no, never lose this sacred truth–that the Lord loves you with an everlasting love–that He made you to be happy–that the Divine Love which formed you at first, never has changed, and never will change. I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God; wherefore turn yourselves and live ye (Ezek. xviii. 32).
Again, we say to every weak and weary soul, we dwell upon, and reiterate this all-important, all-reviving truth, God is never unwilling to receive you. Alas, we have seen sufferers in despair, for want of this assurance. We have seen in lunatic asylums souls wrecked, minds in ruins, crushed by the awful phantasy that they mere souls reprobate, eternally rejected of God, passed by for ever, hopeless, helpless.
But, it cannot be; it cannot be! The sun cannot chill, brightness cannot darken, unchangeable truth cannot lie, unchangeable love cannot bate, unchangeable mercy cannot revenge. Our Heavenly Father is the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning (Sam. i. 17); He is a Fountain: that sends not forth sweet and bitter (James iii. 2). Out of the mouth of the Most High proceedeth not evil and good (Sam. 38.) He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. (v. 33). It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning (v. 22, 23). God’s love fail! Why, He came down to earth for mans redemption. God’s love fail! Why, He suffered and died, lived on earth to conquer hell, died the death of the cross, because greater love hath no men than this, that He lay down His life for His friends; but His was greater than the love of man; He laid down His life for His enemies. He tasted death for every man (Heb. ii. 9). Whosoever will come unto me, I will in no wise cast out, He said, and He says so now. A mothers love is the faintest possible image of His. It comes from Him, and is a holy and beautiful thing. How it yearns over the angel-bud committed to His care! How it glorifies the little dress, the little cap, the little shoes! How it anticipates a noble future! How it trembles if ought of danger threaten to touch its treasure. How easily it pardons again and again, and hopes, and bears, and strives, and believes all things good of the loved one with a celestial credulity; and if unfortunate at last, and compelled to cover sadly a life of shame, and a death over which the best friends must heave a sigh, the mothers love will yet find, with yearning, busy, tender fondness, some redeeming trait, unseen by any other, and trust it will be seen by Him, whom her heart whispers is the Infinite Ocean of that tenderness which is her only balm, her only warrant for the undying hope, that by mercies she believes in, (but she cannot measure,) They yet may meet again. Yet a mothers love is but as an atom to a world compared with His from Whom it flows, and Who said, Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she may not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet I will not forget thee.
O, then, never despair.
Let the storms of life, beat on you as they may, be assured, that if your faith fail not, you will be piloted safely through danger, and, amidst the gloom, a Divine Presence will shortly be seen, whose words of strength and comfort will be, It is I, be not afraid.
The second difficulty connected with our text, has arisen from the erroneous idea that in the Divine Trinity there are three separate Persons, and that the Holy Spirit is the third of these Persons. For the thoughtful mind has not failed to ask, Why blasphemy against one of the three Divine Persons should be more deadly, than the same sin against another? If they are all equal, should they not all be equally honored? Why in particular should it be the third Person who must not be blasphemed against, under pain of so tremendous a penalty? These difficulties seem great, but they are so only because they are directed against a view not founded in the Sacred Scriptures. Revelation knows nothing of a third divine and separate person. Revelation teaches nothing of three co-equal, co-eternal persons. The Holy Spirit, is the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ,–the holy influence which flows from Him. The Infinite Divine Love is the Father within Him (John xii. 30; xiv. 10; Coll. ii. 9, 10). The manifest Divine Person of the Lord is the Son (Luke i. 35); and the Divine flowing forth of life, light, power, peace, purity, and every blessing, this is the Holy Spirit. The Lord is that Spirit, said the Apostle, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor. iii. 17). The Lord is that Spirit; what can be plainer? The Spirit of the Lord Jesus is the ever-potent Spirit of the New Testament. If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, Paul said, He is none of His (Rom. viii. 9). Searching, said the apostle Peter, what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them (the prophets) did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow (1 Pet. i. 11). The Spirit of Christ is undoubtedly a Divine Holy Spirit; if there be another, there are two Divine Holy Spirits. But everything in the Scriptures leads to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Lord Jesus. When He came into the room where the disciples were sitting, He breathed on them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Spirit (John xx. 22). We do not use the term Holy Ghost, because Ghost now conveys the idea of a vague personality, not as it did originally of breath. It is the word whence originally the word gas came.
The Holy Breath of the Redeemer was the Holy Spirit; He breathed upon them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Spirit.
When the Lord Jesus delivered to John His seven epistles to the Churches, He prefaced end one with some terms characteristic of Himself. He said, Thus saith the First and the Last, who was dead, and is alive. Thus saith the Son of God. Thus saith He that hath the seven spirits of God, and so on. But at the end of each epistle, He closes by saying, He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. Thus shewing that when He speaks the Spirit speaks, giving thus a sevenfold testimony to the apostolic declaration, The Lord is that Spirit. Besides, it is written, the seven horns and the seven eyes of the Lamb are the seven Spirits of God, because His perfect strength and wisdom are so named. He hath the Seven Spirits of God (Rev. iii. 1). In the gospel He taught that His spiritual presence was the Holy Spirit. This He called another comforter, because it was Himself in another aspect; thus to them, another, but still the same. It is, He said, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him but YE know Him, for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless, I will come unto you (John xvi. 16, 17). Thus shewing that the another was still Himself, but otherwise received, and in another character. The Holy Spirit is sometimes personified, and spoken of by our Lord as He, Him, for this is according to the customs of the East, and of the sacred writers. Trees, swords, qualities, are all personified, and all have personal pronouns used in relation to them, but without in the least intending this usage to warrant any one in considering them to be persons, in the strict use of that expression, no more than the seven lamps of fire before the throne of God, which are said to be the seven spirits of God, would prove that the Holy Spirit is seven Divine Persons; or the eleven cloven tongues of fire which alighted on the apostles heads on the day of Pentecost, would prove that the Holy Spirit was eleven persons. The Holy Spirit, then, is the Spirit of the Lord Jesus. To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is to blaspheme against His Spirit. It is to contemn, to deride, to scorn, and to oppose that Spirit of the Lord Jesus, which alone is powerful to purify, to illuminate, and regenerate the soul.
It is written in the text, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Thus we are informed, there are two classes of sins. One class can be removed, and the other cannot, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come.
It is not that Divine Mercy will not forgive, but that Divine Providence, consistently with its own laws and mans freedom and existence, cannot remove the sins meant by the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
These two classes of sins are very clearly pointed out by John. If any man see his brother sin a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death.
There is a SIN UNTO DEATH. I do not say he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin; find there is a SIN NOT UNTO DEATH (1 John v. 16, 17).
This distinction is not peculiar to the New Testament. In the Levitical law there were sacrifices especially ordained for sins of ignorance (liv. v. 15-18).
All unrighteousness is sin: but sins done in ignorance are not unto death. The servant who knew his Lord’s will and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with many stripes: but he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few (Luke xii. 47, 48). He KNEW NOT his Lord’s will. He was in sins of ignorance, and did things WORTHY of stripes, but he shall be beaten with few.
What a wide field for thought opens upon us here. Sins of ignorance are not worthy of death. Then the sins of ignorance of the heathen are not worthy of death. The immense nations of those who have not the Word, will be judged by what they have, and not by what they have not. The myriads of China, and of hoary Ind; the Arabs of the desert, and the dark tribes of Africa’s golden sands; the tenants of the sunny isles of the Pacific; and the hardy children of the icy fields where lie the bones of England’s best and bravest, will be saved; and from the lessons of angelic teaching, cast away their sins of ignorance, perhaps, not without some pain, it they have loved them; all, all, may come together, and tenant the many mansions of our Fathers everlasting home.
The sins of ignorance, are not unto death.
Then, blessed be the goodness of the Most High, whose tender mercies are as much above the conceptions of Calvin’s narrow soul, as the magnificent vault of heaven, is beyond the mole hills paltry span. Then, in every nation, he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted of Him (Acts x. 26).
But sins of ignorance, go further, much further. How ignorant in the same nation we are of each other: of the views we entertain and our reasons for them! How much are we ignorant of, that others see in bright light! How ignorant are they of much we know! How ignorant are religious bodies of each other, from the narrow classifications and jealousies that have been handed down to us! How much we suppose, and how little we know, of another out of our walk and denomination! One class views mother as extremely dangerous persons, and views them with dislike, and do things to them worthy of stripes. But they are sins of ignorance. They think they are doing God service. He who looks upon the hearts of men, will see many antagonists here, to be brothers in soul. They were divided by ignorance. They looked at different sides of the shield, and were true to their side, though too narrow and mistaken. The evils of sectarianism, originating in ignorance of each other, and of other views of truth than our own, will soon fall away from the good. It is becoming so in this life. No intelligent man seriously (now) inclines to believe that salvation is to be found only in his own denomination (p. 425). The Lord seeth not as man seeth, man looketh on the outward appearance (on the eyes), but the Lord looketh upon the heart.
Sins of ignorance go still further. Those waifs of society, of whom the well-to-do know little; who lead a rude life, often missing their way, caring little for the refinements, not always respecting the decencies, of life, are not all to be measured by one standard. They have not had the truth, which can make man free. They have not had parental, not a nations care. They are in some cases as ignorant of the laws and truths upon which morality and religion are based, as the wild Indian. They have never seen their Heavenly Father represented in their earthly one, the care of heaven shown round all their steps, by their mother. The thousand stays, locked round its children by a well-ordered home, which support by touches, and strengthen, unseen; the thousand efforts of diligent teachers to unfold intelligence and expand the sense of right, are all strangers to them.
They see but a very short way before them, and cannot start with horror at the long vista of ruin, which follows a loss of rectitude. Many things condemned by the voice of short-sighted human justice, will, perhaps, be adjudged by a higher tribunal, the sins of those who though they did things worthy of stripes, knew not their Lord’s will, and will be beaten with few. It is quite true, as Mr. Jowett observes, that there is an infinite number of classes, or individuals, from the lowest depths of misery and sin, to the highest perfection of which human nature is capable, the best not wholly good, the worst not entirely evil (p. 401). The ruling love will no doubt be seen to divide them into two great kingdoms at last, in which there will still be unnumbered classes and degrees. But, we doubt not, many whom the world rejects, as utterly cast away, and worthless, will be found better than they seem, and erring only through the effects of habit, induced by sins of ignorance.
Again, sins of weakness, are not sins against the Holy Spirit. Many weak but tender souls Fret and condemn themselves, because they cannot reach states of purity and peace, which are yet too high for them. The babe in Christ, is not a man. He cannot walk well, and he stumbles, possibly falls down altogether; but like Peter, goes out and weeps bitterly. From experience, he is becoming humble; from humility, he flies to the Lord, and fears to go alone. The steps of a good man ore ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he fall not be utterly cast clown, for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand (Ps. xxxvii. 23, 24).
Many have been disheartened by failures of temper and faults of habit returning, which perseverance would entirely subdue. Many do not sufficiently remember that Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. Many have given up the hope of perfection in the commandments of God, because they have been told by a mistaken use of St. James, that he who offendeth in one point is guilty in all. Forgetting that it is only the deliberate, purposed sin which offends, not the fault of weakness.
He sees by sure Omniscience within,
Observes when frailty errs, and when we sin.
He who deliberately breaks one commandment, because it suits his whim or passion, would break any other, if his unholy feelings or temper stimulated him to do so, and he is guilty of all.
But he who only fails because as yet his faith is feeble, and his love is weak, may take courage, persevere, look up, and trend on. Let him be diligent in prayer. Let him commune often with himself and his Savior, and his weakness will be turned into strength. Let the language of the sacred poet be his–
Lord, it is my chief complaint,
That my love is weak and faint;
Yet I love Thee and adore,
Help me, Lord, to love Thee more.
His peace will become as a river, and his righteousness as the waves of the sea (Isa. xlviii. 18).
Sins of ignorance are removed as knowledge is given. Sins of weakness will cease as strength is acquired. When they are not delighted in, but abhorred, they are not deeply rooted, and will soon cease.
The Lord proceeds in the text to say, And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him. This phrase, the Son of Man, is a peculiar one. It means the Lord as the Son, such as He appeared in the world. The Son is a general name of the Humanity. As to the Divine Love already glowing in the Human, breathing in, and through the Humanity from the Father, it was called the Son of God. As to the divine truth, it is called the Son of Man. It has been thought, on a cursory glance, by some, that this term, Son of Man, is used in the Word to denote the Lord as to the mere humanity–the Lord as a man. But it is not so. The Son of Man is said to have been in heaven when He was speaking upon earth (John iii. 17). The angels are said to ascend and descend upon the Son of Man (John i. 61). He executes judgment, it is written, because He is the Son of Man (John v. 21). Except we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, we have no life in us (John vi. 55). What, said the Lord, if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend where He was before (John vi. 62.) Indeed, so much extraordinary is said, that it is quite appropriate in us to inquire, as the Jews did, Who is this Son of Man? (John xii. 34). And here let me remark that the term man has many significations. It is commonly used as expressive of human weakness. He is only a man. It has a higher signification. That is a real man. Yes, he is a man indeed. These terms intimate that we perceive exalted elements to be proper to our mysterious, wondrous being.
True manliness is true goodness, especially the goodness which is the result of principle, of manly thought. The more a person reflects, the more truth he understands and loves, the more is he a man. The good man is an image of God. All the virtues in man are infinitely in God. The true man is loving; God is infinite love. The true man is wise; God is infinitely wise. The true man is sympathizing; God is infinitely sympathizing. The true mall is fatherly, brotherly; God is infinitely fatherly, infinitely brotherly. The true man is a likeness of God; God is an infinite divine man, as the catechism says, all-good, all-wise, all-powerful, and everywhere present. This God was in Himself, and always was, an underived Eternal Man, an Eternal Father. The Son expresses derivation And in the languages of the Old and New Testament anything derived from another is its son. The spark is the son of the fire, the brand the son of the tree, the arrow the son of the bow, bad men the sons of wickedness. The Eternal Love, being essentially man, the divine truth, the Word, is the Son of man. The Word, spoken by the prophets, caused them to be called sons of man, as you will see especially in Ezekiel. The Word, shining through the heavens and adapted to the angels, is the Son of Man, on which they ascend and descend. The same Word incarnate in the Lord Jesus, is the Son of Man, to whom judgment is given, with whose flesh and blood we are to be spiritually nourished, and who appears gloriously at the right hand of God high above the heavens, that is, possessed of all power, and when we lift Him up in our hearts; and supremely adore Him. But the Divine Word in the Lord appeared at first humbly accommodated to the Jews and the world. He was born amongst us that He might come down to us, and raise us up to Himself. The Son of Man introduced Himself to the human race as His truth comes now to the human soul. It comes like other truth. It comes into the memory. It is born where the intellectual horses feed. It has no comeliness. It seems of less value than worldly learning.
The truths of religion seem, to the naturally minded youth, as not half so valuable or so lovely, as those which will form his path to fortune, or to fame. To the tradesman, business must be attended to, religion may be. To the scientific man, his science; to the professional man, his art; to the man of the world, his knowledge.
All seem vastly more important than that Eternal Truth which enters like a grain of mustard seed, but is destined to grow as wisdom gross, and at last become a mighty tree overtopping and overshadowing, protecting and blessing the whole man. Men still too often live only in the present, pursue with eager grasp its knowledge and its duties,
And to the mercies of a moment leave
The vast concerns of an eternal scene.
So was it with the Truth in Person, the Son of Man in human form. True, angels heralded His entry into the world, but these were seen only to the spirits eye. To men, he was a lowly child.
Cold on His cradle, the dew-drops were shining;
Low lies His head with the beasts of the stall:
Angels adore Him in slumbers reclining,
Maker and Monarch and Savior of all.
Only wise men say the Divine King under the baby-form. And so is it now. The Divine in the Human is slowly seen. Even now the idea of most men is that the spiritual is the negation of the natural, much more the Divine. But it is not so. The negation of the natural, is the nursing of a conceit, not the spiritualizing of a man. He who leaves a duty undone, that he may rehearse a prayer, cares more for himself, than he does for either humanity or for God. To do our duty from spiritual motives, is to become spiritual. To pray to be able to do this, that the will of the Lord may be done in our earth, as it is done in heaven, is the true object of prayer. The man, in whose every work and word–truth, justice, order, and meekness shine, is half-angelic. The man who could do it with Infinite nicety and perfection, would be ALL DIVINE. Only One has done it. Only One could ever say, Which of you convicteth me of sin? Of One only could it be written, In whose mouth there was no guile. Of only One, has there been a life in the world without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, and He was the Lamb without spot (Heb. ix. 14; 1 Pet. i. 19). He became perfect through sufferings, not putting off His own imperfections, but ours; assumed that His glorious Divine Humanity might enter into ours. He then put off our infirmities, subduing the bells that burrowed in them, bringing our nature into perfect order, by a spotless loving life; and be the seed and the heart of a new spiritualized world, by a suffering, loving death; so glorifying that nature, that the Lamb that was slain might be adored in the hosannas of all the heavens.
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing (Rev. v. 12.)
His Creatures fell: no pitying eye,
No mighty arm to save was nigh,
Or aid our feeble powers:
He saw, He came, He fought alone,
And conquerd evils not His own,
That He might conquer ours.
Temptations thorny path He trod,
In form, a Man, in soul, a God;
And trod the path alone:
In vain the direst fiends assail’d:
His mighty arm of power prevail’d,
And hell was overthrown.
In entering on His work, the Son of Man could only enter in form of man, and pass through the conditions of our being. Although Divine Wisdom was in Him, in that guise it was scarcely known. Among the Jews, to be man was to be NOT God. To speak authoritatively, was to speak presumptuously. They thought Him the carpenters son. He had not been to any of their famous schools; what could He know? He spoke strangely too. He said, they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. He took the mask from venerated faces. We set little value on their most sacred rites. He said man was greater than the Sabbath, greater than the Temple. True, there seemed a Divine awe about Him, that pressed mysteriously upon them. True, He cast out devils; they submitted to His authority. He wondrously healed the sick. By some strange power He fed thousands out of a few loaves and a few small fishes. There was something marvelous about Him. It was even reported that the mind and the seas obeyed Him. But, then, how could that be? had any of the rulers believed on Him? What did the priests say?
The timidly good shrink from anything new until it has been endorsed, and the powers that be are slow to endorse that, which must overturn their authority.
The priests said He spoke audaciously. Their traditions had no reverence in His eyes.
He spoke of God being in Him, and of God Being His Father, so as that He who saw Him, saw the Father.
This could not be true, it was opposed to the established religion. Had not their fathers been of this faith, their mothers, and even their grandfathers? Did not everybody say the sacrifices and the gifts, and the customs, and the traditions were all quite right? Had not the tithes been established ever since the time of Moses? And, who was He to say that Mercy was better than Sacrifice, and LOVE better than Law? Who was He to say that poverty in spirit was the foundation of every virtue, the essence of heaven? Did not the respected Pharisee come along every day, have the trumpet blown, to announce that he was giving alms; and then go and thank God that he is notes other men? Let us ask our established Lord’s spiritual what they think of this strange and upstart Preacher. The narrow-minded priest, by profession, the men of phylacteries and long prayers, soon settled the matter. They knew this man was a sinner. He walketh not with us. We sit in Moses seat. We are the authority by right divine. Have we not the tradition of the elders? He cast out devils, but not in the regular way. Better men should keep their devils, than have them cast out in this unauthorized manner. He casts out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. The blind man said that He had given him sight, but we have cast him out of the synagogue, we have silenced him. The poor weak fellow that had lain so long at Bethesda, said he had received strength from the same hand, but we represented to him how wrong it was to be carrying his bed on the Sabbath day. Lazarus, too, has been raised from the dead; that is an awkward circumstance. But, wait, we will dispose soon of him, and then this disturber shall be silenced. The unthinking multitude echoed these utterances of their blind guides. They looked askance. They said, He deceives the people. The Pharisees must know, and they say so. Away with. Him, away with Him.
The tones were the same from priest and from people; the words were the same. The people echoed the teaching of the priest, and the established authorities. Our fathers taught this, and we believed, and so teach we. As if every teaching of the fathers could be regarded as perfect, which had produced so unsatisfactory a state of society as that which the Lord found.
Society is the work of the principles and practices by which it is formed. When any teachers, clergy and statesmen, can show the people they direct to be permeated by justice, wisdom, and the love of God, a free and wise and understanding people, where law-givers rise above the prejudices of caste and party, and provide equally for the well-being of all, especially of the feeble; where liberty is hallowed by religion, where labor is inspired by love, directed by order, and respected by all: where the children are all taught, the arts and sciences all encouraged, and universal enlightenment prevails; where genial benevolence, sincerity, and honesty animate trade and commerce; where fraud is accounted folly, and crime is banished by purity, intelligence, and goodwill; where use is accounted dignified, and brotherhood universally felt; where competency and content are brought home to every man, and all rejoice in a Saviors love and blessing; then may the promoters of such a heaven below be privileged to say, See here are our principles in action, so have we taught and these ore the results. But, was society such at the time of the Lord’s coming? Alas, it was the reverse. Is society all that we would wish it now? We trow not. Yet it is what the principles and practice that have prevailed, have made it. We inherit what our fathers have taught and been. If we are not all we could wish to be, all we think a society might be–either the principles of doctrine, or the principles of practice, are wrong. They are not entitled to pass unquestioned, until their work is better. In any other workshop, an article miserably defective would not be a recommendation, but a warning. Its maker would be shunned, not applauded. If the workman who had made a bungled table, would be rebuked and urged to become more skillful in his trade, should not the framers of a society which swarms with wrong and sorrow, be urged to humble themselves, set their house in order, and pray for higher light?
The Pharisees and rulers of the Jews did not, however, think thus; few priests and rulers do. They go on reiterating the same things, as though their teachings and rulings had produced the most blessed state of things imaginable. And, when any one proposes new views find improvements in principles and practice, the stereotype reply is, It is contrary to the traditions of the fathers, contrary to the established principles. The obedient people repeat this, and oppose the innovators.
They say, of the great and good who offer them nobler things, They deceive the people. Of the Greatest and the Best, they said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye Him? But, exclaimed some, Can He that hath a devil open the eyes of the blind? He casts out devils. We have seen him who was raging with madness, because possessed by a legion of devils, sitting at the feet of Jesus clothed and in his right mind. Oh, still say the prejudiced, the inwardly malignant, He casts out devils, by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. We will have none of Him. Do ye tend us We order that if any man shall acknowledge Him, he shall cast out of the synagogue.
It was on the occasion of a. tumult like this that our Lord spoke the words of our text.
There was blasphemy on every side. But it had very different grounds. The simple blasphemed from custom; from ignorance, from leadership. They meant right all the while, but they did not understand the Savior. They saw Him, as a teacher from Galilee, and they had been taught that go good can come out of Galilee. They saw He was not endorsed by the great Rabbis. He said strange and unheard of things; they were startled, and frightened; they exclaimed against Him, but they thought they were doing God service. The Savior saw their hearts, and sew they would come right at last. Their sin and blasphemy were against the Son of Man; they spoke a word against Him as He appeared to them. They thought He was presumptuous when He said that God was His Father, and was in Him. They thought he was human only, and was making Himself equal with God (John v. 18). They did not know Him, no one then knew the Son but the Father (Matt. xi. 28). They took up stones to stone Him. They did not know that infinite goodness and truth were in Him, that He was God manifest in the flesh. This they had to learn by a little here and a little there; by miracles of love and tenderness, and by the musing of their minds while the thought pressed upon them. If any man be a worshiper of God, him He heareth. Since the world began, was it not heard that any man opened they eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, He could do nothing. They tried His precepts, and they found a strange peace: steal over them, and they found that if any man will do His will, he can know of the doctrine whether it is of the God (John vii. 17).
They who did good came to the light, and found joy in believing.
Some who came to scoff, remained to pray.
The word against the Son of Man was forgiven. What ignorance caused, light removed. They were before inwardly true to their sense of right; when their sense of right was enlightened, all their sin and blasphemy against the Son of Man melted away, and they joined the other disciples in singing, Hosanna, blessed be He who comes in the name of Highest.
And it is ever so. The Word now is the Son of Man, the Divine Truth with us. Many, who see only its letter, speak against it. They think it only a Jewish book, and know no reason why the annals of Israel are worthy of profounder regard than the annals of God’s ways with other nations. There are many things there they suppose not dignified enough for Deity. The letter sometimes contradicts itself, because it describes truth as it appears contradictory to man. They know nothing but its appearance, and religion they have heard in talk, and seen in profession; but in act, it has often appeared unlovely. Narrow conceits, instead of broad principles of exalted love and universal goodwill, have come in its venerable name. They seek for good, but have not found it. The actual in religion is not in accordance with their ideal. They ask for a help that can open heaven to the soul, and light up the dark problems of our being. Light, they say, more light. But in the name of religion they often hear strange mutterings about the blessedness of darkness, the profundity of mystery. They seek for something which will make them better in temper, higher in principle, clearer in wisdom, freer from doubt; rejoicing in the Word, stronger in struggle, unwavering in temptation, content in the present, happier in prospect, cheerfully firm in adversity, humbly grateful in prosperity, patient in sickness, smiling in death.
They are true to their own conceptions of what religion should be. They speak a word against the Son of Man, but; it is forgiven them. They know not what they do.
Perplex’d in faith, but pure in deeds,
At last, they beat their music out.
There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.
They fight their doubts, and gather strength,
They will not make their judgment blind,
They face the specters of the mind
And lay them. Thus they come at length
To find a stronger faith their own;
And power is with them in the night,
Which makes the darkness and the light,
And dwells not in the light alone.
Among those multitudes in our own country and in others, who make no profession of religion, there are many noble hearts. Among the neglected poor, the millions of the workshops and the fields, there are daily manifestations of uprightness, self-sacrifice, love of fair play and just principle, which would often shame the sectarian mind, by comparison. Many a poor woman will sit with a dying neighbor, and attend to every faint wish, night after night, not thinking of her own comfort, until death relieve her of the sacred task! Many a workman will share his last shilling with a brother son of labor, or adopt his orphan child! Yet these are loosed off from religion. They have an aversion to that which calls itself by the hallowed name. They speak a word against the Son of Man. But the day will come when their sin and blasphemy will be removed. They will see that Religion is labors truest, goodliest friend. It comes to give them Beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Their opposition was not against the spirit, but only against what they had been taught was its form. They will feel a holy influence coming over them as a voice saying, Arise! shine for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord hath arisen upon thee (Is. lx. 1).
The prejudiced feelings of good people of different religions,–the dislikes they are taught to entertain for those who differ from them,–the oppositions they utter against truths, in the creeds and in the mouths of denominations not their own, are sins of the same class. They have been taught to look upon men of other creeds, as wolves most dangerous to the hock. They see men cast out devils, but they say continually, Lord, forbid them, for they follow not with us (Mark ix. 38). They are often led to think that the devils had better remain in, unless they are cast with proper, orthodox bell, book, and candle. All this is contrary to the spirit of charity, which is the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, but it is grounded not in evil but in mistake. They forget that the same spirit may exist under many forms: eyes may be different in color, but may be equally useful for vision.
Many flowers may beautify a garden, though they are not the rose. Other sheep, said our blessed Lord, have I, that are not of this fold; them also must I bring that there may be one fold and one shepherd. I am the good shepherd and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
These sins and blasphemies, sins rather of man, not in man, the remnants of former states, or against forms not understood, these are against the Son of Man: they are against truth as it appears not as it IS; and, therefore, sooner or later, they will be removed; for ALL manner of sin and blasphemy will be remitted, BUT the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Sins of ignorance, sins of weakness, sins of mistake, sins of superstition not grounded in evil, sins against the Word owing to the appearances of the letter, when the spirit is not seen; these are all sins against the Son of Man. These can all be removed, and will be removed as the light of heaven shines brighter and brighter unto the perfect day. Like the shades of night melting into the morning; like the fog rising from the mountain as the sunbeams gather strength; so vanish the mists and chills of error, as the Sun of Righteousness arises with healing in His wings.
We rejoice to think these sins and blasphemies against the Son of Man, form a large proportion of the misdeeds of men, sins of mistake, or sins of weakness, and are removable. Mankind need helping, not depressing nor condemning. The Son of Man came not to condemn the world, but to save the world. In our early conception of men, our judgments are short and sharp. We are strict to mark, and swift to punish. But as life advances, and experience gives life–wisdom we learn to make exceptions, and take a truer view of things. In many errors we mark a soul of good. We learn that evils are sometimes done, that are inwardly abhorred. We see souls struggling who need sympathy, and the touch of brotherly kindness, to help them from the quagmire in which they are sorely straggling. Sins sometimes grow parasitically–they are round the person, but are not deeply rooted. They will fall off like scales when the inner wound is fully healed by the spirit of the Lord Jesus. In the meantime, our wisdom is to help, to cheer, to encourage, to breathe hope, to show how evils can be conquered by our example: to launch the life-boat of gospel-loving kindness, that each poor struggling sinner may be aided in the Spirit of Him who said, Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.
O, be kind to each other!
The night s coming on,
When friend and when brother
Perchance may be gone.
Then midst our dejection,
Holy sweet to have earn’d
The blest recollection
Of kindness return’d!
We come now to the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit–that terrible sin, which cannot be removed either in this world, or in that which is to come.
The sins against the Holy Spirit, are the opposites of the sins against the Son of Man.
On them, we remark, first–They are sins, not of ignorance, but of knowledge. A person must have got to see and feel the Holy Spirit, or he cannot sin against it.
Secondly–They are sins not of weakness, but of wickedness.
Thirdly–They are not sins against the letter and appearances, but against the Holy Spirit of the Word of God.
We call earnest attention to the first particular.
A person, before he can really know the Holy Spirit of the Lord, must have made much advancement in heavenly things. The spirit of religion is of difficult attainment; the knowledge of it, even, is a great thing.
The first thing we meet with in our religious career is the letter of the Word, and the letter accommodated to our low states. The first gate, of the way that lends to life, is the north gate, of the way that looketh eastward (Ezek. xlvii. 2). Or, in other words, that surface knowledge of divine things, which is obtained in the Holy Word, by the perusal of its histories, narratives, and parabolic forms. This is the surface soil of Revelation; the gems of interior wisdom are not found there. This is the stone on the wells mouth. The soul that is of the earth earthy is taken up with this. He is curious about the geography, the chronology, the interesting adornments of the gate; but he does not knock; he is not anxious to go in. He strays about for awhile, and then goes another way. The cherubim that guard the way have kept him from going to the tree of life.
Another comes, and looks more closely at the gate.
He takes account of how many bars, what adornments, what bosses, what pinnacles it has. He has heard that many people make mistakes upon these subjects, and he will set them right. He maintains, there are mysterious and perplexing forms there–that no one can understand, and he will prove it. He is satisfied the essential use of the gate is to have these figures proved, not to be opened. He challenges the universe to come and look through his spectacles, and see if these mysterious, incomprehensible figures are not there, and declares all are wicked and deserving of eternal perdition who wont say as he says upon this important point. He continues to talk, to write, to scramble, and to fight, bat he never strives to enter in. He knows nothing of the spirit that is within. He is like those mentioned in the Acts of the Apostle, who said, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Spirit (Acts xix. 2). Thousands, now, have heard of the name, but have no real acquaintance either with the Spirit of the Lord or the spirit of religion. And, if they are not disposed to take up their cross and do the work of religion, it is better that its spirit should be hid. A refined and subtle hypocrite is the most incorrigible, the most depraved, and most dangerous of men.
To guard men against this most deadly form of sin, the Lord has given His Word, as it is. To His true servants, He says, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand (Luke viii. 10). Upon all the glory, there is a covering (Isaiah iv. 5). Blessed is the ignorance that hides from a great crime. To hide the truth from one man, is as great a mercy as to reveal it to another. The man who will betray, is better without a knowledge of the treasure chambers of a palace.
Sad is it to be without a knowledge of the hidden truths of the spiritual sense of the Word: those truths, so bright, so holy, so all-embracing, so beautiful as they are; but sadder still is it to have known and loved them so as to embrace them clearly in the mind, and then, from corruptions of the heart, treat them as a villain does his courtezan, hate them interiorly while he uses them, to lure the unwary to his snores. This is to sin against the Holy Spirit.
The apostle very clearly describes the state of such persons.
For it is impossible for those who mere once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame (Heb. vi. 4, 5, 6).
Such persons have mixed good and evil together in themselves, truth and falsehood together, heaven and hell together. They have pressed on, and in, contrary to all the, Divine barriers that the mercy of the Lord hast set up, and whenever the truth that would save them is suggested, the evil with which, they have polluted it is suggested also, and destroys its power, while at the same time there is the still inner wickedness of defiant self-will, which induced so fearful a state. Thus they become spiritual monsters who WILL not, and who therefore cannot, be saved.
The Pharisees, are the scriptural illustration of this character. It was in application to them these words were said. See verse 32 of this chapter, and in Mark, after similar words, the sacred writer adds, Because they (the Pharisees) said he hath an unclean spirit.
These men were inwardly depraved. They were whited sepulchers, beautiful without, but within, full of dead mens bones, and all uncleanness. They watched the Savior, but only to betray Him. They heard His wisdom, but they only mocked. They used Scripture, but only to catch something to report, that they might ruin. They saw His wonderful works of benevolence and love, but they were only moved to prove Him a sinner, because He healed on the Sabbath. Nothing softened, nothing won them. The more He rose, the more they sunk. When they beheld Lazarus raised from the dead, it only excited them to conspire and murder such a testimony of His Divinity and their helplessness, that so their fiendishness might triumph. Divine Mercy cannot give them from such a state. Its influx only provokes more dreadful opposition. Let them alone.
Secondly: We notice this state is one, not of weakness, but of deep inward wickedness.
You will perceive it is not said who opposes the Holy Spirit, but the BLASPHEMY against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven (or removed).
This state, implies an entire destruction of the spirit of good, in ourselves. We begin life, with the germs of heaven implanted within us. We have a depraved nature from our parents, and a sanctifying nature from the Lord. He who places it there took the little ones into his arms, find said, Of such is the kingdom of heaven. Childhoods kiss is not of nature, nor of sin. It springs from the kingdom of God, within. The rainbow of love in the infants eye, is the promise that mercy dawns over it. It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. If we grow up and become as Egypt, there are Israelites in our Egypt, who may find the promised land. If, like Sodom, there will be no destruction so long as ten righteous men, or even one, be left in the city. While these interior germs of heaven be there, if we sin like Peter, the chanticleer will make his voice heard, and perchance we may go out and weep bitterly. If we be leporzied like Naaman, the little maid will still entreat, Would God that my master were with the Prophet that is in the midst of Israel. The lights of heaven within the soul only go out one by one, but if we persist in wrong-doing the time comes when the last goes out, and evil finally triumphs over the very life of good. There is then no friend of God, to open the door. He knocks, but there is no response, save an inward hissing of hate, and a certain fearful looking for of judgment. They blaspheme, not only against the Son of Man, but against the Holy Spirit. They know what goodness is, but they call it evil. They know what truth is, but when it hashes over them, like Ahab of old, they say, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy. Evil be thou my good, has become their motto, the very spirit, and hidden warp and wool of the soul. Evil is not so much with them, as in them. Their motto, like that of Milton’s Satan, is
Where’er I go is hell,
Myself am hell.
These depths of iniquity are not common in this life; Divine Providence makes them as few as possible; yet they sometimes occur, and ere the final state of every wicked man is reached, he must thus cast away every right feeling and tender thought, and become insane in sin. All other sins are removed by the workings of a merciful Savior, but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. All, therefore, who people the abodes of sorrow must come into this blasphemy. All others are saved.
Thirdly, we remark, that it is a state, not due to errors and mistakes, but a hatred of the very inward character of religion. It is not against the letter. It is against the Holy Spirit. It is the soul it hates, not the form. It hates it until it mocks and blasphemes.
The Pharisees saw the Lord’s love, but they said He seduces the people. They saw His meekness, His forbearing tenderness, but they said away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him, crucify Him. They saw the remorse of Judas at his guilt in shedding the dear blood of the most innocent.
But they growled only, What is that to us!
Such is the awful condition of those who go on from sin to sin, until they blaspheme against the Holy Spirit; for whom there is no salvation, for they will not be saved, neither in this world nor that which is to come. To be saved, means to be enlightened, to be purified, to be hallowed, to be made heavenly. There is only one power who can do these things, and that is the Holy Spirit which the sinner blasphemes, and will neither admit nor obey. The sun shines over his house but he hates the light, and closes up the windows. The fountain that would purify flows on, but he stops out the water; or if he allows the slightest amount to pass, he so defiles it, that it rather increases than lessens the impurity. What is required to be done only One can perform, and He is forbidden to enter. The non-remission of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, even, is not on account of want of mercy and love on the part of the All-merciful, but solely from the unwillingness, the obstinacy of the creature. Such a man loves darkness rather than light, defiance rather than love, virulence rather than gentleness, turbulence rather than peace, hell rather than heaven.
Over such the All-loving Savior exclaims, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, now OFTEN would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, but YE WOULD NOT (Luke xiii. 34).
Turn we now, to consider those who have not committed the sin against the Holy Spirit.
Many tender souls are often fearful lest they may have been betrayed into the unpardonable sin, or may be tending towards it, unwittingly. They feel so many frailties, so many short-comings, so much to condemn in themselves, and make so little progress, they fear they have committed this awful sin, and are blighted in all their endeavors. They lament sorely, lest this should have been done, but fear there is no hope. Sins against the Holy Spirit, however, cannot have been done unwittingly; they are sins of purpose, of intention, against the very spirit of religion. Those who have intended the right, but so far have often failed, who have wished and striven to avoid evil, but yet have found the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak; may perhaps be blamable for want of diligence, may not have been faithful enough in prayer, in reading the Word, in attendance upon the Sacraments, and the various means of grace, and so are weak when they might have been strong, but they are NOT in blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Many are astonished at the revealings of their interior evils, as their regeneration proceeds. In their early times, they found much of light, and joy, and peace. Their hearts bounded lightly in the feeling of recent deliverance, and all around was happy. They had entered on a new world. All was bright above and around. They felt vividly the presence of new life. Now, however, they seem dull, and flat, and dead. They are heedless of divine things. They drag themselves along, but it is hard work. They are disheartened, discouraged. There are principles revealed within them, at which they are astonished. They believe they are getting worse, rather than better. They mourn over themselves and are most miserable. Temptations of a fearful character beset them. They are tempted to give up religion altogether as a vain dream. Hard thoughts against Providence infest them. What have they done to be subject to sorrow like this? They hate evil, but it comes again and again, and they cannot away with it. They accuse themselves continually, and sometimes accuse Divine Providence of giving them a harder lot than others; then will come the dark suspicion, have I sinned against the Holy Spirit. Is it all over with me? That thought I cannot bear. As long as a person complains, the better nature is present, and really in the ascendant. Evils are in the external man; when we mourn about them, condemn them, condemn ourselves for suffering them, there is a better state within, that sees and judges the worse.
There is a living man, as well as a dead one. Persevere; through the life within, the Lord will restore the dead. Lazarus may have been in the grave four days; but while Martha and Mary are watching and sending to the Savior, there is a warrant for his resurrection. The sins we hate are with us, but not in us. Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? said the apostle. And, the answer is, Blessed be God, who giveth us the victory through the Lord Jesus Christ. Through His own Glorified Humanity, God in Christ redeems, restores and transforms us into His own image, and will raise us to Himself.
The soul that is in the sin against the Holy Spirit, no longer mourns, it blasphemes.
Our spiritual food, be it good or bad, enters the soul like our natural food enters the body. It is first seen, then touched and tasted, then masticated, swallowed, and digested. It then passes on into the blood, and by the blood is introduced into the tissues of the body, and becomes part of its astonishing system. At first, it is most palpable, but at each step of its progress it becomes less and less sensible to us; and when it passes into the blood, and circulates in the system, we are not conscious of its presence. It moves silently on. It acts and performs the most important functions, but it does them secretly. It becomes the body itself.
So, evil and false principles, when presented, at first are disagreeable to us. But if, alas, betrayed by the traitors within us, our aversion is overcome, and we touch and taste them. If we masticate and enjoy them, if we favor and digest them, and pass them on into the intestines of the soul, they become our living, active principles, and repel, by inward repugnance, all things holy and good. There is no interior conflict, that is over. All is silent within. The inner life of heaven has been crushed, subdued, and extirpated. It abhors and abominates purity, order, wisdom, righteousness, and heaven. It blasphemes against the Holy Spirit. So long as there is a struggle for good, a mourning over defects, a lamentation for lost states of piety, and a longing for higher grace there is no blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: While there is struggle there is life, and while there is life there is hope.
Take the case of the Pharisees as they are introduced in the Word. There is no trace of inward compunction–no struggle with themselves.
One cold, deceitful, deadly opposition appears, where the Pharisee appears, making good evil and evil good, sweet bitter and bitter sweet. Such is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Again, none are in this awful blasphemy, who do not love evil, and love it interiorly, and hate goodness maliciously, and treat it with deceit.
So long as we do not love evil, although we may not yet have thrown it fully off, the Spirit of heaven is within us, and by looking to the Lord and strengthening ourselves by His Word, we shall overcome the habits we abhor, and by little and little, all the states of mind and heart in which they have their roots. Hope, trust, persevere, and the time will come in which the long temptations will cease, and all will be well.
They are not in the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, who have NOT YET entered into the knowledge and reception of heavenly things, and not tasted of the power of the world to come. They may be in rude and deplorable evils, but they are not in this subtle and fatal one. They have never seen nor felt the Holy Spirit at all, and cannot blaspheme that of which they are ignorant. And here is the justification of a wise caution in the presentation of holy things to others. To those who are in manifest evils, we may speak, like the Baptist, of repentance, but not cast our pearls before swine, nor give that which is holy unto the dogs. The most fearful state of all, is that of those who are charmed by divine things and eater into them for a time, but who then systematically pervert and defile them. Better that we should remain ignorant, than become spiritually intelligent, and diabolical. Of all sinners, the worst is a deceitful, sanctimonious hypocrite–
A villain with a smiling face;
A goodly apple rotten at the core.
No profession, no creed, no ceremonial, nor faith, can save such a man. His heart is one mass of wrong. He has blotted out the very soul of good. His sins cannot be remitted, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come.
This was very strikingly represented by the Jewish law in relation to one who had slain a man. If a person killed another hastily or without malice, he could fly to the city of refuge, and he was safe from the avenger of blood. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile, thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die (Ex. xxi. 14).
So, we may err, in a thousand ways from ignorance, from weakness, from inconsideration, from the habits of our age, from the circumstances which have surrounded us from birth, but when we discover the wrong done, if we fly to the church, the city of refuge, and in repentance and love, lay hold of the altar of heaven, we shall be saved. No avenger of blood will be permitted to destroy us; our sin will be forgiven. The sins of ignorance and of weakness will be removed by: the prayer of penitence, at the altar of the Lord. But, if we have sinned from malice, from deceit; against light, destroying the light, and destroying the life of heaven in ourselves, although we had the light of godliness, no profession of religion, no amount of frantic appeal in the hour of death, will save us. Thou shalt take him from mine altar, and he shall die. Lastly, let me affectionately warn all who hear me, that every known evil is sin, and should be striven against and overcome.
No small sin can be persevered in without great danger. The small sin, may be the inlet, by which still greater enter. He who is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in the greatest. He who risks his great salvation for a little sin, perils an invaluable inheritance, for a great folly.
Sins of ignorance are not small, when knowledge is easily attained. When the soul has little concern for truth, it is a bad sign. Goodness loves truth, and seeks it. Goodness desires to do good, but without truth, does not know the way. Ignorance itself, when opportunity of light is afforded, is a sin. The love of the truth is the turning point of salvation. He who loves the truth will break the bonds of sin, for THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE HIM FREE. He who loves the truth, will love the Word which is the truth, and come to Him who is the Truth and the Light, and thus obtain the light of life, and his ignorance will disappear, and the sins of which it was the cause. Sins of weakness become more serious sins, if the strength to overcome them, is not diligently sought.
Weakness of character, sometimes, implies strength in obstinacy. The apathy that will not ask for strength from the Savior, who is willing to impart it, implies self-will, self-conceit, that prefers the weakness which fails again and again, to the power that would give purity and rest, and is itself a serious evil.
Oh, for the heart at all times to seek energy and persevering power from Him whose love redeemed, whose goodness saves, and who has all power in heaven and on earth.
We must never forget, that every sin persevered in, runs its career to insanity, and ends at last in the sin against the Holy Spirit. Let us arise, then, from every evil, seek the Inspirer of every good, and receive that heaven within, while we faithfully keep the commandments, which will prepare us for our everlasting home.
We have spoken of the REMISSION OF SINS, or the removal of sins, which is a GREAT TRUTH, full of comfort. This removal is done by the power of the Lord Jesus in the soul of man. We cannot leave this subject without a caution against confounding this truth, with what has so largely overlaid it in the minds of many, namely, the removal of the wrath of God, which is a GREAT MISTAKE.
The Lord Jesus came to remove sins and save sinners. He accomplished His work, and still accomplishes it in every soul that comes to Him.
For this He came; for this He redeemed; for this He died. It has been a marvelous instance of the subtlety of self-delusion, which has in many minds, substituted the idea of pacifying the Divine Wrath, for the removal of our sins. Even the words of Scripture are read, and quoted, which reiterate the assurance that our sins are removed by our Savior; there is a species of mental change of terms takes place, and we think of the removal of the wrath of one Divine Person, by the transfer of the pains and merits of another, the Lord Jesus Christ; and we overlook the great truth, that r our sins are to be removed. We think that the condemnation of our sins will be blotted out, because God has accepted our substitute for us; and, as for our sins themselves, we often imagine that we must retain them, while we have a sinful body, but we are saved from their effects. In gratitude for our deliverance from the Wrath of God, we are exhorted to live, from love to the Savior; but salvation does not depend upon it. With this persuasion, much sin is suffered to haunt the soul undisturbed, and we make ourselves comfortable with the assurance that our salvation is not in the least jeopardy; the satisfaction to the Father has been paid, and our sins will not condemn us.
There is much of fallacy, and much of danger in this. The Scriptures know nothing of paying the Father for us.
The Scriptures proclaim the REMISSION OF SINS by our Savior: the REMISSION OF SINS. We cannot too much dwell upon this truth, until it sink deeply into our hearts. Our sins dwell within us. They give us the feeling of opposition to God. They induce us to think He is angry with us. His holiness is opposed to our impurity. And, when we contemplate His holiness and His laws, and our sinfulness and disobedience, me necessarily regard Him as angry with us, and the pain we feel, as the consequence of His wrath. But the truth is, our sins separate between our God and us. Our sins must be removed by repentance on our part, and His Spirit working in us. On our part, we are to repent for the remission of sins; the Lord Jesus has redeemed us, that our sins may be removed. Never forget that REMISSION OF SINS, is the REMOVAL OF SINS. Before repentance, sins rule. Pride, self-will, obstinacy, passion, envy, hatred, malice, revenge, vanity, ostentation, contempt for others, and a thousand varieties of these: lust of gain, greed of power, thirst for applause, a defiance of law, when it can safely be done, where power or pelf is concerned, impure pleasures, all these sins and their offshoots reign within the soul. To them evil spirits and evil influences, are adjoined. There is an agreement with death, a covenant with hell. Who can break it? Who can remove these sins? The Lord Jesus can, and will. Unless He had come into the world, there would have been no remission of sins. Unless He had finished His work of redemption by dying for us, and glorifying His Humanity, there would have been no remission of sins. Without the shedding of blood, there was no remission. But He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from ALL INIQUITY, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works (Tit. n. 14). Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world (John i. 29). Thus it behoved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name, among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke xxiv. 46, 41).
The great doctrines of repentance, and the REMISSION, that is, the REMOVAL, of sins, with the unfolding of the wonders of love, in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of God our Savior, were the constant themes of apostolic preaching, and indeed of the whole testimony of the New Testament.
John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the REMISSION of sins (Mark i. 4). This is the blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many, for the REMISSION (that is, the REMOVAL) of sins. The blood of the Lord Jesus, shed on the cross, was shed for the removal of sins, because it was the lest of the redeeming acts by which hell was conquered, by whose terrible power men were held in the bondage of sin, and the inward blood of the Saviors Spirit, which flows from Him, through His Word and Sacraments, flows for the removal of sins. Whosesoever sins ye remit, (remove,) they are remitted; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained (John xx. 23). That is, I have given you the truths of the Gospel; go forth, preach, explain, and enforce them; whosesoever sins ye remove by their LIGHT and POWER, are really removed. Whosesoever sins ye retain, because they harden themselves against you, are thoroughly, deeply, ineradically retained.
When the apostles went forth, the burden of their preaching was the great lesson of DELIVERANCE FROM SIN. Thus Peter, on the day of Pentecost, Repent, and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the REMISSION OF SINS, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts ii. 38). Him hath God exalted with His right hand, a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness, REMISSION, REMOVAL OF SINS (Acts v. 31). Again, Peter, at Caesarea, To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name, whosoever believeth in Him, shall receive the REMISSION of sins (Acts x. 43).
This remission from sins, this salvation from sins, the great aim of apostolic preaching, was realized by their converts, and may be realized now. Yet, partly because we are indisposed to believe it, and shrink from real self-sacrifice and self-conquest; and partly from unwise preaching, this doctrine is strangely overlooked, and its soul-hallowing effects unattained.
It has come to be almost a maxim, even amongst professing Christians, that sin is a power that CANNOT be overthrown, and all that we have to look for, is to be saved from hell. We are not taught to pray, with a confident faith that it can be done. Cleanse me from my sin (Ps. ii. 2). Blot out mine iniquities (ver. 9). Wash away my sins (Rev. i. 5).
Cleanse us by thy Divine Blood, O Lord Jesus, from all sin (1 John i. 7); from all unrighteousness (ver. 9). But a decrepit, a shred faith is loudly preached, instead.
Instead of the stalwart faith of believing all that the Lord Jesus teaches, believing in His everlasting Love, believing in His everlasting Wisdom, believing that we must repent, believing that all our sins can be subdued by the power of our Savior, received in persevering confidence and love, believing that we must keep the commandments, believing that the Divine Providence watches over, around, and within us, with infinite tenderness, care, and foresight, believing that we shall know the truth, if we follow on to know the truth, and the truth will make us free, and as God’s freemen, we shall enjoy this world, and heaven and happiness will be ours; instead of this faith, that overcomes the world (1 John v. 4), a flimsy faith is preached, and mens ears are dinned, stunned we might almost say, with a monotonous tune, having only one note. Believe, believe, believe!
Saving Faith is made to consist, not in reverently and lovingly accepting all the truth, that we see, and OBEYING it, but in believing one fact, and one falsehood, curiously blended together. Jesus died for us, which is not a fact that almost everyone in Christendom believes, and that His death saves from the wrath of His Father, which is not a fact, for God so loved the world that He sent His Only-begotten Son, (His Humanity, begotten of Himself,) that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life (John iii. 16).
This miserable substitute for the Divine Faith of the Gospel, multitudes accept, and hold in unrighteousness. They are told they can believe in five minutes, and all will be right. God will be satisfied and heaven will be theirs, and they conclude as it is so short and simple a matter, they will be sure to have five minutes, and a large margin, in their last illness; and notwithstanding a life of sin, they will escape hell. Others accept this Gospel, now, and leave the grosser sins of impiety, unchastity, intemperance, and neglect of the worship of God; but the less obtrusive sins, their faith is powerless to remove. And there is a sort of persuasion, which is again a curious compound, partly, that these sins are too much for the Gospel, which means that they are too much for the Almighty Savior to overcome; and, partly, that they are not of much consequence; they are only in the body, and will be put off with the body.
Swearing is given up, but not the peevish temper, the ungovernable violence, the bitter passion, the hot hastiness, which formed the base of swearing, and still cause the great miseries of home. Downright theft is not allowed, but the daily frauds of false advertisements, the lies which fraudulently palm inferior goods upon people; the hypocrisies of daily life; the pretensions to be what we are not; the smooth sleek frauds by which wide confidence is won and cheated; these lurk, and corrupt in ten thousand ways, and are scarcely touched by the tinsel faith of which we have spoken.
Men are recommended TO BE GOOD, for the love of the Savior, but they are told, also, that salvation does not depend upon this, it depends ONLY upon their having the faith which they are told to have, and they choose the easier way.
But, O how the Savior is dishonored by this, how is Christianity mocked, man cheated, and society cursed by it!
God our Father, descended in the Son, to subdue sin. He conquered all hell, that was its support. He glorified His Humanity, that He might always be, God with us. His Holy Spirit is ever near. And yet, we fear, He cannot subdue sin, in us. Oh what infatuation!
Sin is not an institution, not a necessity: it is a plague, and a curse. Sin is only a power, while it imposes upon you. Drag the mask off it; look at it as your enemy; look at your own sin, and look at your Savior. An incipient hell, is in every sin. Pray, labor, read the Word daily for light, comfort, and strength; agonize, persevere, and your sins, like Marys, will be removed, for you love much (Luke vii. 47).
As soon as you heartily come to Him, your sins are removed. They were in the active center of your soul, but He will remove them to the circumference. He will hold them, like muzzled lions, unable to harm yen. He will cast them so far that you cannot see them. He will make them like things forgotten, buried in the depth of the sea (Ps. ciii. 12; Mic. Vii. 9). If, when you have gathered strength, they come again, they will only come so tempered, and so, one by one, that you will be able to destroy them. Come, and receive this REMISSION, this REMOVAL of your sins.
Your temper may be hasty and violent; do not be discouraged; you shall become a lamb; take up your cross. Fear not, the Lord is with you. Your bad habits may have been long confirmed; again, fear not; the new man shall be formed in you in righteousness and true holiness.
You are mistrustful, that in this fraudulent state of the world, your business will be ruined, if you do justly, speak the truth, and are honest in all things; again, have faith, fear not. He who has all power in heaven and on earth, is on your side. Uprightness, integrity, truth, courtesy, diligence, virtue, have all their worth, and infinitely outweigh fraud, even in this world. All manner of sin and blasphemy will be removed, but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit; and you have not that, for you are concerned for your salvation, and you seek the Spirits help.
Again, my beloved friends, fear nothing; enter upon this holy work. Look at your especial sin, and fight against it. Oh, you will have such victories, if you will struggle against vexed home will become the abode of peace. A weary and harassed life will be transformed into a firm career, abounding in pleasant duties, hopeful and honorable. Every cloud will have, for you, a silver lining; every sorrow, a deep soul of inward peace. Do not delay. Begin now. It is a life’s work, but when begun, there is a lifes joy. You are not called to be melancholy, but to be happy. This world is gods world, not hells. For you, it will be a world of increasing bliss, as your inner world comes into order.
When your sins are remitted, these four signs will follow
First: You will delight in worshiping the Lord. Your soul will gush over with gratitude. Emotions of love and joy will often prompt the tear of tenderness, and the burst of faith. O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever.
Second: You will love to serve your neighbor. You will wish to do him good. You will delight to learn truth that you may do him good especially you will delight in the Word. You will look round to see how you can serve mankind, doing good for the sake of good, and believing truth for truths sake. You will rejoice in every opportunity of use, and in justly fulfilling your greatest use, the especial duties of your daily office and employment.
Third: You will shrink from all thought of merit, in anything you do. You will exalt the Lord, and subdue self.
Fourth: You will more and more dislike all evils, shunning them, holding them in aversion as hateful things, irrespective of their punishments.
You would not do them if you could. But you will daily follow whatsoever things ore true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report (Phil. iv. 8). If these signs are with you then rejoice. Heaven is in you, and die when you may, you will go to heaven.
Author: Jonathan Bayley—Twelve Discourses (1862)