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promised blessings of Messiah's kingdom. These certainly were no mean attainments. It is plain that much of christian life and grace was theirs. Hence they must have had an adequate experimental acquaintance with the truth, sufficiency and Divine authority of the christian religion. Who does not see then, if under such circumstances they would “ fall away”—apostatize, that they must seal up their hearts against the most decided convictions, and brave with inflexible hardiness all the right impulses of their nature. I lay it down then as a settled position, that the unpardonable sin comprises opposition to the Gospel against the clear convictions of conscience.
4. But extremely hazardous and aggravated as it is to sin against ight and conscience, this sin is still not absolutely unpardonable. It is possible for us to conceive of such circumstances, but perilous would be the experiment, in which a man might sin against the clear convictions of his heart-in which he might oppose the Gospel when he as distinctly and decidedly knew that he was in the wrong as the damned in hell are satisfied of their errors, and yet upon a subsequent change of his outward relations, and the return of similar spiritual influences might still yield his opposition, repent and be saved. I do not say that such instances ever have occurred, nor that any such ever will occur ; but simply that such a thing is conceivable. There is still an additional consideration which determines the unpardonable character of this opposition to the Gospel. It is not only opposition against the clear convictions of conscience; but it is resolved opposition of this sort at a particular crisis in the history of the individual—at a time when the motives and influences for acceptance of, or perseverance in the christian faith have reached their highest possible extent, and when a decision in the opposition would place him in such a state and such circunstances as must forever preclude the return of such seasons, privileges and influences. This is what I understand by the unpardonable sin. Let us see then how far I am borne out by the text.
First then for the case of the Pharisees. Of course we have not time for all the details; but when we look at their conduct toward the Savior all along, we see from the commencement a deep and settled opposition to him and to his cause, which daily grew in intensity until it finally effected his crucifixion on Mount Calvary. We see too in all that prolonged and bitter hostility a constant and delib
erate war against their own consciences, and all the gracious influences that were at work for their salvation. But nowhere in their history was there such a peculiar and mighty appeal made to them by the Savior, as that which occasioned those awful words. Christ had just performed in their presence one of his most astounding miracles, by healing a poor blind and dumb demoniac. The peculiarity of this miracle was, says Chalmers, that "it was just such an one as the Pharisees themselves were accustomed to look upon with veneration, and had viewed as an example of successful hostility against the empire of darkness.” The casting out of devils was a work to which they pretended, and which they ever ascribed to a direct agency of Divine power. This is the circumstance which gave this appeal its peculiar force. They had opposed him in the face of all his other miracles. They beheld the blind seeing—the deaf hearing—the lame walking—the sick rising from their couches in perfect health—and the very dead coming up from the putrid grave by the mysterious power which accompanied the man of sorrows. They heard the cry of conviction, and felt it in their own hearts—“Is not this the Christ ?” But in the face of it all, they clung with unyielding tenacity to the desperate intent to crush the Savior's growing authority. An appeal, with essentially the same force, and with the additional circumstance of its being grounded upon their own settled principles, was now made. The evidence of Christ's messiahship was now put upon a basis to be exerted to the very utmost of its controlling power upon their hearts. Things had evidently reached a crisis. The turning point was not whether they would ascribe the work of the Holy Ghost in the miracle before them to Satan, or pass it by in silence as they had done on other occasions. I cannot see how the mere ascription of the Spirit's work to Satan can be a greater sin than to call the Son of God a devil, which they did. Certainly the Son and the Spirit are equal, and the sin and blasphemy of calling one a devil, is none the less pardonable than to call the other a devil. This ascription of the miracle before them to Beelzebub was certainly only an outward expedient expressive of something which existed in their hearts. And as Christ always estimated guilt as it existed in the heart, and not merely as it was expressed in the word or deed, we have reason to believe that he referred to that secret something, more than to this particular outward blasphemy, when he uttered
that awful sentence. The plainest and most consistent view of the matter is, that the opposition to Jesus Christ which had so long and so fiercely been carried on,, was now brought to a crisis. The claims of the Savior were here put upon the ground which gave them the highest possible advantage. If the Jews would now yield to these claims in humble penitence, there was yet salvation for them; but if they still pressed their opposition against the open conclusions of their own settled and avowed principles, certainly there could be no hope for them in time or in eternity. And press their opposition they did. Rather than own the hand of God, or submit to the demonstration of his power in the miracle before them, they went round the whole compass of their principles, and quashed the voice of every one of them. Seizing upon the miserable and impious plea, that Christ cast out devils by Beelzebub the prince of the devils, they spurned a Savior from their hearts. Yes, with conscience strung to its utmost tension, and pouring out its anathemas against them furious and terrible as Sinai's thundersdriven to the blasphemous alternative of ascribing to Satan the prerogatives of the Holy Ghost—and right under the eyes of him whom they could not fail to be convinced was the Messiah, they deliberately resolved not to submit to the authority of Jesus Christ. Such circumstances thus passed through could never again return to them. That act gave them an impetus in the direction of wrong which no moral influences could ever arrest. It set a precedente for their consciences, (for conscience acts from precedent in individual history as men do from precedents in the history of society,) which rendered it eternally impossible for conviction to return to them with the same degree of clearness and force. So that from the very nature of the case, it was an act which determined their destiny, and sealed their perdition. They threw themselves into the wrong side of the balance when the only question was salvation or damnation. So that from this case at least it would appear, that the unpardonable sin was correctly stated to be, resolved opposition to the Gospel just at the crisis when everything is in league to have us submit to its authority.
In the 10th of Hebrews the same thing is implied, though not brought out with the same clearness as in the case of the Phari
To “sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth,” i. e. to forsake the assembling of ourselves to
gether, and renounce our profession, when at the same time we have a perfect acquaintance with our duty in the case, evidently im. plies downright opposition to the Gospel, and that too under moral influences which call most urgently for perseverance in the christian faith. For those guilty of such procedure, there remaineth only “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation," because they have deliberately renounced the only plan of salvation, and that under circumstances more favorable than any that might again occur.
34. And as for the text, “Those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gist, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,” certainly possessed every advantage on the side of their perseverance. Experience is the most conclusive of all testimony. By the processes of logical induction we may be led to reliable conclusions ; by mathematical demonstration our minds may be compelled to give assent to certain propositions.But the experience of a truth clothes it with a controlling power which it does not otherwise exert upon us. This advantage was theirs. For them then to “fall away"-with deliberate calculation in the face of all their convictions and blissful participations, to relinquish their christian profession, there would be no more hope of restoration. Falling from such a height, the shock would * be too great, the consequences would be too serious for them ever again to reach their former position. Their sin would be unpardonable, because it would be a relinquishment of the only way under heaven in which they might be saved, and just at the time too when everything within them and about them to the utmost possible extent weighed down the scale on the side of their salvation.
This view will receive some further support from a class of texts which were not presented at the regular place lest their pertinency should be questioned. I refer to the sixth of Genesis, where we read_“And the Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man;" and to a few similar passages in the apostolic writings, such
Quench not the Spirit ;" “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God,” &c. The great province of the Holy Spirit is, to “convince men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come”—to give life and efficiency to the Gospel in all its claims and gracious proclama.
tions. Without the operations of this sacred agency none could be brought to the knowledge of the truth or the glories of heaven. Whether the influences of this Spirit ever entirely ceased to be exerted upon any individual previous to the hour of death, I am not prepared to affirm. But it is a matter of experience and of revelation, that if they do not cease to be exerted, they not unfrequently cease to be felt to anything like a saving degree long before the period of this life is reached. There is a principle of pliability in our nature which renders us susceptible of nearly any kind of physical, mental, or moral education. Every one will find by reference to his own experience, that when once accustomed to a certain regimen, it in time becomes so effectually a part of our nature as often to pass beyond our power to change it. Long indulgence in vice often totally unfits a man for the practice of virtue. The cultivation and continual exercise of any particular mental faculty for years, begets a sort of necessity which makes the subsequent performance of its functions a matter of course. So also in a man's conduct under the influences of the Spirit of God. By closing up the soul against its illuminations—refusing to obey its promptings— and stilling in their incipiency all its saving influences, and frequently repeating this mode of dealing with the heavenly Messenger, a habit of resistance is contracted which continually grows and strengthens, until the soul becomes so perfectly skilled in the work as to go through the whole minutia of its performance in utter unconsciousness. This is certainly what is meant by quenching the Spirit. To this sad state many doubtless arrive long before death. And when a man has once gone thus far, he is lost as certainly as he exists. His soul shall go down to death, because no more capable of being moved by any softening emotions.
It is evident too, that in his passage from a salvable to this unpardonable state, there was a certain crisis at which his destiny was decided. Up to that point there still was hope, but after that none; because his resistance had then gone so far—the habit grown so strongthe fetters so tightly rivited as to render it impossible for him to overcome them--to repent--or to believe. I feel then that I am fully borne out by the Scriptures in the statement which I have made, that the unpardonable sin is resolved opposition to the Gospel against the clear convictions of conscience, and at a time--a time which occurs in the history of every individual, when circumstances have narrowed the whole matter to a crisis.