« PreviousContinue »
so that to maintain it we must either ignore obvious facts, or bid defiance to them. Let us briefly consider them.
1. Assuming that our Divine Master intended to teach what his words here literally taken seem to mean, namely, that there is one sin which is absolutely irremissible, is it not strange beyond expression that he should never have repeated so remarkable a declaration ? That the three passages at the head of this Article are what are called parallel, that is, different reports of the same discourse, seems too obvious to require proof, and we remember scarcely a single author of respectability who has seriously called it in question. It is the remark of Stier, in his “ Words of Jesus," when speaking of these passages, that “the identity of all the particular parts of the discourse, which are as strongly marked as they are closely connected, is too great in this case to admit the supposition of a repetition.” St. Luke, it will be observed, gives the Saviour's words in the briefest and simplest form, without any notice of the particular occasion that called them forth, while St. Matthew is very explicit upon this point, and St. Mark's narrative seems naturally to imply it. But whatever one Evangelist omits, and another adds, there can be no doubt that we have here but a single discourse, reported by these three Evangelists in essentially the same way, and we have not the slightest evidence, not the faintest hint, that our Lord ever repeated it or even alluded to it on any other occasion ! Assuming the common interpretation, can this be possible ?
2. Then we beg the reader to reflect that St. John, the disciple whom Jesus specially loved, not only does not report this discourse of our Divine Master, but does not even make the slightest allusion to it in his Gospel. How is this strange oniission to be accounted for? He was a disciple from the first, and appointed one of the twelve Apostles. With Peter and James he was generally associated on all occasions when Jesus desired a few faithful witnesses, but chose not to have the whole company of the Apostles with him. He must there. fore have personally heard these remarkable words of the Master, or they must have been immediately reported to him
by the other Apostles. It is impossible that the announcement of an unpardonable sin could have been heard by them without exciting attention and provoking remark. Yet St. John, in writing his Gospel, makes no mention of it. How are we to account for a fact like this, on the supposition that the Apostle understood the words of Christ in the orthodox way, and wished to deal honestly with his readers ?
3. In the Acts of the Apostles, we have a history of the founding of the Christian Church, as well as the preaching and multiplied labors of the Apostles for many years after our Lord's death, and resurrection, and ascension. It was a period distinguished by great activity, and was filled by great discussions and controversies. Yet in all the discourses there recorded, we meet with no mention, nor even a hint, of the unpardonable sin. The infant Church was struggling with persistent and uncompromising enemies, and never was there a better opportunity, or a more fitting occasion, to remind wicked men of the danger to which they were exposed of committing the sin against the Holy Spirit, and so subjecting themselves to endless damnation. But no such use was made of our Saviour's words. How is this to be explained ?
4. Then we have a large number of Epistles written by the Apostles to different churches and individuals during their age. These epistles make an important part of the New Testament, and from their very nature treat upon a great number of topics, being designed to instruct, warn, correct, encourage and reprove the Apostles' fellow Christians, and build them up in the faith of the Gospel and holiness of life. Yet here, as elsewhere, we look in vain for any mention of this irremissible sin, nor is there in the whole New Testament, excepting the three texts at the head of this Article, any reference or intelligible allusion to it.
Now if the Saviour actually taught what the religious world assumes to be the meaning of these words, the Apostles should certainly have understood it, and been as familiar with it, and as deeply impressed by it, as our divines are at the present day; and it is not simply strange, but utterly unaccountable,
that they should never have spoken of it, never urged it upon the attention of their Christian brethren and the world, and not so much as given a hint of it in all their ministry.
We are not ignorant that theologians have discovered a few passages, - not exceeding half-a-dozen,- such as Hebrews vi. 4, and x. 26, 2 Peter ii. 10 and 20, and 1 John v. 16, which they have persuaded themselves teach, if not the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, at least something that is in some way analogous to it. To this list of cognate texts Dr. Schaff generously adds the sin of Judas in betraying bis Master. Now it hardly need be said that any examination of these passages in their connections would immediately convince a candid inquirer that however they are to be interpreted, they have no relation to the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. In no one of them is there any allusion to that special, that peculiar sin. The writers use no phraseology that can in any manner associate them with it. Besides, if they seem to speak of unpardonable sins, our Saviour himself, it should be observed, expressly forbids such an inference, since he plainly declares that all other sins and blasphemies are pardonable and can be forgiven, except only the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.
5. In the writings of what are called the Apostolic Fathers, assumed to be the earliest Christian writings after the Apostles themselves, - though unworthy of such teachers and of the age to which they are supposed to belong,— the same profound silence continues in respect to an unpardonable sin, no mention being made of it, and no allusion to it being found. And we may here be allowed to add, that in the works of the Church Fathers, Bishops and Doctors, for fifteen centuries, the subject seems to have attracted far less attention than its grave importance would naturally justify us in expecting. When mentioned, it is generally in a very cursory manner, while the few who treat it at any length show clearly how perplexing and unmanageable a topic they regarded it. Since
1 Calmet, Dissert. sur le Péché contra le S. Esprit, does indeed refer to Hermas similitude VI., 6, 8, 9, for a notice of this sin, but while Hermas speaks of some who “ blasphemed the name of the Lord,” he says nothing of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.
the Reformation, and probably within the last hundred and fifty years, there have appeared in the Protestant world alone, we venture to say, ten times as many discussions of the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, as can be found in the whole range of Christian literature now remaining for the first fifteen centuries.
6. Finally, the fact should not be overlooked by thoughtful and candid men, that the doctrine of an absolutely unpardonable sin, is not only unique and exceptional in the highest degree, but stands in direct opposition to both the letter and spirit of the Gospel. If there is anything clear and settled in the New Testament, if anything is taught expressly and by constant implication, it is that Christ is the appointed and all. sufficient Saviour of the world ; that the purpose of his mission was to redeem all men from their iniquities, and make them meet through repentance and regeneration for the sanctities and joys of heaven. John the Baptist proclaimed him as the Lamb of God " that taketh away the sin of the world,” while John the Apostle represents him as declaring that “God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life”; and in one of his epistles he affirms that “ Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” He makes no exception, and obviously recognizes no unpardonable sin. St Paul, in like manner, preached to the Athenians that while God winked at the times of pagan ignorance, He now “commands all men everywhere to repent”; and we know that to the repentant the promise of forgiveness is extended. As Bishop Latimer, an early martyr in the English Reformation, when speaking upon this subject, well said: “ The promises of our Saviour Christ are general ; they pertain to all mankind; he made a general proclamation, saying, “Whosoever believeth in me hath everlasting life.' Likewise St. Paul saith : • The grace and mercy of God exceedeth far our sins.' Also consider what Christ said with his own mouth : Come
all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' Mark he here saith, Come, all ye’! Wherefore,
then, should anybody despair or shut himself from the prom ises of Christ, which be general, and pertain to the whole world ?" 2
Omitting, then, what is said of the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost in this single discourse of our Lord, it is safe to affirm that the New Testament teaches, from beginning to end, that all sinners ought to repent, and are therefore within reach of the Divine mercy, and that such mercy is freely promised to sinners who sincerely repent and believe the Gospel, whatever their offences may be. If in the Old Testament the cry was, Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters,” in the New it is not less clear or emphatic, “ The spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come; and whosoever will let him take the water of life freely.” As the Old Testament knows no irremissible sin, but calls to sinners indiscriminately, saying, “ Come now let us reason together, saith the Lord : Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool”; so in the New we have the assurance that, “ If we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.'
But passing these various facts and considerations, which we are sure no candid person can regard as trifling or unimportant, we now come to the fundamental inquiry, What is the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost ?. In the case of a sin that stands so far apart from all others, and infinitely transcends them, there should be, one would naturally suppose, no difficulty in giving it a clear definition. Alone irremissible, it must be marked by features that can not fail clearly to distinguish it. It must bear insignia at once broad and unmistakable, so that no one, learned or ignorant, should miss its instant recognition.
Yet, strange to say, there is, perhaps, in the whole round of theological inquiry, no subject on which there rests a denser cloud of uncertainty, or about which there is a wider diversity of opinion. Take up a dozen commentaries, and you may find
2 Sermons. Parker Society Publications. P. 463.