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THE UNPARDONABLE SIN.
Heb. vi. 4—8. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have
tasted of the heavenly gist, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 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 unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drink. eth in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God. But that which beareth thorns and briars is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing ; whose end is to be burned.
In announcing these words as the subject of a popular discourse, I am conscious that a dreary road and a heavy task lie before me. First, because of the great obscurity in which long and fruitless controversy has involved them; and secondly, because of the acknowledged difficulty attending the subject of which they treat.The thing itself, however, is so important, and the reward which is in reserve for him who shall succeed in giving a clear and satisfactory exposition of it is so brilliant, that I shall not suffer myself to be embarrassed by the probability of a failure, or by any fears of encroaching upon the authority of creeds or of councils. My object shall be, in a common sense way, (for common sense is always the best law of interpretation,) to present as far as I may be able, what I humbly conceive to be the obvious meaning of the text, and the true nature of the fatal deed of which it speaks.
The subject of the text, as must strike every one, is the unpardonable sin. The apostle explicitly declares it “impossible for those who were once enlightened, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance.” It is the same fatal offense of which Christ, and John, and Paul have spoken in different portions of the Bible. The compilers of the marginal references which we find accompanying the Scriptures, have coupled the text with those passages which speak of the unpardonable sin; and all the circumstances of the case go on to show, that this is the particular subject which the apostle wished to bring to the view of his readers.
The design of the apostle rendered the introduction of this subject at this stage of his argument very appropriate, and beautifully
illustrates his oratorial address. He had just introduced the priesthood of Melchizedek as that after which the priesthood of Messiah was particularly patterned. He well knew that such an announcement must excite the prejudices and contempt of the Jews—that all the cherished associations of their civil and religious institutions would be roused into opposition to the entertainment of such a declaration—and that many, even of those who had previously respected and embraced christianity, would be likely to look upon it as such an impious depreciation of all that they were accustomed to hold sacred as to refuse to be any longer identified with the religion of Jesus. Paul's wisdom was now called into requisition to prevent such an anticipated apostasy. To this end, as well as to lead scoffers to the careful consideration of a subject which is properly viewed must fasten conviction on the heart, he proceeds to lay before them the awful consequences which would inevitably follow that course of conduct which he describes in the text. He, the most solemnly declares, that if they should apostatize, enlightened and privileged as they were, it would be forever impossible for them to be again restored. It is thus by the terrors of an unpardonable sin that he compels them to duty.
The nature of this unpardonable sin bas in the main been a matter of mystery, and often of painful embarrassment. The principal reason is, that the passages in which it is spoken of, in order to be accommodated to human systems, theories and creeds, have had so many subtle speculations heaped upon them, and have been so much encumbered with the redundancies of learning, as to bewilder any common inquirer after truth, and to drive him away from its investigation with the deep impression upon his mind that it is some great and unfathomable secret not intended for the
comprehension of mortals. But that this impression is erroneous, it seems to me can be clearly shown. And though we may not be able at once to comprehend clearly every circumstantial modification of this thing ; yet, the great matter which concerns us is conceived to be sufficiently clear for all to understand.
1. In order then to show that there is really such a thing as an unpardonable sin recognized in the Divine economy as it respects this world, as well as to have distinctly before us what the Bible says on the subject, I will here present the most important and striking passages. The first is from 1 John, v. 16. “If any man
see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give them life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death : I do not say that he shall pray for it.” The second is from Matthew xii. 31, 32. “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” The same with a little verbal alteration is repeated by Mark and Luke. The third is from Hebrews x. 26, 27. “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries.” To which is to be added the text under consideration : “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 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 unto repentance."
2. From these words it seems plain, that the primary featurethe foundation and root of the unpardonable sin is, opposition to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The passage from John is so brief, that we can learn from it very little more than the fact of the possibility for men to commit a sin for which there shall be no forgiveness. As to what this sin is, he says nothing. A mere glance at the circumstances which occasioned those awful words of the Savior from Matthew, will show, that opposition to Christ was the essential feature of the sin there denounced. From the beginning of Christ's public ministry the Pharisees were his implacable enemies, and labored continually for the suppression of his authority. And the most outrageous expression which their settled opposition to him ever received, was that which immediately preceded and occasioned the utterance of these terrible words. The apostle in the 10th of Hebrews characterizes the unpardonable sin, as a wilsul sin against the truth. This of course implies opposition to the Gospel. And in the text he designates it as apostasy from the christian faith, which of course also implies opposition to the Gospel. It is to be received then as a settled point, that the foundation and root of the unpardonable sin is opposition to the Gospel.
3. Opposition to the Gospel, however, may proceed from divers motives, and may be carried on by different individuals under different circumstances, with different degrees of criminality. Far be it from me to say that all opposition to the Gospel is sin for which there is no forgiveness. Thousands we have reason to hope are this day rejoicing with the redeemed, who were once illustrious among the opposers of christianity. Paul, and Bunyan, and Rochester found upon repentance of their fearful guilt that there was even mercy and pardon for them. That opposition to the Gospel which is unpardonable, and which constitutes the fatal deed spoken of in the text, is opposition under peculiar circumstances-opposition to the Gospel against the clear convictions of conscience. This seems also to be clearly expressed in the passages which I have presented.
The Savior says, “ whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him.” By the “Holy Ghost” here, we are doubtless to understand the Spirit of God—the operating energy proceeding from the Father and the Son. Not considered however in that limited sense in which the Divine spirit was promised to the disciples as the “Comforter;" (for it is altogether a mistaken notion that there was no dispensation of the Spirit prior to the day of Pentecost ;) but in the sense in which it is said, “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” We are to understand by it that Divine energy by which Christ performed his miracles. In the 28th verse he distinctly declares that it was by the “ Spirit of God” he accomplished those wonders which crowded upon bis footsteps. These miracles, whose authorship is thus ascribed to the Holy Ghost, were all intended as the proofs of Christ's Divine mission and messiahship. They were the grand evidences to which he appealed in vindication of his authority. They were the “ signs and wonders” which testified to the Divinity of the Gospel, and pressed home upon the hearts and consciences of men its indisputable claims. And they were evidences 100 which none could innocently resist. They were evidences tangible to the senses, and which adequately testified to every conscience that Jesus was the Christ. What was it then to speak against, or blaspheme the Holy Ghost-what could it have been, but a refusal to be controlled by this incontrovertible testimony? To persevere in opposition to the Gospel under such circumstances, was virtually to make the
Holy Ghost a liar, and to trample the high behests of conscience in the dust.
Paul says, “ if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins." And to sin designedly—to oppose the Gospel after being fully satisfied that it is good and true, is unquestionably to sin against light and against all moral feeling.
And the text declares it “ impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 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 unto repentance." To show more satisfactorily that the sin here described is opposition to the Gospel against the most decided convictions, I must call your attention to the precise characters of whom, in case of apostasy, restoration is declared impossible. They are such as “were once enlightened.” To be enlightened, is to be acquainted with duty—to know the truth. They saw then from the agreement of the apostles with the prophets, and of the prophecies with their accomplishments, that Jesus was the Messiah, and that his religion was Divine. They had also “ tasted of the heavenly gist.” The pre-eminent gift of heaven is a Savior to redeem us. To taste, is to experience—to know from personal participation. Hence they had experienced for themselves Christ's saving power. They were moreover partakers of the Holy Ghost.” To partake of the Holy Ghost, is to share in his influences. His influences are enlightening, renewing, sanctifying and confirming. In these gracious influences they had shared. They had “ tasted the good word of God," i. e. They had experienced and relished the excellency of the truth of God. They did not merely admire it for its poetry—its sublimity-its argument; but for its good—its adaptation to their wants—its truth -its glorious promises: a relish which the wicked on no occasion display. They had also“ tasted the powers of the world to come.” The world to come among the Jews denoted the dispensation of Messiah. In this dispensation there have been extraordinary and sacred powers put forth. The preaching of a perpetual ministry and the peculiar influences of the Holy Ghost are powers which belong to the christian economy. These powers they had personally experienced—shared-relished. They had partaken of the