THE UPARDOABLE SI.

BY DAVID J. VAUGHA, M.A.,
Matthew xii. 32.
Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven
him : but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Qhost, it shall not be
forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
TJ^EW, if any, of the words of Jesus have given occasion to so
•^ much searching of heart as these. They have compelled
the question, — asked, sometimes out of curiosity, sometimes
out of a feeling much deeper than curiosity, — * What is the
unpardonable sin ? ' And, beyond this, they have suggested to
some minds, trembling on the brink of religious insanity, the
further question : * This unpardonable sin, have I committed
it?'
We must look, first of all, at the connection in which the
words stand ; and, next, at St. Mark's version of them ; and
then we shall be prepared, I think, to discuss and apply them
with advantage and profit. God help us to do so : for, indeed,
the task is an arduous one.
Sl Matthew is describing, in this chapter from which our
text is taken, the progress of the great controversy between
Jesus and the Pharisees. His description embraces three
separate stages or points in the controversy. The first of these
stages turns upon the use and abuse of the sabbath day ; the
B B 2
373 THE UPARDOABLE SI. [SER.
second, upon the source whence Jesus drew his power to heal
the sick in mind, as well as the sick in body ; the third, upon
the demand for a sign from heaven. The words of our text
come under the second of the three. An extraordinary case of
possession had been brought to Jesus ; and the cure effected
by Him had been radical and instantaneous. * Then was
brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind and dumb ;
and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both
spake and saw.' Two theories were at once started as to the
origin of the power, by which Jesus had achieved so great and
beneficent a result The simple-hearted unsophisticated people
by whom he was surrounded at the moment asked one another,
whether any but the Messiah could work such a wonder. The
Pharisees, on the other hand, of whom there were many in the
crowd, propounded, by way of counter-explanation, the extra-
ordinary theory, that the evil spirit had been dispossessed by
virtue of an authority and a commission derived from the very
Spirit of Evil himself. ' All the people were amazed, and said,
Is not this the Son of David ? But when the Pharisees heard
it,' — heard this popular explanation of the matter, — * they said.
This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the
prince of the devils.' It is in the course of the reply of Jesus to
this theory of the Pharisees, — in the course of his refutation of it,
his exposure of its folly and its wickedness, — that we come upon
the words : * 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.' If we would understand the words aright, we
must keep carefully in view the occasion which drew them out,
and the audience to which they were addressed.
The importance of this will be more strongly felt by us,
when we turn for a moment to consult St. Mark's version of
XXXVII.] THE UPARDOABLE SI. 373
the words. You will find it in Mark iii. 28, 29 : 'Verily I say
unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and
blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme : but he
that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never
forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation : ' upon
which St. Mark adds, by way of explanation, the important
comment, — * Because they said. He hath an unclean spirit.*
To such straits were the Pharisees driven by their hatred of
Jesus, that they were even so foolish and so wicked as to say,
* He who dispossesses the unclean spirits is himself possessed
by an unclean spirit, stronger and more potent than they.' It
seems a piece of almost incredible folly and wickedness on
their part : yet so it was.
ow here it becomes necessary to point your attention to a
question of words, which is really also a question of things.
You will see^ by referring to Matthew xii. 31, that two
important words in the second half of the verse are printed
in italics, to show that there is nothing answering to them
in the original. Our authorized English version runs thus :
* All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto
men : but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not
be forgiven unto men,' — the words ^ against^ and ^ Holy*
being printed in italics. ow these italics serve as a kind
of danger-signal to the English reader, to put him upon
his guard and warn him against laying too much stress upon,
or attaching over much importance to, words, which are
supplied by the translators, and which may, or may not, be
required by the original. In this particular instance the sup-
plied words are certainly not required. They are not a help,
but a mischief, to the sense ; and it is almost beyond a doubt
that we ought to read the passage, not as it stands in our
English Bibles, but thus, or to this effect : * All manner of sin
and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men : but the blasphemy
of the spirit shall not be forgiven : ' — the * spirit' spoken of here
being, not the Holy Spirit of God, but the human spirit of the
374 THE UPARDOABLE SI. [SER.
man himself; and * the blasphemy of the spirit' being that
blasphemy which has its seat in the spirit and will of the man,
that is, in the very centre and core of his being, whence all
thought and feeling and desire and volition spring and radiate.
* The blasphemy of the spirit ' is, in fact, a poisoning of himian
nature at its very roots ; such a poisoning of the spiritual nature
as makes a man in effect say to evil, * Be thou my good.'
We shall see presently, I think, how important this necessaiy
correction of our authorized English version is, and what a
light it sheds upon the meaning of Jesus. In addition to this,
there is yet another question of words that deserves to be taken
notice of. St. Mark has : ' He that shall blaspheme against
the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of
eternal damnation.' I must not say there is no doubt, but I
think I may safely say there is liti/e doubt, that the word which
the Evangelist really wrote was not the word which we translate
by the English * damnation ' or * judgment,' but was a word
which must be translated into English as ' sin.' ^ He that shall
blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but
will be in danger of eternal sin.' ow this, too, is important,
because it helps us to see, that tAa/ against which Jesus aims
these tremendous words of his is not some rash and hasty
utterance of the lips, however wicked and blasphemous it might
be, but is a state, — not an o^, a single act ; but a j/o^, a
settled state, — a state of the heart and spirit and will, — a, state of
the man himself, — a. state which, once come to, could hardly
fail to be permanent, everlasting, utichanged by death—
unchangeable, it might even be, beyond death.
So far a questioning of the mere words will carry us towards
a right understanding of the meaning of Jesus, but no further.
And at this point it may not be amiss to compare the language
in which the prophet Isaiah denounces some of the worst evils
of his own time — a time, which (as we learn from our Lord's
own use of Isaiah's words on another occasion) had much in
common with the time pourtrayed in the Gospel naxratives:
XXXVII.] THE UPARDOABLE SI. 375
* Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil ; that put
darkness for light, and light for darkness ; that put bitter for
sweet, and sweet for bitter.' Isaiah's words depict a spiritual
state, in which the great immutable distinctions between good
and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood, are utterly
ignored ; and, so far as it lies in man to obliterate them, are
practically obliterated. Just such a spiritual state it is that
Jesus evidently dreads and deprecates for the Pharisees of his
own day. They seemed to Himv to be slipping and sinking
down into a condition of heart and will, from which, humanly
speaking, there was no retreat, no recovery, no upward struggle
into light and life. How else was it conceivable that they
should attribute to the agency of the spirit of evil what was so
manifestly a work of unmixed good ? As the Saviour of men
He must warn them, and warn them in language unmistakable,
ere a result so terrible should be consummated in them.
I ow this, too, is a thought which we are bound to bring with
us to the consideration and final application of the words of our
text These Pharisees, too, were men ; and, as men, were dear
to the Son of man, the Saviour of men. Their souls were as
precious in his sight as the souls of the pubUcans and sinners,
who crowded around Him and hung upon his lips. The more
carefully we study his manner of dealing with them, the more
distinctly we shall perceive how thoughtful and considerate it
was. After that first collision with them on the subject of the
sabbath day, and when He knew how exasperated they were
against Him, He withdrew, St. Matthew tells us, as much as
He could, for a time, from contact with them, for their sakes,
doubtless, much more than for his own. He would give time
for the heated feeling to cool, and for calmer counsels to prevail.
With reference to them^ too, as well as with reference to the
common herd of publicans and sinners, it was true, in the
language of St. Matthew's quotation from the old prophet of
Israel : * He shall not strive, nor cry ; neither shall any man
hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break,
376 THE UPARDOABLE SI. [sm.
and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judg-
ment unto victory.' The evil system, which one generation of
Pharisees after another had inherited and had helped to mature,
must indeed be broken through, torn to shreds, scattered to the
winds ; but the individual Pharisee was still a man, an immortal
soul, spite of the inhuman system of which he was both victim
and part-creator. o words could be too strong and fierce in
denunciation of the system ; no thought could be too tender
and considerate on behalf of the individual Pharisee, at once
accomplice in it and sufferer through it. Read this Saviour-
feeling between the lines of the narrative, as we are bound
to do ; and all will become clear to us.
With such preparation of thought and fueling, we turn once
more to the words of our text, which as yet our explanation has
hardly touched at all : * 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.' In these words you
will of course mark, and mark (I imagine) with surprise, the
distinction drawn by Jesus between that which is spoken aigainst
.the Son of man, and is therefore forgivable, and that which is
spoken against the Holy Ghost, and is therefore unforgivable.
The more we meditate upon it, the more surprising, I should
suppose, will the distinction seem to us. We shall ask with
amazement and perplexity, what the rationale of it is. Is not the
Son as much a Person of the Hoy Trinity as the Holy Ghost
is ? Why, then, should blasphemy against the Son be pardon-
able, whilst blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is unpardonable?
What possible difference, in point of guilt and desert, can there
be between the two ?
I want you to ask such questions as these, because I feel
sure there is an answer to them, — a most satisfactory answer,
— an answer most instructive and profitable. And in trying
to give that answer, so far as I am myself able to give it,
I should like you to notice, first of all, the extraordinaiy
XXXVII.] THE UPARDOABLE SI. 377
courage and foresight of the words : * Whosoever speaketh
against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him.' Looking at
his appeal to men, purely as an intellectual affair, I know no
language of his so reassuring, so convincing, as this. Morally
and religiously, of course, the appeal contained in the words, —
* Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I
will give you rest,' — ^goes much further and deeper than this.
But looking at the thing from a merely rational point of view,
there is to my niind something quite astonishing in the serene
tranquillity of the words : * Whosoever speaketh a word against
the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him.' It is as though He
were gazing up through the long avenue and vista of doubts
and difficulties, hesitations and denials, which puzzle and. per-
plex us still, — recognizing the fact, that they must come, — ^and
looking down upon them all, from a height of assured and
immeasurable superiority, as though they were the merest ripple
of the waves at the foot of some tremendous cliff. Had He
been anything less than what we believe Him to be. He could
not have spoken so, — so calmly, so tranquilly, with such con-
sciousness of strength. A pretender to the Messiah's throne
would have spoken very differently ; would have denounced in
advance the doubts and denials that might seem to impeach his
title or to detract from his sovereignty. The Christ, the Messiah,
the Son of man, the Son of God, can afford to speak with sym-
pathy of the doubts which He foresaw, in the nature of things,
must arrive; and which had far better be spoken out, than
smoulder unspoken within. He is so strong, — He is so sure
of final victory, — that He can be content to wait, to invite the
closest scrutiny of his claim to the throne of our hearts, and to
treat with the utmost clemency and forbearance, nay, with
compassion and sympathy, those who intellectually only, pro-
vided it be only intellectually, are rebels against Him. Of
these, too, it is true : * A bruised reed he shall not break, and
smoking flax he shall not quench, till he send forth judgment
unto victory.'
k
378 THE UPARDOABLE SI. [SElL
Having made sure of tbb step, the next will be found
comparatively easy to us. The diflference betwem speaking a
word against the Son of man, and speaking against the Holy
Ghost, answers to the difference between doubt and sin, —
between the doubt, which is of the intellect purely and which is
involuntary, and the xr/r, which is of the will and willing, and
which has so eaten into the conscience as to have actually
silenced and destroyed its protest. Recall once more the
circumstances of the case. Jesus is addressing those who are
explaining by a theory of Satanic agency a work which was
undeniably a work of healing and blessing and good. And die
motive which originated this strange theory was undisguised
and unmistakable. It was the wish to discredit and undernune
a rival teacher. Such theorizers were already on the inclined
plane which slopes down into the abjrss depicted by the terrible
words : ' The blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven onto
men : ' ' Whosoever speaketh against the Holy <%ost, it shall
not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world
to come.' They were on the inclined plane, I repeat, slopiDg
down into this abyss ; but it was not too late to rescue them
from it, and to plant their feet again in a large and level space.
The immediate object of the warning words of Jesus was thus
to rescue these unhappy Pharisees from the doom into whidi
they were unconsciously gliding. o feeling of hostility or of
bitterness — ^forgive the suggestion of such a thought — dictated
the words. They were spoken out of pure love to the souls of
these sinful men, by Him who came to seek and to save that
which was lost : whether Pharisee or publican, it mattered not
to Him ; and who more lost than these Pharisees, — and all the
more lost^ because they fancied themselves y5w«i/f As He said
to them Himself on a later occasion, in answer to their own ques-
tion, * Are we blind also ? ' — * If ye were blind, ye should have
no sin ; but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remainedL*
* Could you only be brought to acknowledge your blindness, aO
might yet be well with you.'
XXXVII.] THE UPARDOABLE SI. 379
And now, in conclusion, let us briefly consider, how^ best
and most usefully, to apply the words to ourselves. And,
first of all, if there be any here, as possibly there may be, whose
minds have ever been haunted and troubled by dread of the
unpardonable sin and fear lest they themselves may have com-
mitted it, let me point out to them, that the very fact of their
entertaining such a fear is positive proof that they do not underlie
at the moment the awful danger to which the words of Jesus
point. For the words of Jesus, as I have tried to show you,
describe, not any single sinful act, but a state, — a spiritual state,
— and a state in which the seared conscience has ceased to
speak. The soul which is in danger of eternal sin is the soul
in which the death-like stillness is broken by not even a whisper
of conscience. So long as conscience speaks at all, there is
hope for us. We are still within reach of the words of promise :
* All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men.*
Therefore, let none despair. ay, I go further, and say. Let
none even despond. Whatever our past may have been,
redemption is still within our grasp. Still it is being said to us,
* Lay hold on eternal life.'
And, in the next place, I think we may, one and all, use the
words of Jesus with great advantage, to help us to a better
understanding of what is meant in Scripture language hy for-
giveness. Too often we attach to the word * forgiveness ' the
thought, not of the actual remission of sins, but only of the
remission of the penalties which attach to sin. Hence, when
we read the words of our text : * 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:* — our first
notion is, that there is something arbitrary, not to say vindictive,
in the distinction thus drawn between what is pardonable and
what is unpardonable. We fancy that what is intended is a
classification of sins into those which God will forgive, and
those which God will not forgive, — the distinction between the
38o THE UPARDOABLE SI. [SER.
two classes being purely one of his own creation. Such a
notion as this will I hope already have been roughly shaken
by what has been said to-night In order to destroy it utterly,
let me beg you to remember, — what, when stated, none will
deny, — that the forgiveness spoken of in the Holy Scriptures,
and promised so specially and distinctively in the gospel of
Jesus Christ, is the forgiveness of sinsy and not the mere remis-
sion of penalties attaching under the Divine government to sin ;
and that this forgiveness of sins is the product of two factors, one
human, the other Divine, There can be no forgiveness of sins
without repentance on the sinner's part : not because God is
unwilling to forgive, — (ah ! no ; He is far more willing to
forgive than we are to be forgiven,) — ^but because the love
that would fain forgive cannot operate to effect its object with-
out that welcome on the sinner's part, which is repentance.
The forgiving love of God surrounds our souls on every side,
as closely as the air and the light of day surround our bodies.
But we must open our eyes, if we would see ; we must inhale
the air, if we would live. And even so we must draw in the
forgiving love by repentance, if sin is ever to relax its hold and
the love of God to be (as St. John says) * perfected,' that is, to
get its way, *in us.' ow this relaxation of the hold of sin upon
us is the very essence of the forgiveness of sin. And the true
terror of the words of Jesus in our text lies in this, that He
warns us that it is possible for human beings to sink down into
a state, in which there is no forgiveness, beciause the very
capacity of repentance has been wilfully lost.
The Psalmist writes : * I will praise thee : for I am fearfuDy
and wonderfully made.' Wonderful and fearful indeed is the
bodily structure, with its exquisite mechanism, its delicate tissue
of nerve and brain, its mysterious motive power of vital force, and
its awful capacity of disease and pain, derangement and death.
But how much more fearful and wonderful is the spiritual struc-
ture of reason and will, conscience and soul, with all its terrible
capacities of disorder and deterioration, sin and eternal death !
XXXVII.] THE UPARDOABLE SI. 38 1
Turn we, this night and ever, with humblest prayer, to Him in
whom we live and move and have our being, and whose
children we are, beseeching Him to do with us what He will,
to chasten us as He will, but never, never to suffer us to sink
into that sleep of the conscience, which is the sure precursor of
spiritual death.
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THE UPARDOABLE SI.
BY DAVID J. VAUGHA, M.A.,
Matthew xii. 32.
Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven
him : but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Qhost, it shall not be
forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
FEW, if any, of the words of Jesus have given occasion to so
much searching of heart as these. They have compelled
the question, — asked, sometimes out of curiosity, sometimes
out of a feeling much deeper than curiosity, — * What is the
unpardonable sin ? ' And, beyond this, they have suggested to
some minds, trembling on the brink of religious insanity, the
further question : * This unpardonable sin, have I committed
it?'
We must look, first of all, at the connection in which the
words stand ; and, next, at St. Mark's version of them ; and
then we shall be prepared, I think, to discuss and apply them
with advantage and profit. God help us to do so : for, indeed,
the task is an arduous one.
Sl Matthew is describing, in this chapter from which our
text is taken, the progress of the great controversy between
Jesus and the Pharisees. His description embraces three
separate stages or points in the controversy. The first of these
stages turns upon the use and abuse of the sabbath day ; the
B B 2
373 THE UPARDOABLE SI. [SER.
second, upon the source whence Jesus drew his power to heal
the sick in mind, as well as the sick in body ; the third, upon
the demand for a sign from heaven. The words of our text
come under the second of the three. An extraordinary case of
possession had been brought to Jesus ; and the cure effected
by Him had been radical and instantaneous. * Then was
brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind and dumb ;
and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both
spake and saw.' Two theories were at once started as to the
origin of the power, by which Jesus had achieved so great and
beneficent a result The simple-hearted unsophisticated people
by whom he was surrounded at the moment asked one another,
whether any but the Messiah could work such a wonder. The
Pharisees, on the other hand, of whom there were many in the
crowd, propounded, by way of counter-explanation, the extra-
ordinary theory, that the evil spirit had been dispossessed by
virtue of an authority and a commission derived from the very
Spirit of Evil himself. ' All the people were amazed, and said,
Is not this the Son of David ? But when the Pharisees heard
it,' — heard this popular explanation of the matter, — * they said.
This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the
prince of the devils.' It is in the course of the reply of Jesus to
this theory of the Pharisees, — in the course of his refutation of it,
his exposure of its folly and its wickedness, — that we come upon
the words : * 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.' If we would understand the words aright, we
must keep carefully in view the occasion which drew them out,
and the audience to which they were addressed.
The importance of this will be more strongly felt by us,
when we turn for a moment to consult St. Mark's version of
XXXVII.] THE UPARDOABLE SI. 373
the words. You will find it in Mark iii. 28, 29 : 'Verily I say
unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and
blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme : but he
that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never
forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation : ' upon
which St. Mark adds, by way of explanation, the important
comment, — * Because they said. He hath an unclean spirit.*
To such straits were the Pharisees driven by their hatred of
Jesus, that they were even so foolish and so wicked as to say,
* He who dispossesses the unclean spirits is himself possessed
by an unclean spirit, stronger and more potent than they.' It
seems a piece of almost incredible folly and wickedness on
their part : yet so it was.
ow here it becomes necessary to point your attention to a
question of words, which is really also a question of things.
You will see^ by referring to Matthew xii. 31, that two
important words in the second half of the verse are printed
in italics, to show that there is nothing answering to them
in the original. Our authorized English version runs thus :
* All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto
men : but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not
be forgiven unto men,' — the words ^ against^ and ^ Holy*
being printed in italics. ow these italics serve as a kind
of danger-signal to the English reader, to put him upon
his guard and warn him against laying too much stress upon,
or attaching over much importance to, words, which are
supplied by the translators, and which may, or may not, be
required by the original. In this particular instance the sup-
plied words are certainly not required. They are not a help,
but a mischief, to the sense ; and it is almost beyond a doubt
that we ought to read the passage, not as it stands in our
English Bibles, but thus, or to this effect : * All manner of sin
and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men : but the blasphemy
of the spirit shall not be forgiven : ' — the * spirit' spoken of here
being, not the Holy Spirit of God, but the human spirit of the
374 THE UPARDOABLE SI. [SER.
man himself; and * the blasphemy of the spirit' being that
blasphemy which has its seat in the spirit and will of the man,
that is, in the very centre and core of his being, whence all
thought and feeling and desire and volition spring and radiate.
* The blasphemy of the spirit ' is, in fact, a poisoning of himian
nature at its very roots ; such a poisoning of the spiritual nature
as makes a man in effect say to evil, * Be thou my good.'
We shall see presently, I think, how important this necessaiy
correction of our authorized English version is, and what a
light it sheds upon the meaning of Jesus. In addition to this,
there is yet another question of words that deserves to be taken
notice of. St. Mark has : ' He that shall blaspheme against
the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of
eternal damnation.' I must not say there is no doubt, but I
think I may safely say there is liti/e doubt, that the word which
the Evangelist really wrote was not the word which we translate
by the English * damnation ' or * judgment,' but was a word
which must be translated into English as ' sin.' ^ He that shall
blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but
will be in danger of eternal sin.' ow this, too, is important,
because it helps us to see, that tAa/ against which Jesus aims
these tremendous words of his is not some rash and hasty
utterance of the lips, however wicked and blasphemous it might
be, but is a state, — not an o^, a single act ; but a j/o^, a
settled state, — a state of the heart and spirit and will, — a, state of
the man himself, — a. state which, once come to, could hardly
fail to be permanent, everlasting, utichanged by death—
unchangeable, it might even be, beyond death.
So far a questioning of the mere words will carry us towards
a right understanding of the meaning of Jesus, but no further.
And at this point it may not be amiss to compare the language
in which the prophet Isaiah denounces some of the worst evils
of his own time — a time, which (as we learn from our Lord's
own use of Isaiah's words on another occasion) had much in
common with the time pourtrayed in the Gospel naxratives:
XXXVII.] THE UPARDOABLE SI. 375
* Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil ; that put
darkness for light, and light for darkness ; that put bitter for
sweet, and sweet for bitter.' Isaiah's words depict a spiritual
state, in which the great immutable distinctions between good
and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood, are utterly
ignored ; and, so far as it lies in man to obliterate them, are
practically obliterated. Just such a spiritual state it is that
Jesus evidently dreads and deprecates for the Pharisees of his
own day. They seemed to Himv to be slipping and sinking
down into a condition of heart and will, from which, humanly
speaking, there was no retreat, no recovery, no upward struggle
into light and life. How else was it conceivable that they
should attribute to the agency of the spirit of evil what was so
manifestly a work of unmixed good ? As the Saviour of men
He must warn them, and warn them in language unmistakable,
ere a result so terrible should be consummated in them.
I ow this, too, is a thought which we are bound to bring with
us to the consideration and final application of the words of our
text These Pharisees, too, were men ; and, as men, were dear
to the Son of man, the Saviour of men. Their souls were as
precious in his sight as the souls of the pubUcans and sinners,
who crowded around Him and hung upon his lips. The more
carefully we study his manner of dealing with them, the more
distinctly we shall perceive how thoughtful and considerate it
was. After that first collision with them on the subject of the
sabbath day, and when He knew how exasperated they were
against Him, He withdrew, St. Matthew tells us, as much as
He could, for a time, from contact with them, for their sakes,
doubtless, much more than for his own. He would give time
for the heated feeling to cool, and for calmer counsels to prevail.
With reference to them^ too, as well as with reference to the
common herd of publicans and sinners, it was true, in the
language of St. Matthew's quotation from the old prophet of
Israel : * He shall not strive, nor cry ; neither shall any man
hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break,
376 THE UPARDOABLE SI. [sm.
and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judg-
ment unto victory.' The evil system, which one generation of
Pharisees after another had inherited and had helped to mature,
must indeed be broken through, torn to shreds, scattered to the
winds ; but the individual Pharisee was still a man, an immortal
soul, spite of the inhuman system of which he was both victim
and part-creator. o words could be too strong and fierce in
denunciation of the system ; no thought could be too tender
and considerate on behalf of the individual Pharisee, at once
accomplice in it and sufferer through it. Read this Saviour-
feeling between the lines of the narrative, as we are bound
to do ; and all will become clear to us.
With such preparation of thought and fueling, we turn once
more to the words of our text, which as yet our explanation has
hardly touched at all : * 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.' In these words you
will of course mark, and mark (I imagine) with surprise, the
distinction drawn by Jesus between that which is spoken aigainst
.the Son of man, and is therefore forgivable, and that which is
spoken against the Holy Ghost, and is therefore unforgivable.
The more we meditate upon it, the more surprising, I should
suppose, will the distinction seem to us. We shall ask with
amazement and perplexity, what the rationale of it is. Is not the
Son as much a Person of the Hoy Trinity as the Holy Ghost
is ? Why, then, should blasphemy against the Son be pardon-
able, whilst blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is unpardonable?
What possible difference, in point of guilt and desert, can there
be between the two ?
I want you to ask such questions as these, because I feel
sure there is an answer to them, — a most satisfactory answer,
— an answer most instructive and profitable. And in trying
to give that answer, so far as I am myself able to give it,
I should like you to notice, first of all, the extraordinaiy
XXXVII.] THE UPARDOABLE SI. 377
courage and foresight of the words : * Whosoever speaketh
against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him.' Looking at
his appeal to men, purely as an intellectual affair, I know no
language of his so reassuring, so convincing, as this. Morally
and religiously, of course, the appeal contained in the words, —
* Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I
will give you rest,' — ^goes much further and deeper than this.
But looking at the thing from a merely rational point of view,
there is to my niind something quite astonishing in the serene
tranquillity of the words : * Whosoever speaketh a word against
the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him.' It is as though He
were gazing up through the long avenue and vista of doubts
and difficulties, hesitations and denials, which puzzle and. per-
plex us still, — recognizing the fact, that they must come, — ^and
looking down upon them all, from a height of assured and
immeasurable superiority, as though they were the merest ripple
of the waves at the foot of some tremendous cliff. Had He
been anything less than what we believe Him to be. He could
not have spoken so, — so calmly, so tranquilly, with such con-
sciousness of strength. A pretender to the Messiah's throne
would have spoken very differently ; would have denounced in
advance the doubts and denials that might seem to impeach his
title or to detract from his sovereignty. The Christ, the Messiah,
the Son of man, the Son of God, can afford to speak with sym-
pathy of the doubts which He foresaw, in the nature of things,
must arrive; and which had far better be spoken out, than
smoulder unspoken within. He is so strong, — He is so sure
of final victory, — that He can be content to wait, to invite the
closest scrutiny of his claim to the throne of our hearts, and to
treat with the utmost clemency and forbearance, nay, with
compassion and sympathy, those who intellectually only, pro-
vided it be only intellectually, are rebels against Him. Of
these, too, it is true : * A bruised reed he shall not break, and
smoking flax he shall not quench, till he send forth judgment
unto victory.'
k
378 THE UPARDOABLE SI. [SElL
Having made sure of tbb step, the next will be found
comparatively easy to us. The diflference betwem speaking a
word against the Son of man, and speaking against the Holy
Ghost, answers to the difference between doubt and sin, —
between the doubt, which is of the intellect purely and which is
involuntary, and the xr/r, which is of the will and willing, and
which has so eaten into the conscience as to have actually
silenced and destroyed its protest. Recall once more the
circumstances of the case. Jesus is addressing those who are
explaining by a theory of Satanic agency a work which was
undeniably a work of healing and blessing and good. And die
motive which originated this strange theory was undisguised
and unmistakable. It was the wish to discredit and undernune
a rival teacher. Such theorizers were already on the inclined
plane which slopes down into the abjrss depicted by the terrible
words : ' The blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven onto
men : ' ' Whosoever speaketh against the Holy <%ost, it shall
not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world
to come.' They were on the inclined plane, I repeat, slopiDg
down into this abyss ; but it was not too late to rescue them
from it, and to plant their feet again in a large and level space.
The immediate object of the warning words of Jesus was thus
to rescue these unhappy Pharisees from the doom into whidi
they were unconsciously gliding. o feeling of hostility or of
bitterness — ^forgive the suggestion of such a thought — dictated
the words. They were spoken out of pure love to the souls of
these sinful men, by Him who came to seek and to save that
which was lost : whether Pharisee or publican, it mattered not
to Him ; and who more lost than these Pharisees, — and all the
more lost^ because they fancied themselves y5w«i/f As He said
to them Himself on a later occasion, in answer to their own ques-
tion, * Are we blind also ? ' — * If ye were blind, ye should have
no sin ; but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remainedL*
* Could you only be brought to acknowledge your blindness, aO
might yet be well with you.'
XXXVII.] THE UPARDOABLE SI. 379
And now, in conclusion, let us briefly consider, how^ best
and most usefully, to apply the words to ourselves. And,
first of all, if there be any here, as possibly there may be, whose
minds have ever been haunted and troubled by dread of the
unpardonable sin and fear lest they themselves may have com-
mitted it, let me point out to them, that the very fact of their
entertaining such a fear is positive proof that they do not underlie
at the moment the awful danger to which the words of Jesus
point. For the words of Jesus, as I have tried to show you,
describe, not any single sinful act, but a state, — a spiritual state,
— and a state in which the seared conscience has ceased to
speak. The soul which is in danger of eternal sin is the soul
in which the death-like stillness is broken by not even a whisper
of conscience. So long as conscience speaks at all, there is
hope for us. We are still within reach of the words of promise :
* All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men.*
Therefore, let none despair. ay, I go further, and say. Let
none even despond. Whatever our past may have been,
redemption is still within our grasp. Still it is being said to us,
* Lay hold on eternal life.'
And, in the next place, I think we may, one and all, use the
words of Jesus with great advantage, to help us to a better
understanding of what is meant in Scripture language hy for-
giveness. Too often we attach to the word * forgiveness ' the
thought, not of the actual remission of sins, but only of the
remission of the penalties which attach to sin. Hence, when
we read the words of our text : * 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:* — our first
notion is, that there is something arbitrary, not to say vindictive,
in the distinction thus drawn between what is pardonable and
what is unpardonable. We fancy that what is intended is a
classification of sins into those which God will forgive, and
those which God will not forgive, — the distinction between the
38o THE UPARDOABLE SI. [SER.
two classes being purely one of his own creation. Such a
notion as this will I hope already have been roughly shaken
by what has been said to-night In order to destroy it utterly,
let me beg you to remember, — what, when stated, none will
deny, — that the forgiveness spoken of in the Holy Scriptures,
and promised so specially and distinctively in the gospel of
Jesus Christ, is the forgiveness of sinsy and not the mere remis-
sion of penalties attaching under the Divine government to sin ;
and that this forgiveness of sins is the product of two factors, one
human, the other Divine, There can be no forgiveness of sins
without repentance on the sinner's part : not because God is
unwilling to forgive, — (ah ! no ; He is far more willing to
forgive than we are to be forgiven,) — ^but because the love
that would fain forgive cannot operate to effect its object with-
out that welcome on the sinner's part, which is repentance.
The forgiving love of God surrounds our souls on every side,
as closely as the air and the light of day surround our bodies.
But we must open our eyes, if we would see ; we must inhale
the air, if we would live. And even so we must draw in the
forgiving love by repentance, if sin is ever to relax its hold and
the love of God to be (as St. John says) * perfected,' that is, to
get its way, *in us.' ow this relaxation of the hold of sin upon
us is the very essence of the forgiveness of sin. And the true
terror of the words of Jesus in our text lies in this, that He
warns us that it is possible for human beings to sink down into
a state, in which there is no forgiveness, beciause the very
capacity of repentance has been wilfully lost.
The Psalmist writes : * I will praise thee : for I am fearfuDy
and wonderfully made.' Wonderful and fearful indeed is the
bodily structure, with its exquisite mechanism, its delicate tissue
of nerve and brain, its mysterious motive power of vital force, and
its awful capacity of disease and pain, derangement and death.
But how much more fearful and wonderful is the spiritual struc-
ture of reason and will, conscience and soul, with all its terrible
capacities of disorder and deterioration, sin and eternal death !
XXXVII.] THE UPARDOABLE SI. 38 1
Turn we, this night and ever, with humblest prayer, to Him in
whom we live and move and have our being, and whose
children we are, beseeching Him to do with us what He will,
to chasten us as He will, but never, never to suffer us to sink
into that sleep of the conscience, which is the sure precursor of
spiritual death.
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