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The precise Nature of the Blasphemy against the Holy
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.
THES 'HESE words will lead me to treat of the blasphemy against
the Holy Ghost ; a matter which has been much talked of, and not always rightly understood : for which reason I the rather choose to discourse upon it.
It will be convenient, in the first place, to observe how, and upon what occasion, the words of the text were brought in. We have an account in this chapter of our Lord's healing a blind and dumb man who had been possessed by a devil. The Scribes and Pharisees who came from Jerusalem, and observed what was done, very maliciously attributed that great miracle, which our Lord had wrought by the Spirit of God, to the assistance of the Devil “ This fellow,” said they, (speaking in contempt of him,)“ doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince " of the devilsa.” Our blessed Lord, well knowing the spite and
a Matt. xii. 24.
venom of that execrable calumny, takes them up roundly for it; first confuting their cavils, and next rebuking their insolence, in very plain and strong terms. He puts them in mind how absurd and contradictory to common sense it must be, to imagine that the devils should be no wiser than to differ and disagree among themselves, in a matter relating to their common interest, which would be destroying their own kingdom. “ If Satan cast out “ Satan-how shall then his kingdom stand?" After this, he retorts their own calumny upon them, in order to manifest their grievous partiality and self-condemnation. If I by Beelzebub “ cast out devils, by whom do your children" (your own friends, the exorcists) " cast them out?" If they cast out devils by the help of God, calling on the God of Abraham ; why am I, who do the same things, and greater, in the name of the same God, charged with doing them by the help of the devil ? He goes on to a third consideration, drawn from the nature of his doctrine, and from the whole tenour of his life and conduct, as being directly opposite to the devil's interests, and plainly shewing that he was so far from being a confederate with Beelzebub, that he was his most avowed and formidable enemy; binding that strong prince in chains, rifling his house, and spoiling his goods. These things being plain and undeniable, what unaccountable malice must it be in the Pharisees, and how grievous their sin, to impute the miracles wrought by a divine power to the prince of the devils ? Our blessed Lord therefore closes his reply with this smart and tremendous rebuke: “ Wherefore I
say unto you, that all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be
forgiven unto men : but the blasphemy against the Holy “ Ghost shall not be forgiven-neither in this world, neither in 66 the world to come.”
The phrases and idioms of speech (here made use of) may require some explanation, before we come to the matter contained in them. “ All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven." The words are not to be taken absolutely, as if all kinds of slanders and calumnies should be forgiven ; (for many, without question, while unrepented of, never will be forgiven ;) but they are to be understood comparatively, as amounting to this ; that all other unrighteous blaming or censuring, either of things or of persons, shall sooner and more easily be forgiven, than the blaming and slandering the Holy Spirit of God, that is, God himself. To revile angels
b Ver. 26.
c Matt. xii. 27
To revile angels or men is tolerable and pardonable in comparison : but to strike higher still, and to revile even God himself, is an unpardonable impiety. “ Whosoever speaketh a “word against the Son of man," (against Christ considered merely as a man,) calling him, for instance, a deceiver, a glutton, a wine-bibber, and the like ; that, though a grievous sin in itself, yet being slight in comparison, may the more easily be forgicen : “ but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not “be” so easily " forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world “to come.” In discoursing further, my design is,
1. To examine what the sin or blasphemy against the Holy Ghost means, and wherein precisely it consists: where, by the way, I shall take notice also of some erroneous accounts of it.
II. I shall consider the heinous nature and aggravations of it, together with the penalty attending it, or consequent upon it.
III. I shall inquire whether any sins committed at this day are the same thing with it, or which come the nearest to it.
I. I am to examine what the sin or blasphemy against the Holy Ghost means, and wherein precisely it consists.
I said sin or blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, because some call it the sin against the Holy Ghost, though scripture itself never calls it any thing else but blasphemy; which is worth the observing. For from thence we may be assured, that this sin (whatever it be) ought to be reckoned among the sins of speech, among the offences of the tongue. All the sins which men commit are reducible to three heads, as being either in thought, in word, or in deed : now the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost can properly be referred to the second only of the three now mentioned ; it lies in words, is committed by speaking, and particularly by evil speaking; by reviling and defaming the Holy Spirit of God. In the text it is called “ speaking against the
Holy Ghost.” And by St. Mark it appears that the sin consisted in something which the Pharisees said: for it is there remarked as the sum and substance of the guilt they were chargeable with, that they said of Jesus, that “ he hath an “ unclean spirita.” And it is further observable, that our blessed Lord, in the close of his discourse upon that occasion,
d Mark iii. 30.
pronounces thus : 6
Every idle word that men shall speak, they “shall give account thereof in the day of judgmente.” Idle words here mean malicious or impious expressions ; alluding still to the main subject of his discourse, the spiteful and opprobrious words which the Pharisees had impiously thrown out against the Spirit of God. To be short then, the sin or blasphemy against the Holy Ghost was the belying, slandering, or reviling the Divine Spirit by which our Lord wrought his miracles, ascribing them to the devil.
There may be and there have been several offences committed against the Holy Ghost, which yet do not amount to the blasphemy against him specified in the text. There is such a thing as grieving the Holy Spiritf, and quenching the Spirits, when men refuse to hearken to his counsels, to follow his motions, or to obey his calls: but this is not blaspheming him. There is also what St. Stephen calls resisting the Holy Ghost h, which is opposing him with an high hand, and rebelling against him, and is a very heinous sin ; and yet neither is that the same with blaspheming and slandering him, which is what those Pharisees were guilty of.
Ananias and Sapphira grievously affronted the Holy Ghost in telling him a lie, either presuming upon his ignorance as not knowing it, or upon his patience as if he should have connived at it: but yet that was not so bad as what the Pharisees did in ascribing his works to the devil. The malicious telling a lie of him, to defame and slander him, was a more heinous offence than the telling a lie to him, under a weak and foolish persuasion. There is also another way of affronting the Holy Ghost, by vilifying his operations ; which yet comes not up to the sin of the text. Upon the day of Pentecost, when the disciples, full of the Holy Ghost, began to " speak with other tongues, as the Spirit “ gave them utterance," there were some standing by, who mocking said, “ These men are full of new wine ,” vilifying the operations of the Spirit as the effects of drunkenness : but the men who said it, said it perhaps wantonly or ignorantly, rather than spitefully or maliciously. They might not know that the disciples really spake with other tongues; but being unacquainted themselves with the languages then spoken, they took them all to be jargon, such as men might utter under some disorder of
8 i Thess. v. 19.
e Matth. xii. 36. h Acts vii. 51.
f Eph. iv. 30. i Acts ii. 13.
mind, occasioned either by wine or by phrensy: and so they accounted (as they thought) for the thing in a natural way, not suspecting any thing supernatural in it. But the Pharisees who are charged with being guilty of blaspheming the Holy Ghost, they very well knew that what they had seen done could not be accounted for in a natural way; and yet such was their spleen and
rage against the Gospel, that they chose rather to impute the miracles of our Lord to the devil, than to acknowledge the Divine hand, which was so visible in them, that they themselves could not but see it, had they been at all disposed to it.
I may here also mention Simon Magus, as a person who very highly affronted the Holy Ghost, when he offered money for the purchasing his miraculous gifts. But neither was that any such direct blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, as what the text mentions : for he had some respect and veneration for the miracles he saw wrought, and for the Author of them; and was very far from imputing them to the assistance of the devil.
The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost was something worse still than any thing I have yet mentioned : it was defaming the Holy Spirit of God, and God himself, under the execrable name of Beelzebub ; it was reviling, and that knowingly and desperately, the Divine works, as diabolical operations. In this, as I conceive, and in this precisely, consisted that blasphemy which shall never be forgiven, the sin against the Holy Ghost.
Nevertheless it must be owned, that many wise and good men, both ancient and modern, have been of different sentiments in this article.
Some, with St. Austin, maintaining that all sins are pardonable upon repentance, have resolved the blasphemy of the Holy Ghost, unpardonable sin, into final hardness and impenitency : but final impenitency is one thing, and blasphemy is another: and final impenitency is an error in a man's whole conduct ; whereas the blasphemy of the text is one particular crime, and committed by reviling words, as observed above. So that final impenitency is not the sin here signified : and for the same reasons we may conclude, that a total and final apostasy, which some take to be the sin against the Holy Ghost, is very different from it, though it is certainly unpardonable, as much, or perhaps more than the other.
Some, with Origen and the Novatians of old, have imagined that sins committed after baptism are sins against the Holy Ghost: