Object. I suspect I am guilty of the “sin against the Holy Ghost,” and so am incapable of pardon; and therefore I need not think of believing on Christ Jesus for the saving of my soul.
Answ. Although none should charge this sin on themselves, or on others, unless they can prove and make clear the charge according to Christ’s example, “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.” Yet, for satisfying the doubt, I shall,
- Show what is not the sin against the Holy Ghost, properly so called, because there be some gross sins which people do unwarrantably judge to be this unpardonable sin.
- I shall show what is the sin against the Holy Ghost.
- I shall draw some conclusions in answer directly to the objection.
1. As for the first, There be many gross sins, which although, as all other sins, they be sins against the Holy Ghost, who is God equal and one with the Father and the Son, and are done against some of his operations and motions; yet are they not “the sin against the Holy Ghost,” which is the unpardonable sin.
1. Blaspheming of God under bodily tortures is not that sin; for some saints fell into this: “And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme;” – much less blaspheming of God in a fit of distraction or frenzy: for a man is not a free rational agent at that time: and “he that spareth his people, as a father doth the son that serveth him – and pitieth them that fear him, as a father pitieth his children,” so doth he spare and pity in these rovings; for so would our fathers according to the flesh do, if we blasphemed them in a fit of distraction. Much less are horrid blasphemies against God darted in upon the soul, and not allowed there, this unpardonable sin; for such things were offered to Christ, and are often cast in upon the saints.
2. The hating of good in others, whilst I am not convinced that it is good, but in my light do judge it to be evil; yea, the speaking against it, yea, the persecuting of it in that case, is not the sin against the Holy Ghost; for all these will be found in Paul before he was converted; and he obtained mercy, because he did these things ignorantly.
3. Heart-rising at the prosperity of others, in the work and way of God whilst I love it in myself; yea, the rising of heart against Providence, which often expresses itself against the creatures nearest our hand; yea, this rising of heart entertained and maintained, (although they be horrid things leading towards that unpardonable sin, yet) are not that sin; for these may be in the saints, proceeding from self-love, which cannot endure to be darkened by another, and proceeding from some cross in their idol under a fit of temptation – the most part of all this was in Jonah.
4. Not only are not decays in what once was in the man, and falling into gross sins against light after the receiving of the truth, this unpardonable sin; for then many of the saints in Scripture were undone: but further, apostacy from much of the truth is not that sin; for that was in Solomon, and in the church of Corinth and Galatia: yea, denying, yea, forswearing of the most fundamental truth under a great temptation is not this sin; for then Peter had been undone.
5. As resisting, quenching, grieving, and vexing of the Spirit of God by many sinful ways, are not this unpardonable sin; for they are charged with those who are called to repentance in Scripture, and not shut out as guilty of this sin; so neither reiterating sin against light is the sin against the Holy Ghost, although it leads towards it; for such was Peter’s sin in denying Christ; so was Jehoshaphat’s sin in joining with Ahab and Jehoram.
6. Purposes and attempts of self-murder, and even purposes of murdering godly men, the party being under a sad fit of temptation; yea, actual self-murder, (although probably it often joins in the issue with this unpardonable sin,) which ought to make every soul look upon the very temptation to it with horror and abhorrence, yet it is not the sin against the Holy Ghost. The jailer intended to kill himself upon a worse account than many poor people do, in the sight and sense of God’s wrath, and of their own sin and corruption; yet that jailer obtained pardon; and Paul, before his effectual calling, was accessary unto the murder of many saints, and intended to kill more, as himself granteth: “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme: and, being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.”
Although all these are dreadful sins, each of them deserving wrath everlasting, and not being repented of, bring endless vengeance; especially the last cuts off hope of relief, for aught that can be expected in an ordinary way; yet none of these is the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost: and so under any of these there is hope to him that hath an ear to hear the joyful sound of the covenant. All manner of such sin and blasphemy may be forgiven, as is clear in the Scripture, were these things are mentioned.
2. As for the second thing. Let us see what the sin against the Holy Ghost is.
It is not a simple act of transgression, but a combination of many mischievous things, involving soul and body ordinarily in guilt. We thus describe it: “It is a rejecting and opposing of the chief gospel-truth, and way of salvation, made out particularly to a man by the Spirit of God, in the truth and good thereof; and that avowedly, freely, wilfully, maliciously, and despitefully, working hopeless fear.”
There are three places of Scripture which speak most of this sin, and from thence we will prove every part of this description, in so far as may be useful to our present purpose; by which it will appear that none who have a mind for Christ need stumble at what is spoken of this sin in Scripture:
“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.” – “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; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” – “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. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”
1. Then, let us consider the object about which this sin, or sinful acting of the man guilty thereof, is conversant, and that is the chief gospel-truth and way of salvation; both which come to one thing. It is the way which God hath devised for saving sinners by Jesus Christ the promised Messiah and Saviour, by whose death and righteousness men are to be saved, as he hath held him forth in the ordinances, confirming the same by many mighty works in Scripture tending thereto. This way of salvation is the object.
The Pharisees oppose this, that Christ was the Messiah; “And all the people said, Is not this the Son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said. This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” The wrong is done against the Son of God; “It is impossible to renew them again unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame:” – and against the blood of the covenant, and the Spirit graciously offering to apply these things: “Of how much sorer punishment suppose ye shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”
2. In the description, consider the qualification of this object. It is singularly made out to the party by the Spirit of God, both in the truth and good thereof. This saith,
1st, That there must be knowledge of the truth and way of salvation. The Pharisees knew that Christ was the heir: “But when they saw the Son, they said among themselves, This is the heir, come, let us kill him.” The party has knowledge: “But if we sin wilfully, after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.”
2nd, That knowledge of the thing must not swim only in the head, but there must be some half-heart persuasion of it. “Christ knew the Pharisees’ thoughts,” and so did judge them, and that the opposite of what they spake was made out upon their heart. There is a tasting which is beyond simple enlightening: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and have tasted of the good word of God, and of the powers of the world to come.” Yea, there is such a persuasion ordinarily as leads to a deal of outward sanctification: “Who hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith they were sanctified, an unholy thing.”
3rd, This persuasion must not only be of the truth of the thing, but of the good of it: the party “tasteth the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,” and he apprehendeth the thing as eligible.
4th, This persuasion is not made out only by strength of argument, but also by an enlightening work of God’s Spirit, shining on the truth, and making it conspicuous; therefore is that sin called, “The sin against the Holy Ghost.” The persons are said “to have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost,” and “to do despite unto the Spirit of grace,” who was in the nearest step of a gracious operation with them.
3. In this description, consider the acting of the party against the object so qualified. It is a rejecting and opposing of it; which importeth,
1st, That men have once, some way at least, been in hands with it, or had the offer of it, as is true of the Pharisees.
2nd, That they do reject, even with contempt, what they had of it, or in their offer. The Pharisees deny it, and speak disdainfully of Christ: “This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. – They fall away, intending to put Christ to an open shame.”
3rd, The men set themselves against it by the spirit of persecution, as the Pharisees did still. They rail against it; therefore it is called “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.” They would “crucify Christ again,” if they could. They are adversaries.
4. Consider the properties of this acting.
1st, It is avowed, that is, not seeking to shelter or hide itself. The Pharisees speak against Christ publicly: “But when the Pharisees heard it, they said. This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils.” They would have “Christ brought to an open shame.” They forsake the ordinances which savour that way: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is;”—and despise the danger; for “looking for indignation, they trample that blood still.”
2nd, The party acteth freely. It is not from unadvisedness, nor from force or constraint, but an acting of free choice: nothing doth force the Pharisees to speak against and persecute Christ. They “crucify to themselves,” they re-act the murder of their own free accord, and in their own bosom, none constraining them. They sin of free choice, or, as the word may be rendered, spontaneously: “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.”
3rd, It is acted wilfully. They are so resolute, they will not be dissuaded by any offer, or the most precious means, as is clear in the foregoing Scriptures.
4th, It is done maliciously, so that it proceeds not so much, if at all, from a temptation to pleasure, profit, or honour. It proceedeth not from fear, or force, or from any good end proposed, but out of heart-malice against God and Christ, and the advancement of his glory and kingdom: so that it is of the very nature of Satan’s sin, who has an irreconcilable hatred against God, and the remedy of sin, because his glory is thereby advanced. This is a special ingredient in this sin. The Pharisees are found guilty of heart-malice against Christ, since they spake so against him, and not against their own children’s casting out devils; and this is the force of Christ’s argument: “If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out?” They do their utmost “to crucify Christ again, and to bring him to an open shame.” They are adversaries, like the devil.
5th, It is done despitefully; the malice must bewray itself. The Pharisees must proclaim that Christ hath correspondence with devils; he must “be put to an open shame, and crucified again;” they must “tread under foot that blood, and do despite to the Spirit:” that the party had rather perish a thousand times than be in Christ’s debt for salvation.
5. The last thing in the description is, the usual attendant or consequence of this sin; it worketh desperate and hopeless fear. They fear him whom they hate with a slavish, hopeless fear, such as devils have: “A certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” They know that God will put out his power against them; they tremble in the remembrance of it; and if they could be above him, and destroy him, they would; and since they cannot reach that, they hate with the utmost of heart-malice, and do persecute him, and all that is his, with despite.
3. As for the third thing proposed, namely, the conclusions to be drawn from what is said, whereby we will speak directly to the objection.
1. As I hinted before, since the sin against the Holy Ghost is so remarkable, and may be well known where it is, none should charge themselves with it unless they can prove and make clear the charge; for it is a great wrong done unto God to labour to persuade my soul that he will never pardon me: it is the very way to make me desperate, and to lead me to the unpardonable sin; therefore, unless thou canst and dare say that thou dost hate the way which God has devised for the saving of sinners, and dost resolve to oppose the prosperity of his kingdom, both with thyself and others, out of malice and despite against God, thou oughtest not to suspect thyself guilty of this sin.
2. Whatsoever thou hast done against God, if thou dost repent it, and wish it were undone, thou cannot be guilty of this sin; for in it heart-malice and despite against God do still prevail.
3. If thou art content to be his debtor for pardon, and would be infinitely obliged to him for it, then thou cannot, in that case, be guilty of the sin against the Holy Ghost; for, as we showed before, they who are guilty of it do so despise God, that they would not be his debtors for salvation.
4. Whatsoever thou hast done, if thou hast a desire after Jesus Christ, and dost look with a grieved heart after him, and cannot think of parting with his blessed company for ever; or, if thou must part with him, yet dost wish well to him, and all his, thou needest not suspect thyself to be guilty of this unpardonable sin; for there can be no such hatred of him in thy bosom as is necessarily required to make up that sin.
5. If thou would be above the reach of that sin, and secure against it for ever, then go work up thy heart to be pleased with salvation by Christ Jesus, and to close with God in him, acquiescing in him as the sufficient ransom and rest, as we have been pressing before, and yield to him to be saved in his way. Do this in good earnest, and thou shalt be for ever put out of the reach of that deadly thing with which Satan doth affright so many poor seekers of God.