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grace, and renders it infinitely more resplendent than it could have been, had sin been pardoned without such an intervention. This appears to be the meaning of our Lord in that remarkable passage of his conversation with Nicodemus ;“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 of St. John, in his first Epistle ;—“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the Propitiation for our sins.”
Before we dismiss this head of discourse, it may
necessary to make a few remarks on the extent of Divine forgiveness.
With regard to this subject, Jesus Christ excepts no case but that of “the sin against the Holy Ghost.” Mark the language of Scripture; -“Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. . Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” In order to repress those fears which usually assail the penitent on account of the number and magnitude of his sins, it is added ;
-“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." These assurances of Divine Mercy are accompanied with such information respecting the medium of pardon as greatly to heighten their interest. We learn, that“God for Christ's sake forgives” all those who believe the gospel ;--that sinners “have redemption through the blood of Christ, even the forgiveness of sins ;”—that“ Christ is exalted as a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sin;”— that “ He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him;"—and that some of the most odious sinners “were washed, and sanctified, and justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” Not to multiply references, you will observe, in those I have selected, a total silence with respect to the degree of any sinner's culpability. The very worst cases are comprehended, and ample promises given of pardon and eternal life to all who submit to the terms of the gospel. To prove the veracity of these assurances, Jesus Christ not only foretold the salutary effects which they would produce in subsequent ages on the hearts of repentant sinners, but actually dis
played his ability and grace in pardoning some of the most notorious offenders. He recovered the woman of Samaria from an infamous life; made Zaccheus, the extortioner, both just and charitable; melted the heart of the expiring thief; subdued the enmity of Saul the persecutor; and washed his own murderers in “ the fountain" which he had“ opened for sin and uncleanness.” These, however, were the earnests only of those magnificent displays of infinite goodness which afterwards attended the labours of the Apostles, when multitudes of sinners, in almost every region, received the tidings of Divine mercy, obtained the pardon of their sins, and “rejoiced in hope of the glory of God."
But there is one sin, which, as we have already observed, Jesus Christ himself has pronounced unpardonable. “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.
* Matthew, xii. 31, 32.
As truly pious persons are sometimes greatly distressed with the apprehension of having committed this dreadful sin, a few remarks on its nature may not be altogether unacceptable.
Some of this class have imagined that sin to consist in blasphemous thoughts; were such thoughts encouraged and fostered, they would, undoubtedly, bear some relation to it. But such thoughts arise in the renewed mind involuntarily; and from whatsoever cause they may proceed, whether from the depths of inward depravity, or from the agency of evil spirits, they are abhorrent from all the allowed feelings of the sincere Christian, in which case we cannot imagine that he who succours the tempted, will lay to their charge that sin from which they habitually turn away with disgust and horror.
Others are of opinion, that it consists in apostasy, and suppose it to be fully described in Hebrews, vi. 4–6. But, though apostasy is a most flagrant and dangerous sin, which, if persisted in, will be recompensed with the most signal punishment, there is no evidence that it is the sin here declared to be unpardonable. The words, in the passage referred to,) “It is impossible for those who were once enlightened
if they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance,” appear to favour the
belief that apostasy is an unpardonable sin; but the impossibility is not to be taken without limitation, any more than that of the salvation of the rich man, recorded in Mark, x. 25. The recovery of persons so fallen is, indeed, as Dr. Owen observes, “a matter rare, difficult, and seldom to be expected, not absolutely impossible. God gives laws for us in these things, not to himself. It may be possible with God, for aught we know, if there be not a contradiction in it to the holy properties of his nature; only he will not have us expect any such things from him.”* But, to return;
The true sense of scripture passages is to be determined, in most instances, by the strain of their connexion. If we keep this rule in view, we shall be materially assisted in our endeavours to ascertain the nature of the sin in question. The history of the fact which occasioned the solemn animadversion which I have cited from the Evangelist Matthew, is as follows. The ecclesiastical rulers of the Jewish people, having witnessed the miracles of Jesus Christ, which were wrought under the influence of the Holy Spirit, audaciously and impiously ascribed them to the power of Beelzebub. Our Lord,
• Owen on the Hebrews, chapter vi. verse 4–6.