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for mercy, and graciously pardon and save them, because they have become better than they once were, and better than others now are. It is always owing to the deceitfulness and blindness of the heart, that sinners ever gain and cherish a false hope. Hence,
7. There is a plain reason why saints are more concerned about sinners than they are about themselves. Saints know that sinners carry about with them hearts full of selfishness and deception, which will lull them into stupidity and security, and dispose them to resist awakenings and convictions, and all means used with them to awaken and convince them. They know that they will reform and relapse, resolve and re-resolve, and still trust in their own hearts, and endeavor by some means or other to establish their own righteousness. It was such a view of the desperate depravity and deception of the human heart, that excited the deep concern of Paul for the sinners in his day. He says: “Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God." Saints fear that sinners never will be awakened ; and if they are awakened, that they never will be convinced; and if they are convinced, that they never will be converted. They know that while they continue under the entire dominion of a heart full of selfishness and deception, they will love to deceive themselves and to be deceived, and will resist every thing that is said to them or done for them to undeceive them. Though at one time and another they may put on promising appearances occasioned by the change of circumstances, yet they know not what they may be, or what they may do in time to come. For there is no deception in respect to sentiment or practice, that they are not liable to believe and pursue. They see their feet stand on slippery places, and are fearful they will soon slide into destruction. In this light they view sober, regular sinners; and in this light they view the vain, trilling and profane. And it would be well, indeed, if christians were more concerned about sinners than they are; and they would be more concerned about them if they were more concerned about themselves. Let all search and try their hearts; for it is vain to try to conceal them. God says he knows them: “ I, the Lord, search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”
THE UNPARDONABLE SIN.
THERE is a sin unto death.-1 Joon, v 16
The apostle is here speaking upon the subject of prayer. He encourages all who believe in Christ, to call upon God with freedom and confidence. He assures them if they pray according to the will of God, either for themselves or others, their prayers shall certainly be heard and answered. But he observes that it is not their duty to pray for any who are known to have committed the sin unto death, because that is a peculiar sin which God has determined never to forgive. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us. And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin; and there is a sin not unto death." ACcording to this representation of the sin unto death, it is evidently that sin which our Saviour said should never be forgiven, and that which is commonly called the unpardonable sin. Here it may be proper, first, to point out the peculiar properties of this sin; and then, to inquire why it is unpardonable.
Though few, perhaps, have ever committed the unpardonable sin, yet many have been greatly exercised with apprehensions
of its guilt, and some have been driven to the very borders of despair. Careless and stupid persons have but little dread of sinning the sin unto death ; but those of a more tender conscience and gloomy cast of mind are extremely prone to imagine that they have actually sinned beyond the reach of pardoning mercy. It is, therefore, of practical importance, to say something upon this subject which may be suited to remove the groundless fears of some, and to prevent the fatal presumption of others. And for this purpose, it is very necessary,
I. To point out the peculiar properties of the sin unto death. And here I would observe,
1. This sin is directly pointed against the Holy Ghost. Though there be but one true God, yet the scripture represents the one true God as existing in three distinct persons. These are called the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and are represented as bearing distinct parts in the work of our redemption. Hence one sin may be more directly pointed against the Father, another more directly pointed against the Son, and another more directly pointed against the Holy Ghost. The transgression of the divine law seems to be more directly pointed against the person of the Father, who assumes the character of Lawgiver. Unbelief more immediately dishonors the person of the Son, who claims the character of Mediator. And open opposition to the appearance of holiness more especially reproaches the person of the Holy Ghost, who performs the office of Sanctifier.
Our Saviour, speaking of the unpardonable sin, observes this distinction of persons in the Godhead; and represents it as more directly pointed against the Holy Ghost, than against either of the other persons in the sacred Trinity. In the twelfth chapter of Matthew we read, “ They 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. And all the people were amazed, and 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. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them—Wherefore, 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.” Our Saviour wrought miracles by the power of the Holy.Ghost; and accordingly, he considers the Scribes and Pharisees as blaspheming the Holy Ghost, by ascribing a miracle, wrought by his divine
influence, to the power and agency of the devil. And he repeatedly declares that their sin was unpardonable, not because it was pointed against himself, but against the Holy Ghost. “ 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.” And to make the distinction plainer still, he says, “ All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.” According to this infallible description of the sin unto death, it is always directly pointed against the Holy Ghost.
2. The sin which shall never be forgiven, is a sin of the tongue. This appears from the express declaration of Christ. In the twelfth of Luke, he says, “6 Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven.” And in the third of Mark, he conveys the same idea, in plainer and stronger terms. “ 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.” The Evangelist adds, “ Because they said, he hath an unclean spirit." Though they had inwardly felt the keenest malice - against Christ, yet, if they had not said, “ He hath an unclean spirit," they would not have blasphemed the Holy Ghost, by whom he wrought miracles, nor consequently have been guilty of the unpardonable sin. Blasphemy properly consists in evil speaking, and can be committed only in words. Though there is a multitude of ways of dishonoring the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, yet there is but one way of blaspheming these divine persons; and that is, by speaking reproachfully of them. And since our Saviour expressly says, that the sin unto death consists in blaspheming the Holy Ghost, we may safely conclude that the unpardonable sin is always a sin of the tongue. This leads me to observe,
3. That the sin which shall never be forgiven is a public, and not a secret sin. Some sins can be committed only in public. The sin of slander, for instance, is of a public nature. One man cannot slander another in secret. The essence of slander consists in one man's speaking falsely of another, with a view to injure his character. But no man can injure another's character without speaking against it in public; or, at least, so as to be heard by somebody besides himself. So blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is a public, and not a secret sin. When the Scribes and Pharisees committed this sin, they spake against the Holy Ghost before a multitude of people, with a
malicious design of sinking his character and miraculous operations in the view of the world. And no man, at this day, can be guilty of the unpardonable sin, without blaspheming the Holy Ghost in public, or speaking against his peculiar operations in the hearing of others. The apostle, in the context, cautions christians against praying for those whom they know to be guilty of the sin unto death. “ If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it.” This caution, in this connection, plainly supposes that the sin unto death is an open, public sin, which is known to others, as well as to the guilty person..
4. The sin unto death cannot be committed without knowledge of a certain kind. Some suppose that high attainments in human learning, and high degrees of divine illumination, are necessary to render men capable of committing the unpardonable sin. But there seems to be no ground for this supposition. For the Scribes and Pharisees, who charged Christ with having an unclean spirit, and blasphemed the Holy Ghost, by ascribing his operations to the power and agency of the devil, appear to have been no other than the most ignorant and stupid sinners. And it is, indeed, much easier to conceive that the most ignorant and stupid sinners should be guilty of committing the sin unto death, than to conceive that the most enlightened and convinced sinners should openly and directly blaspheme the ever blessed Spirit.
There is, however, a certain kind of knowledge, without which the unpardonable sin cannot be committed; I mean the knowledge of the Holy Ghost, and of his peculiar operations. In the economy of redemption, it is the peculiar office of the holy Spirit to bestow spiritual gifts, and to produce holiness or gracious affections in the human heart. Accordingly we read, 5 The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness." And again we are told, 6. To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues. But all these worketh that one and the self same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will." Now a person must know these peculiar operations of the Holy Ghost, in order to be capable of committing the unpardonable sin. For the unpardonable sin consists in ascribing any of these peculiar effects of the divine Spirit to the power and operation of the devil. The Scribes and Pharisees committed