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afford no proof of the endless duration of punishment. Whoever is guilty of this sin may not be forgiven; he may suffer all the punishment due to his crime; that punishment may be protracted and terrible, and yet it may not be endless, because it is one thing for punishment to be great and durable, and another to be without end. The reasoning which is founded upon this text, instead of establishing any thing, assumes the point in dispute. The passage is adduced to show, that the punishment inflicted upon unpardoned sin is endless, yet all which it affirm's, taken 'literally and in its largest sense, is, that there is one sin which will not be forgiven : so that the precise thing to be proved, namely, that unpardoned sin will be punished with endless suffering, is taken for granted:
The phrase, “ neither in this age nor in the age: to come,” is so far from 'denoting endless duration, that it is itself a decisive proof that expressions' of this kind do not signify proper eternity ; for if the contrary be maintained, the correct rendering of this passage must be, neither in this eternity, nor in the eternity to come. -. The language of our Lord in this text, refers without doubt to the conduct of the Pharisees, who, when they could not deny the reality of his miracles, attributed the power by which he performed them not to God, but to the agency of evil beings. He appeals to his works as a
proof that he is come forth from God; but he is assisted by a very different being, say they : “He casteth out demons by Beelzebub the prince of the demons.” Nothing could discover' more shocking malignity. Now, says our Lord, every kind of calumny is a crime of great enorinity, and pardoned by God with the utmost difficulty: but to speak evil of God himself, by attributing his beneficent and miraculous works to a wicked being, is an offence of the deepest dye, and much more difficult to be pardoned. This appears to be what our Lord affirms, and all which he affirms in this passage.
If this be a just interpretation of these words, they afford an example of a mode of expression which is very frequently employed by the Hebrews, and of which we have several instances in the Scriptures. When they would say that one thing is more excellent, easy or difficult, than another, they often positively affirm the one and deny the other. In this manner God is represented, Matt. ix. 13, as saying, “ I will have mercy and not sacrifice," meaning by this, not that sacrifices were in themselves disagreeable to him, but that acts of beneficence were more excellent and acceptable. So Matthew, chap. v. 18, says,
6. Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall by no means pass away from the law, till all be accomplished;" which Luke explains, chap. xvi. 17, by saying,
“ It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one tittle of the law to fail." In the same manner Christ, in the text, seems to say, that every other kind of evil-speaking may be forgiven, but that to speak evil of God or his spirit shall not be pardoned, when no more is intended, than that it is more difficult to obtain the forgiveness of the one offence than of the other.
There are other expositors, however, who plead for understanding these words literally, and suppose them to declare that to speak evil of the Spirit of God in the manner before mentioned, is an unpardonable offence, either because the persons who are guilty of it, rejecting the evidence of miracles, resist the strongest motive to repentance which God can give, or because the crime is of too enormous a nature to come within the reach of divine mercy. But it does not seem probable in itself, that any sin committed by creatures of such limited capacities, as we are, can be so heinous as to leave no hope of pardon, when sincerely repented of; nor does it appear that our Lord himself thought it impossible for the Divine clemency to be extended to it; for when he was put to death by the Pharisees, who had been guilty of this offence, he prays that God would forgive them to which it may be added, that a few verses before we find these Pharisees ask for a sign, and Christ tells them that one shall be given them, even that of the prophet Jonas; but why should their request be granted, except for their conviction, that they might obtain forgiveness ? *
* See Kenrick's Exposition of the Historical Writings of the New Testament, note in lọc:
The preceding observations are founded on the remark of Grotius on this passage, who says, « Our Lord could not mean in the former part of the sentence, in which he speaks of other sins and blasphemies, to affirm absolutely that they shall be forgiven without repentance, because this is not true: for many of them we are told will not be forgiven, but will incur their due punishment. Therefore this is a Hebrew form of speech, signifying that all other sins and blasphemies shall sooner be forgiven than the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. For it was common among the Jews to say, this thing shall be and this shall not be, merely to express the greater difficulty of effecting the latter than the former, withouti affirming any thing absolutely of either."
Whitby seems to think that the sin against the Holy Spirit, probably refers to blaspheming the spirit which fell on the Apostles at the day
• See Kenrick, in loc.
of Pentecost. See Appendix to Matthew xii., with whom Doddridge, on Matthew xii. 31, 32, agrees. If this opinion be well founded, it cannot be said that this sin shall not be forgiven, because those who had committed it were exhorted to repent, that they might obtain pardon. Acts ji, 13, 38, viii. 17-24.*
It is obvious, that the sin against the Holy Ghost consists in a wilful and obstinate ascription of the miraculous powers of Jesus Christ to demoniacal agency. “Verily,” says : our Lord, Mark iii. 28, “ all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies where. with soever they shall blaspheme: but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation ; because they said he had an unclean spirit.” Matt. xii. 24: “ This man doth not cast out demons, but by Beelzebub the prince of the demons." These last words place the matter beyond doubt.
He who, when he saw the miracles of Jesus, and could not resist the conviction that they were real, refused to yield to his authority, but attributed his works to the agency of demons, rejected the strongest possible evidence of the truth of his religion.f Refusing to profit by the
* See Simpson's Essay on Future Punishment, p. 80. + “They who ascribed the miracles of Jesus and his Apostles