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CHAPTER XXIII.


Of the Sin against the Holy Ghost, or the Sin which cannot be forgiven.


1.—The doctrine of forgiveness of sin cannot be understood in all its aspects, without some specific reference to the doctrine of sin itself. The Scriptures recognize two kinds of sin. And accordingly as forgiveness has relation to sin, it modifies itself in accordance with the nature of the sin to be forgiven;—taking effect in some cases and not in others. The first of the two forms of sin to which reference has been made, is sometimes called in the Scriptures the “sin of ignorance.” Much account is made of this sin in the code of Moses. See Leviticus 4:2–13, Numbers 15:24–30. This form of sin, which is that of which the Apostle Paul was especially guilty, 1 Timothy 1:13, and to which he refers in his address to the Athenians on Mars Hill, Acts 17:30, results in part from the imperfection of man’s finite condition. His experience is limited. His knowledge is necessarily small in the beginning. He advances amid many obstacles and drawbacks. And without knowing precisely what he does, and without the specific intention of doing evil, he oftentimes does those things which are injurious either to himself or others. This is that “time of ignorance which God winks at.” God does not exact from the weaknesses and imperfections of man’s childhood, that which he may properly exact from his advanced maturity.

2.—The second form of sin is a sin of knowledge, and therefore of deliberate intention. It is the sin of those, who either know or who might know if they would employ their faculties to that purpose, what sin is. It is, therefore, the sin of the heart; and has in it that element of pride and obstinacy which is the essence of blasphemy. The person who commits it is described in the book of Numbers, as the man who “doeth aught
presumptuously;” and therefore in distinction from the sin of ignorance, it might properly be denominated the sin of presumption. It is the sin of Goliath of Gath, who defied the armies of the living God, and of all that unbelieving, proud and violent class of men, whom the Philistines represent; although it undoubtedly and very often exists in different degrees of openness and boldness. It is the sin of Ananias and Sapphira, who deliberately withheld from God what they knew belonged to Him. It is the sin of Judas who, standing for years in the clearness of the light of the Son of God, did yet betray Him. It is the sin in some degree at least, of all men, and of every man at all times and in every age of the world, who does not cheerfully and fully act up to the light within him.

3.—The distinction between these kinds or forms of sin is often made, with greater or less degree of distinctness, in writers on the history of Philosophic Opinions, on Natural Law, and on Moral Philosophy; — not excluding some philosophic writers among the early Greeks and Romans. In Latin writers the sin of ignorance or any form of sin, which indicated weakness and imperfection, rather than deliberate evil intention, was denominated
culpa or was expressed by some other equivalent term, while the deliberate or “presumptuous” sin was denominated crimen.

4.—Now keeping in mind this fundamental distinction in the forms of transgression, and connecting it with forgiveness, which implies in its higher and celestial sense not only overlooking a wrong, and passing it by, but also loving harmonization, we are prepared to add that the sin of ignorance can be forgiven. It is a sin of the head rather than of heart; and not only can be forgiven, but ought to be and must be forgiven by all who are the true children of God. But the sin which is described in the Bible as the “sin of presumption,” cannot be forgiven in that higher and true sense which has been mentioned, because it is both a sin of knowledge and a sin of the heart. It is deliberate, self-confident and defiant; and therefore cannot be forgiven inasmuch as it rejects forgiveness. The sin of those who crucified Christ, great as it was, could be forgiven. Some of them undoubtedly thought, as Paul in his persecutions of the church, that they were doing God’s service. Christ prayed “Father, forgive them
for they know not what they do.” But he says nothing about forgiveness of the sin of Judas, who cannot be supposed to have sinned in ignorance, but to have known well that he was sacrificing a good and holy man from a purely selfish consideration.

5.—With these explanations we are enabled perhaps better to understand the statement in Matthew 12:31. “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.” In this passage, which harmonizes with what has already been said of the sin of ignorance, and the sin of presumption, we have two forms of sin brought together and placed side by side, namely the sin against the Son of man and the sin against the Holy Ghost; and they are so far essentially distinct from each other, that one can be forgiven, the other cannot. To speak against the Son of Man, as we understand it, is to speak against or controvert on the ground of imperfect knowledge, the doctrine of a Personal Christ:—for instance, the predictions which have relation to Him, the facts of his incarnation, the varied incidents of his history and other things. It is obvious, that this is a sin which is consistent with a degree of sincerity; and which in being sincere, is likely to work itself out into the truth. It is a sin therefore which can be forgiven. But the sin against the Holy Ghost, that deliberate form of it which is expressed in the Greek word translated
blasphemy, which is sin against the Internal or Essential Christ in distinction from the outward or personal Christ, cannot be forgiven.

6.—There appears to be, and there undoubtedly is, a great philosophical principle involved in the statement which Christ makes; as in point of fact it will generally be found that such biblical facts and statements everywhere involve principles.

The Bible viewed beneath the surface of its facts, and in the light of an interior spiritual interpretation, is a book of principles. And the principle here is this. Errors of judgment, mistakes arising from unintentional ignorance, even unholy affections arising from mere misapprehension and every thing of that kind may be forgiven. But the sin against the Holy Ghost in its essence is selfishness, and is deliberate and persistent. The Holy Ghost, whatever may be said of his manifestations or his Personality, is God in his nature. And union therefore on the part of God, with those who sin against the Holy Ghost, is an impossibility, because it would be the union of things which at the same time are divided against each other — of love and selfishness, of God and satan. And forgiveness therefore, which always involves the fact of union, when it exists in its highest and truest sense, is necessarily excluded under such circumstances.