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which it is committed. The act, in the case of the Pharisees, was uttering blasphemous language against the miracles of Christ: in the supposed case of Saul it was blasphemously persecuting,and otherwise injuriously treating, the church of Christ: in the case of the Hebrews, it was apostasy from the truth: in the false teachers, described by Peter, it was not only perverting the truth, but returning to sensual abominations. These acts being various, the unpardonable sin could not consist in any one of them, in itself considered, but in their being committed under certain circumstances.
III. The peculiar circumstances under which either of these acts becomes unpardonable, seems to be, the party being possessed of a certain degree of light; and that not merely objective, as exhibited in the gospel, but subjective, as possessed by the understanding. This light, which is attributed to the Holy Ghost, seems to afford the specific reason of the unpardonable sin being represented as committed against him. The distinction which our Lord makes between blasphemy "against the Son of Man," and that "against the Holy Ghost," declaring the one pardonable, and the other unpardonable, seems to consist in this: the former, during his humiliation, might be the effect of ignorance and unbelief; but the latter (imputing to Satanic influence those benevolent miracles, which were not only wrought before their eyes by the Spirit of God, but approved themselves to their consciences to be of God) could be no other than wilful malignity. And this would be the case, especially after the pouring out of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, when such a blaze of light shone
forth in confirmation of the gospel: a blasphemous opposition to it at that period would, where the light was not only exhibited, but possessed in the understanding, be a black mark of reprobation. The blasphemy of Saul was accompanied with a great degree of objective light; but it did not so possess his understanding and conscience, but that he did it ignorantly and in unbelief. Had he committed the same blasphemy knowingly, or in spite of a full persuasion in his conscience, that the cause he opposed was the cause of God, it is supposed, by his own manner of speaking, that it would have been unpardonable. The case of the Hebrews turns entirely upon the same circumstance: they not only had the gospel objectively exhibited before them, but became the subjects of deep convictions and powerful impressions. They were enlightened; had tasted the heavenly gift; were made "partakers of the Holy Ghost; tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come." Now none of all these expressions, it is true, denote that Divine change which accompanies salvation, being expressly distinguished from it; (and John also, in his first epistle, intimates, that those "who are born of God cannot be guilty of this sin,") yet they undoubtedly express powerful impressions and deep convictions, together with some extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, which were common in those times. All this rendered a departure from the truth, what the apostle, in the tenth chapter of the same epistle, calls "sinning wilfully, after we have received the knowledge of the truth; treading under foot the Son of God, and doing despite to the Spirit of grace." It is also upon this circumstance of light that the case of those apostates, men
tioned by Peter, turns. After they have known the way of righteousness, to turn from the holy commandment is that which seals their doom.
IV. The impossibility of such characters being recovered and saved, arises from two causes:—
1. The only way, or medium, of a sinner's salvation is by the sacrifice of Christ; but the nature of their sin is such, that they "wilfully tread him under foot, and treat the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, as an unholy thing." Now, if the sacrifice of of Christ be thus treated, there is no other way escape: "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin, but a fearful looking for of judgment." Hence it becomes a hopeless undertaking for the servants of God to attempt any thing for their recovery. What can they do? Nothing; but what they have done already in vain. The grounds which they have ordinarily to go over in saving sinners from the wrath to come, are, "Repentance from dead works, faith towards God, baptism" of water, and in the primitive times of the Holy Ghost,* accompanied with "the laying on of hands;" exhibiting before them "the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." But these things have been known, and rejected; have lost their force: why should they be repeated? No, saith the apostle, leaving these first principles, and those who have rejected them in the hand of God, we will "go on" with our work "unto perfection." "The ploughman doth not plough all day to sow; and bread-corn is bruised because he will not ever be threshing it," Isa. xxviii, 24, 28.
2. The only efficient cause of a sinner's being brought to repentance, and so to forgiveness, is the almighty and sovereign influence of the Holy Spirit; and the only hope that is left for such characters, must arise from the exertion of His power, with whom all things are naturally possible: But of Him they are given up! "They have done despite to the Spirit of grace," and he hath utterly abandoned them to perish in their own delusions! See Heb. vi. 7, 8.
V. The cases which, in our times, appear to approach the nearest to this sin, are, those of persons who apostatize from the truth, after having enjoyed great religious advantages, obtained much light, felt strong convictions, and made considerable progress in reforming their conduct. The apostasy of such characters, as of some amongst the Hebrews, is sometimes sentimental. Having long felt the gospel way of salvation to grate upon their feelings, they fall in with some flesh-pleasing scheme; either that of open infidelity, or some one of those which approach the nearest to it; and now their conduct, becoming equally loose with their principles, when reproved by their friends, they keep themselves in countenance by professing to have changed their sentiments in religious matters. In them is fulfilled what was predicted of some by the apostle Paul: "They receive not the love of the truth, that they may be saved; and for this cause God doth send them strong delusions, that they may believe a lie, and be damned," 2 Thes. ii. 10, 12.
The apostasy of others, like those described in the Second Epistle of Peter, is more of a practical nature. Having long felt the yoke of religion gailing to their VOL. III.
inclinations, they burst the bonds, and let loose the reins of lust, and, to ward off reproof, and keep themselves in countenance, affect to treat all religion with contempt; raking together the faults of professing people, as an excuse for their own iniquities. Such characters are commonly the worst of all, and the most dangerous to society; nor do I recollect any instance of their having been "renewed again unto repentance:" twice dead, they seem doomed "to be plucked up by the roots." In them is verified what our Lord speaks, of a man out of whom should be cast an unclean spirit, which going forth in search of a new habitation, “seeking rest, but finding none,” at length resolves on a return to his old abode. "And when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with him seven other spirits, more wicked than himself, and they enter in, and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first!"
I am afraid, that to the above might be added a great number of characters, who in early life were of a decent and grave deportment, and who, possessing promising abilities, were encouraged by their friends to engage in the work of the ministry. Their main study being to cultivate their powers, they have at length attained the art of conveying truth and virtue in a style of pleasing energy. But as they have never loved nor lived upon the truth which they have communicated, so neither have they practised the virtues which they have recommended. Slaves to popularity, avarice, or lust, they pass through life under a mask of disguise: and being conversant with Divine things, as surgeons and soldiers are with the shedding human blood, they cease