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doctrines can only have been known outside the priests' circle by thu interpretation these priests might give. Now, if the interpreters were the authors of the later Avesta, we can easily see that the interpretation may have practically differed from the text as much as a mediæval priest's sermon differed from the Vulgate he professed to expound. He may have translated his Gâthâ text with approximate accuracy, but his commentary was in the style of the later Avesta. And what impression was the monotheism and spirituality of the Gathâs likely to make on the prejudiced Jew when it was glossed in the next breath with the practically polytheistic doctrine and the repulsive ritualism of the Yashts and the Vendidad?
I must venture a little further, and suggest that even those whose native tongue was Zend were not necessarily able to understand the Gâthâs. They must have been difficult from their style even in the age of their publication; and in the centuries that elapsed between them and the younger Avesta the additional difficulty of an archaic language was brought in. The result must have been something like a “ Sordello" in the English of Chaucer. Educated, thoughtful men may have understood it fairly; but it could never have come within the reach of the common people, except through the medium of men whose teaching largely neutralised its characteristic features. I think, too, that Dr. Mills rather underrates the difference between Gâthic and Zend, if regarded as spoken dialects. We can read the one into the other easily enough in most cases; but that is because we are equipped with phonetic principles which were then unthought-of. The pronunciation systems were in many respects different; the conditions would be best appreciated by thinking how much an ordinary Englishman understands of a passage from Chaucer's “Prologue,” read to him with the proper
pronunciation. I remember well how a Scotchman puzzled me, as a schoolboy, by repeating Burns's lines :
“ The hert aye's the pert aye
That maks us recht or wrang." I could manage the second line ; but the first was an insoluble problem, yielding only when reduced to writing. And is not the same thing true of such identities as ahya, aňhå—barahvā, baranuha — xsa prõi, xsa prę, &c., types of differences where a plain man speaking Zend was very unlikely to recognise the older form when repeated to him ?
But I must stop short, and leave further discussion of this deeply interesting subject till my next paper. Before then I hope to have Dr. Mills's promised article in my hands. Nor will it be long, I trust, ere his transcription of the Gâthâs into Vedic will establish a further claim on our gratitude. My own obligation to him for his kind and encouraging criticism has not been expressed with half the warmth I have felt. I hope he will pardon my temerity in endeavouring to hold against so tried a veteran the most important of the positions I ventured to occupy: I can assure him that a very uncomfortable sense of presumption attends the effort to meet with my few years of study the wide and varied learning of a lifetime.
By G. P. BIDDER, M.A., Q.C. A CANDID consideration of the conditions involved, leads irresistibly to the conclusion that the Noachic flood must have been partial in extent, and not, as used to be held, universal. On the other hand, not only the Mosaic account, but all the numerous traditions of the flood, agree in representing it as being of an altogether exceptional character, sweeping away an entire race of men and prevailing to an extent which it seems hardly possible to explain by any rainfall, however severe or protracted. There is, however, an hypothesis, admittedly conjectural, but not impossible, which suggests a mode in which such a catastrophe might have happened without doing violence to the order of nature.
It is quite conceivable that, whilst the earth was in process of cooling and solidifying, a ring of aqueous vapour should have been thrown off, as in the case of the planet Saturn, forming an equatorial girdle, as Saturn's rings do at a distance of perhaps a few hundred miles from the earth's surface. The equilibrium of such a ring might easily become unstable, and if retarded in velocity by friction with the upper atmosphere, it would in time collapse, and descend in overwhelming torrents on the tropical or sub-tropical
regions of the earth. A local flood would result which would probably be of altogether unprecedented depth and extent, and which would abate as the accumulated water flowed away to the ocean, producing a permanent but small rise in the general sea level. It is worth noticing that this hypothesis gives a new significance to the description of the firmament in the first chapter of Genesis as dividing the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament." It also adds force to the expression “the windows of heaven were opened.” Lastly, it seems to suggest a singular appropriateness in the adoption of the rainbow as the sign of the promise that the catastrophe should not recur. Whilst the ring existed, it must usually have appeared as a magnificent arch of light across the sky. After its collapse this arch was gone for ever, and with it the possibility of such a deluge. The beautiful phenomenon of the rainbow, similarly spanning the heavens, would be at once a reminiscence of the lost. ring and a pledge of the non-recurrence of the deluge of which it was the
THE UNPARDONABLE SIN.
By Rev. ALEX. BROWN.
Matt. xii. 31, 32; Mark iii. 29. In one or other of our theological periodicals every decade sees a renewal of the discussion of these texts; and the result is commonly the re-affirmation of some aspect of the traditional view, which this ever-recurring discussion shows does not satisfy the heart or conscience of the Church. Will the reader kindly consent to look at the subject with us from a totally different point of view? The difficulty does not seem to lie in the way of reaching a correct diagnosis of the sin itself. Perhaps all our well-known interpreters would agree in saying that the sin is substantially the wilful and deliberate rejection of the Spirit of Holiness that was incarnate in Jesus Christ. That is a sin of a clearly-determined character, and of the greatest measure of culpability, and deserves to be made unpardonable, if such a thing as unpardonable sin exists.
After this much is settled, our perplexity begins. Why is such a sin unpardonable? The current answers take three forms :
1. The sinner makes his choice, and persists in sin while repentance is still possible to him in this life. But if this were our Lord's meaning, why did He, always so accurate and direct in speech, not say, "Even blasphemy against the Holy Ghost will be forgiven to men on condition of repentance in this world, but not in the world to come.” And how could He say absolutely, “it hath no forgiveness,” if the accuracy of the statement is dependent upon the contingency of no one sinner ever repenting, when repentance is still possible in this life?
2. The sin is unpardonable because it implies "a fixture in evil, from which even God's grace cannot bring the soul back"; or because, 3. Such sinners are " left in their guilt without the blood that pardons." These two reasons imply that God either cannot or will not convert the sinner; and, according to them, our Lord might indubiously have expressed Himself thus: “ All manner of sin can be repented of and obtain forgiveness; but the sin against the Holy Ghost cannot be repented of, either in this world or in the world to come.”
Now, seeing that all three answers imply defective utterance on Christ's part, and are confessedly encumbered with grave and even painful perplexities, is it not full time to credit our Lord with the fullest clearness of expression, and to cease interpreting on the supposition that He omitted the most practical and luminous idea in the truth He intended to conveyin one case, the need of a repentance scarcely attainable in order to forgive. ness; and in the other, the impossibility of both ? Let us proceed upon the principle that there is no biatus either in the thinking or expression of the passage, and see to what results we come.
I. Christ reminds His audience of the wonderful measure of Divine grace in which they stand. “ All manner of sin shall be forgiven unto men." Perhaps, to put ourselves into the actual standpoint of our Lord, we should adopt the marginal reading of the R.V.—“unto you men.” This ancient reading gives more force to our Lord's admonition, and makes it more strictly what it really was—an argumentum ad hominem. He reminds His auditors that they were God's chosen people, enjoying divinely-appointed means for putting away their sins, and abiding constantly in the unspeakable privilege of being “the people of His presence.” Such was the beneficent character of their dispensation that their sins were removed from them “ as far as the east is from the west," and they were "holy" to the Lord. We know that the religious teachers of Israel in Christ's day were inclined to pride themselves upon this exalted privilege, and even to presume that as long as they stood by the Mosaic ritual, no possible sin could alter their relation to Jehovah. This presumption led them to be exceedingly intolerant and contemptuous in their treatment of Jesus as soon as they detected that His teaching was broader than their interpretation of the covenant law. Their very feeling of security made them less patient and less scrupulous in their treatment of
II. To a people so visibly presuming on their covenant privilege, He adds the solemn reminder that there is a definite limit to the grace of God. That limit was not reached by any mere mistake about His credentials as Son of Man. An honest soul might stumble over the external evidences of His mission. But stumbling at inherent goodness, blaspheming the Spirit of universal love, is a sin of so deep and absolute a character that it is not consistent with the continuance of the covenant relation. The people could be “ holy" only through living in communion with the Spirit of the holy God. All sin that did not essentially break up this communion could be overlooked ; but sin which implied hatred of God's essential character and involved deliberate opposition to His sanctifying purpose could not be overlooked. In more scientific terms, all sins of ignorance, or of incidental opposition to the Divine will, are compatible with a measure of communion with God; but this sin of active opposition to God's holy indwelling Spirit is entirely fatal to the communion of God and man. This latter, stated in judicial terms, is a sin that cannot be forgiven; it inevitably brings about its fated punishment; it is the absolute rupture of the covenant existing between God and His people.
III. Christ then proceeds to assert that this is no merely individual judgment of His own, but a catholic truth-true everywhere and in every time. It hath no forgiveness, “neither in this age nor in the age about to
. come." If expositors had not missed the true sense of this clause, they would much sooner have discovered the key to the unpardonable sin. Aion never means world in the material or local sense, but only the world in its passing phasis—as an age or dispensation. Accordingly, Christ teaches here that this sin has been fatal all through the Old Testament times. The Jews claimed that they had made an “everlasting" covenant with Jehovah
" but Christ asserts that there always was “a sin unto death " in the Mosaic age—a state of mind fatal to the covenant relationship — blasphemous opposition to the Spirit of Holiness. “ The soul that sinneth it shall die " -be cut off from the covenant life. And the nation itself, if once involved by its leaders in the same determined opposition to the Holy Spirit of God, must likewise suffer in the end the fatal penalty of being broken off and cast away as an utterly unholy branch.
This was certainly a bold and staggering threat to be uttered in the hearing of leaders who, instead of expecting judgment unto doom, were on the tiptoe of expectation looking for a marked increase in the national privileges through the approaching advent of Messiah. Jesus Himself had spoken of that great day of salvation as near at hand, and as a day of splendid promise for God's Israel. But here He affirms that this larger grace which was so immanent would not alter the law He had asserted. “ Neither in the age about to come,” with all its enhanced privilege and superabundant glory, will this sin be anything but fatal. The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the one catholic sin; fatal under Judaism ; fatal under Christianity; fatal everywhere and in every time, no matter how rich the privilege of the age or state. From its nature, it separates totally between God and man: is a sin essentially unto death-yea, is death itself; so that even God could not, if He would, save from its penalties the soul that lives in its guilty perpetuation.
Thus does Christ plainly assure His auditors that they have nothing to hope for from the larger measure of grace coming in the Messianic days if they carry themselves in the same opposing spirit to all that is most essentially good in God. We can now see how they would be “guilty of aionian sin ” (Mark iii. 29). Breaking with the New Covenant by opposing its demand for a higher holiness, their sin would have a dispensational effect and an age-long consequence, and Paul's threat of “ aionian destruction from the presence of the Lord " be fully realized.
Such is the meaning of our Lord. This interpretation has many advantages over those commonly received. It is fully exhaustive of every phrase, and interpolates none to complete or modify the sense.
At once it is evident that our Lord's hearers would readily understand His meaning and feel its intense application to their immediate circumstances. The passage ceases to be encumbered with theological difficulties, inasmuch as the sin is necessarily accompanied by its penalty, while there is no arbitrary difficulty put in the way of a sinner's repentance or restoration to Divine communion when the sin is put away. Finally, it brings into prominence the instructive and encouraging fact that only one sin is finally and permanently damning to the soul-a doctrine in beautiful harmony with our evangelical faith, that Jesus Christ is the one and only touchstone by which souls are tested and fixed in their eternal destinies—for good or ill.