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Note [A]. p. 5.
The first two discourses, as stated in the Preface, are printed, with slight verbal alterations, precisely as they were de livered. Since I contemplated putting them to press, I have consulted those writers on the subject which are within my reach ; and though it is not my design to enter on any controversial discussion, either in opposition to the sentiments of others, or in defence of my own, a few remarks may not be out of place.
One of Dr. Whitby's Dissertations, appended to the Gospel of Matthew, is on “ The nature of the sin against the Holy Ghost, and the reason why it is said to be such as will never be forgiven.” Between the sentiments of this Dissertation, and those which are contained in the discourses, there is a striking coincidence, though I have no recollection of ever consulting Dr. Whitby on the subject. I do not agree with all the distinctions made by that acute commentator ; but I think he is quite correct in his view of the offence, and in the following paraphrase of the text: “ You have represented me
as a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners, and as one who casts out devils by Beelzebub; and yon will still go on, after all the miracles which I have done among you, to represent me as a false prophet and a deceiver of the people : but notwithstanding, all those grievous sins shall be forgiven you, if that last dispensation of the Holy Ghost, which I shall after my ascension send among you, shall prevail with you to believe in me. But if, when I have sent the Holy Ghost to testify the truth of my mission and of my resurrection, you shall continue in your unbelief, and shall blaspheme the Holy Ghost, and represent him also as an evil spirit, your sin shall never be forgiven, nor shall there any thing be further done to call you to repentance.” Between various parts of Whitby's reasoning in support of this view of the subject, and mine, the reader, who may take the trouble to compare them, will perceive some important points of difference.
The same view of the subject, I find, is taken by Dr. Doddridge, in his Expositor, in opposition to Archbishop Tillotson, who, with many others, contends, that the sin against the Holy Ghost was that of which the Pharisees were guilty, who ascribed the miracles of Christ to Satan. Mr. Scott, in his Commentary, appears to agree in substance with Whitby and Doddridge. But I differ from bim in thinking, that “ could commit this sin, who did not witness the effects of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles;” unless by this he means, that none could be guilty of the sin till after that event. “ There must,” he justly adds, “ be great opportunity of information, much inward conviction, determinate sinning against the light of a man's own conscience, deliberate enmity to the truth, and obstinate opposition to it, in defiance of evidence, to constitute this kind of impiety. They who most fear having committed it, are generally at the greatest distance from it; while such as are given up, are perhaps either uniromally callous in presumption or enmity, or absolutely
and outrageonsly desperate, of which we sometimes meet with awful instances: but the trembling, contrite sinner has " the witness in himself' that neither of these is his case.
In a work entitled “ Faith encouraged," by Matthias Maurice, a worthy Dissenting Minister, which is now scarce, there is a very full consideration of the whole subject. The great design of the author, who was both a learned and an acute man, is “ to shew the impossibility of committing such a transgression under the Gospel dispensation.” He fails, I am convinced, in establishing his main proposition; but says many excellent things in the course of his argument. The following is bis definition of the unpardonable blasphemy:“ A wrathful breaking out, in the inost reviling words the children of men could invent, against the Holy Ghost; evi. dently appearing unto their reason and senses, in the miracles wrought by Christ himself before their eyes.” This definition clearly fixes the crime upon the Pharisees, and limits it to the period of our Lord's personal ministry; but I think it is fully proved in the discourses, that both these positions are contrary to the circumstances of the case and the language of Scripture.
In a sermon by my excellent friend, the Rev. John Aikman, of Edinburgh, published in a volume of Discourses, by ministers of the Congregational Union in Scotland, there is much which is in full accordance with my sentiments; but the train of argument is on the whole considerably different. I differ from him in thinking that Balaam, Saul, and some others, are examples of persons guilty of this offence. He seems to me to confound the blasphemy of the Spirit with apostacy, from which I think it is quite distinct, though the consequences may be substantially the same. I also doubt the validity of his reasoning to shew the righteousness of God, in precluding characters chargeable with the guilt of this transgression from all possibility of forgiveness, “even during the period in which
forgiveness may yet be extended to every other class of trans. gressors." This is a sentiment to which I can by no means subscribe, as I am convinced, for the reasons stated in the second Discourse, that the only limits to forgiveness are those which are there assigned. I am fully persuaded, as I have no doubt my esteemed friend also is, that there is mercy for all that repent and believe, let their previous character and conduct have been what they may. Any other view of the matter must involve very serious difficulties indeed.
I have also read with all the attention and respect which are due to the productious of that excellent individual, the discourse of Dr. Chalmers, “ On the Nature of the Sin against the Holy Ghost,” in the volume of his sermons preached at St. John's. With the leading sentiments of that discourse, I cordially and fully agree; but the Doctor appears to me to have fallen into some of the common errors which are held on this subject. He uses the expressions," the sin against the Holy Spirit," and " the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit,” as interchangeable; not attending to the distinction which clearly obtains in Scripture in the use of them; and that our Lord uses the word blasphemy in its usual acceptation-for reviling language. The Doctor also regards the Pharisees as having committed this offence, contrary, I conceive, to the clear evidence of facts, which I have adduced in the first discourse. He denies it to be, a “ specific iniquity,” and contends that it is simply the rejection of the Gospel. With his usual eloquence he says, though I think incorrectly, “ The sin then against the Holy Ghost, so far from conferring any rare distinction of wickedness on him who is guilty of it, is, in fact, the sin of all, who, living under the dispensation of the Gospel, have, by their rejection of it, made it the “ savour of death unto death. It is a sin which can be charged upon every man who has put the overtures of forgiveness away from him. It is a sin which, if, on the great day of examination, you are