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perhaps as many different answers to the question we liare before us. In the writings of the Fathers, if we may believe Toletus, a learned Jesuit and Cardinal of the sixteenth century, there were no less than eighteen different expositions of the sin against the Holy Ghost. Cornelius à Lapide, another learned Jesuit and Commentator, a generation later, thought he could reduce these eighteen to seven, but at the same time tells us that Augustine alone, in his various expository works, presents us with the respectable number of six different sins, all of which he dignifies as blasphemies against the Holy Ghost. They are presumption, desperation, fighting against known truth, hatred of brotherly love, impenitence, and obstinacy. Why the holy Father limited himself to six sins it is difficult to conceive. A man with a genius so fertile, or a fancy so unrestrained, might, without any violence to his principles of exegesis, as well bave had sixty unpardonable sins as six. Other Fathers of more limited abilities were obliged to confine themselves within narrower bounds. Some of them, therefore, found the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in heresy, and others in schism, and others still in simony. Some thought it consisted in denying that Christ is God, and others in denying that the Holy Ghost is so. Some were of the
. opinion that denying the Christian faith in times of persecition made the unpardonable sin, while others believed that any sin, especially a mortal sin, committed after baptism was the sin here meant, and others still that any sin persisted in till the close of life constituted the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. In short, anything and everything which ignorance or caprice chanced to suggest was easily converted into this one irremissible sin. Nothing could better show how conpletely at sea the Church was upon this subject than this diversity of opinion, this hopeless confusion in regard to a matter deemed by all important, and which all should have seen touches the fundamentals of the Gospel, and is to every human being vital. If there is one sin that is absolutely irremissible, what can be more necessary than that every individual of the race should know what it is?
Nor have the ages, as they have come and gone, essentially changed the condition of things upon this subject. We have attained, it may be hoped, better principles of exegesis, and soberer views on many points of doctrine, but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit remains undetermined as of old. The opinions or whims of commentators may have changed, but there is little less diversity in the modern than there was in the ancient Church. Dr. Schaff, in his treatise on the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,3 endeavors to group the various opinions upon it under three general heads, but there are so many differences under each that a Toletus would find little difficulty in making out the Patristic eighteen.
Now it needs no argument, we assume, to show that a sin such as this is generally taken to be, a sin absolutely unpardonable, and whose evil consequences infinitely transcend all human thought, should not only be definable, but defined, and that it should be made so plain that a wayfaring man, however humble, could without difficulty know what it is, and knowing, be able to avoid it. Such a sin, to be certainly followed by endless exclusion from the favor of God, and by all the torments of hell, could hardly fail to arouse attention, we should naturally think, in every age, and quickening the susceptibilities of the Christian conscience, “cause inquiry to be made," as the Rev. Mr. Bullock, in Smith's “ Dictionary of the Bible," expresses it, “as to the specific character of the sin so denounced, and of the actions which fall under so terrible a ban." Other sins, and especially such as are of the more heinous character, are not generally doubtful, or of difficult interpretrition. The Decalogue has never been complained of as unintelligible. But who can tell us what the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, that sole irremissible sin, is, and so tell us that the next man we meet of equal learning and claims to our respect will not correct or contradict him? We do not wonder that men have complained of this terrible indefiniteness and uncertainty, for just where of all places we need assurance we micet with nothing but confusion and distrust. Nor should it be thought strange that many Christians of a questioning and timid disposition have found themselves perplexed and distressed by the apprehension that they may unwittingly have committed this fearful sin, or since such uncertainty hangs over it, may in some unguarded moment, or in their ignorance, hereafter fall into it. The learned writer before quoted from Smith's Dictionary confesses that “a morbid conscience is prone to apprehend the unpardonable sin in every, even unintentional, resistance of an inward motion which may proceed from the Spirit.” But it surely needs no morbid conscience to excite distressing fears in the coolest head and purest heart when an eternity of woe is suspended upon some action, one hardly knows what. The voyage of human life can be made only under a perpetual sense of awful peril, if it is to be made over a sea studded with rocks, which no chart discovers and no skill can avoid. “ The Holy Scripture,” says Bishop Latimer, “maketh mention of a sin against the Holy Ghost, which sin can not be forgiven, neither in this world nor in the world to come. And this maketh many men unquiet in their hearts and consciences; for some there be which ever be afraid lost they have committed that same sin against the Holy Ghost, which is irremissible. Therefore some say, 'I can not tell whether I have sinned against the Holy Gliost; if I have committed that sin, I know I shall be damned.'” In like manner Augustine, in his endeavors to convert some heretics of his time, tells us they said, “If we have sinned against the Holy Ghost (with which they had probably been charged), then there is no remission for us, because Christ said, “Whosoever speaketh a word against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him.'” 4
3 Die Sünde wider den Heiligen Geist. Halle. 1841.
And what was thus true in the times of Augustine and Latimer, is equally true to-day. Of this our own country's religious history furnishes only too many sad illustrations. In the great revival that spread like wild-fire over large sections of our land half a century ago, cases of insanity, in which the unhappy victims had been brought to feel or fear that they 4 De Correctione Donatestarum, Cap. XI. Migne's Patrol. Lat. Tom. xxxiii. fol. 814.
had committed the unpardonable sin, were not infrequent. The preaching was often, if not generally, of the most startling and fearful kind. The fate of sinners and the torments of hell were frequent topics of discourse, and were urged with all the eloquence which heated zeal or unscrupulous methods could command. The doctrine of endless torments was then preached with something of the intensity and effect which should always mark its ministration. It often seemed as if the preacher himself half believed what he was preaching, and was resolved, if possible, to make his hearers believe it wholly. The consequence was that many did believe it in good earnest, and what was singular, they believed it for themselves, and became insane. He was but an indifferent revivalist who could not count up several victims of this kind as the fruits of his labors. Almost every neighborhood blest with a great revival was also the scene of one instance or more of religious insanity. Many were sent to the Lunatic Asylum, some committed suicide, and others dragged out an existence for weeks, months, or years, from which the light had been excluded, and where hope itself was dead. In not a few instances more terrible consequences followed. An instance fell under our own observation in which a mother returned from an excited revival meeting and murdered her little family of two or three little children. Of course she was insane, and yet there was a method in her madness. She believed that she herself had committed the unpardonable sin, and was therefore hopelessly lost, lost; but her children, "dying in infancy,” she had heard, would be saved. What greater instance of maternal love could she show than thus to snatch her babes from an exposure to the awful hazards under which human life is lived, and through which her own soul was lost ? The logic was orthodox, though the consequences were terrible.
It is strange that through all these years, when “the great work of God” was exhibiting such fruits, the Church never stopped to reflect that in the ministry of Christ and his inspired Apostles, not a single person was erer made insane by their preaching. Their office seems to have been rather to clear the intellect than to obscure it, and to quicken and invigorate the conscience, not to darken and pervert it. “For God,” said
” the Apostle, “ hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” The revival fifty years ago moved on a different plane, and was actuated by a different spirit. It did not work so much by love as by fear, and its fruits corresponded to its source. The churches, it is to be hoped, have learned some lessons of wisdom from their bitter experience, and revivals will hereafter be distinguished by higher aims and different methods.
To avoid the fearful evils to which we have now referred, what better service could our Evangelical Alliance render the Protestant Church and the world than by devoting a whole session, though it required a month, or six months, to a discussion, and if possible, the final settlement of the rexed question about the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost ? Let it summon the learning, the candor, the humanity of the Protestant world to the task, and after eighteen centuries of uncertainty and practical confusion, finally inform the Church definitely, if it can, what this one unpardonable sin is, what makes it unpardonable, and under what circumstances it can be committed.
It should not be a difficult thing to determine, at least with approximate accuracy, what is the nature of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The occasion that called forth the discourse of the Divine Master, in which the sin is mentioned, and several of the circumstances attending it are clearly placed before us by St. Matthew, to whose account both Mark and Luke may be said to add some fresh and interesting features. The scene is laid in Galilee, where it seems our Saviour was followed by some of the Pharisees from Jerusalem, who had probably been sent thither by the Jewish rulers to watch his movements, counteract his influence, and if possible find mat ter of accusation against him. Under these circumstances a man was one day brought to him “possessed with a devil,” or more properly with a demon, and so afflicted as to be both blind and dumb. Our Lord healed him at once, and perfectly,