On the Unpardonable Sin
I received yours of the 1st instant, and must confess that it afforded me much comfort, as it served to satisfy me that God still condescended to own and bless my labours. I have found such accounts as yours the best antidotes against fainting in the work of the Lord, and have often perceived that God has sent them, after some temptation, reproach, or opposition has cast me down, as a reviving cordial, and as an encouragement for me to go on in his work, notwithstanding the difficulties that attend it. Tidings of God's approbation are to counterbalance the reproaches of carnal critics, and they generally fire the heart with zeal and love, which dispel the carnal fear of man.
I would willingly, Madam, comply with your request, but it takes up a great deal of time to write a sermon, and as I am so much exercised, I cannot complete it under a month for want of time. In the meanwhile the views wear off from the understanding, and I have not strength of mind to relate it in writing as it was delivered; besides, the life, warmth, power, quickness of thought, and sharpness of expression which sometimes appear in the pulpit, under a lively frame, go off from the soul when the minister has done, unless a man has time to sit down and finish it immediately, while it lies fresh on his mind; which is a blessing that has never yet been granted to me. However, I will here mention a few of the heads of it, as well as I can remember them; and as God owned the hearing of it, to deliver you out of the dreadful temptation, I hope he will own the reading of this epistle, to keep you in the enjoyment of your present liberty
The unpardonable sin goes by various names, as I find them scattered up and down the word of God. It is called "great wickedness," for it is said that "when the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, that they took them wives of all which they chose." (Gen. vi. 2.) And also after that, "When the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children unto them, the same became mighty men, which were of old, men of renown; and God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth." The sons of God I take to be professors of religion, and some real possessors of the grace of God among them. They married the daughters of Cain, who were begotten under the guilt of innocent blood, and perhaps they were partakers of their malice and desperation; as God often "visits the iniquities of the father upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that Late him." If this were the case, such mothers would doubtless bring their offspring up in their own persecuting spirit, while, on the other band, their fathers would instruct them in the worship and ways of God. But as the bloody persecuting spirit of Cain grew up under the infernal tuition of desperate and impenitent mothers, against all the instructions and examples of their fathers, spiritual wickedness broke forth into the world, and filled the earth with violence; no wonder that they are called men of renown, as the desperate brood of Cain could do no less than applaud or renown them for it.
I think that Esau committed the same sin when he sold his birthright, that being typical of the sonship and pre-eminence of Christ Jesus, who is called "the first-born among many brethren, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence." Secondly, it was a figure of the priesthood, which was annexed to the first-born, and therefore was a figure of the grand priesthood of the Son of God. Thirdly, it was a figure of the privileges of all real Israelites. "Israel is my son," says God, "my first-born." Fourthly, his birthright was figurative of pre-adoption. (Gal. iv. 6.) Fifthly, it was figurative of a spiritual birth. (Gal. iv. 29.) Now, as his birthright was typical of the sonship, pre-eminence, and priesthood of Christ; and likewise of the pre-adoption, glorious privileges, and regeneration, or spiritual birth of the elect, his birthright was a typical privilege to him; and his father was also a typical man, for he was a type of Christ as the promised seed, and a type of the elect as heirs of promise. So likewise was his inheritance a typical inheritance. The land of Canaan was a type of the covenant of promise; the land of Canaan is called " the land of promise." Secondly, it was a type of Leaven, which is called the better country. The city of Salem, which was in the land, was a type of the metropolis above, called a city, which Abraham and Isaac sought, that has foundations, "whose Maker and Builder is God." Isaac's blessing was typical of the blessings of an everlasting gospel, and Isaac's seed a type of all the chosen Israel of God. Now, as Esau's birthright was typical, both of the sonship of Christ and of his elect, it was holy and sacred; therefore Esau is said to be a profane person, for selling it; and as he sold it for a morsel of meat, he is brought in as making a god of his belly, preferring that and despising the other. Hence it is said, "he ate and drank, and got up and went his way." Thus Esau despised his birthright. He called God to witness at the sale of it, and swore by his name to Jacob, when he gave it up; therefore he could never inherit the blessing without being perjured; nor could he inherit by law, the inheritance being entailed on the first born; (Deut. xxi. 15-17;) nor had he a promise from God to look to. Hence it is said, that, " when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears." How could Esau inherit the blessing, when the choice of his own free will was against him? He had chosen the pottage and despised the birthright. What place could he find for repentance, when the witness of God, whom he called in at the sale, was against him? This made him cry out when conscience accused him. There was no promise that he could look at, or credit, to afford ground of repentance, for the revealed will of God was against him, "The elder shall serve the younger;" and his own father's declaration was against him, "I have blessed, (Jacob,) yea, and he shall be blessed." Impenitence and absolute rebellion now took place in his heart. He saw that the daughters of the land pleased not his father Isaac, and that the fear of marriage with them had caused them much grief of heart to his mother. (Gen. xxvii. 46.) Then went Esau and took two wives, the first in opposition to Isaac, and to Christ his antitype; the second in opposition to Rebecca, and to the church her antitype, which was a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebecca. Thus Esau was left to the freedom of his own will, and he chose the mess of pottage - a part in this life - as every natural man will do, while Jacob was " preserved in Christ Jesus and called," as all the elect are.
This sin of presumption, or presumptuous sin, is opposed to all sins committed through weakness, ignorance, or through the force of temptation, as being committed willingly, daringly, deliberately, against light, against knowledge, against clear conviction; rejecting the word of God, and reproaching the God of the word, and that in the open face of his priest or minister, as it is written, "And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the Lord, to make an atonement for him, and it shall be forgiven him. But the soul that doeth aught presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people, because he bath despised the word of the Lord, and bath broken his commandments, that soul shall utterly be cut off, his iniquity shall be upon him." And again, "If there arise a matter too, hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates, then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place that the Lord thy God shall choose, and thou shalt come in to the priests, the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and inquire; and they shall show thee the sentence of judgment; and thou shalt do according to the sentence which they shall show thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee thou shalt do; thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall show thee, either to the right hand or to the left. And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest, that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die, and thou shalt put away evil from Israel. Thus, madam, there is a sacrifice allowed for the sins committed in ignorance, though dreadfully heinous. By ignorance, you must understand it of a person destitute of gospel light and knowledge, and here it was that Paul took refuge after his dreadful persecution of the saints, "But I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly, in unbelief." Mark that, ignorance and unbelief. But there is no atonement for presumption. Hence David prays. "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins let them not have dominion over me; so shall I be upright before thee, and innocent from the great transgression."
This great sin appears again in the old law. There is mention made of some, who, though they did not, like Esau, sell their birthright, yet they sold their possession, which was typical of a part in God's covenant, and it went out of the reach of the Jubilee. Redemption prefigured the great ransom of Christ, and the jubilee the liberty proclaimed by the Holy Ghost to the redeemed. " And if a man sell a dwelling house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year may he redeem it. And if it be not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house that is within the walled city shall be established for ever to him that bought it, throughout his generations; it shall not go out in the jubilee." (Lev. xxv. 29, 30.) In a gospel sense, the house holds forth, first, the man; the fool built his house on the sand. Secondly, it may hold forth God in the covenant, who has been the saints' dwelling-place in all generations. And he that sells himself to work spiritual or presumptuous wickedness, has sold his soul, his God, and all; redemption will not reach him; the Holy Ghost will not proclaim liberty to him; Satan holds him fast; and justice forbids his enlargement. Thus God shutteth up a man and there can be no opening. (Job xii. 14.)
This great sin is called the sin unto death, (1 John v. 16,) because the sinner sins out of the reach of the promise of eternal life, and makes the gospel, which is a dispensation of the grace of God, a savour of death unto death; that is, it convinced him that he was legally dead, and left him spiritually dead, under the sentence due to unbelief; inverting, by the height of his crimes, the very order of the covenant, with respect to himself.
It is likewise called the sin against the Holy Ghost; because the gospel is a dispensation of the Spirit of God that exceedeth the legal dispensation in glory, as much as the sun, in his meridian, does the minutest star; and the great transgressor sins wilfully against the Spirit of God, which is revealed and promised in the gospel. It is called the unpardonable sin, because the guilty wretch tramples under foot the blood of the Son of God, through which alone he can, consistent with justice, obtain a pardon. The deplorable creature who is left to sin this unpardonable sin, Is one who, like Balaam, has had his eyes opened to see the holiness of God in his word: Secondly, to taste the word of God, as Balaam did, when God put a word in his mouth, and bade him speak thus. Or as the way-side hearers did, when they heard the word, and anon with joy received it. Thirdly, it is sometimes done over the belly of the fullest convictions, as was the case with the Pharisees, who, as Christ tells von, knew him even while they conspired against his life, as appears by the parable of the vineyard and the husbandmen. After the master of the vineyard had sent several of his servants, and all met with abuse or death, he, having one son, sent him, saying, "They will reverence my son." " But when the husbandmen saw him," (mark here their knowledge and confession,) " But when the husbandmen saw him, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours." Thus they knew him, confessed him, and killed him; and to this Nicodemus agrees, speaking as the mouth of all the rest, " We know that thou art a teacher come from God ; for no man can do the miracles thou doest, except God be with him." Thus they knew that he was a teacher sent from God, and that God was with him, by the miracles he performed, for none could do them except God were with them; and yet all agreed to put him to death, except Nicodemus. Thus they saw and hated both Christ and his Father, and really fulfilled that which was written in their law, "'They hated me without a cause.' Thus they sinned against their own confessions; against light and knowledge; against all the strong convictions that his miracles produced; and against his holy and innocent life, which two were sufficient to prove him the true Messiah.
But to be short. A man that sins against the Holy Ghost must be enlightened, as Balaam was; and taste the good word of God; (Heb. vi. 5;) or receive the word with joy, as the stony-ground hearers did; (Mat. xiii. 20;) and receive some knowledge of the word, which Peter calls, " knowing the way of righteousness." He must also have his enmity slain by the power of the word, as Saul had, and be reformed by it, as Herod was; what the Saviour calls, the unclean spirit going out of a man, and leaving him empty, swept, and garnished.
All this may be done by a soul where the plough of real conviction never drew a furrow; where real faith and pure love never took root. "Having no root they withered away," that is, their joy withered away, and all their profession was scorched up, in a fiery trial, for the want of moisture. (Luke viii. 6.) How could it be otherwise, when the whole profession was destitute of a broken and a contrite heart? It is said to fall on stony ground, where it had not much earth, where it only floated on the understanding, slew their enmity, an moved their passions, and for want of moisture, or of the Spirit, the water of life, to soften the soil, and make way for the root, it was scorched, and when the sun was up, it withered away. Joy withered away from the want of a good root; real love is the root of a stable joy, and they withered away from their profession as well as their joy, or, as Peter says, they turned from the holy commandment delivered unto them," for want of a rooted faith in the mind. Thus their lamp goes out for want of oil; their joy withers for want of a rooted love; and their confession and profession is all scorched in a fiery trial, for want of a rooted faith, arid of the soil of a broken heart; and all this is for the want of divine moisture to make it so.
When this is the case, as Peter says, he abandons his profession and reformation, "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them." Our Lord calls this a withering away; Peter terms it, a turning away from a knowledge and reformation; and Paul calls it, a falling away. When this is the case with a man destitute of all rooted experience, Satan will not let him stay there; but, being given up of God, he is led forth into open wickedness, which Paul calls, "crucifying to themselves the Son of God afresh;" because he acts the same part, and appears in the same spirit as those who crucified him at first; and by his open apostasy and wickedness, he puts Christ, in his gospel and in his cause, to an open shame, as they did who arrayed him, exposed him, mocked him, and scourged him. Such are said to sin with the full consent of their will, after an enlightened knowledge of the truth being received, Web. x. 26,) insomuch that he exposes to the open contempt of fools the mystery of the cross; and, by his profaning the sublime mystery of redemption, he is said to tread under foot the Son of God; and, by his open profanity, and daring contempt of the Saviour, to count the blood of the covenant, wherewith Christ was sanctified from our sin, (Compare John xvii. 19, with Heb. x. 29,) an unholy thing; and, by his exposing to ridicule, in profane company, the confessions, the temptations, and experiences of real believers, and bringing into contempt his own profession, as well as the experience of others, and exposing to shame the church of God, he is said to do despite to the Spirit of grace, because he exposes to ridicule and contempt all that he has learned in the church, and opposes, knowingly, the real operations of the Spirit on humble and simple souls. Thus such a monster sins against law, against conscience, against his profession, confession, and reformation; against light, against knowledge, against Christ, against the covenant and the blood of it; against the joys that he felt, against the convictions that he had from what he himself had felt, and from what he saw of the power of God on others; and so sins against the Holy Ghost, and against the church of God, the very temple of God. And, for my part, I can see no ground of hope for such a man, no place of repentance, no promised warrant for faith, nor any way to escape the damnation of hell; because every door of hope is barred against him, the saints are commanded not to pray for him, nor is there a plea in all the covenant of grace but what he has sinned against. Such men are either left with a seared conscience, a reprobate mind, and impenitent heart, to commit all uncleanness with greediness, or else shut up in black despair, under a fearful looking for of judgment, and in the daily expectation of a fiery indignation from God, to devour such an adversary.
Thus, dear Madam, I have sent you some of the heads of the subject; and as it was blessed to your happy deliverance, I hope God will bless this epistle to confirm your faith in Christ, and of your comfortable part and lot in his great salvation. I find many poor, simple, weak souls harassed by Satan about this unpardonable sin, when, at the same time, there is every appearance of filial fear, tenderness of conscience, anxiety for holiness, contrition of heart, chastity of conversation, diligence in the means of grace, fervour in devotion, jealousy of themselves, suspicion of their own bad and deceitful hearts, which appear to me to be things that accompany salvation, and as far from the marks of an unpardonable apostate as the east is from the west. But it is the devil's business to weaken a good hope, and to support a bad one; to harden the hypocrite, and to distress the sincere. Satan is not divided against himself; if he were, how should his kingdom stand?
You need not have made that apology your letter. It is the joy of my soul to be found useful, and the desire of my heart to be more so; therefore you are welcome to draw anything out of my earthern vessel that the Lord has been pleased to put therein.
Dear Madam, adieu. May every essential truth and special grace be with you, while I remain, with profound respect, and with a willing mind, Yours to command in the gospel of Christ,
Winchester Row, 5th August, 1785.