« PrécédentContinuer »
miracles of the Holy Ghost, to an unclean fences, “a sin unto death;” but the Spirit of spirit, were guilty of the identical sin against God prompts us to attach this idea to the the Holy Ghost, of which Jesus Christ had second. There are likewise two kinds of aposspoken: as is apparently proved.
tates. There is one class, who have made only The second text we shall explain, occurs in small attainments in the knowledge of the the fifth chapter of the first epistle of St. John. truth; weak and imperfect Christians, unac
If any man see his brother sin a sin which quainted as yet with the joys and transports is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall excited in the soul by a religion, which progive him life for them that sin not unto death: mises remission of sin, and everlasting felicity. there is a sin unto death; I do not say ye shall There is another, on the contrary, to whom pray for it.” On this question there are, as God has given superior knowledge, to whom we usually say, as many opinions as parties. he has communicated the gifts of miracles, and
Consuli the doctors of the Romish church, whom he has caused to experience the sweetand they will establish, on these words, the ness of his proinise. It would be hard to refrivolous distinction between venial and mortal ject the first; but the apostle had regard to the sins; a conjecture both false, and directly op- second. Those, according to St. John, who posed to the design of those from whom it pro- have committed the “sin unto death,” are the ceeds. Because, if this sense be true, the mo- persons who abjure Christianity, after the rement a man commits a mortal sin, prayer must ception of all those gifts. In the primitive cease with regard to him; and he who com church, where some were honoured with the mits a venial sin, will still need the prayers of endowment of discerning spirits, there probasaints to avoid a death he has not deserved; bly were brethren who could discern the latter this is not only indefensible, but what the Ca- apostates from the former. tholics themselves would not presume to main These observations lead to the illustration tain.
of the two passages yet to be explained: the Waving the various glosses of the Nova- one is in the tenth chapter to the Hebrews; the tians, and other commentators, do you ask other is our text. In both these passages, it is what is the idea we should attach to these obvious the apostle had the second class of words of the apostle, and what is the sin of apostates in view. This is very apparent from which he here speaks: We repeat what we our text. Throughout the whole of this epistle, have already intimated, that it is difficult to ex- it is easy to prove, that the apostle's wish was plain. However, on investigating the views of the prevention of apostacy. He especially dethe apostle throughout the chapter, we discover signed to demonstrate, that to renounce Christhe sense of this text. His design was, to em- tianity, after attesting its confirmation by mirabolden the young converts in the profession of cles, here denominated “distributions of the the religion they had so happily embraced. Holy Ghost," was a crime of the grossest enorWith this view, he here recapitulates the proofs mity. He has the same design in the text. which established its truth: “ There are three Let us examine the terms. that bear witness on earth, the water, and the 1. “They were once enlightened;" that is, spirit, and the blood. It is the innocence of the they had known the truth. They had coinprimitive Christians, which is called the water; pared the prophets with the apostles, the prothe miracles which are called the spirit; and phecies with the accomplishment; and by the martyrdom, by which the faithful have sealed collective force of truth, they were fully pertheir testimony, and which is called the blood: suaded that Jesus was the Messiah. Or, if you attesting that those three classes of witnesses, please, “ they were once enlightened;" that is, demonstrate the truth of the Christian religion, " they were baptized;” baptism, in the primiand render its opposers utterly inexcusable. tive church, succeeding instruction, according
After these and similar observations, the to that precept of Christ, “Go ye and teach apostle says expressly, that he wrote for the all nations, baptizing them,” &c. St. Paul, at confirmation of their faith, and closes with this the beginning of this chapter, speaking of bapexhortation: “Little children, keep yourselves tism, expresses the same sentiment. So also we froin idols.” Between these two texts, occur are to understand St. Peter, when he says, that the words we wish to explain: “ There is a sin the baptism which now saves us, is not the putunto death: I do not say that ye shall pray for ting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer it.” Must not “the sin unto death,” be that, of a good conscience.” The answer of a good against which he wished to fortify the saints; conscience, is the rectitude of conduct, resultI mean apostacy?
ing from the catechumen's knowledge and What! you will say, is a man lost without faith. Hence they commonly gave the appelremedy who has denied the truth; and is every lation of illuminated to a man after baptism. one in the sad situation of those for whom the "The washing of baptism,” says Justin Martyr, apostle prohibits prayer? God forbid, my bre- “is called illumination; because he who is inthren, that we should preach so strange a doc- structed in these mysteries, is enlightened.” trine; and once more renew the Novatian se- Hence also the Syriac version, instead of enverity! There are two kinds of apostates, and lightened, as our reading which follows the two kinds of apostacies: there is one kind of Greek, has rendered it baptized. apostacy into which we fall by the fear of 2. “They had tasted of the heavenly gift;" punishment, or on the blush of the moment, that is, they had experienced the serenity of by the promises Satan makes to his proselytes. that peace, which we feel when we no longer There is another, into which we fall by the fear the punishment of sin: having passed, if I enmity we have against the truth, by the de- may so speak, the rigorous road of repentance, testable pleasure we take in opposing its force. into favour with God. It were cruel to account the first of these of 3. “They were made partakers of the Holy
Ghost, they had relished the good word of God, the gift of miracles, and experienced all the and the powers of the world to come.” All graces enumerated in the text. This was the these various expressions may be understood sin of those, who, after conversion, abjured the of miracles performed in their presence, or truth, and pronounced against Jesus Christ the achieved by themselves. The Holy Ghost him- anathemas which his enemies, and particularly self has assumed this acceptation, in various the Jews, required of apostates. These si. parts of the Scriptures, as in that remarkable Paul had in view, in the words of our text, passage in the nineteenth chapter of the Acts, and in the tenth chapter of this epistle. Of this * Have ye received the Holy Ghost?”–We St. John also spake, when he said, “there is a have not so much as heard, whether there be sin unto death.” Hence the sin described in any Holy Ghost. The good word, says Grotius, these three passages, and the sin against the is the promise of God, as in the twenty-ninth Holy Ghost, is the same in quality, if I may of Jeremiah, “I will perform my good word so speak, though diversified in circumstances: towards you;" that is, my promise; and one of we have, consequently, comprised the whole unthe greatest promises made to the primitive der the vague appellation of unpardonable sin. Christians, was the gift of miracles.
After these considerations, perhaps, you alsigns," says Jesus, "shall follow them that be ready rejoice. This sermon, designed to inlieve; in my name they shall cast out devils, spire the soul with sanctifying fear, has, perthey shall speak with longues, they shall take haps, already contributed to flatter your secuup serpents.” In fine, "the powers of the rity: you no longer see any thing in the text, world to come,” were, likewise, the prodigies which affects your case; nor any thing in the to be achieved during the gospel economy; most disorderly life, connected with a crime, which the Jews call the age, or world to come; peculiar to the primitive Christians. Let us prodigies elsewhere called, the “exceeding dissipate, if possible, so dangerous an illusion. greatness of his power, and the mighty work- We have done little, by tracing the manner in ing of his power.”
which the first witnesses of the gospel became These are the endowments, with which the guilty of the unpardonable sin; we must also persons in question were favoured; their crime inquire, what relation it may have to us. was apostacy. “It is impossible, if they fall In general, it is not possible to hear subjects away, to renew them again unto repentance." of this nature discussed, without a variety of
To fall away, does not characterize the state questions revolving in the mind, and asking of a man, who relapses, after having obtained one's self, have I not already committed this remission. How deplorable soever his situa- , sin? Does not such and such a vice, by which tion may be, it is not without resource. The I am captivated, constitute its essence? Or, falling away in our text signifies a total defec- if I have never committed it yet, may I not tion; and entire rejection of Jesus Christ, and fall into it at a future period? It is but just, of his religion. The falling away, according brethren, to afford you satisfaction on points to St. Paul, in the ninth chapter of his epistle so important. Never did we discuss more to the Romans, marks the first stage of obdu- serious questions; and we frankly acknowledge, racy in the Jewish nation. But the falling that all we have hitherto advanced, was merely away in our text, is not only a rejection of introductory to what we have yet to say; and Christ, but a rejection after having known him: for which we require the whole of the attention, it is not only to reject, but to outrage and per- with which you have favoured us. secute him with malice and enmity of heart. Though truth is always the same, and never Here is all the information we can derive from accommodates itself to the humours of an audie the text. The unpardonable sin, in these ence, it is an invariable duty to resolve these words, is that of apostates; and such as we questions according to the characters of the inhave characterized in the preceding reinarks. quirers. The questions amount in substance
This also is the genuine import of the tenth, to this: Can a man in this age commit the unchapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, "If we pardonable sin? And, I assure you, they may sin wilfully, after having received the know- i be proposed from three principles, widely difledge of the truth," as would be easy to prove. , ferent from each other: from a melancholy,
Now, if you have been attentive to all the from a timorous, and a cautious disposition. considerations we have just advanced: if you We shall diversify our solutions, conforınably have understood the explanations we have to this diversity of character. given of the several texts, you may form a cor 1. One may make this inquiry through a rect idea of the unpardonable sin. You may melancholy disposition; and mental derangeknow what this crime was, at least, in the ment is an awful complaint. It is a disease time of the primitive church. It was denying, which corrupts the blood, stagnates the spirits, hating, and maliciously opposing the truth, at I and flags the mind. From the body, it quickly the moment they were persuaded it proceeded communicates to the soul; it induces the suffrom God. Two classes of men might commit ferers to regard every object on the dark side; this crime in the apostolic age.
to indulge phantoms, and cherish anguish, First, those who had never embraced Christi-, which, excluding all consolation, wholly deanity; but opposed its progress in defiance of votes the mind to objects, by which it is alarmed rational conviction, and the dictates of con- and tormented. A man of this disposition, on science. This was the sin of the Pharisees, i examining his conscience, and reviewing his who maliciously ascribed to the devil miracles, I life, will draw his own character in the deepest which they knew could bave God alone for colours. He will construe his weakness into their author.
wickedness, and his infirmities into crimes; he Secondly, those who had embraced the gos- will magnify the number, and aggravate the pel, who had been baptized, who had received i atrocity of his sins; he will class himself, in
short, with the worst of human characters. I admit that it is not totally extinguished. I And, our reasons for self-condemnation and would assist this man to enter more minutely abasement before God, being always too well into his state; to consider the holy fears which founded, the person in question, proceeding fill, the terrors which agitate, and the remorse on these principles, and mistaking the causes which troubles bis heart; and in such a way as of humiliation and repentance, for just subjects to derive from the cause of his grief, motives of horror and despair, readily believes himself of consolation. We should never stretch our lost without resource, and guilty of the unpar- subjects, nor divide what Jesus Christ has joindonable sin.
ed by a happy temperature. If you look soleWithout doubt, it is highly proper to reason ly at the mercy of God, you will unavoidably with people of this description. We should form excuses to flatter your security; if you endeavour to compose them, and enter into confine your regards to his justice, you will their sentiments, in order to attack their argu- fall into despair. It is this happy temperature ments with more effect; but, after all, a man of severity and indulgence, of mercy and jusso afflicted has more need of a physician than tice, of hope and fear, which brings the soul of a minister, and of medicine than sermons. If a saint to permanent repose; it is this happy it is not a hopeless case, we must endeavour to temperature which constitutes the beauty of remove the complaint, by means which nature religion, and renders it efficacious in the conand art afford; by air, exercise, and innocent version of mankind. This should be our merecreations. Above all, we must pray that thod with persons of a doubtful disposition. God would “cause the bones he has broken to But wo unto us, if under the pretext of givrejoice;" and that he would not abandon, to ing the literal import of a text of Scripture, the remorse and torments of the damned, souls we should conceal its general design; a design redeemed by the blood of his beloved Son, and equally interesting to Christians of every age reconciled by his sacrifice.
and nation, and which concerns you, my bre2. This inquiry may also be made through thren, in a peculiar manner; wo unto us, if una timorous disposition. We distinguish timidity der a pretence of composing the conscience of from melancholy; the first being a disposition the timorous, we should afford the slightest enof the mind, occasioned by the mistaken notions couragement to the hardened, to flatter their we entertain of God and his word; the second, security, and confirm them in their obduracy of the body. The timorous man fixes his eye of heart. on what the Scriptures say of the justice of 3. This inquiry,-Whether we can now comGod, without paying adequate attention to mit the unpardonable sin?—may likewise be what is said of his mercy. He looks solely at made on the ground of caution, and that we the perfection to which a Christian is called, may know the danger, only in order to avoid without ever regarding the leniency of the it. Follow us in our reply. gospel. Such a man, like the melancholy per We cannot commit this sin with regard to son, is readily induced to think himself guilty the peculiar circumstances of those who lived of the unpardonable sin. Should he Hatter in the first ages of the church. This has been himself with not having yet perpetrated the proved, I think, by the preceding arguments; deed, he lives in a continual fear. This fear no person having seen Jesus Christ work miramay, indeed, proceed from a good principle, cles, and, like the Pharisees, having called him and be productive of happy effects, in exciting Beelzebub; nor has any one received the gift vigilance and care; but, if not incompatible with of miracles, and afterwards denied the truth, the liberty of the children of God, it is at least as those a postates, of whom we spake.
But a repugnant to the peace they may obtain; which man may commit the crime, with regard to constitutes one of the sweetest comforts of re- what constitutes its essence, and its atrocity. ligion, and one of the most effectual motives This also we hope to prove. For, I ask, what to conciliate the heart.
constituted the enormity of the crime Was If a man of this description should ask me, it the miracles, simply considered? Or was it whether one may now commit the unpardon- the conviction and sentiments which ensued, able sin? I would repeat what I have just said, and which proceeded from the hearts of the that this sin, in all its circumstances, has pecu- witnesses? Without a doubt it was the convicliar reference to the miracles by which God tion and the sentiments, and not the miracles formerly confirmed the evangelical doctrine; and prodigies, separately considered, and withand consequently, to account himself at this out the least regard to their seeing them per-, period guilty of the crime, is to follow the emo- formed, or themselves being the workers. If tions of fear, rather than the conviction of ar- we shall, therefore, prove, that the efforts guinent. · I would compare the sin which which Providence now employs for the converalarms his conscience, with that of the unhap- sion of mankind, may convey to the mind the py inan of whom we spake. I would prove same conviction, and excite the same sentiby this comparison, that the disposition of a ments afforded to the witnesses of these miraman, who utters blasphemy against Jesus cles, shall we not consequently prove, that if Christ, who makes open war with the profes- men now resist the gracious efforts of Provisors of his doctrine, has no resemblance to the dence, they are equally guilty as the ancients; style of another, who sins with remorse and and, of course, that which constitutes the escontrition; who wrestles with the old man; sence and atrocity of the unpardonable sin, who sometimes conquers, and sometimes is subsists at this period, as in the apostolic age. conquered: though he has sufficient cause from 1. A man, at this period, may sin against his sin to perceive, that the love of God by no the clearest light. Do not say that he cannot means properly burns in his heart; he has, sin against the same degree of light, which irhowever, encouragement from his victories, to radiated the primitive church. I allow that
none of you have seen the miracles performed To collect the whole in two words, and in a for the confirmation of our faith; but I will yet shorter way to resolve the question," Is it venture to affirm, that there are truths as pal-possible now to commit the unpardonable sin?” pable, as if they had been confirmed by mira- | I answer: We cannot commit it with regard cles; I will venture to affirm, that if they col- to every circumstance; but, in regard to what lect all the proofs we have of our Saviour's constitutes its essence and atrocity, it may be mission, there will result a conviction to the committed; and though men seldom fall so mind as clear, as that which resulted to the deeply, yet it is not impossible. Few comPharisees, on seeing the demoniac healed. plete the crime; but many commit it in part,
2. What constituted the atrocity of the crime and in degree. Some imagine themselves to in the first ages, was attacking this religion, be guilty by an ill-founded fear; but a much whose evidence they had attested. This may greater number are daily going the awful road, also be found among men of our own time. A and, through an obstinate security, unperceivman, who is convinced that the Christian reli- ed. They ought, of course, to reject the gion was revealed from heaven;—a man who thought of having proceeded to that excess; doubts not, among all the religious connexions but, at the same time, to take precaution, that, in the Christian world, that to which he ad- in the issue, the dreadful period may never heres is among the purest;-a man who aban- come, which is nearer, perhaps, than they imdons this religion;-a man who argues, who agine. disputes, who writes volume upon volume, to
APPLICATION. vindicate his apostacy, and attacks those very truths, whose evidence he cannot but perceive; What effects shall the truths we have de such a man has not committed the unpardona- livered, produce on your minds? Shall they ble sin in its whole extent; but he has so far augment your pride, excite vain notions of proceeded to attack the truths, of whose ve- your virtue, and suggest an apology for vice, racity he was convinced.
because you cannot, in the portrait we have 3. What farther constituted the atrocity of given, recognise your own character? Is your the crime, was falling away; not by the fear glory derived from the consideration, that your of punishment, not by the first charms Satan depravity has not attained the highest pitch, presents to his proselytes, but by a principle of and that there yet remains one point of horror, hatred against truths, so restrictive of human at which you have not arrived" Will you sufpassions. This may also be found among men fer the wounds to corrode your heart, under of our own age. For example, a man who the notions that they are not desperate, and mixes in our congregations, who reads our there is still a remedy? And do you expect to books, who adheres to our worship; but who, repent, and to ask forgiveness, when repentin his ordinary conversation, endeavours to ance is impracticable; and when all access to discredit those truths, to establish deism or im- mercy is cut off? piety, and abandons himself to this excess, be But who among our hearers can be actuated cause he hates a religion which gives him in- by so great a frenzy? What deluded conscience quietude and pain, and wishes to expunge it can enjoy repose under a pretext, that it has from every heart; this man has not committed not yet committed the unpardonable sin: the unpardonable sin in all its extent, but he Whence is it, after all, that this crime is so has so far proceeded as to hate the truth. dreadful? All the reasons which may be as
4. What, lastly, rendered the crime atrocious signed, terminate here, as in their centre, that with regard to a postates, was their running to it precipitates the soul into hell. But is not this excess, after having tasted the happiness, hell the end of every sin? There is this differwhich the hope of salvation produces in the ence, it must be observed, between the unparsoul. This may, likewise, be found among donable sin, and other sins, that he who comChristians of our own age. For example a mits it is lost without resource; whereas, after temporary professor;—a man (to avail myself other sins, we have a sure remedy in converof an expression of Jesus Christ) who receives sion. But, in all cases, a man must repent, the word with joy;"—a man, who has long reform and become a new creature; for we prayed with fervour, who has communicated find in religion, what we find in the human with transports of delight;—a man of this de- body, some diseases quite incurable, and others scription, who forgets all these delights, who which may be removed with application and resists all these attractive charms, and sacri. care: but they have both the similarity of befices them to the advantages offered by a false coming incurable by neglect; and what, at religion; he has not yet committed the unpar- first, was but a slight indisposition, becomes donable sin, but he surely has the characteris- mortal by presumption and delay. tic" of falling away, after having been once Besides, there are few persons among us, . enlightened, and tasted of the heavenly gift.” there are few monsters in nature, capable of
You now perceive, my brethren, that all carrying wickedness, all at once, to the point these characteristics may be found separately we have described. But how many are there ainong men of our own age. But should there who walk the awful road, and who attain to be a man in whom they all unite; a man who it by degrees. They do not arrive, in a mohas known and abjured the truth; who has not ment, at the summit of impiety. The first esonly abjured, but opposed and persecuted it, says of the sinner, are not those horrid traits not in a moment of surprise, and at the sight which cause nature to recoil. A man educated of racks and tortures, but from a principle of in the Christian religion, does not descend, all enmity and hatred; do you not think he would at once, from the full lustre of truth, to the have just cause to fear, that he had committed profoundest darkness. His fault, at first, was the “unpardonable sin.”
I mere detraction; thence he proceeded to negli
gence; thence to vice; next he stifles remorse; , overturn these pulpitsMust we exile these and, lastly, proceeds to the commission of enor- pastors' And making that the object of our mous crimes: so he who, in the beginning, prayer, which ought to be our justest cause of trembled at the thought of a weakness, be- fear, must we say, Lord, take away thy word; comes insensible of the foulest deeds, and of a take away thy Spirit; and remove thy candleconduct the most atrocious.
stick; lest, receiving too large a portion of grace, There is one reflection with which you can. we should augment the account we have to not be too much impressed, in an age in which give, and render our punishment more intoleJesus Christ approaches us with his light, with rable. bis Spirit, and with all the advantages of the But why abandon the soul to so tragical a evangelical economy; that is, concerning the thought Lord, continue with us these precious awful consequences of not improving these pledges “of thy loving-kindness, which is betprivileges, according to their original design. ter than life,” and give us a new heart. It is Yon rejoice to live in the happy age, which true, my brethren, a thousand objects indicate, "so many kings and prophets have desired 10 that you will persist in impiety. But I know see.” You have reason so to do. But you re- not what sentiment Aatters us, that you are joice in these privileges, while each of you about to renounce it. These were St. Paul's persist in a favourite vice, and a predomi- sentiments concerning the Hebrews: he saw the nant habit; and because you are neither Jews efforts of the world to draw them from the faith, nor heathens, you expect to find, in religion, and the almost certain fall of some; in the mean means to compose a conscience, abandoned time he loped, and by an argument of charity, to every kind of vice: this is a most extraor- that the equity of God would be interested to dinary, and almost general prejudice among prevent their fall. He hoped farther; he hoped Christians. But this light, in which you re to see an event of consolation. Hence he joice,-this Christianity, by which you are dis- opened to the Hebrews the paths of tribulation tinguished,—this faith, which constitutes your in which they walked with courage. He called glory, will aggravate your condemnation, if to their remembrance so many temptations reyour lives continue unreformed. The Phari- futed, so many enemies confounded, so many sees were highly favoured by seeing Jesus conflicts sustained, so many victories obtained, Christ in the flesh, by attesting his miracles, so many trophies of glory already prepared; and and hearing the wisdom which descended from proposing himself for a model, he animated his lips; but these were the privileges which them by the idea of what they had already caused their sin to be irremissible. The He- achieved, and by what they had yet to do. brews were happy by being enlightened, by “Call to remembrance," says he, “the former tasting of the heavenly gift, and the powers days, in which ye endured so great a fight of of the evangelical economy; but this happi- afflictions, partly whilst you were made a ganess, on their falling away, rendered their loss zing-stock, both by reproaches and afflictions, irreparable.
and partly whilst ye became companions of Apply this thought to the various means, them that were so used. Cast not away, therewhich Providence affords for your conversion; fore, your confidence, which hath great recomand think what effect it must produce on your pense of reward,” Heb. x. 32, 33. 35. We adpreachers. It suspends our judgment, and ties dress the like exhortation to each of our hearers. our hands, if I may so speak, in the exercise of We remind you of whatever is most to be adour ministry. We are animated at the sight of mired in your life, though weak and imperfect, the blessing which the gospel brings; but, when the communions you have celebrated, the praywe contemplate the awful consequences on ers you have offered to Heaven, the tears of those who resist, we are astonished and appalled. repentance already shed.
Must we wilfully exclude the light. What And you, my brethren, my dear brethren, effects have the efforts of Providence produced and honoured countrymen, I call to your recolupon you? What account can you give of the lection, as St. Paul to the Hebrews, the earth numerous privileges with which Heaven has strewed with the bodies of your martyrs, and favoured you? Think not that we take pleasure stained with your blood;—the desert populated in declamations, and in drawing frightful por- with your fugitives;—the places of your nativity traits of your conduct. Would to God that our desolated;—your tenderest ties dissolved;--your preaching were so received, and so improved, prisoners in chains, and confessors in irons; as to change our censures into applause, and all your houses rased to the foundation; and the our strictures into approbation. But charity is precious remains of your shipwreck scattered on never opposed to experience. So many ex-all the shores of Christendom. Oh! “Let us hortations, so many entreaties, so many affec- not cast away our confidence, which hath great tionate warnings, so many pathetic sermons, so recompense of reward.” Let not so many conmany instructions, so many conflicts to save you Alicts be lost; let us never forsake this Jesus to from vice, leave the proud in his pride, the im- whom we are devoted; but let us daily augment placable in his hatred, the fashionable woman the ties which attach us to his communion. in full conformity to the world, and every other If these are your sentiments, fear neither the in his predominating sin. What line of conduct terrors nor anathemas of the Scriptures. As shall we consequently adopt? Shall we con texts the most consolatory have an awful aspect tinue to enforce the truth, to press the duties of to them who abuse their privileges, so passages morality; and to trace the road of salvation, in the most terrific, have a pleasing aspect to those which you refuse to walk? We have already who obey the calls of grace. The words we said, that these privileges will augment your have explained are of this kind; for the apostle loss, and redouble the weight of your chains. speaking of a certain class of sinners, who canMust we shut up these churches Must we l not be renewed again unto repentance," ing