Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.'
GOD is love, and the Holy Spirit is ceaselessly striving to make this love known in our hearts, work out God's purposes of love in our lives, and transform our character by love. And so we are solemnly warned against resisting the Spirit, and almost tearfully and always tenderly exhorted to ' quench not the Spirit' (I Thess. v. 19), and to ' grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption' (Eph. iv. 30).
There is one great sin against which Jesus warned the Jews, as a sin never to be forgiven in this world nor in that which is to come. That was blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.
That there is such a sin, Jesus teaches in Matt. xii. 3 1:32; Mark iii. 2830; and Luke xii. io. And it may be that this is the sin referred to in Heb. vi. 4-6; x. 29.
Since many of God's dear children have fallen into dreadful distress through fear that they had committed this sin, it may be helpful for us to study carefully as to what constitutes it.
Jesus was casting out devils, and Mark tells us that 'the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth He out devils '. To this Jesus replied with gracious kindness and searching logic: ' How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. No man can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.'
In this quiet reply we see that Jesus does not rail against them, nor flatly deny their base assertion that He does His miracles by the power of the devil, but shows how logically false must be their statement. And then, with grave authority and, I think, with solemn tenderness in His voice and in His eyes, He adds, 'Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation'; or, as the Revised Version has it, 'is guilty of an eternal sin'; and then Mark adds, ' Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit' (Mark iii. 22-30).
Jesus came into the world to reveal God's truth and love to men, and to save them; and men are saved by believing in Him. But how could the men of His day, who saw Him working at the carpenter's bench, and living the life of an ordinary man of humble toil and daily temptation and trial, believe His stupendous claim to be the onlybegotten Son of God, the Saviour of the world, and the final judge of all men? Any wilful and proud impostor could make such a claim. But men could not and ought not to believe such an assertion unless the claim were supported by ungainsayable evidence. This evidence Jesus began to give, not only in the holy life which He lived and the pure gospel He preached, but in the miracles He wrought, the blind eyes He opened, the sick He healed, the hungry thousands He fed, the seas He stilled, the dead He raised to life again, and the devils He cast out of bound and harassed souls.
The Scribes and Pharisees witnessed these miracles, and were compelled to admit these signs and wonders. Nicodemus, one of their number, said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with him' (John iii. 2). Would they now admit His claim to be the Son of God, their promised and long-looked-for Messiah? They were thoughtful men and very religious, but not spiritual. The gospel He preached was Spirit and life; it appealed to their conscience and revealed their sin, and to acknowledge Him was to admit that they themselves were wrong. It meant submission to His authority, the surrender of their wills, and a change of front in their whole inner and outer life. This meant moral and spiritual revolution in each man's heart and life; and to this they would not submit. And so to avoid such plain inconsistency, they must discredit His miracles; and since they could not deny them, they declared that He wrought them by the power of the devil.
Jesus worked these signs and wonders by the power of the Holy Spirit, that He might win their confidence, and that they might reasonably believe and be saved. But they refused to believe, and in their malignant obstinacy heaped scorn upon Him, accusing Him of being in league with the devil; and how could they be saved? This was the sin against the Holy Spirit against which Jesus warned them. It was not so much one act of sin, as a deep-seated, stubborn rebellion against God that led them to choose darkness rather than light, and so to blaspheme against the Spirit of truth and light. It was sin full and ripe and ready for the harvest.
Someone has said that ' this sin cannot be forgiven, not because God is unwilling to forgive, but because one who thus sins against the Holy Spirit has put himself where no power can soften his heart or change his nature. A man may misuse his eyes and yet see; but whosoever puts them out can never see again. One may misdirect his compass, and turn it aside from the North Pole by a magnet or piece of iron, and it may recover and point right again; but whosoever destroys the compass itself has lost his guide at sea '.
Many of God's dear children, honest souls, have been persuaded that they have committed this awful sin. Indeed, I once thought that I myself had done so, and for twenty-eight days I felt that, like Jonah, I was 'in the belly of hell'. But God, in love and tender mercy, drew me out of the horrible pit of doubt and fear, and showed me that this is a sin committed only by those who, in spite of all evidence, harden their hearts in unbelief, and to shield themselves in their sins deny and blaspheme the Lord.
Dr. Daniel Steele tells of a Jew who was asked, ' Is it that you cannot, or that you will not believe?' The Jew passionately replied, ' We will not, we will not believe.'
This was wilful refusal and rejection of light, and in that direction lies hardness of heart beyond recovery, fullness of sin, and final impenitence, which are unpardonable.
Doubtless many through resistance to the Holy Spirit come to this awful state of heart; but those troubled, anxious souls who think they have committed this sin are not usually among the number.
An Army officer in Canada was in the midst of a glorious revival, when one night a gentleman arose and, with deep emotion, urged the young people present to yield themselves to God, accept Jesus as their Saviour and receive the Holy Spirit. He told them that he had once been a Christian, but that he had not walked in the light and, consequently, had sinned against the Holy Spirit, and could never more be pardoned. Then, with all earnest tenderness, he exhorted them to be warned by his sad state, and not to harden their hearts against the gracious influences, and entreated them to yield to the Saviour. Suddenly the scales of doubt dropped from his eyes, and he saw that he had not in his inmost heart rejected Jesus; that he had not committed the unpardonable sin.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man's mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
And in an instant his heart was filled with light and love and peace, and sweet assurance that Christ Jesus was his Saviour, even his.
In one meeting, I have known three people who thought they had committed this sin, and were bowed with grief and fear, to come to the Penitent-form and find deliverance.
The poet Cowper was plunged into unutterable gloom by the conviction that he had committed this awful sin; but God tenderly brought him into the light and sweet comforts of the Holy Spirit again, and doubtless it was in the sense of such lovingkindness that he wrote:
There is a fountain filled with Blood,
Drawn from Immanuel's veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
John Bunyan was also afflicted with horrible fears that he had committed the unpardonable sin, and in his little book entitled, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (a book which I would earnestly recommend to all soul-winners), he tells how he was delivered from his doubts and fears and was filled once more with the joy of the Lord. There are portions of his Pilgrim's Progress which are to be interpreted in the light of this grievous experience.
Those who think they have committed this sin may generally be assured that they have not.
I. Their hearts are usually very tender, while this sin must harden the heart past all feeling.
2. They are full of sorrow and shame for having neglected God's grace and trifled with the Saviour's dying words, but such sorrow could not exist in a heart so fully given over to sin that pardon was impossible.
3. God says, ' Whosoever will may come '; and if they find it in their hearts to come, they will not be cast out, but freely pardoned and received with lovingkindness through the merits of Jesus' Blood. God's promise will not fail; His faithfulness is established in the heavens. Bless His holy name! Those who have committed this sin are full of evil, and do not care to come; they will not and, therefore, are never pardoned. Their sin is eternal.
' HAVE YE RECEIVED THE HOLY GHOST SINCE YE BELIEVED? '
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