Wherefore I say unto you: All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh a word against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this world, or in the world to come.--MATTHEW xii. 31, 32.
These awful words were the Lord's answer to the Pharisees, when they said of Him: "He casts out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils."
What was it now which made this speech of the Pharisees so terrible a sin, past all forgiveness?
Of course we all feel that they were very sinful; we shrink with horror from their words as we read them. But why ought they to have done the same? We know, thank God, who Jesus Christ was. But they did not; at that time, when He was first beginning to preach, they hardly could have known. And mind, we must not say: "They ought to have known that He was the Son of God by His having the POWER of casting out devils;" for the Lord Himself says that the sons of these Pharisees used to cast them out also, or that the Pharisees believed that they did; and only asks them: "Why do you say of my casting out devils, what you will not say of your sons' casting them out?" Pray bear this in mind; for if you do not--if you keep in your mind the vulgar and unscriptural notion that the Pharisees' sin was not being convinced by the great power of Christ's miracles, you will never understand this story, and you will be very likely to get rid of it altogether as speaking of a sin which does not concern you, and a sin which you cannot commit. Now, if the Pharisees did not know that Jesus was the Son of God, the Maker and King of the world, as we do, why were they so awfully wicked in saying that He cast out devils by the prince of the devils? Was it anything more than a mistake of theirs? Was it as wicked as crucifying the Lord? Could it be a worse sin to make that one mistake, than to murder the Lord Himself? And yet it must have been a worse sin. For the Lord prayed for his murderers: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And these Pharisees, they knew not what they did: and yet the Lord, far from praying for them, told them that even He did not see how such serpents, such a generation of vipers, could escape the damnation of hell.
It is worth our while to think over this question, and try and find out what made the Pharisees' sin so great. And to do that, it will be wiser for us, first, to find out what the Pharisees' sin was; lest we should sit here this morning, and think them the most wicked wretches who ever trod the earth; and then go away, and before a week is over, commit ourselves the very same sin, or one so fearfully like it, that if other people can see a difference between them, I confess I cannot. And to commit such a sin, my good friends, is a far easier thing to do than some people fancy, especially here in England now.
Now, the worst part of the Pharisees' sin was not, as we are too apt to fancy, their insulting the Lord: but their insulting the Holy Spirit. For what does the Lord Himself say? That all manner of blasphemy as well as sin should be forgiven; that whosever spoke a word against Him, the Son of Man, should be forgiven: but that the unpardonable part of their offence was, that they had blasphemed the Holy Spirit.
And who is the Holy Spirit? The Spirit of holiness. And what is holiness? What are the fruits of holiness? For, as the Lord told the Pharisees on this very occasion, the tree is known by its fruit. What says St. Paul? The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance. Those who do not show these fruits have not God's Spirit in them. Those who are hard, unloving, proud, quarrelsome, peevish, suspicious, ready to impute bad motives to their neighbours, have not God's Spirit in them. Those who do show these fruits; who are gentle, forgiving, kind-hearted, ready to do good to others, and believe good of others, have God's Spirit in them. For these are good fruits, which, as our Lord tells us, can only spring from a good root. Those who have the fruit must have the root, let their doctrines be what they may. Those who have not the fruit cannot have the root, let their doctrines be what they may.
That is the plain truth; and it is high time for preachers to proclaim it boldly, and take the consequences from the Scribes and Pharisees of this generation. That is the plain truth. Let doctrines be what they will, the tree is known by its fruit. The man who does wrong things is bad, and the man who does right things is good. It is a simple thing to have to say, but very few believe it in these days. Most fancy that the men who can talk most neatly and correctly about certain religious doctrines are good, and that those who cannot are bad. That is no new notion. Some people thought so in St. John's time; and what did he say of them? "Little children, let no man deceive you; it is he that doeth righteousness who is righteous, even as God is righteous." And again: "He who says, I know God, and keeps not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." St. John was the apostle of love. He was always preaching the love of God to men, and entreating men to love one another. His own heart was overflowing with love. Yet when it came to such a question as that; when it came to people's pretending to be religious and orthodox, and yet neither obeying God nor loving their neighbours, he could speak sternly and plainly enough. He does not say: "My dear friends, I am sorry to have to differ from you, but I am afraid you are mistaken;" he says: "You are liars, and there is no truth in you."
Now this was just what the Pharisees had forgotten. They had got to think, as too many have nowadays, that the sign of a man's having God's Spirit in him, was his agreeing with them in doctrine. But if he did not agree with them; if he would not say the words which they said, and did not belong to their party, and side with them in despising every one who differed from them, it was no matter to them, as they proved by their opinion of Jesus Himself, how good he might be, or how much good he might do; how loving, gentle, patient, benevolent, helping, and caring for poor people; in short, how like God he was; all that went for nothing if he was not of their party. For they had forgotten what God was like. They forgot that God was love and mercy itself, and that all love and mercy must come from God; and, that, therefore, no one, let his creed or his doctrine be what it might, could possibly do a loving or merciful thing, but by the grace and inspiration of God, the Father of mercies. And yet their own prophets of the Old Testament had told them so, when they ascribed the good deeds of heathens to the inspiration of God, just as much as the good deeds of Jews, and agreed, as they do in many a text, with what St. James, himself a Jew, said afterwards: "Be not deceived; every good gift, and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights." But the Pharisees, like too many nowadays, did not think so. They thought that good and perfect gifts might some of them very well come from below, from the father of darkness and cruelty. They saw the Lord Jesus Christ doing good things; driving out evil, and delivering men from the power of it; healing the sick, cleansing the leper, curing the mad, preaching the gospel to the poor: and yet they saw in that no proof that God's Spirit was working in Him. Of course, if He had been one of their own party, and had held the same doctrines as they held, they would have praised Him loudly enough, and held Him up as a great saint of their school, and boasted of all His good deeds as proofs of how good their party was, and how its doctrines came from God. But as long as He was not one of them, His good works went for nothing. They could not see God's likeness in that loving and merciful character. All His charity and benevolence made them only hate Him the more, because it made them the more afraid that He would draw the people away from them. "And of course," they said to themselves, "whosoever draws people away from us, must be on the devil's side. We know all God's law and will. No one on earth has anything to teach us. And therefore, as for any one who differs from us, if he cast out devils, it must be because the devil is helping him, for his own purposes, to do it."
In one word, then, the sin of these Pharisees, the unpardonable sin, which ruins all who give themselves up to it, was bigotry; calling right wrong, because it did not suit their party prejudices to call it right. They were fancying themselves very religious and pious, and all the while they did not know right when they saw it; and when the Lord came doing right, they called it wrong, because He did not agree with their doctrines. They fancied they were the only people on earth who knew how to worship God perfectly; and yet while they pretended to worship Him, they did not know what He was like. The Lord Jesus came down, the perfect likeness of God's glory, and the express pattern of His character, helping, and healing, and delivering the souls and bodies of all poor wretches whom He met; and these Pharisees could not see God's Spirit in that; and because it was certainly not their own spirit, called it the spirit of a devil, and blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Right and Love.
This was bigotry, the flower and crown of all sins into which man can fall; the worst of all sins, because a man may keep from every other sin with all his might and main, as the Pharisees did, and yet be led by bigotry into almost every one of them without knowing it; into harsh and uncharitable judgment; into anger, clamour, and railing; into misrepresentation and slander; and fancying that the God of truth needs the help of their lying; perhaps, as has often happened, alas! already, into devilish cruelty to the souls and bodies of men. The worst of all sins; because a man who has given up his heart to bigotry can have no forgiveness. He cannot; for how can a man be forgiven unless he repent? and how can a bigot repent? how can he confess himself in the wrong, while he fancies himself infallibly in the right? As the Lord said to these very Pharisees: "If ye had been blind, ye had had no sin: but now ye say We see; therefore your sin remaineth."
How can the bigot repent? for repenting is turning to God; and how can a man turn to God who does not know where to look for God, who does not know who God is, who mistakes the devil for God, and fancies the all-loving Father to be a taskmaster, and a tyrant, and an accuser, and a respecter of persons, without mercy or care for ninety-nine hundredths of the souls which He has made? How can he find God? He does not know whom to look for.
How can the bigot repent? for to repent means to turn from wrong to right; and he has lost the very notion of right and wrong, in the midst of all his religion and his fine doctrines. He fancies that right does not mean love, mercy, goodness, patience, but notions like his own; and that wrong does not mean hatred, and evil-speaking, and suspicion, and uncharitableness, and slander, and lying, but notions unlike his own. What he agrees with he thinks is heavenly, and what he disagrees with is of hell. He has made his own god for himself out of himself. His own prejudices are his god, and he worships them right worthily; and if the Lord were to come down on earth again, and would not say the words which he is accustomed to say, it would go hard but he would crucify the Lord again, as the Pharisees did of old.
My friends, there is too much of this bigotry, this blasphemy against God's Spirit, abroad in England now. May God keep us all from it! Pray to Him night and day, to give you His Spirit, that you may not only be loving, charitable, full of good works yourselves, but may be ready to praise and enjoy a good, and loving, and merciful action, whosoever does it, whether he be of your religion or not; for nothing good is done by any living man without the grace of Christ, and the inspiration of the Spirit of God, the Father of lights, from whom comes down every good and perfect gift. And whosoever tries to escape from that great truth, when he sees a man whose doctrines are wrong doing a right act, by imputing bad motives to him, or saying: "His actions must be evil, however good they may look, because his doctrines are wrong,"--that man is running the risk of committing the very same sin as the Pharisees, and blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, by calling good evil. And be sure, my friends, that whosoever indulges, even in little matters, in hard judgments, and suspicions, and hasty sneers, and loud railing, against men who differ from him in religion, or politics, or in anything else, is deadening his own sense of right and wrong, and sowing the seeds of that same state of mind, which, as the Lord told the Pharisees, is utterly the worst into which any human being can fall.