The Sin Against the Holy Spirit
By Horatius Bonar, 1867
"I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." He said this because they were saying—"He has an evil spirit." Mark 3:28-30
It would serve no purpose to discuss or enumerate the various opinions that have been held respecting this sin. Let us just take the passage itself, and try to find out what the narrative really is meant to teach us.
The key to the passage is contained in the 30th verse—"Because they were saying, He has an evil spirit." This is the Evangelist's remark for the clearing up of the statement; or rather, I should say, it is the Holy Spirit's own comment on a declaration made specially respecting himself. In the 28th and 29th verses, the Son is speaking of the Spirit, and of the sin against him; in the 30th, the Spirit interprets the words of the Son, and shows that the sin against himself is in reality a sin against the Son. In reading these three verses, in this connection, as spoken successively by the Son of God and the Spirit of God, we see how jealous the one is for the honor of the other. The Holy Spirit will not put upon record this testimony of the Son regarding himself without adding his own testimony to the Son, and showing how sin committed against himself is committed against the Son, and dishonor cast upon himself is dishonor cast upon the Son.
It was in Galilee that these words were spoken; for Jesus was, at this time "going through every city and village preaching, and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God" (Luke 8:1). He was opposed, reviled, and threatened—as he went along, teaching and healing. The opposition, however, did not come from the Galileans—but from the Scribes and Pharisees who came down from Jerusalem (Matt. 12:24, Mark 3:22). There might be among the inhabitants of that half-Gentile region, ignorance and unbelief; but they did not go so far in their malignity as the more intellectual, better educated, and (in the common acceptation of the word) more "religious" citizens of Jerusalem, as represented by their leaders, the Scribes, and Pharisees, and Priests. These, though better read in the Prophets, and professing to be waiting for Messiah, were foremost in the rejection of Christ; setting themselves against himself and his Messiahship with a persevering and desperate malignity, such as we might have reckoned impossible.
Not only did these Jewish leaders show their unbelief, in Jerusalem and Judea; but they went everywhere, tracking the Lord's footsteps, endeavoring to provoke and entrap him; misrepresenting all that he said and did; maligning him as a drunkard and a keeper of the worst company; no, as possessed of a devil; no, more, as doing and saying all that he said and did under the influence of demonic possession. In the present narrative we find them in Galilee, many days' journey from Jerusalem. What were they doing there? They did not come to listen, nor to be taught, nor to be convinced, nor to admire. They had traveled all this distance out of pure malignity. Like demons from hell, they followed the Lord in order to assail him or plot against him. They grudged no toil, no travel, no cost, in order to carry out their hatred of Christ. They watched, with hellish eagerness, every word and motion; misconstruing all his doings; abusing him both for what he did and for what he did not do; and seizing every opportunity for poisoning the minds of the people against him.
In the scene to which our narrative refers, we find him working a miracle; a miracle of no ordinary kind. The case is a very desperate one. The man is both mute and blind—perhaps deaf too; and more than this, he is possessed with a demon. He is a signal monument of Satan's power. He is one of Satan's best fortified and best garrisoned fortresses. There could hardly be a clearer or more explicit exhibition of Satan's infernal enmity to man, and of his horrid character as the marrer of God's workmanship, the inflictor of darkness and disease. Seldom had the seed of the serpent been so exhibited in his hatefulness and enmity; and seldom had he been so directly and gloriously confronted with the woman's Seed, in all his loveableness of character, and his kindness to man. If ever, therefore, human unbelief were utterly inexcusable, it was here. If ever man's enmity might have been expected to give way, it was here. If ever, in the dreadful halting between two opinions, a better choice might have been forced upon man—and even the Pharisee made ashamed of siding against Christ—it was here. God had brought heaven and hell face to face, before man; he had brought the Prince of light and the prince of darkness into close and direct collision; and that in circumstances most likely to enlist man's sympathies with heaven against hell—with the Son of God against the devil and his demons. It might have been expected that man would, at least for once, have taken the side of God; and that the Scribes and Pharisees, the most enlightened and best educated of the land, would have given way in their prejudice and hatred. But it is just here that the greatness of their hostility comes out; and as afterwards the cry arose in Jerusalem, "Not this man—but Barabbas," so here, in Galilee, a like cry is heard, from the lips of the same men, "He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons!"
Thus it was that these Scribes and Pharisees sinned against the Holy Spirit, by imputing to the devil the works of Christ, which he did by the power of the Holy Spirit in him. They did not do this in ignorance; for they were not half-enlightened Galileans—but men well-read in their Scriptures; they did it knowingly. They did not do it hastily, and under the influence of passing excitement. They did it deliberately, and resolutely, and continuously. They did it with their eyes open. They did it maliciously, in the desperate hatred of their hearts. They did it without one extenuating circumstance—without anything either to excuse or to account for their malignity. This is the sin which our Lord here declares to be unpardonable. To have said that this marvelous universe was created by the devil, and not by God—would have been a kindred crime; a sin of dreadful daring. To have said that the miracles of Egypt, the dividing of the Red Sea, the manna, the water, the healing of the serpents' deadly bite, the drying up of Jordan, the overthrow of Jericho, the arrest of sun and moon in Gibeon, were all the work of the devil—would have been sins like in kind to this of the Pharisees; but not, by many degrees, equal to it in dark malignity.
For, in this miracle of Christ, thus misinterpreted, we have more of divine love and power—more of God himself, than in all these other miracles together. One of the fullest and brightest manifestations of God's character—as our loving, healing, pardoning, redeeming God—is in this miracle; and hence the peculiarly aggravated guilt of those who reviled it as the work of the devil. It was a work done by the special power of the Holy Spirit—a work in which might have been clearly read the Father's love and power, the Son's love and power, the Spirit's love and power. Yet this work of the Holy Spirit, this miracle of Godhead's love and power, is ascribed to Satan! It was calling God the devil, and the devil God; it was calling hell heaven, and heaven hell. It was not mere rejection of Christ; it was not mere disbelief of his miracles; it was not mere refusal of the divine testimony to his Messiahship. It was something beyond all these phases of unbelief. It was the substitution and preference of the evil for the good—of the darkness for the light—of the seed of the serpent for the Seed of the woman.
No, more, it was the deliberate declaration, not that the works of God the Holy Spirit were unreal and untrue—but that they were not his works at all—but those of the devil. It was the admission of their reality—but the ascription of them to the devil. It was carrying out hatred of Christ to such an extreme, as to be willing to acknowledge Satan as the worker of miracles rather than Christ! No, it was so hating the Holy Spirit, because of his thus witnessing for Christ, as to call him "an evil spirit," Beelzebub, the prince of the devils!
Such is the sin against the Holy Spirit; a sin which originates in very peculiar circumstances; which can only be committed by those who sin wilfully, daringly, and maliciously; and which, in all probability, could only be committed when the Lord was upon the earth, working miracles by the power of the Spirit.
It is worthy of notice, that our Lord does not affirm that even these blasphemous Pharisees had actually committed the sin. The dreadful words regarding the sin that has no pardon, are spoken as words of warning. In them the Lord is pointing to the horrible gulf which these Pharisees were approaching, and warning them off. He sees them like a vessel drawing nearer some raging whirlpool, and he speaks that they may be alarmed and turn back. In this there is a blessed mixture of grace and righteousness. He would warn even the Pharisees! He would sound the alarm—even to those who were on the very point of plunging into hell!
The sin is thus a peculiar sin. It is not the same as rejection of Christ and final unbelief. It is not even blasphemy against Christ and his work. It is not simply sin against light and knowledge. It is not repeated, or prolonged, or outrageous backsliding. It is something special; something open and before others; it is something deliberate and malicious; it is something which would render the man's state quite hopeless, and seal his doom at once. It is something connected directly with the Spirit, and which involves daring blasphemy against him and his doings. It must, then, be a greater sin than that of Judas, for his sin was pardonable to the last. It must be a greater sin than scourging, buffeting, reviling, crucifying the Lord of glory. Oh, how unutterably hateful must that sin be, of which we thus read, "I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." He said this because they were saying, "He has an evil spirit." Mark 3:28-30
But, while this sin is a very peculiar one, and, possibly, only committed when our Lord was here, and that by those who ascribed to the devil the miracles which Christ did, by the Holy Spirit; there are approximations to it, in all ages, of which men need to be warned. The way in which many attack Revivals, and revile those engaged in them, and ascribe the conversions to mere excitement, or hypocrisy, or love of show, or to Satan himself—is a perilous approach to the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Let men beware how they speak of these religious awakenings. If you dislike them, or see no evidence for their genuineness, at least let them alone. Especially let those who, in their zeal for ecclesiastical order, have set themselves against such movements, and do not hesitate to throw out insinuations as to all these being the devil's work, beware lest they be found fighting against God, and reviling the Spirit of God. They may be nearer the sin of the Pharisees than they are willing to think; and their zeal for sound words, in which they pride themselves, only helps to identify them the more with these haters of the Lord. The dislike of sudden conversions looks very like a denial of the Spirit's work; just as the dislike of assurance looks like a questioning of the work of Christ—a denial of its sufficiency to give immediate peace to the awakened conscience. Let the ungodly beware of scoffing at revivals; and let professing Christians beware of standing aloof from them—as if they were fanaticism, or excitement, or the work of Satan.
Let us gather, in closing, suchLESSONS as these—
I. Honor the Holy Spirit and his work.As the third person of the Godhead, equal with the Father and the Son—he is to be worshiped. Never let us overlook the Spirit, or undervalue either his power or his love. Nor let us lose sight of his great work in the Church and in individual souls. Without his almighty hand there is no conversion, no faith, no repentance, no saving knowledge. Let those who deny his work, or explain it as a mere influence, or affirm that it is nothing but the effect of the word upon us—consider how much they are dishonoring the Spirit, and how near they may be approaching to the sin against the Holy Spirit.
II. Prize the Holy Spirit, as the gift of the glorified Christ.He is the promise of the Father; he is the gift of the Son; and in him are wrapped all other gifts for sinners. He is in the hand of Christ for us, let us go to Christ for him; for he is exalted a Prince and a Savior to give repentance and forgiveness, through the shedding down of the Holy Spirit upon us. We need not fear a refusal from such a Savior.
III. Beware of grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit.Israel's great sin was their "resisting the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51). "They rebelled and vexed his Holy Spirit" (Isaiah 63:10). Let us beware of Israel's sin. O grieve not the Spirit, by your unbelief and hardness of heart! He will not always strive.
IV. Receive that Christ of whom the Holy Spirit testifies.His office is to glorify Christ; to show Christ. He is willing to do this for sinners. He wants to show you your need of Christ. He wants to show you Christ's sufficiency. He wants to give you true and high thoughts of Christ. Oh, turn not away!
V. Be not scoffers.God's words are very dreadful ones—"So scoff no more, or your punishment will be even greater." Do not ridicule true religion; nor speak evil of Christians; nor circulate reports against the work of God; nor deny "sudden conversions." Beware of everything like irreverence, or levity, or flippancy, in speaking of the things of God or the transactions of eternity. Judge nothing before the time; or if you will judge—see that in your judgment you honor the Spirit of truth and holiness.