What is Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit?

blasphemy-against-the-holy-spiritEdward Leigh,
Body of Divinity, pp. 345-346.

Of Blasphemy Against the Holy Ghost.

It is called the great transgression (Psa. 19:13), and blasphemy against the Spirit (Mat. 12).

“Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.” (Psalm 19:13).

Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32).

Blasphemy against the Spirit is when a man doth maliciously and proudly revile and despite the truth of the Gospel and Word of God, which he certainly knoweth.

It is called the blasphemy against the Spirit because it is against the knowledge wherewith a man is lightened by the Spirit of God [Heb. 6:4] (Cartwright on Matthew 12:31).

It is called the sin against the Holy Ghost, not that it is only against the third Person in the Trinity, the three Persons make but one Divine Essence; but because it is a direct opposition and resistance of the light of knowledge with which the Holy Ghost hath enlightened it.1

It is called sin against the Holy Ghost, not in respect of the essence, but of the office of the Holy Ghost; this sin is all malice, willful without any infirmity, he being pleased with malice for itself’s sake.

Origen2 thought that every sin committed against the law of God after Baptism, was the sin against the Holy Ghost; so Novatus. Austen makes it final impenitency. The Schoolmen say any sin of malice.

It is conceived by some that the presumptuous sin in the Old Testament is the same with, or answers to the sin against the Holy Ghost in the New: and that which leads to this apprehension is, because no sacrifice was appointed for that under the Law, as this is said to be unpardonable under the Gospel, Heb. 10:20 but by Psa. 19:13 it seems to be a pitch of sinning beyond presumption.

It is described to be a general Apostasy and revolt of a man willfully fallen from the truth known, even to a malicious persecuting and blaspheming of it.3

Mr. [Edward] Dering on Heb. 6:4-6 saith, It is a general Apostasy from God with willful malice, and an unrepentant heart to persecute his truth to the end.

Mr. White in his Treatise of this sin, thus describes it,

It is a willful, malicious opposing, persecuting and blaspheming the truths of God, against knowledge and conscience, without ever repenting and grieving for so doing, but rather fretting and vexing that one can do no more.

It is a total falling away from the Gospel of Christ Jesus formerly acknowledged and professed, into a verbal calumniating and a real persecuting of that Gospel with a deliberate purpose to continue so to the end, and actually to do so, to persevere till then, and so to pass away in that disposition.

It is a spiteful rejecting of the Gospel, after that the Spirit hath supernaturally persuaded a man’s heart of the truth and benefit thereof.

It is a sin committed against clear convincing, tasting knowledge, with despite and revenge (Heb. 10:29).

1. It must be a clear knowledge; an ignorant man cannot commit it.

2. Such a knowledge as lets in a taste of the goodness as well as discovers the truth of the Gospel (Heb. 6:4), yet goes against this knowledge with despite, opposeth the motions of God’s Spirit with rage; this puts a man into the devil’s condition. Compare Heb. 6:4-5 with 10:26-27. It is a voluntary way of sinning after one hath received, not only the knowledge, but the acknowledgement of the truth, so much knowledge as subdues the understanding. The will is chiefly in this sin, he sins willfully, he trampleth under his foot the blood of the Son of God, sins maliciously and with revenge. The Jews put Christ to death with the greatest malice.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” (Hebrews 6:4-6).

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:26-31).

The conditions of that sin are:

1. Hatred of the truth. 2. A settled malice. 3. An obstinate will. 4. An accusing conscience.

Therefore this sin is distinguished from other sins by three degrees. 1. That they all fall toti [entirely]. 2. à toto [from the whole]. 3. In totum [in total].

  • 1. Toti [entirely], Because they fall from God and his gifts, not out of infirmity or ignorance, but out of knowledge, will and certain purpose.
  • 2. A toto [from the whole], Because they cast away and oppose the whole doctrine, his authority being contemned.
  • 3. In totum [in total], Because they are so obfirmed [i.e. hardened in resolution] in their defection, that they voluntarily oppose and seek to reproach the majesty of God.

But the specific difference of this sin is that they reproach those things which the Holy Ghost hath revealed to them for true, and of whose truth they are convinced in their mind.

This sin necessarily supposeth the knowledge of the Mediator: wheresoever there is any mention of it in the New Testament, there comes with it some intimation of the works of the Mediator. In Matthew 12 they opposed Christ in his miracles; in Hebrews 6 Paul instanceth in their crucifying again of Christ; Hebrews 10 speaks of their trampling under foot the Son of God. The devils sinned against light and with revenge, but not against the light of the second Covenant, this sin is purely against the Gospel, Hebrews 4 & 10:27-29. Objectum hujus peccati non est lex sed Evangelium.

Matthew 12:32. He that commits this sin shall neither be pardoned in this world, in foro conscientiae [in the court of conscience], nor in the world to come, in foro judicii [in the court of justice], neither in this world per solutionem ministerii, by the ministry of the Word, nor in the world to come, per approbationem Christi [by the approval of Christ].

When once the means of recovery by the Gospel are neglected, contemned and despised, then there is no place for remission (see Heb. 10:26). The sacrifices in the old Law were effectual in their time to the expiation of sin, if joined with faith. The sacrifice of Christ’s death was always effectual, but if this also be despised, this being the last, there is no more sacrifice for sin, and yet without sacrifice no remission.

It is called the sin unto death, not because it may kill, for no sin but may kill if it be not repented of, but because it must kill.

“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” (1 John 5:16).

Divines observe two sorts subject to this sin. Some have both known the truth and also professed it, as Saul, Judas (John 17:12), Alexander the Coppersmith (2 Tim. 4), all these made profession of the Gospel before they fell away. Others have certain knowledge of the truth, but yet have not given their names to profess it, but do hate, persecute, and blaspheme it, such were the Pharisees (Matthew 13).

All they who fall into this sin, first do attain unto a certain and assured knowledge of the truth, though all do not profess it.

Absolutely to determine of such a one is very difficult, neither is there any sufficient mark but the event, namely, final impenitency. But the grounds of suspicion are such as these:

1. Profaneness. 2. Doubting of every saving truth and impugning it. 3. Envying another’s grace and happiness. 4. Blasphemy. 5. Want of good affections.

Many Christians are ready to suspect that they have sinned against the Holy Ghost. Some Divines give this as a rule, If the Lord give you a heart to fear that you have sin’d against the holy Ghost, then you have not.

How this Doctrine Harmonizes with Irresistible Grace

“They who sin against the Holy Spirit differ from believers in this—that they have indeed some comparative practical knowledge, but not the last (which necessarily draws the will after it to sanctification, such as is in the regenerated whom the Holy Spirit so enlightens that although there is often a severe struggle in the intellect, still at last the practical saving knowledge, being produced by invincible and irresistible grace, gains the victory). …the persuading and converting light is given to believers alone and extends so far as not only to pour into their minds some theoretical knowledge, not only to restrain the affections raging within and to repress them within certain limits of external morality, not only to convince of that saving truth, but also to persuade them intimately and by leading to true holiness to fill them with solid consolation.

…In believers, the idea of the virtuous good prevails (to wit, an intimate sense of the mercy of God in the pardon of sins and in the grace of sanctification). But in others, the idea of useful or pleasant good prevails. They apprehend the gospel and follow it for a time, either as a pleasant and delightful good, alluring the minds of men to itself either by novelty or by sweetness and liberty or as a certain admirableness of the doctrines themselves and that which diffuses an unaccustomed pleasure (whence they are said to receive the word with joy [Matthew 13:20]); or they regard it as a good useful and suitable to themselves which can bring to them some remarkable good in this life. But they do not rise to the relation of the true and saving good, consisting in communion with God through holiness and eternal happiness. For so great is its efficacy towards guilty and miserable man that he who once rightly apprehends it under this relation cannot help immediately embracing and constantly retaining it.”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, IX.xiv.vi-viii.

[1] Non dicitur blasphemia Spiritus ratione personae illius: sed ratione propriae ipsius in hominibus energiae, quatenus Spiritus Sanctus est is, qui in veritatis lucem introducit. Rivet. in Exod. 30. Vide Thom. Aquin. 2da 2dae quaest. 14. Artic. 1, 2, 3, 4.
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[2] as Bellarmine l 2. de Paenitentia c. 16. alledgeth
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[3] Thomas Bedford, “Of the Sin Unto Death“, out of 1 John 5:16. “It is a wilfull, malicious and obstinate denying of the foundation, viz. That Jesus is the Mediator and Redeemer of the world. It is a totall Apostasie from the faith, when the whole man revolteth from the whole Christian Religion wholly, with an obstinate resolution never to return to it any more.”
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