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On the Nature of the unpardonable Sin.
HEBREWS vi. 4, 5, 6.
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 popers of the world to come ; if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance.
How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. On a different occasion, there would have been nothing surprising in the fears of Jacob. Had God revealed himself to this patriarch in the awful glory of avenging wrath, and surrounded with devouring fire, with darkness and with tempest ; it would not have been surprising that a man, that a sinner, and a believer of the earlier ages of the church, should have been vanquished at the sight. But, at a period, when God approached him with the tenderest marks of love; when he erected a miraculous ladder between heaven and earth, causing the angels to ascend and descend for the protection of his servant; when he addressed him in these consolatory words, Behold I am with thee, I will keep thee in all places whither thou
goest, and I will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee; that Jacob should tremble in such a moment, is what we cannot conceive without astonishment. What! is the gate of heaven dreadful ; and is the house of God an object calculated to strike terror into the mind ?
My brethren, Jacob's fear unquestionably proceeded from the presence of God, from the singularity of the vision, and the peculiar novelty of the discovery, which struck his imagination. But let us further extend our thoughts. Yes, the gate of heaven is terrible, and the house of God is dreadful! and his favours should impress solemnit
on the heart. Distinguished favours give occasion to distinguished crimes, and from places the most exalted have occurred the greatest falls. St. Paul, in the words of my text, places each of the Hebrews, whom he addressed, in the situation of Jacob. He exbibits a portrait of the prodigies achieved in their favour, since their conversion to Christianity; the miracles which had struck their senses; the knowledge which had irradiated their minds; and the impressions which had been made on their hearts. He opens to them the gate of heaven; but, at the same time, requires that they should exclaim, How dreadful is this place! From this profusion of grace,
he drawş motives for salutary fear. It is impossible, says he, 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, lo renew them again unto repentance.
St. Paul, after having pronounced these terrific words, adds; Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you. Happy apostle, who, while pronouncing the sentence of celestial vengeance, could flatter himself that it would not fall on any of his audience. But, my brethren, shall we say, Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you? The disposition is worthy of our wish. May it be the effect of this discourse, and the fruit of our ministry !
To have been enlightened to have tasted the heavenly gift-o have been partakers of the Holy Ghost-to have tasted the good word of God, and felt the powers of the world to come and to fall away in defiance of so much grace,-such are the odious traits employed by the apostle to degrade a crime, the nature of which we shall now define. The awful characteristics in the portrait, and the superadded conclusion, that it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance, fully apprize us, that he here speaks of the foulest of all offences; and, at the same time, gives us a limited notion of its nature.
Some have thought, that the surest way to obtain a just idea of the sin, was to represent it by every atrocious circumstance. They have collected all the characteristics, which could add aggravation to the crime ; they have said, that a man who has known the truth, who has despised, hated; and opposed it, neither through fear of punishment, nor hope of reward, offered by tyrants to' apostacy, but from a principle of malice, is the identical person of whom the apostle speaks ; and that in this monstrous association of light, conviction, opposition, and uncon
querable abhorrence of the truth, this awful crime consists.
Others, proceeding further, have searched ancient and modern history for persons, in whom those characteristics associate ; that, superadding example to description, they might exhibit a complete portrait of the sin, the nature of which we shall endeavour to define. In the course of this sermon, we shall endeavor to draw, from their method, whatever may most contribute to your instruction. But, first of all, we deem it our duty to make some previous observations, and to derive the light from its source. In the discussion of a sin, solitary in its nature, the Scriptures having excluded none from salvation, but those who are guilty of this offence, it is of the last importance to review all those passages, which, it is presumed, have reference to the crime : we must inquire in what they differ, and in what they agree, drawing from this association of light, that instruction, which cannot be derived from any other source.
The task will not exceed our limits, there being only four texts, in which, it is presumed, the Scriptures speak of this sin. We shall begin with the words of St. Matthew : 1 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 that which is to come. This text, which Augustine deems the most