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best blood of His heart to save, rises up to judgment, Divine patience and hope are exhausted; the glow which would have quickened, had a pulse been left to quicken, then burns but to destroy. The wrath of the Lamb! Fear it not, trembler, fear it not; it burns not for thee. For any who have the heart to tremble at it, it is not. The unpardonable sin! Have no dread, you who shudder at the thought of it. It is not for any who can feel distress at sin. All sin hath forgiveness that knows itself to be sin, and trembles. No humbled fearful transgressor can ever wither under the wrath of Christ. It sounds like a paradox, but none who have the grace to fear need ever be fearful. Never until you begin to thank God that you are not as other men are, and to recite your catalogue of virtues as a pleasant lecture in the ear of heaven, need you begin to question about “ the sin that never hath forgiveness, neither in this world, nor in the world which is to come.”
There is something here which always seems to me very terrible when I open this chapter. These words are doubly awful on the lips of the patient and forgiving Christ. He had lived among the throngs of sinners, the crippled, maimed, stained, and outcast, and He had nothing but words of gracious compassion and tenderness to speak to them. « Come unto me, all ye that are weary and
heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” had been His cry. It had drawn the sinners of the world around Him, as though His pity had been magnetic, and many a poor prodigal and profligate had wept out their guilt and misery at His feet. But here were sinners—sinners of the Church-on whom He flashed the lightning of His indignation ; whose portrait He draws with pitiless severity; whose sin He withers with a blighting anathema, the more startling because the publicans and harlots had been wondering throughout His ministry at the gracious words which ever fell from His lips. Like the tears of a strong proud man, like the calm of a high-spirited and passionate woman, like the complaint of a gentle and long-suffering heart, like the daring energy of meekness when dear ones are threatened, this outburst of the Saviour's righteous indignation is the more tremendous for its long and hard restraint; it rolls like a flood around the fortress of Pharisaic pride and insolence, whence the lords of God's heritage were wont to look down and to rain their scorn upon His poor; and it was not long before that flood had loosened its foundations, and tossing them on its angry surge, had swept them and their tyrannies on a full tide of vengeance to the pit.
Nor was the Lord the only witness for God's righteousness in that age who had thundered out his anathema against the elders of the Jewish Church, and the masters of the Jewish state. John the Baptist had blazed into kindred indignation when he saw them mingling with the throng of the poor, the weary, the wretched, who came to hear God's message from his lips. God's righteousness the publicans and sinners could bear to hear of; it had even a gracious and compassionate tone on the lips of its preacher ; it was like the touch of a cool soft hand on the fever of their aching hearts. But the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees they hated with intense vehemence; it tormented and maddened them. And their indignation found utterance from the lips of their great popular preacher. It was the wrong and misery of the poor, of souls bound in the prison, lost in the night, under the rule of these arrogant and insolent doctors of the kingdom, which lent such piercing point to the Baptist's denunciation, “ Ye generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come ? "
It is not to be wondered at that men in every age have pored over these vehement anathemas, and agonized over the questions of personal responsibility which they force on the attention of mankind. “The sin which never hath forgiveness ; neither in this world, nor in the world which is to come.” The words lend a fearful reality to trans
gression. They forbid us finally to dally with the Pantheist's dream of transgression as a devious path to a blessed end, the first stumbling step of an unending progress, the rude and tentative beginning of the fulfilment of the counsel of God about our lives. There is a sin which remains unconquerable, even by the love and pity of the Incarnate Word; which remains insoluble, even in the menstruum of the grace of Christ; and which defies every effort of the Redeemer to transfigure its hideous form, and make it, transformed, the attendant and minister of the eternal triumph of His cross. There is a sin which can draw down on a man, even from Divine lips, the sentence, “ It had been better for that man if he had never been born.”
If anything can establish the reality, and reveal in all its naked deformity the sinfulness of sin, it is such a sentence as this. Responsibility is no dream of delirious souls; it is no bugbear of priests. It is the man's endowment; and Divine lips declare that he may so handle it as to cut himself off from the sphere of life, and bury himself in the pit of darkness, anguish, and despair, through eternity. It needed but this to reveal the essential horror of evil in the sight of the great Father, whose home it desolates, whose children it torments and destroys. And there were men then
in Jerusalem, there was a great school of priests and doctors in Jerusalem, who provoked the Saviour's righteous indignation and wrath to utter it; and to brand them with the only unmeasured anathema which ever fell from His patient and forgiving lips. It is most important that we should study the physiognomy and physiology of this deadliest of all transgressions, that we may see where and why the Divine treatment of sin stays its merciful and redeeming hand, withdraws its healing, purifying waters, and leaves the rock hard, bare, and defiant, to be beaten by the storms, and blasted by the ice-cold breath of the outer darkness for ever and ever.
I. We will endeavour to identify the spiritual condition on which this hateful epithet is branded by John the Baptist and by the Lord.
The term which the Lord here applies to the men whose vices and crimes He lashes with such unsparing sternness, is remarkable; the more so as it is used but thrice in the Gospels—once by John the Baptist, and twice by the Lord. In each case it is aimed expressly, by name, at the same class, and presents a vivid image of the same sin. This is surely a very important indication to guide us in determining what this unpardonable sin may be. It is the sin of these vipers, be they who they may. It is the subtle, malignant, numbing poison, dis