Lord's Day 36 (1942) - Prof. Benne Holwerda
Note about the translator: Mr. Gilbert Zekveld was born in the Netherlands and immigrated to Canada as a young man. He farmed for many years in the Bowmanville area of Ontario where he was actively involved with Christian Reformed and later Orthodox Christian Reformed church life.
This sermon was delivered Sunday, November 22, 1942
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ,
You know that we are called to daily repentance. Because God maintains the grace of the first repentance in granting daily new strength to repent, therefore we must remain in that grace by repenting each day anew. That is the perseverance of the saints. We are called upon to crucify the old man more and more and put on the new man.
And now you also know how we must do that. By faith, after the law of God, only to His glory. Daily repentance means a new beginning every day, in faith and trust in the only sacrifice of Christ, by resting in His accomplished righteousness. It also means that every day anew we must bind our life and the community to His law; and at the same time say farewell to all other ties, that the law of God may dominate in our life. It also meansthat every day we must direct our life to His glory; for it is not ultimately for our salvation or peace of our soul, but that the name of God should be glorified in all the earth.
That is why the Catechism deals in these Lord's Days with the Law. For daily repentance is a constant daily binding of life to the law of God. And so we must learn to repent more and more to obey the third commandment. For in this third commandment the law reaches its zenith. Of course, when I say that the law reaches here its zentih, its high point, its ultimate destiny, this does not mean that the other commandments are degraded to secondary importance. Properly speaking, the whole law is summarized in the first commandment: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. All the others, also the third, are outlines of the first commandment.
Yet, the first commandment reaches in the third its climax. For it deals not with something of God, but with God Himself. For God's Name is God Himself, the revelation of His being. Sin against His Name is not just sin against this or that, against God's day or against His creature, but against God Himself, as He revealed Himself. The Catechism teaches us that there is no greater sin, nor a sin that kindles the Lord's wrath more, than the blasphemy of His Name. That is also why, in the Old Testament, the Lord commanded to punish this sin with death. Blaspheming the Name in the Old Testament is the sin unto death.
But, beloved, you know by now that in the New Testament everything is much more serious. For grace became much more abundant; the Name of God is now fully revealed. And it has been told us in all its gravity what death is. In the Old Testament death is that people are taken from life. But the New Testament speaks of the second death, to be condemned to hell.
That is why the Old Testament says: there is a sin unto death. He who blasphemes the Name of the Lord must die. But when the New Testament teaches: there is a sin unto death, that is not the same; but it is infinitely worse. For now it means: whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit commits the unpardonable sin. This afternoon, we will preach to you this commandment that was announced in the Old Testament, in its New Testament fullness. We speak to you concerning:
Blaspheming the Holy Spirit
1. the character of this sin.
2. the judgment concerning this sin.
3. the way to this sin.
1. Beloved, we shudder as often as we hear the Bible speak of the unpardonable sin. And rightly so. For of this sin Christ said to His Church that it would not be forgiven, nor in this, nor in the age to come. To commit this sin means to be hopelessly lost. You know that in mental homes are those that live under the delusion they committed this sin, and are thereby driven to complete despair.
That is why we must ask the question: what is the nature of this sin? Why is blaspheming the Holy Spirit the sin that cannot be pardoned? We must know this in order that anxious souls may be saved from their doubt and dejection and may come to the joy of faith. But also that we may learn to reverence the Name of our God.
In our circles we have not always been clear on what is really meant by blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and also about the question why this sin cannot be pardoned. In general it was understood that with "Holy Ghost" the Third Person of the Trinity was meant. That is why they said: blasphemy of the Father and the Son can be forgiven, but not blaspheming the Holy Spirit. And when they had to answer the question why blaspheming the holy Spirit could not be pardoned, it was often said: the Holy Spirit lives in us. That is the most tender work that the Lord does on us. As Father He creates us, and as Son He redeems us; but both are works for us and outside of us; but as Holy Spirit He sanctifies us, and comes in us to live and work; that is why this sin against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven.
Yet, you all will feel why this is not altogether true. For we confess, that Father, Son and Spirit, all Three alike are God. But then it is impossible that blaspheming against the Holy Spirit would be more serious than blaspheming against the Father and the Son. Above this, we deem this sin more serious because the Holy Spirit is nearest us, because He is in the most intimate fellowship with us as Spirit of grace and of all comfort. But we may never measure sin after what we, after our feeling, think is the quality of a work of God in us. That the Father created us and the Son redeemed us by His blood on the cross, could for our emotional life, not be so warm and rich and intimate, but it is just as important. For because the Father and the Son and the Spirit are alike God, therefore their works are in that sense divine and glorious, although our emotion is moved more by the one than by the other.
What is important here is that what was said is not in accordance with Scripture. For the letter to the Hebrews, dealing with the unpardonable sin, mentions that this sin also includes crucifying the Son of God afresh. It is therefore not just the third Person Who is affected, but also the second Person. It is not only a maligning of the Spirit of grace, but also despising the blood by which we are sanctified. The letter mentions the blaspheming of the Son in one breath with that of the Spirit. It also mentions that blaspheming the Son is a sin which will not be pardoned.
More than that, it is not only blaspheming the Third Person, but blaspheming the Triune God. Of course, right away you will ask the question: but why does the Lord calls it blaspheming the Holy Spirit? Our answer must be that Holy Spirit is not here indicating one Person of the Trinity; but it is the indication of a certain period from the history of revelation. Holy Spirit here means God's revelation since a certain moment, better: God's revelation after Pentecost.
We see this more often in the Bible that the Holy Spirit is indicated by a certain period from sacred history. John in his gospel says somewhere that the Holy Spirit was not yet. You sense this cannot mean that the Holy Spirit did not exist, for the Holy Spirit is also eternal. The Spirit too can say what Christ said at one time, "Before Abraham was, I am". But although the Spirit exists from eternity, He was not given to the Church from the beginning. There is first the period of the Old Testament; then there is the time of Christ working in humilation. At the moment that Christ is glorified and ascends up to heaven, at that moment He sheds forth His Spirit; then the Spirit is here; then begins the last period in the history of God's works. Christ arose, by that resurrection He was "declared to be the Son of God with power". He is not anymore the servant in humiliation, but the Lord of glory. And when Christ is glorified, and the Holy Spirit shed forth, God has given all He had to give; He has no more; everything has been said; no one has anymore excuse, for God's counsel of redemption is now completely revealed. Now God's Name is fully known! That is why the blaspheming of that Name cannot be forgiven.
That is so plain in Matthew 12. You know the story. On a certain day Jesus heals someone who was possessed of devils. The devil had stricken the poor man with blindness and he was mute, he could not speak and he did not see.
When the multitude was amazed, and asked, "Is not this the Messiah"? the Pharisees blasphemed and said, "He casts out the devils by Beelzebub, the prince of devils". That is pure blasphemy. For they were fully convinced that this was God's work. They were well aware of what they were doing; willfully they mocked the work of God as an act of the prince of devils. This is a case of blasphemy, of deliberate mocking and reviling of the work and Name of God, which was the revealed way to redemption. Because this is blaspheming, the Lord Jesus directs a sharp warning at their address. All sin and all manner of blasphemy shall be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven. Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him. Christ makes here difference between blaspheming the Son of man and blaspheming the Spirit. What the Pharisees did is serious; it is blasphemy.
But it is yet only blaspheming the Son of man in His humiliation. At that moment they do not yet see Him as the Lord of glory; His divine glory is not yet seen. How evil it may be, and how willfully they sin, it can in some way be excused; they are not fully aware of what they are doing. But Christ knows that soon it shall be Pentecost; then He shall be glorified in the Holy Spirit. Whoever blasphemes Me then, whoever will still mock Me, his sin shall not be pardoned. He says, "Know what you do; today it may be excused; but after Pentecost, when you shall see me work as Lord of glory, and you persevere in your attitude to Me, if you then still say what you are saying now, it will be too late. For now you blaspheme what you do not know fully, but when you keep on doing it, you do it with your eyes open. Then you spit on the richest revelation of God's Name, then there is nothing that can help you anymore.
By then God has given everything, He can do nothing more to bring you to repentance. Today you blaspheme the Son in His humiliation and that is bad. But God has one more arrow on His string; He shall convince you in the Spirit that you cannot deny what you renounce today. Now you may be somewhat excused, for you did not see everything of Me; My glory is still veiled. As yet you have not heard everythng of the Name of God; I have not yet made it fully known in all its glory. But with Pentecost this will change. Then God will give it its last and fullest light; and nothing can be added. Then you will know it fully, then you will have seen and heard everything what God has to say. You will not be able to say: I did not know what I did. For then the Holy Spirit will have you fully convinced.
When Christ hangs on the cross those passing by blaspheme Him. They mock Him as the Messiah. That is bad. But Christ says, "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do". My glory is now very much veiled and not seen. It may be excused, Father, for how can they see Me here as the Son of God? Father, forgive them, they are blaspheming the Son of Man. I Myself told them it would be forgiven. That they mock Me now, that they make me die this horrible death on the cross, ah Father, they don't know it yet. Forgive them. Later, it will be a sin that cannot be forgiven, when they not like now crucify the servant in His humiliation, but revile the Lord of glory. When after Pentecost they still should crucify the Son of God; then they despise the Spirit of grace; then they deliberately tread under foot the blood that I shed for them. At that time they will know everything and have no more excuse.
Paul was at the edge of this sin. At one place he says that he is the chief of sinners. When we read that, we have the inclination to think that he exaggerated, other people committed greater sins. But, indeed, it was the greatest sin; for he persecuted the Church of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit; he reviled the Lord Jesus Christ. He did it after Pentecost. But he had one excuse. He did it in ignorance. He did not yet know what he did; he had heard much of Jesus, but the rabbis with whom he studied, they never told him a good thing about the Lord Jesus. Jesus in His glory in the power of the Holy Spirit he had never seen. But then, on the road to Damascus, he sees Him in His glory from above, in His glory as God. Had Paul continued to persecute Him it would have been inexcusable.
We could see it thus: the sin against the Holy Spirit is to attack God in His highest, in His Pentecostal revelation. It is a sin which one cannot commit in ignorance; or yes, one can commit, like Paul commit this sin in ignorance, but then it can be forgiven. Without pardon is this sin when one knows what he is doing. And then it is not done by accident, in weakness when discouraged, but intentionally, from pure hate, from a perfect devilish hate against God.
And now beloved, all trembling souls may comfort themselves. For I have already mentioned it: there are many who are afraid that they committed this sin, and who are almost despairing. You meet people with weak nerves, who are afraid it is too late for them; they cannot mention a certain sin; but they are afraid, they have an immoderate fear. Others have trouble with instigations from the devil; they do not want it, but the most godless thoughts arise in their hearts. You see them worry; would this be the unpardonable sin? Some young people have great sexual difficulties and in their fear they think that they have blasphemed the Spirit. But all this is something entirely different.
For sin against the Holy Spirit is always sin against the third commandment; it is blaspheming the Name of the Lord, scorning the Holy Spirit, a treading under foot of the blood of Christ. Those who commit this sin do nothing rather than dishonor Christ; they would, as they see Him as glorified Son of God, crucify Him anew; they would cover Him with the greatest shame and scorn. See, those who are guilty of sins in other areas, do grieve the Holy Spirit. Those who live unchaste, they profane the temple of the Holy Spirit; but it is not blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Someone can have much trouble with the weakness of the flesh, and he stumbles every day; but than he does not think of blaspheming; the world may hate Christ, he does not go along with them; and he says in his heart: never that! I have many sins, but I would never help to crucify Thee anew. For I believe and confess, that Thou art my Lord and my God.
So it is ever a sin of speaking, for it is blaspheming. It is always an intentional sin. People who are bothered by all kinds of evil thoughts, do not want that. They abhor them, but it is as if a develish power whispers to them in their ears. That is not intentional. For, they suffer because of it, they would like to be delivered from this; inwardly they say "no" to all such ungodliness. Someone like Paul can persecute the Church and so fight against the Holy Spirit without committing the unpardonable sin. Paul, in his religious zeal meant to serve the Lord. He really did not know what he did. He who commits this sin, knows what he is doing, and it is his will to do so. He sees the glory of Christ, he must acknowledge Him in His glory of Pentecost; He discovers the power of the Holy Ghost, but willingly and intentionally he detests Him. Not for a moment he thinks, "I wish I was different". He is not sorry and has no regret; for it has become his satanic joy to blaspheme God's glory in its highest revelation.
2. That is why this sin cannot be forgiven. Christ says of this sin, "It cannot be forgiven in this world, nor in the world to come." There are many sins that will not be forgiven. Although we never blaspheme the Holy Spirit, yet the fact we do not repent can be cause that the Lord does not forgive us. In the age to come there will be many sins that are not forgiven. Outside will be dogs and sorcerers, whoremongers and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. All those who persevere in their sinful life, will come in the second death; it shall not be forgiven them in the age to come. Yet, there is a difference with blaspheming the Holy Ghost. It shall not be forgiven, not in this age either. Other sinners have until the moment they die the possibility of repenting, and therewith the possibility of being forgiven. For them it is never cut off, although it will be so in the age to come. But blaspheming the Holy Spirit is immediately a matter that is cut off; already in this age it obstructs all possibilities; there is no more occasion for forgiveness, for there is no more possibility for repentance. The letter to the Hebrews teaches that it is impossible for those whe were once enlightened, who have tasted of the heavenly gifts, and were partakers of the Holy Ghost and tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come, and fall away, to renew them again to repentance, because they crucified the Son of God anew and made Him an open shame.
They tasted the powers of the age to come; but those who brutally despise and trample on Him, make a mockery of the grace of the age to come, as it was seen already in this age, he can already in this age never go back. The Lord can do nothing for him anymore; God gave everything He had; He has no more. As it was in the Old Testament, someone who sinned and did not repent, came to repentance by a new and richer revelation of God. He would resist, but God proved stronger, and he did no longer resist. The Name of God was not yet perfectly revealed; and that meant that a new revelation could bring someone to repentance. But we have the richest revelation; God has no more arrow on His bow. God can break the strongest resistance by repeatedly exercising more pressure; but when resistance turns against the highest revelation, the Lord can do no more.
3. And, now beloved we must tremble. No, not from a vague anxiety; not because of weak nerves; not from a certain sin in which we repeatedly fall. But only because we now live under the highest revelation of God's Name. Now, our tongue is called upon to confess the most fair confession; woe is us, when we should come under the most terrible curse. It is now very dangerous. O, you know, not every sin we do today is against the Holy Spirit. We can grieve Him; we can desecrate His temple; but all that can be forgiven. But let us not think we are safe, and that this sin does not threaten us, that nothing can happen to us, as long as we watch for this sin. It is true, it is not that far; but let us tremble, it could come that far. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is ultimately the end of a way of sin against the Name of God. He who will not come to that end, let him hasten, and be careful not to set a foot on the way that leads to that end. Hebrews 10 warns so emphatically aginst that sin. "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith witout wavering". We must confess.
Not to confess, or to be lax in confessing, leads to the way to blaspheming. He has not gone that far, but his feet are in the way. And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works. For sin in other areas and against other commandments are not the sin against the Holy Spirit; but they mean negating of the Word and the Name of the Lord. They could be the beginning that leads to that terrible end. Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhort one another. Poor church attendance is also on that way which could finally lead to blasphemy. And therefore beloved, tremble for the Name of the Lord as it now has been revealed. Let us not fail of the grace of God. For sin begets sin, and sin being ended begets death. There is a sin unto death. You do not have to be afraid for that end, for that sin when it is finished; for he that commits that sin, has no more fear for sin; he only has a desire to commit that greatest of sin. But fear every sin that could be a beginning of that terrible end; not faithful in attending catechism classes, not celebrating the Lord's Supper, and much more. It is only hopeless in the end, but the danger hides already at the beginning.
Sunday, November 22, 1942.