Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit
“Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad. 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. Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (Matthew12:22-37)
The passage we have read contains some “things hard to be understood.” The principle thing that is dealt with in this text is “the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.” This is a subject about which it must be acknowledged little is known. The best and fullest explanations of it are, in my opinion, far from being exhaustive and satisfactory. And I have no delusions about being able to fathom the depths of this subject. I will say no more about it than I am confident of as a matter of divine revelation and no less.
We must never be surprised to find things in the Bible that are simply beyond the reach of our minds. If it had no deep places here and there, which no man is capable of understanding, much less explaining, it would not be the Word of the Infinite God. However, rather than stumbling and falling over the things we cannot understand, we ought to give thanks to God for those revelations of wisdom and grace, which even the simplest minds are able to grasp. When we find things written in the Word of God that we do not understand, or that appear to our puny brains to be inconsistent with matters of clear revelation, let us reverently bow to the Scriptures, knowing that God is true, praying and waiting for clearer understanding that only God the Holy Spirit can give. Let us never speculate about divine truth, or offer opinions about things beyond our comprehension. There are five things in this paragraph that demand our attention.
The Prejudice of The Pharisees
First, in verses 22-27 we see the prejudice of the Pharisees against Christ and his gospel, and learn that no slanderous speech is too vile and reprehensible for lost religious people to use against the gospel of Christ.
“Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges.”
Whenever we read of our Lord’s miracles in healing the bodies of people, we ought to view them as demonstrations of our Savior’s great compassion upon our immortal souls. It is the blind and dumb in spirit that he came to deliver.
When our Lord cast out devils, the Pharisees said, “He does that by Beelzebub!” It was an absurd charge, as our Lord demonstrated; but these men were blinded by religious prejudice. And none are so blind as those who will not see. When they could not refute his doctrine, could not deny the validity of his works, and would not acknowledge him as the Christ of God, the only way these men could justify their behavior was to slander the Savior’s name and seek to cast reproach upon his character.
These Pharisees are not the only people who have lost reason, good sense, and civility when confronted with the Kingdom of God. The religious world called Athanasius a devil when he insisted upon the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The pope called Martin Luther a devil when he proclaimed the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
This ought never to surprise us. When religious men are determined to reject the doctrine of the gospel, which they cannot refute, they attempt to defend themselves by blackening the character of those who preach the free grace of God in Christ. What an honor it is to God’s faithful servants when such men speak evil of them for proclaiming the gospel of Christ. By their slanders they simply treat our Master’s servants as they treated the Lord Jesus himself. I have been called a devil by more than a few of these Pharisees’ sons over the years, and always count it my honor to be so treated (Matt. 10:25).
In verse twenty-five when the Holy Spirit tells us, “Jesus knew their thoughts,” he gives clear testimony to our Savior’s eternal deity. None but the eternal God knows the thoughts of men. It is written, “I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts” (Rev. 2:23). And there is in this passage a clear declaration of the three persons of the Holy Trinity as well. As all three Persons in the holy Trinity are engaged in all the work of our salvation (Eph. 1:3-14), so all three are here engaged in the work of “casting out devils.” The Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, said, “I cast out devils.” He said that he did it “by the Spirit,” by God the Holy Spirit. And he calls God the Spirit, “the Spirit of God,” that is of God the Father. As it is written, “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”
The Binding of Satan
Second, verses 28-29 describe the work of Christ as the binding of Satan.
“But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.”
In verse twenty-six the Lord Jesus speaks of Satan’s kingdom. Here he speaks of the binding of Satan. The fact that Satan sets up and maintains an empire of sin in every human heart is a fact too obvious to be questioned by any rational person. The terrible effects of it are too well known to be denied. Here we have that fact plainly stated. “It was,” as Robert Hawker wrote, “the setting up this kingdom against God and his Christ, for which the devil and his angels are said to have been cast out of heaven and to have left their own habitation (Rev. 12:7-12; Jude 6).” It was by Satan’s seduction of Eve that Adam was brought down, and by Adam’s transgression that the whole human race was made a fallen, corrupt, sinful race (Rom. 5:12). It is Satan who works in all the children of disobedience continually (Eph. 2:2-4).
Because Satan’s kingdom of darkness, deception, and sin takes in the entire human race, he is called “the prince of this world” (John 16:11). ” Because he seeks to destroy our souls and seeks to destroy the church and kingdom of God, he is call “a roaring lion” (1 Pet. 5:8) and “the dragon” (Rev. 12:7), “the devil” and “Satan.” Here he is called “the strong man armed.” So powerful is his influence over the unregenerate, that men are taken captive by him at his will (2 Tim. 2:26).
How happy and thankful we ought to be to read in the Book of God that “the Son of God was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). One great purpose and design of the gospel is the overthrow of Satan and his kingdom and the restoration of perfect order in God’s creation. Let us rejoice! The Son of God came into this world to “save his people from their sins” and “that he might destroy the works of the devil;” and that which he came to accomplish shall be accomplished! The Word of God reveals a threefold binding of Satan.
1. By his death upon the cross, in the accomplishment of our redemption, and by his resurrection from the grave our Savior bound Satan and broke the power of his usurped dominion over the nations of the world of Satan (John 12:31-33; Col. 2:13-15; Heb. 2:14-15; Rev. 20:1-6).
2. In regeneration and conversion, by the power of his grace, through the operations of his Holy Spirit in the new birth, the Son of God binds Satan in the hearts of chosen, redeemed sinners and takes possession of his house.
That is what is described in Matthew 12:28-29. Our Savior is the man stronger than the strong man armed. He comes by omnipotent mercy into the hearts of chosen sinners, binds Satan, casts him out, and spoils him of all. This is what happens every time he saves a sinner. He does not stand knocking at the door of the lost sinner’s heart, hoping that the sinner might choose to let him enter. He knocks the door down, bolt and bar, enters the house of the ransomed soul, and sets up his throne in the heart, bringing his welcome with him. Thus it is that we have been “translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son” (Isa. 49:24; Mark 3:27; Luke 11:21-22; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:7-11; Eph. 2:1-4).
3. When he comes again to make all things new, the Lord Jesus will cast Satan out of this world into the lake of fire, where he shall have no more power (Rev. 20:10).
There is a day coming, when Christ comes again in his glory, when the total and everlasting destruction of Satan’s kingdom will take place. In that day we who are one with Christ will triumph over the prince of darkness in complete victory (Rom. 16:20. There is no such thing as “a devil’s hell.” Hell belongs to God. It is his torture chamber, in which he will forever torment the devil and all who have followed him to destruction.
The Impossibility of Neutrality
In verse 30 the Lord Jesus shows us the impossibility of neutrality with regard to him, his gospel, and his kingdom. — “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” Multitudes try to straddle the fence, halting between two opinions, not wishing to deny Christ altogether and not wishing to serve him altogether, not wanting to engage in open rebellion to the Son of God, but not wanting to engage in the cause of Christ. But such neutrality is impossible.
There are, with regard to spiritual things, only two camps; there are only two sides. Either we are with Christ, committed to him and his cause, or we are against Christ, committed to the world, the flesh, and the devil. We cannot serve both God and mammon. If we do not serve Christ, we oppose him. There is no middle ground. In a word, the gospel of Christ demands decisiveness (Josh. 24:15). In his commentary on verse thirty John Gill wrote, “Since there is such an open war proclaimed and carried on between Christ and the devil, none ought to be neutral; whoever is not on the side of Christ, is reckoned as an enemy; and whoever is not concerned by prayer or preaching, or other means to gather souls to his word and ordinances, and to his church, and to himself, is deemed by him a scatterer of them.”
Verses 31 and 32 introduce us to what our Savior calls “the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost,” and warns us against the danger of what he declares is the only unpardonable sin.
“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.”
It is not difficult to show from the Scriptures what this sin is not. The difficulty is showing clearly what it is.
Our Savior clearly declares the free, full, absolute, and everlasting forgiveness of all sin to all believers. – “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men.” — “If we confess our sins,” no matter what they are, no matter how vile they are, no matter how many they are, no matter how old or how new they are, the Lord God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” all of them, completely, and forever, “and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). — “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Yet, the Son of God does speak about one particular sin that is unpardonable. It is called “the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.” What is “the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost?” “The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost” does not involve sins of ignorance. The distinction drawn between “speaking against the Son of man” and “speaking against (blaspheming) the Holy Ghost” must not be overlooked. The sin against Christ as the Son of man was committed out of ignorance by those who did not know that he is the Messiah. Therefore, they did not receive him, believe him, and obey him, but opposed, persecuted, and even crucified him. But they did it ignorantly (1 Cor. 2:8), as Saul of Tarsus did (1 Tim. 1:13).
This sin and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which our Savior declares is unpardonable, is committed by men and women who willfully persist in unbelief and obstinate impenitence, deliberately rejecting the counsel of God against themselves, and are therefore given up to a reprobate mind. J.C. Ryle accurately describes it as, “The union of the clearest head-knowledge of the Gospel with deliberate rejection of it, and deliberate choice of sin and the world.”
John Gill wrote, “It is a despiteful usage of the Spirit of grace, an opposing, contradicting, and denying of the operations wrought, or the doctrines revealed by him, against a man’s own light and conscience, out of a willful and obstinate malice, on purpose to lesson the glory of God, and gratify his own lusts. Such was the sin of the Scribes and Pharisees; who, though they knew the miracles of Christ were wrought by the Spirit of God, yet maliciously and obstinately imputed them to the devil, with a view to obscure the glory of Christ, and indulge their own wicked passions.”
This unpardonable sin is the willful, deliberate rejection of Christ by one who is fully convinced that he is the Son of God and the only Savior of sinners. It is a deliberate refusal to bow to him as Lord. It is choosing to save your life, rather than lose it to the dominion of the Son of God. It is nothing less than running over top of the Son of God to get to hell!
Those who are troubled with the fear that they may have committed this unpardonable sin, most assuredly, have not done so! The one thing that always characterizes those people described in the Scriptures as reprobate is a callousness and hardness, that is the result of a seared conscience. When God gives a man up in reprobation, that man is no longer concerned for the glory of God, the knowledge of Christ, and the things of God.
Lot’s wife, Pharaoh, King Saul, Ahab, and Judas Iscariot stand out as beacons to warn all. Each of them had crystal clear knowledge. Yet, each of them deliberately rejected Christ. They had light in their heads, but darkness in their hearts. Each of them today is in hell, suffering the wrath of God! Beware of despising the light God has given you. Do you know the truth? Then walk in the truth. Walk in the light God has given you. That is the best safeguard against the unpardonable sin.
Importance of Words
“Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”
Our Lord calls the Scribes and Pharisees of his day and ours a “generation of vipers”. The seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent are identified and defined throughout the Word of God as being at enmity toward each other (Gen. 3:15). On another occasion, our Savior said to the same people, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do” (John 8:44). Because they are of their father, the devil, nothing but evil can be expected from such people. — “How can ye being evil speak good things?” — “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep” (John 10:26). Such serpents, such a “a generation of vipers,” cannot escape “the damnation, of hell” (Matt. 23:33; 13:38; 25:33; Acts 13:10; 2 Pet. 2:12-14; 1 John 3:8-9, 12).
“A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.” — The Scriptures plainly declare, “There is none good, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). Yet, our Lord here speaks of “a good man.” Obviously, he here distinguishes his own from the rest of the world. All who are born of God are made “good” before him by his own work of grace, by the righteousness of Christ imputed to them in justification and the righteousness of Christ imparted to them in regeneration (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Pet. 1:4; 1 John 3:5-10). The “good man” differs from the natural man. He is a different man than he once was, because he is a new creature in Christ. He has a righteous nature imparted to him by the grace of God. “Out of the good treasure of his heart,” by the graces of his Holy Spirit planted in him, he brings forth the sweet and precious fruit of the Spirit in his life and in his speech (Gal. 5:22-23; Phil. 1:27). He speaks of Christ, his righteousness, his atonement, his forgiveness, and his grace, declaring what God has done for his soul (Ps. 66:16).
In verses 36-37 our Savior shows us the immense importance of being careful about our words. He says, “for every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account in the day of judgment.” Then he adds, “By thy words shalt thou be justified, and by thy word thou shalt be condemned.” If there were nothing else in the Bible to do so, these statements of our Lord about the tongue should convince all who read them that we are all guilty before God and need the righteousness of Another, even the righteousness of Christ, to give us acceptance with him in the day of judgment (Phil. 3:9).
Our Words reveal the state of our hearts. Words of grace, kindness, goodwill, and cheer give evidence of a heart renewed by grace. Words of envy, malice, slander, and gossip, words that are intended to hurt others reveal an evil, depraved, unregenerate heart (Eph. 4:30-32). Idle words may seem frivolous to us; but they do permanent damage. — “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Pro. 18:21). Idle words often stick in the minds of those who hear them long after the one who speaks them is dead. No member of our bodies is more powerful to do good and to do evil than our tongues.
“For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (Jas. 3:2-8) — “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” (Ps. 141:3) — “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” (Col. 4:6)
We must not forget that our Savior’s words in verses 36-37 distinguish the believer from the unbeliever. Our words as well as our actions make manifest the state of our hearts and reveal whether we are born again by his grace or are yet unregenerate. The idle, sinful words of the unbeliever reveal the fact that he is unregenerate. Likewise, the gracious words of the believer reveal the work of grace in and upon him. As Abraham and Rahab justified their professed faith in Christ by their deeds, so, too, every believer justifies his professed faith in Christ by his daily conversation (James 2:19-26). For the believer, there is no condemnation. Those who are redeemed by Christ shall never be condemned (Rom. 8:1, 33-34; Song 4:11; Mal. 3:16-18). The unregenerate and unbelieving living and dying without Christ shall be condemned by their own words.