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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Mark 3

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-6

III.

(1-6) A man there which had a withered hand.—See Notes on Matthew 12:9-14. St. Mark omits the reference to the sheep fallen into a pit, and, on the other hand, gives more graphically our Lord’s “looking round” with an “anger” which yet had in it a touch as of pitying grief. The form of the Greek participle implies compassion as well as sorrow. St. Mark alone names (Mark 3:6) the Herodians as joining with the Pharisees in their plot for His destruction. On the Herodians, see Notes on Matthew 11:8; Matthew 22:16.


Verse 7-8

(7, 8) And from Judæa. . . . and from Jerusalem.—The fact thus recorded is interesting as in some degree implying the ministry in Jerusalem and its neighbourhood, which the first three Gospels, for some reason or other, pass over.


Verse 8

(8) From Idumæa.—The only passage in the New Testament in which this country is named. It had acquired a considerably wider range than the Edom of the Old Testament, and included the whole country between the Arabah and the Mediterranean. It was at this time under the government of Aretas (2 Corinthians 11:32), the father of the wife whom Herod Antipas had divorced, and this had probably brought about a more frequent intercourse between its inhabitants and those of Galilee and Peræa.

They about Tyre and Sidon.—The fact is interesting in its connection with the history of the Syro-Phœnician woman (Matthew 15:21; Mark 7:24) as showing how it was that our Lord’s appearance in that region was welcomed as that of one whose fame had travelled thither before Him.


Verse 9

(9) That a small ship should wait on him.—The fact thus mentioned incidentally shows that in what is recorded in Matthew 13:2 our Lord was but having recourse to a practice already familiar.


Verse 10

(10) As many as had plagues.—Literally, scourges; the same word as in Acts 22:24, Hebrews 11:36.


Verse 11

(11) And unclean spirits.—The testimony which had been given in a single instance (Mark 1:24) now became more or less general. But it came in a form which our Lord could not receive. The wild cry of the frenzied demoniac had no place in the evidence to which He appealed (John 5:31-37), and tended, so far as it impressed men at all, to set them against the Teacher who was thus acknowledged.


Verse 13

(13) And he goeth up into a mountain.—The sequence of events in St. Mark varies much, it will be seen, from St. Matthew, and comes nearer to that in St. Luke. What follows is, like the parallel narrative of Luke 6:12-13, the selection rather than the mission of the Twelve, the latter appearing in Matthew 10. In St. Luke we find the noticeable fact that the night had been spent in prayer, apparently, as usual, alone, and that when it was day He called the company of the disciples, who had waited below, and made choice of the Twelve.


Verses 16-19

(16-19) And Simon he surnamed.—On the list of the Apostles see Notes on Matthew 10:2-4.


Verse 17

(17) Boanerges.—The word is an Aramaic compound (B’nè-regesh = sons of thunder). We may see in the name thus given a witness to the fiery zeal of the sons of Zebedee, seen, e.g., in their wish to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans (Luke 9:54), and John’s desire to stop the work of one who cast out devils (Luke 9:49), or the prayer of the two brothers that they might sit on their Lord’s right hand and on His left in His kingdom (Matthew 20:21). It was, we may well believe, that burning zeal that made James the proto-martyr of the Apostolic company (Acts 12:2). We can scarcely fail to trace in the multiplied “thunderings and voices” of the Apocalypse (Revelation 4:5; Revelation 6:1; Revelation 8:5), and in the tradition of John’s indignant shrinking from contact with the heretic Cerinthus. that which was in harmony with the spiritual being of the Seer, and with the name which his Lord had thus given him.


Verse 18

(18) Simon the Canaanite.—Better, Cananite, or, following many MSS., Cananœan, i.e., the Aramaic equivalent of Zelotes. (See Note on Matthew 10:2-4)


Verse 19

(19) And they went into an house.—It would be better to put a full stop after “betrayed Him,” and to make this the beginning of a new sentence.


Verse 20

(20) So that they could not so much as eat bread.—The graphic touch, as if springing from actual reminiscence of that crowded scene, is eminently characteristic of St. Mark.


Verse 21

(21) And when his friends . . .—Literally, those from Him—i.e., from His home. As the “mother and the brethren” are mentioned later on in the chapter as coming to check His teaching, we must see in these some whom they had sent with the same object. To them the new course of action on which our Lord had entered seemed a sign of over-excitement, recklessly rushing into danger. We may, perhaps, see in the random word thus uttered that which gave occasion to the more malignant taunt of the scribes in the next verse. They were saying now, as they said afterwards (John 10:20), “He hath a devil, and is mad.”


Verses 22-30

(22-30) He hath Beelzebub.—See Notes on Matthew 12:24-32.


Verse 23

(23) Said unto them in parables.—The word is used in its wider sense, as including any form of argument from analogy more or less figurative. As in most reports of discourses as distinct from facts, St. Mark is somewhat briefer than St. Matthew.


Verses 28-30

An Eternal Sin

Verily I say unto you, All their sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and their blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: but whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin: because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.—Mark 3:28-30.

I shall never forget, says Dr. Samuel Cox,1 [Note: Expositor, 2nd Ser., iii. 321.] the chill that struck into my childish heart so often as I heard of this mysterious sin which carried men, and for ought I knew might have carried even me, beyond all reach of pardon; or the wonder and perplexity with which I used to ask myself why, if this sin was possible,—if, as the words of our Lord seem to imply, it was probable even and by no means infrequent,—it was not clearly defined, so that we might at least know, and know beyond all doubt, whether it had been committed or had not. And, since then, I have again and again met with men and women of tender conscience and devout spirit who, by long brooding over these terrible words, had convinced themselves that they had fallen, inadvertently for the most part, into this fatal sin, and whose reason had been disbalanced and unhinged by a fearful anticipation of the doom they held themselves to have provoked. The religious monomaniac is to be found in well-nigh every madhouse in the kingdom; and in the large majority of cases, as there is only too much ground to believe, he has been driven mad by the fear that he has committed the unpardonable sin: although the man who honestly fears that he has committed this sin is just the one man who has the witness in himself that he cannot possibly have committed it.

I was as silent as my friends; after a little time we retired to our separate places of rest. About midnight I was awakened by a noise; I started up and listened; it appeared to me that I heard voices and groans. In a moment I had issued from my tent—all was silent—but the next moment I again heard groans and voices; they proceeded from the tilted cart whore Peter and his wife lay; I drew near, again there was a pause, and then I heard the voice of Peter, in an accent of extreme anguish, exclaim, “Pechod Ysprydd Glan—O pechod Ysprydd Glan!” and then he uttered a deep groan. Anon, I heard the voice of “Winifred, and never shall I forget the sweetness and gentleness of the tones of her voice in the stillness of that night.… I felt I had no right to pry into their afflictions, and retired. Now “pechod Ysprydd Glan,” interpreted, is the sin against the Holy Ghost.1 [Note: G. Borrow, Lavengro, chap. lxxiii.]

I

The Occasion of this Warning

It was a time of spiritual decisions, when the thoughts of many hearts were being revealed. For nearly two years the Gospel had been proclaimed in the land, and for nearly a year Christ had been teaching in Galilee. All eyes were upon the new Prophet. His words were with authority, His deeds were of amazing power, though as yet no dazzling “sign from heaven” had appeared. Public opinion was divided. The multitudes were heard saying, “Can it be that this is the Son of David? We fear not! Why is no great deed done for the nation’s deliverance? This Messiah, if He be the Messiah, forgives sins and heals the sick, but that will not drive out Herod from Tiberias nor the Romans from Jerusalem.” Our Lord’s own brothers, hearing the reports brought to them, made up their mind that He was deranged. On the other hand there were many, though but few compared with the great majority, who could already say with Nathanael and Peter: “Thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.” But in high ecclesiastical circles another theory was heard which had its part in shaping public sentiment: “He is a false prophet, possessed by Satan.”

The immediate occasion of the discourse was the healing of a peculiarly afflicted demoniac. It was in the house at Capernaum, soon after Christ had returned from an extended evangelistic tour, accompanied by the Twelve and many other disciples. A sad picture—this man brought before Him in the midst of the pressing crowd—dumb, blind, and possessed by an evil spirit; a soul imprisoned in silence, shut away into hopeless darkness, reached by no ray of earth’s light and beauty, and, what was still more terrible, subject to that mysterious “oppression of the devil” by which an evil presence from the unseen world was housed within him, and rendered his inner life a hideous and discordant anomaly. With what unutterable joy must this man have gone forth from the Saviour’s presence, with unsealed lips, with eyes looking out upon the world, and in his right mind.

Every such miracle must of necessity have raised afresh the question of the hour, Who is this Son of Man? Jesus must be accounted for. The scribes are ready with their theory—plausible, clear, and conveniently capable of being put into a nutshell. Jesus is Himself a demoniac, but differs from all other demoniacs in this respect, that it is no ordinary demon, but the prince of all the evil spirits, that has taken possession of Him; hence His control over all inferior demons: “by the prince of the devils casteth he out the devils.”

I was greatly perplexed about the second lesson I should read in the conducting of a Sabbath morning service. It seemed an utter impossibility to fix my mind upon any chapter. In this uncertain state I remained until the singing of the last verse of the hymn preceding the lesson. I prayed for direction. A voice said, “Read what is before you.” It was the twelfth chapter of St. Luke. At the tenth verse (similar to Mark 3:28-29) I paused, read again the verse, “Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man it shall be forgiven him, but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.” Then I asked: “What is this sin against the Holy Ghost?” I explained it as attributing the works and words of Christ, His influence, spirit, and power to Satanic agency. Just then I turned to my right, and noticing a beautiful bouquet which some one had placed on my table, I took the bouquet in my hand, saying, “There are bad men in this district, but I do not think there is one so depraved as to say that the growth, the beauty, and the fragrance of these flowers are the work of the devil. In the lower sense that would be sinning against the Holy Ghost.” Then I continued my reading. The result was that the following Tuesday the gardener’s daughter called to thank me, saying her father had found the Saviour the preceding Sabbath. She said he had long thought he had sinned against the Holy Ghost, but that illustration about the flowers set him at liberty. Going down the garden, standing before a rose bush in full bloom, he said, “Bad as I have been, I have never said these flowers were the creation of the devil. No, my Father made them all.”1 [Note: C. G. Holt.]

II

The Language

1. “Verily I say unto you.” This is the earliest occurrence of the phrase in St. Mark, and therefore in the Gospels.

2. “All their sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men.” As if He shrank from the saying that is to follow, He prefaces it with a fresh and loving proclamation of the wideness of God’s mercy. There is no shortcoming in the bestowal of the Divine mercy, there is no reluctance to pardon sin. Equal, abundantly equal, to the human need is the Divine provision. “For as the heaven is high above the earth”—and we have no line to measure that distance—“so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.” “All their sins”—not one of them shall be put down as unforgivable; they may all be taken away, though they be red like crimson. The very thief upon the Cross, the vilest at whom the world hisses, may appeal in his last desperate hour for mercy, and receive the assurance of it from the lips of Christ. It is a very tender proof of the love and longing of Christ for men’s souls that He speaks thus ere He lets fall the most solemn warning that ever came from His lips. “All their sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men.” What more do we want to hear? Is not this enough? “He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities”; “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” But there is more.

3. “And their blasphemies.” What is meant by blasphemy? It is hardly necessary to explain that the word blasphemy means primarily injurious speech, and, as applied to God, speech derogatory to His Divine majesty. When our Lord said to the palsied man, “Thy sins are forgiven,” the bystanders complained that the words were blasphemous, for no one but God had the right to say them. To blaspheme is by contemptuous speech intentionally to come short of the reverence due to God or to sacred things; and this, according to Jesus, was the offence of the Scribes and Pharisees. What He says is occasioned by their charge that He had an evil spirit, that is, that the power acting in Him was not good but bad. Their offence lay in their failure to value the moral element in the work of Jesus. They saw what was being done; in their hearts they felt the power of Christ; they knew His words were true, and that His works were good works. Rather than acknowledge this, and own Christ for what He was, they chose to say that the spirit in Him was not God’s Spirit but the spirit of the devil, involving a complete upsetting of all moral values, and revealing in themselves a stupendous and well-nigh irrecoverable moral blindness.

4. “But whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost.” From this the sin is often and properly described as “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” though the popular title, taken from what follows, is “The Unpardonable Sin.”

5. “Hath never forgiveness.” Literally “hath not forgiveness unto the age” ( εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα). The phrase is used in the Septuagint for the Hebrew le’olam, which means “in perpetuity” (Exodus 21:6; Exodus 40:15), or with a negative, “never more” (2 Samuel 12:10; Proverbs 6:33). But in the New Testament it gains a wider meaning in view of the eternal relations which the Gospel reveals. It signifies “this present world” in Mark 4:19, the future life being distinguished from it as “the world to come” ( αἰὼν ὁ ἐρχόμενος) in Mark 10:30. In the passage in Matthew about the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, corresponding to the present passage in Mark, the two words are “neither in this world, nor in that which is to come” (Matthew 12:32).

6. “But is guilty of an eternal sin.” The passage is in no case easy to understand, but it is made much harder in the Authorized translation than it is in the original. The Greek word ( κρίσις), which in the reading adopted by the Authorized Version, ends the 29th verse of the chapter, is not “damnation” or even “condemnation,” but simply “judgment.” It is now, however, universally allowed that the word in the original manuscripts is here not “judgment” at all, but “sin”—“is guilty of (or “liable to”) an eternal sin.” Some early commentators, not understanding the expression, inserted “judgment,” as more intelligible, in the margin, from which it crept into the text.

The word here translated “eternal” ( αἰώνιος) is the adjective formed from the word “age” or “world” ( αἰών) of the previous phrase. In a great many places where this adjective may be rendered “everlasting,” it is impossible not to feel that this does not give the whole or the exact meaning. This is very noticeable in such profound sayings of our Lord as “Whoso eateth my flesh hath eternal life,” “This is life eternal, that they might know thee”; “He that hath my word, hath eternal life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death into life”; “Thou hast the words of eternal life.” All such expressions rather convey a thought somewhat like that of St. Paul’s “Hidden with Christ in God,” life not of the world, but above and beyond temporal and worldly things; not so much the endlessness of eternity, as its apartness from time. Something in the same way, “an eternal sin” can hardly mean an everlasting sin, but rather a sin which has in it a living power of evil, the bounds of which cannot be prescribed.

We regard the argument against endless punishment drawn from αἰών and αἰώνιος as a purely verbal one, which does not touch the heart of the question at issue. We append several utterances of its advocates. The Christian Union: “Eternal punishment is punishment in eternity, not throughout eternity; as temporal punishment is punishment in time, not throughout time.” Westcott: “Eternal life is not an endless duration of being in time, but being of which time is not a measure. We have indeed no powers to grasp the idea except through forms and images of sense. These must be used, but we must not transfer them to realities of another order.”

Farrar holds that ἀίδιος, “everlasting,” which occurs but twice in the New Testament (Romans 1:20 and Jude 1:6), is not a synonym of αἰώνιος, “eternal,” but the direct antithesis of it; the former being the unrealisable conception of endless time, and the latter referring to a state from which our imperfect human conception of time is absolutely excluded. Whiton, Gloria Patri, 145, claims that the perpetual immanence of God in conscience makes recovery possible after death; yet he speaks of the possibility that in the incorrigible sinner conscience may become extinct. To all these views we may reply with Schaff, Church History, ii. 66—” After the general judgment we have nothing revealed but the boundless prospect of æonian life and æonian death.1 [Note: A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, iii. 1046.]

III

The Meaning

1. How is it that sin against the Son of Man may be forgiven, while blasphemy against the Holy Ghost may not? The Son of Man, says Dalman,2 [Note: The Words of Jesus, 254.] here refers to the Messiah in His estate of humiliation. “The primary form of the utterance is seen in Mark, who merely contrasts blasphemy in general with blasphemy against the Spirit which inspired Jesus (Mark 3:28 f.). Luke 12:10 speaks of blasphemy of the ‘Son of man’ and of the ‘Spirit’; Matthew 12:32 is similar, but the statement to this effect is annexed to another, which corresponds to the form found in Mark. It is impossible that Matthew and Luke should here intend to make a distinction between two Persons of the Godhead, as if it were a venial sin to blaspheme the ‘Son.’ The distinction is between Jesus as man and the Divine Spirit working through Him. Invective against the man Jesus may be forgiven; blasphemy against the Divine power inherent in Him is unpardonable, because it is blasphemy against God.”

2. How then may one be guilty of this unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost? The conditions of obtaining pardon are three, namely—Confession, i.e. acknowledgment of sin; Repentance, or hearty sorrow for sin; and Faith, or trust in the sinner’s Saviour. Now, how can these conditions be fulfilled? How are we brought into a state in which we can realise the willingness to acknowledge our transgressions, the hearty sorrow which breaks us down on account of our sin, and the trust which helps us to believe that Jesus can forgive? We can be brought into this condition only by one Power, through the agency of one Person, the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit of God must teach our consciences, the Holy Spirit of God must gain control over our wills; and only through the teaching of the Holy Spirit in our souls are we made able or willing to acknowledge our sin, repent of our sin, and believe in our Saviour. This Holy Scripture teaches us. But it is possible for us to reject and blaspheme the whole testimony of the Spirit of God; it is possible for us, not only to reject what the Holy Spirit teaches us, but even to say, in the wilfulness of our depraved nature, that what the Holy Spirit says is truth is untruth, and what the Holy Spirit says is light is darkness. Progression along this awful pathway is marked in Bible language by three words. First, there is “Grieving the Spirit of God.” The second stage is “Resisting the Holy Spirit.” Then, thirdly, there comes the awful state in which the Spirit of God is “quenched.” Grieve, resist, quench! These three sad words mark the progress along this path of evil, this path of sin, which ultimately brings men into a state where their sin is unpardonable. When that is done, and not until that is done, the unpardonable sin has been committed. Here, then, we see the nature of this sin. It is a stubborn and conscious unwillingness to fulfil the conditions of pardon. If a man brings himself into a state in which he at first will not, but which ultimately becomes a state in which he cannot, fulfil the conditions of pardon, how can he be pardoned? It is not that God is unwilling to pardon him; it is not that God’s forgiving grace is incapable of bringing him forgiveness; it is that he has brought his own soul into such a state that it is impossible for him to fulfil those conditions upon the fulfilment of which alone God can grant forgiveness.1 [Note: W. A. Challacombe.]

3. The Freedom of the Will.—Those who hold that the will of man is absolutely free, should remember that unlimited freedom is unlimited freedom to sin, as well as unlimited freedom to turn to God. If restoration is possible, endless persistence in evil is possible also; and this last the Scripture predicts. Whittier:

What if thine eye refuse to see,

Thine ear of Heaven’s free welcome fail,

And thou a willing captive be,

Thyself thy own dark jail?

Swedenborg says that the man who obstinately refuses the inheritance of the sons of God is allowed the pleasures of the beast, and enjoys in his own low way the hell to which he has confined himself. Every occupant of hell prefers it to heaven. Dante, Hell, iv.:

All here together come from every clime,

And to o’erpass the river are not loth,

For so heaven’s justice goads them on, that fear

Is turned into desire. Hence never passed good spirit.

The lost are Heautontimoroumenoi, or self-tormentors, to adopt the title of Terence’s play.

The very conception of human freedom involves the possibility of its permanent misuse, or of what our Lord Himself calls “eternal sin.”1 [Note: Denney, Studies in Theology, 255.]

Origen’s Restorationism grew naturally out of his view of human liberty—the liberty of indifference—an endless alternation of falls and recoveries, of hells and heavens; so that practically he taught nothing but a hell.2 [Note: Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ii. 669.]

It is lame logic to maintain the inviolable freedom of the will, and at the same time insist that God can, through His ample power, through protracted punishment, bring the soul into a disposition which it does not wish to feel. There is no compulsory holiness possible. In our Civil War there was some talk of “compelling men to volunteer,” but the idea was soon seen to involve a self-contradiction.3 [Note: J. C. Adams, The Leisure of God.]

A gentleman once went to a doctor in London to consult him about his health. The doctor told him that, unless he made up his mind to give up a certain sin, he would be blind in three months. The gentleman turned for a moment to the window, and looked out. Clasping his hands together, he exclaimed, “Then farewell, sweet light; farewell, sweet light!” And turning to the doctor, he said, “I can’t give up my sin.” He was blind in three months.4 [Note: Henry Drummond.]

4. The Irrevocable.—How easy it is after a time to lose the sense of sin in this world; to substitute for it outward propriety of conduct, to transgress which is immorality; to substitute the opinion of the world, good or bad, to go against which is bad taste; to look at the world around us as affecting duty, benevolence, and the like; and to make our relationships towards this the test of character, whereby we may be known as good or bad.

Thou little child, yet glorious in the might

Of heaven-born freedom on thy being’s height,

Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke

The years to bring the inevitable yoke,

Thus blindly, with thy blessedness at strife?

Full soon thy soul shall have her earthly freight,

And custom lie upon thee with a weight

Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!1 [Note: Wordsworth.]

Taught in the school of propriety, reared on utility, and pointed to success, by degrees the sense of sin may become faint and dim to him, until out of the ruins of respectability and the desolation of his inner life, he is brought face to face with an eternal sin. The figures of existence have deceived him; he has made the addition of life, omitting the top line, and not allowing for deductions—he is face to face with an utter loss, an eternal sin.2 [Note: W. C. E. Newbolt.]

The laws of God’s universe are closing in upon the impenitent sinner, as the iron walls of the mediæval prison closed in, night by night, upon the victim,—each morning there was one window less, and the dungeon came to be a coffin. In Jean Ingelow’s poem “Divided,” two friends, parted by a little rivulet across which they could clasp hands, walk on in the direction in which the stream is flowing, till the rivulet becomes a brook, and the brook a river, and the river an arm of the sea, across which no voice can be heard and there is no passing. By constant neglect to use our opportunity, we lose the power to cross from sin to righteousness, until between the soul and God “there is a great gulf fixed” (Luke 16:26).

Whittier wrote within a twelvemonth of his death: “I do believe that we take with us into the next world the same freedom of will as we have here, and that there, as here, he that turns to the Lord will find mercy; that God never ceases to follow His creatures with love, and is always ready to hear the prayer of the penitent. But I also believe that now is the accepted time, and that he who dallies with sin may find the chains of evil habit too strong to break in this world or the other.” And the following is the Quaker poet’s verse:

Though God be good and free be Heaven,

No force divine can love compel;

And, though the song of sins forgiven

May sound through lowest hell,

The sweet persuasion of His voice

Respects thy sanctity of will.

He giveth day: thou hast thy choice

To walk in darkness still.

As soon as any organ falls into disuse, it degenerates, and finally is lost altogether.… In parasites the organs of sense degenerate. Marconi’s wireless telegraphy requires an attuned “receiver.” The “transmitter” sends out countless rays into space: only one capable of corresponding vibrations can understand them. The sinner may so destroy his receptivity, that the whole universe may be uttering God’s truth, yet he be unable to hear a word of it. The Outlook: “If a man should put out his eyes, he could not see—nothing could make him see. So if a man should by obstinate wickedness destroy his power to believe in God’s forgiveness, he would be in a hopeless state. Though God would still be gracious, the man could not see it, and so could not take God’s forgiveness to himself.”

Lowell’s warning to the nation at the beginning of the Mexican War was only an echo of a profounder fact in the individual life of the soul:

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,

In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;

Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,

Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,

And the choice goes by forever ’twixt that darkness and that light.1 [Note: Lowell, The Present Crisis.]

Throughout the physical world you may cure fevers, dropsies, fractures, derangements of vital organs; you may violate all the multiplied economies that go to constitute the individual physical man, and rebound will bring forgiveness; but there is a point beyond which if you go it will not, either in youth, in middle life, or in old age. Many a young man who spends himself until he has drained the fountain of vitality dry in youth is an old man at thirty; he creeps and crawls at forty; and at fifty, if he is alive, he is a wreck. Nature says: “I forgive all manner of iniquity and transgression and sin to a man who does not commit the unpardonable sin,”—for there is an unpardonable sin, physically speaking, that is possible to every man. If a thousand pound weight fall upon a man so that it grinds the bones of his leg to powder, like flour, I should like to know the surgeon that could restore it to him. He may give him a substitute in the form of wood or cork, but he cannot give him his leg again. There is an unpardonable sin that may be committed in connection with the lungs, with the heart, or with the head. They are strung with nerves as thick as beads on a string; and up to a certain point of excess, or abuse of the nervous system, if you rebound there will be remission, and you will be put back, or nearly back, where you were before you transgressed nature’s laws; but beyond that point—it differs in different men, and in different parts of the same man—if you go on transgressing, and persist in transgressing, you will never get over the effect of it as long as you live. So men may go so far in sinning that there can be no salvation for them, their case being hopeless just in proportion to the degree in which they become moral imbeciles.1 [Note: Henry Ward Beecher.]

IV

The Use

1. There are three ways in which this sin may be regarded at the present day.

(1) As a Great Mistake.—It is part of that almost automatic punishment of sin (automatic, i.e. unless checked) in which God, who can release, unbind, and forgive, stands on one side, and allows the sin to work itself out. Surely we are face to face with the possibility of a great mistake, where a man gets so entirely out of sympathy with God that, where there is God, he can see only an evil spirit; where there is goodness, he can see only malignity; where there is mercy, he can see only cruel tyranny. The great mistake! It begins, perhaps, in the will. Life is presented with all its fascinating material; there is the deadly bias of disposition, while there is the make-weight of grace; and the will gives in, appetite after appetite is pressed into the service, present enjoyment, present gratification, are everything; the world is one great terrestrial paradise of enjoyment, indiscriminated, unchecked. And the dishonoured will now seeks to justify its degradation by an appeal to the intellect. Sin is decried as an ecclesiastical bogey. It is easy to get rid of grace by saying that it has been dangerously patronised by an enslaving priestcraft. Enjoyment must be scientifically sought, and that means sometimes at our neighbour’s expense by acts of unkindness, malignity, or incredible meanness. And then from the intellect it goes to the heart. “My people love to have it so.” This is looked upon as a sufficient account of life. Nothing more is desired, nothing more is looked for. “I will pull down my barns, and build greater.” This is the extent of the heart’s ambition. See how the great mistake has spread! Self has deflected all the relations of life until the man has become denaturalised. What can the Holy Spirit do for him? The claims of religion are a tiresome impertinence; the duties to society are a wearisome toil. The thought of death is a terror, and the other world a blank. He has made a great mistake—his relations to the world, to God, to self, are inverted unless God interferes, i.e. unless the man allows God to interfere; he is guilty of an eternal sin, in the sense of having made an irreparable mistake, and missed the object for which he was created, the purpose for which he was endowed.

(2) As a Great Catastrophe.—Whereas the lower animals are almost mechanically kept in bounds by instinct, man owes this to the sovereignty of his will, that in every action he does, he must command and be obeyed as a free man, or submit and be controlled like a conscious slave. And from the early days of his history there has been a tendency to dissolution and catastrophe in the injury known as sin. Sin means a defeat; it means that the man has been beaten somewhere, that the enemy has swept over the barrier, and laid siege to the soul; it means a revolution, that the lower powers have risen up and shaken off control; and this in the end means injury; if persisted in, an eternal prostration of the soul. It is an awful moment for a man when he feels he cannot stop, when the will utters a feeble voice, and the passions only mock; when habit winds its coils tighter and tighter round him like a python, and he feels his life contracting in its cruel folds. What a terrible consciousness to wake up to the thought that the position which God has given us, the talents, the intellect, the skill have been abused by a real perversion of life, and that we have been doing only harm when we were meant to be centres of good! See how an eternal sin may mean an eternal catastrophe, where the forces of life have become mutinous and disobedient; where self-control has gone for ever, and anarchy or misrule riot across life—where there is the perversion of blessings, which reaches its climax in the fact that man is the great exception in the order of Nature; that while every other living thing is striving for its own good, man alone is found choosing what he knows to be for his hurt. There is no ruin to compare to it, no depravity so utterly depraved as that which comes from a disordered and shattered human nature. There it floats down the tide of life, a derelict menacing the commerce of the world, an active source of evil as it drifts along, burning itself slowly away down to the water’s edge, once a gallant ship, now a wreck; once steered in the path of active life, now drifting in the ways of death—an eternal sin.

(3) As a Great Loss.—“I do not wonder at what people suffer; but I wonder often at what they lose.” You see a blind man gazing with vacant stare at the glorious beauty of a sunrise or sunset, when the changing light displays ever a fresh vesture for the majesty of God. It is all blank to him, and you say, “Poor man, ah, what he has lost!” You see one impassive and unmoved at the sound of splendid music, where the notes ebb and flow in waves of melody about his ears; one who can hear no voice of birds, no voice of man, in the mystery of deafness; and you say again, “Poor man, what he has lost!” But there is a loss of which these are but faint shadows. The loss of God out of life, which begins, it may be, with a deprivation, and is a disquieting pang; which, if it is not arrested, becomes death; which, if persisted in, becomes eternal, becomes utter and complete separation from God; which becomes what we know as hell—the condition of an eternal sin. A mortal sin as it passes over the soul is a fearful phenomenon. And yet it has been pointed out that the little sins play a more terrible part than we know in the soul’s tragedy. A great sin often brings its own visible punishment, its own results; we see its loathsomeness; but the little sins are so little we hardly notice them. “They are like the drizzling rain which wets us through before we think of taking shelter.” The trifling acts of pride or sloth, the unchecked love of self, the evil thought, the word of shame, the neglect of prayer—we never thought that these could kill down the soul and separate from God, and suddenly we wake up to find that God has, as it were, dropped out of our lives. To measure the cost of sin, little or great, we have but to look at two scenes. Let us reverently gaze at the form of our blessed Lord in His agony in the Garden, bent beneath the insupportable weight of the sins of the world, and see in the sweat of blood and the voice of shrinking dread the anguish of the weight of sin which could extort a groan which the pangs of the Cross failed to evoke. Or listen again to that word of mystery which echoed out of the darkness of the Cross into the darkness of our understanding—“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”1 [Note: Canon Newbolt.]

Without forming any theory about sin, Jesus treats it as a blindness of the soul. If only the eye were in a healthy state—that is, if the organ of spiritual sense were normal, the light of God would stream into the soul as it did with Him. But here lies the mischief. The centre of life—the heart—is wrong. In vain the light from without solicits entrance; it plays on blind eyeballs. The light within is darkness. The goodness which passes muster among the Pharisees, or the religious philosophy of the Scribes, is no better than the blundering of those who know not the law. When the blind leads the blind, leader and led fall into the ditch.2 [Note: R. F. Horton.]

2. There are two applications of Christ’s words that we may make for our own instruction.

(1) First of all, we may put away from ourselves the thought that the blasphemy here spoken of has anything in common with those unhappy wanderings of thought and affection which morbid introspection broods upon until it pleads guilty to the unpardonable sin. It is no sin of the flesh, of impulse or frailty or passion, no spiritual lapse of an unguarded hour, of erring or misled opinion, that shuts us out from the Divine forgiveness. There is nothing here to alarm any mourner for sin whose contrition proves that it has actually been possible to renew him unto repentance. Whoever is troubled with the thought that he may have committed the unpardonable sin proves, by his very grief and self-accusation, that he has not committed it; for he who is really guilty will be secure against all such self-reproaches. The perilous state is theirs, who have no qualms and no doubts, but are blinded by their pride and self-complacency.

(2) Secondly, the narrative illustrates this other great truth—that with what measure men judge of Christ and His work it shall be measured to them again. The Scribes thought they had given an answer sufficient in its contemptuousness when they referred Christ and His miracles to the devil. They little knew all they were doing; they were revealing their own character and writing their own condemnation. Their judgment was in reality the most complete betrayal of themselves. What they thought of Christ was the key to open up their own miserable souls.1 [Note: D. Fairweather.]

There is an Eastern story, not unknown,

Doubtless, to thee, of one whose magic skill

Called demons up his water-jars to fill;

Deftly and silently they did his will,

But, when the task was done, kept pouring still.

In vain with spell and charm the wizard wrought,

Faster and faster were the buckets brought,

Higher and higher rose the flood around,

Till the fiends clapped their hands above their master drowned!2 [Note: Whittier.]

An Eternal Sin

Literature

Abbey (C. J.), Divine Love, 44.

Alexander (W.), Primary Convictions, 133.

Almond (H. H.), Christ the Protestant, 30.

Bonar (H.), Family Sermons, 330.

Candlish (J. S.), The Work of the Holy Spirit, 65.

Challacombe (W. A.), Bond and Free, 59.

Critchley (G.), When the Angels have gone away, 45.

Fairweather (D.), Bound in the Spirit, 93.

Grane (W. L.), Hard Sayings of Jesus Christ, 133.

Hammond (J.), Forgiveness of Sins, 109.

Horton (R. F.), The Teaching of Jesus, 67.

Morison (J.), Sheaves of Ministry, 260.

Moule (H. C. G.), Veni Creator, 19.

Moulton (J. H.), Visions of Sin, 116.

Newbolt (W. C. E.), Words of Exhortation, 230.

Nicoll (W. Robertson), Ten-minute Sermons, 95.

Robson (J.), The Holy Spirit, 198.

Shutter (M. D.), Justice and Mercy, 187.

Weeks (G. E.), Fettered Lives, 91.

Wilberforce (B.), Sermons in Westminster Abbey, 84.

Expositor, 2nd Ser., iii. 321 (Cox); 7th Ser., ii. 81.

Expository Times, iii. 50, 76, 215, 217; xi. 2.

Homiletic Review, v. 104 (Lawrie); xxxi. 155 (Stevens).


Verse 29

(29) In danger of eternal damnation.—Better, eternal judgment, the Greek word not necessarily carrying with it the thoughts that now attach to the English. The best MSS., however, give, “in danger of an eternal sin”—i.e., of one which will, with its consequences, extend throughout the ages. It is, of course, more probable that a transcriber should have altered “sin” into “judgment,” substituting an easier for a more difficult rendering, than the converse.


Verse 30

(30) Because they said.—This, it will be noted, is peculiar to St. Mark. It is as though he would explain to his readers what it was that had called forth so awful a warning. He does not absolutely identify what had been said with the sin against the Holy Ghost, but it tended to that sin, and therefore made the warning necessary.


Verses 31-35

(31-35) There came then his brethren and his mother.—See Notes on Matthew 12:46-50.


Verse 32

(32) Thy mother and thy brethren.—Many MSS. of high authority add, “and Thy sisters,” and so explain the emphatic addition of that word in Mark 3:35.


Verse 34

(34) And he looked round about.—Literally, looking round on those who sat in a circle round Him. Another graphic touch of this Evangelist.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Mark 3:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/mark-3.html. 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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