The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 3:1-35 (Mark 3:1-35)

- The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 3:23-27 (Mark 3:23-27)

How can Satan cast out Satan? Observe here that our Lord distinctly affirms the personality of Satan, and a real kingdom of evil. But then he goes on to show that if this their allegation were true, namely, that he cast out devils by the prince or the devils, then it would follow that Satan's kingdom would be divided against itself. As a house divided against itself cannot stand, so neither could the kingdom of Satan exist in the world if one evil spirit was opposed to another for the purpose of dispossessing, the one the other, from the minds and bodies of men. Our Lord thus employs another argument to show that he casts out evil spirits, not by Beelzebub, but by the power of God. It is as though he said, "As he who invades the house of a strong man cannot succeed until he first binds the strong man; in like manner I, Christ Jesus, who spoil the kingdom of Satan, whilst I lead sinners who had been under his power to repentance and salvation, must first bind Satan himself, otherwise he would never suffer me to take his captives from him. Therefore he is my enemy, and not in league with me, not my ally in the casting out of evil spirits, as you falsely represent me to be. It behoves you, then, to understand that it is with the Spirit of God that I cast out devils, and that therefore the kingdom of God is come upon you."

- The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 3:20-30 (Mark 3:20-30)


Great men are often misunderstood by reason of their very greatness. Aims higher than those of others need other methods than such as are commonly employed by ordinary persons. How much more must this have been the case with the Son of man! His mission was unique—was altogether his own. He could not fulfill his ministry and do the work of him who sent him, without stepping aside from the beaten tracks of conduct, and so courting criticism and obloquy. He could not well conciliate public opinion, for he came to condemn and to revolutionize it. For the most part he went his way, without noticing the misrepresentations and the calumnies of men. Yet there were occasions, like the present, when he paused to answer and to confute his adversaries.

I. THE BLASPHEMOUS CHARGE BROUGHT AGAINST JESUS . His friends charged him with madness; his enemies attributed his works to the power of evil. In the allegation of the former there may have been some sincerity; those of the latter were animated by malice and hatred. Probably these scribes were sent down into Galilee from the authorities at Jerusalem, to check the enthusiasm which was spreading throughout the northern province with regard to the Prophet of Nazareth. The same charges were brought against him in Jerusalem; so that there may have been an understanding as to the method to be adopted in opposing the great Teacher. The scribes discredited Jesus, first, by asserting that he was possessed by Beelzebub, the Syrian Satan; and secondly, by explaining his power to dispossess demons by the league between him and the lord of the demons, whose authority the inferior spirits could not but obey. There was no attempt to deny the fact that demoniacs were cured; this would have been so monstrously false that to take such a position would have been to ruin their own influence with the people.


1 . Our Lord's reply was on the ground of reason—of what might be called common sense. He used two parables, by which he showed the unreasonableness, the absurdity of the allegations in question. Suppose a house or a kingdom to be divided against itself, to be rent by internal discord and faction; what is the result? It comes to ruin. And can it be believed that the crafty prince of darkness will turn his arms against his own servants and minions? So, Satan would "have an end."

2 . Having refuted their argument, our Lord proceeded with his own; gave his explanation of what was the spiritual significance of his ministry, especially as regarded the "possessed." So far from being in league with Satan, the Lord Jesus was Satan's one mighty Foe; he had already, in the temptation, overcome him, and was binding him, and now, behold! he was spoiling the house of his vanquished enemy, in expelling the demons from the wretched demoniacs of Galilee! He could not have done this had he been in league with Satan, had he not already vanquished Satan. Having effected this, he " spoiled principalities and powers."

III. THE CENSURE OF THIS BLASPHEMY . Our Lord first reasoned; then he spoke with authority, as One in the secrets of Heaven, with power to declare the principles of Divine judgment. There is, he declared, an eternal and unpardonable sin. If the scribes were not committing this, they were approaching it. The sin against the Holy Ghost, the confusion of truth with error, good with evil,—is a sin, not of ignorance, Hot of misunderstanding, but of wilfulness; a sin of the whole nature; a sin against the light without and the light within. Our Saviour, in condemning this sin, speaks as the rightful Lord, the authoritative Judge, of all mankind!

APPLICATION . "What think ye of Christ?" To think of him with indifference is unreasonable, and shows the most blameable insensibility to the great moral conflict of the universe, on one side of which Jesus is the Champion. To think of him disparagingly is blasphemy; for "he that honoureth the Son honoureth the Father," and he that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father. It is blasphemy to speak against the character or the authority of the Son of God. What remains, then? This: to think and speak of him with reverence and gratitude , faith , and love. This is just and right; and though Christ does not need our homage and honor, he will accept it and reward it.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 3:23-27 (Mark 3:23-27)

"How can Satan cast out Satan?" or, the logic of spiritual forces.

The spirit of Christ's answer to this malicious attack is calm, fearless, and full of light. He meets the charge with convincing and irrefutable logic.

I. THE DEFENCE . There are two elements in his argument:

1 . A demonstration. It is the familiar reductio ad absurdum , such as one might use with a schoolboy. It is so simple and trenchant that it straightway becomes an attack of the most powerful kind. He treats them as children in knowledge, and convicts them at the same time of diabolical malice.

2 . An inference. Here the advantage is pushed beyond the point expected. tie is not satisfied with a mere disclaimer; he comes to a further and higher deduction. If it was true that he did not cast out Satan by Satan, then it must also be true that he cast out Satan in spite of the latter; and that could only mean one thing. Satan, "the strong man," must have been bound by the Son of man, else he would not suffer himself to be so "spoiled." This is at once an assurance full of comfort to his friends and a warning to his enemies.


1 . The solidarity of evil .

2 . The irreconcileableness of the kingdoms of light and darkness .—M.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 3:7-35 (Mark 3:7-35)


In the calm and successful prosecution of his work, Jesus has excited various feelings in the minds of the different classes around him. He has wrought many miracles—all of them miracles of mercy; almost all, so far as recorded, miracles of healing. Of necessity his presence is hailed by the throngs of needy and suffering ones, and "his name is as ointment poured forth" to the multitudes who have proved his rower to heal. These cannot be restrained from publishing his fame abroad, though he has begged them to be silent, for he sees but too plainly the hindrance to his usefulness which a blaze of popularity would cause. In the course of his teaching he has made the Pharisees to blush more than once; and the popular movement which he seems likely to excite has stirred up the fears or the jealousies of the court party—"the Herodians," who join their own political antagonists in their opposition to him, and they together plot his destruction. His relatives, "friends," including the highly honored one, "his mother, and his brethren," are excited with fear that "he is beside himself," for he allows not himself time to "so much as eat bread." "Scribes from Jerusalem," learned in the Law, the trained expounders of its sacred truths, and the authoritative adjudicators in matters of dispute, pass their judgment and verdict in explanation of the astounding facts which they cannot or dare not deny. "He is possessed," they say, "by the very "prince of the devils." He is the tool, the agent of Beelzebub himself, and 'by the prince of the devils casteth he out the devils.'" This is truly a most ingenious though the most wicked of all explanations; a very blasphemy, ascribing the work of "the Holy Spirit" to "an unclean spirit," and placing Jesus in the lowest category of all—lower than the lowest. It affirms him to be the agent of the arch-demon, working his behests, the servant of the devil of devils. And if possession by an evil spirit is the consequence and punishment of evil work, as was the current opinion, he is surely the worst of the bad. All this needs adjustment. The anger of some, the timidity, the fears, the indiscreet zeal, the error, the false views, and the wickedness of others, must all be corrected. For this purpose he, " with his disciples," withdraws "to the sea," where, "because of the crowd, lest they should throng him," he orders that in future "a little boat should wait on him;" by which means he can escape the press, and either teach from the boat or sail away for rest and quiet. At eventide "he goeth up into the mountain," where he continues "all night in prayer to God;" needful in the midst of so much pressure and excitement, and most fitting in anticipation of the great work of the morrow. Then, when the morning breaks, he calls his disciples to him, from whom he chooses twelve, " that they might be with him," for his own comfort and for purposes of training for future service in his kingdom, " and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have authority to cast out devils, and to heal all manner of disease, and all manner of sickness." These "he named apostles," and "appointed," and "sent forth," and "charged them." Then, with awful withering words, he silences the scribes, first by argument, showing that on their own ground the divided kingdom "hath an end;" then by pointing to the "eternal sin" which he committeth who thus "shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit," and who "hath never forgiveness." And now, turning to his anxious relatives, he asks and answers the question, "Who is my mother and my brethren?" Breaking loose from the bonds of mere natural relationship, he declares that he holds the closest alliance with "whosoever shall do the will of God." From all which every true disciple treading in his Master's steps, and hearkening to his Master's teaching, may learn:

1 . The wisdom of frequent withdrawal from the excitements of life into calm, quieting intercourse with God in prayer, to the cooling contemplation of the Divine works, and the humbling communion with his own soul.

2 . The sacredness of holy companionship; and, if he is called to teach great truths, the wisdom of gathering around him a few sympathetic spirits, and sharing with them his work and honor for the general good.

3 . The necessity for keeping his mind sensitively alive to the teachings of the Holy Spirit, lest, resisting, he grieve him, and quench the only light by which the path of life may be found.

4 . To learn the terrible peril to which he exposes himself who "puts darkness for light."

5 . And joyfully to see the high calling which is of God, the close alliance with the Lord Christ which is secured to him who keeps the commandments of God, concerning whom the Lord says, "The same is my brother, and sister, and mother."—G.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 3:20-30 (Mark 3:20-30)

The sin against the Holy Spirit.

I. THE CHARGE AGAINST JESUS . He holds to Beelzebub, and by the chief of demons casts out demons.

1 . It was absurd; but absurd arguments readily satisfy passion and hate and those who have no care for the truth. They accused the Saviour, in short, of a self-contradiction in thought and action, which was a moral impossibility.

2 . It was wicked. It had the worst element of the lie in it—it denied the truth within them.

II. THE WORST DEGREE OF SIN . Sin has its scale, its climax. There are sins of instinct and of passion and of ignorance. When there is little light to be guided by there is little light to sin against. The next step in sin is where there is deliberation before the wrong is done. Last and worst is where not only the deliberate judgment is gone against, but the attempt is made to deny the principle of judgment in the soul itself. The hands of the watch move backwards; the lamp flags with the very abundance of oil; the man's soul dies. Over against the words "Repent! be forgiven!" stand these, "Irreclaimable! unforgivable!"—J.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Mark 3:20-30 (Mark 3:20-30)

Parallel passages: Matthew 12:22-37 ; Luke 11:14-23 .—

Mistaken friends and malignant foes.


1 . The connection. Between the appointment of the apostles and the transactions here narrated several important matters intervened. There was the sermon on the mount, recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew, chs. 5-7; and an abridgment or modification of the same repeated in the Gospel of St. Luke, Luke 6:17-49 . Next followed the events recorded throughout the seventh chapter of St. Luke, and which were as follows:—The cure of the centurion's servant; the restoration to life of the widow's son of Nain; the message sent by John the Baptist; the dinner in the house of Simon, with the anointing by a woman who had been a stoner. Previously to this last had been the doom pronounced on the impenitent cities, narrated by St. Matthew in Matthew 11:1-30 . towards the end; the second circuit through Galilee, of which we read in Luke 8:1-56 ., at the beginning; while immediately before, and indeed leading to, the circumstances mentioned in this section was the healing of a blind and dumb demoniac.

2 . The concourse. Our Lord had just returned, not into the house of some believer, as Euthymius thinks; nor into the house in which he made his abode while at Capernaum, as this meaning would require the article; but more generally, "to home," as in Mark 2:1 . And no sooner is his return reported than he is followed by a great concourse of people. Again a crowd, as on several previous occasions, especially that mentioned in Mark 2:2 , when "there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door," pressed after him. Such was the curiosity of the crowd, and so great their eagerness, that no opportunity was allowed our Lord and his apostles to enjoy their ordinary repasts; "they could not so much as eat bread." This rendering corresponds to that of the Peshito, which omits the second and strengthening negative, for, while in Greek a negative is neutralized by a subsequent simple negative of the same kind, it is continued and intensified by a following compound negative of the same kind. The meaning, therefore, is stronger, whether we read μήτε or μηδὲ ; thus, "They were able, no, not ( μήτε ) to eat bread;" or, stronger still, "They could not even ( μηδὲ ) eat bread," much less find leisure to attend to anything else: though, it may be observed in passing, if μήτε were the right reading, the meaning would rather be that they were neither able nor did eat bread. In fact, the crowd was so great, so continuous, so obtrusive, that no time was allowed our Lord and his apostles for their ordinary and necessary meals. From this we learn that our Lord's popularity was steadily as well as rapidly increasing, and that the excitement, instead of diminishing, was daily, nay, hourly, intensifying.

3 . The concern of our Lord ' s kinsfolk. Hearing of this wonderful excitement which the presence of Jesus was everywhere occasioning, his friends or kinsmen were alarmed by the circumstance; and, dreading the effect of such excitement upon his physical constitution—fearing, no doubt, that he might be carried away by his enthusiasm and zeal beyond the measure of his bodily strength, and even to the detriment of his mental powers—our Lord's relations went forth to check his excessive efforts and repress his superabundant ardor. The statement is either general, that is to say, "they went forth," or it may be understood in the stricter sense of their coming out of their place of abode, probably Nazareth, or possibly Capernaum. The expression, οἱ παρ ̓ αὐτοῦ , according to ordinary usage, would mean persons sent by him or away from him, as οἱ παρὰ τοῦ νικίου , in Thucydides, is "the messengers of Nicias." But the expression cannot mean

4 . Their course of action. We have now to consider their course of action or mode of procedure, and the object which they had in view. They went out to lay hold of him, and so

5 . Their confined notions of religion. It is painfully manifest that the kinsfolk of our Lord entertained very contracted and very commonplace, or rather indeed low, ideas of religion. They were very imperfectly acquainted with the great object of Jesus' mission; their notions of his work were of the crudest kind; their faith, if at this period it existed at all, must have been in a very incipient state. Their anxiety at the same time for his safety, and their alarm at the public agitation and the probable upshot of that agitation, all combined to force on them the conclusion that he was on the border between fanaticism and frenzy, or that he had actually made the transition into the region of the latter.

6 . A common experience. We find in this mistake no new or very strange experience. The Rev. Rowland Hill, on one occasion, strained his voice, raising it to the highest pitch, in order to warn some persons of impending danger, and so rescued them from peril. For this he was warmly applauded, as he deserved. But when he elevated his voice to a similar pitch in warning sinners of the error and evil of their ways, and in order to save their souls from a still greater peril, the same friends who before had praised him now pronounced him fool and fanatic.


1 . The charge of the scribes. The evangelist never suppresses truth; he keeps nothing back, however harsh or unnatural it may at first sight appear. Having shown the effect of the Saviour's ministry on his friends, he proceeds to exhibit the impression it made on his foes. A notable miracle had been performed, as we learn from St. Matthew's Gospel, Matthew 12:22 , a blind and dumb demoniac—sad complication—had been cured. Now, there are two ways in which men diminish the merit of a good quality, and destroy the credit of a noble action—denial is the one, and depreciation is the other. The scribes, or theologians, of the Pharisaic sect, had come down as emissaries from the metropolis, to dog our Saviour's steps and destroy, if they could, his influence. Had denial of the miracle been possible, it is plain they would have adopted that course; but facts are stubborn things, and denial in the face of facts is impossible. The miracle was too plain, too palpable, and too public to admit denial. The next best thing for their nefarious purpose was depreciation or detraction. "He casteth out devils," they say—they could not deny this; "but he hath Beelzebub, and in union ( ἐν ) with him, or by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils," or rather "demons," as we have already seen. Beelzebub was the god of Ekron, and got this name from the supposed power which he possessed to ward off flies, like the Latin averrunci or the Greek ἀποτρόπαιοι , who were named averters , which those words signify, as though they possessed the power of averting disease or pestilence from their worshippers. But the name Beelzebub was changed, contemptuously and insultingly no doubt, into Beelzebul, the god of dung; nor is the affinity between the god of flies and the god of the dunghill difficult to discover, while the filth of idolatry is not obscurely implied. Now, this name was given to the evil one, whose proper name is either Satan the adversary, in Hebrew, or Diabolos the accuser, in Greek. Other names he also bears, such as "prince of darkness," "prince of the power of the air," "the tempter," "the God of this world," "the old serpent," "the dragon," and Belial. All of these, more or less indicate his hostility to God and man, his opposition to all good, and instigation to all evil.

2 . C onfutation. The Saviour refutes this charge by four different arguments. The first argument is an appeal to common sense, the second is ad absurdum , the third is ad hominem , and the fourth from human experience. The first


1 . His power. He is the strong man. He is strong in his princedom. He is "prince of the power of the air; " that is, chieftain of those powerful spirits that have their residence in the air. He is strong in his power to destroy, and hence he is called Apollyon, or Abaddon, the destroyer. By his powerful temptations he destroyed the happiness of our first parents and ruined their race. He is strong in the power of cunning. Oh, how subtle, how insidious, how cunning, in his work of destruction I "We are not ignorant," says the apostle, "of his devices." He is strong in the power of calumny, and consequently he is called "the accuser of the brethren," while his accusations are founded on falsehood. He maligned the patriarch of Uz, upright and perfect though he was, misrepresenting that good man's principles and practice and patience. He is strong in the sovereignty which he exercises over his subjects, and strong in the multitude of those subjects, leading thousands, yea, millions, of men and women captive at his will, and enslaving them with his hellish yoke. He is strong in the fearfully despotic power with which he controls the souls and bodies of his slaves; and every sinner is his slave, and, what is worse, a willing slave, so that, though we urge them by the tenderest motives, address to them the most solemn warnings, allure them by the most precious promises, and appeal to them by the most valuable interests, thousands reject all our overtures, preferring to go on and continue, to live and die, in slavish subjection to the complete control and terrible power of Satan—this strong man.

2 . His palace and property. St. Luke is fuller in his description here. He speaks of his complete armor, his panoply; he speaks of his palace, the other synoptists speak of his house; he speaks of his goods and of those goods as spoils, the other two speak of his vessels. They all tell us of one stronger than the strong one. St. Luke again tells us that, though the strong man is armed cap-a-pie , and stands warder of his own palace, and keeps his goods in security, yet that he who is stronger than the strong one, having effected an entrance, overcomes him, strips him of his armor in which he reposed such confidence, and distributes his spoils; while the other two Evangelists tell us that, having entered the strong man's dwelling, he binds the strong man, and plunders, taking as a prey both his house and his vessels—the container and the contained. The groundwork of the description is to be found, perhaps, in Isaiah 49:24 , Isaiah 49:25 , "Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? But thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children." But what are we to understand by these particulars? The strong man is Satan, the stronger than the strong man is our blessed Saviour; this world is his palace or house; his goods in general and vessels in particular which are made spoils of are inferior demons according to some, or men according to others, rather both, as Chrysostom explains the meaning when he says, "Not only are demons vessels of the devil, but men also who do his work." In a still narrower sense, man or man's heart is the palace, and its powers and affections are the goods. The heart of man was once a palace, a princely dwelling, worthy of and intended for the habitation of God. But that palace is now in ruins. We have gazed on a ruined palace; and oh, how sad the sight! Its chambers are dismantled, its columns are prostrate, its arches are broken; fragments of the once stately fabric are scattered about. Ivy twines round its ruined walls, grass grows in its halls, weeds and nettles cover the courtyard. Owls look out of the apertures that once were windows, or hoot in melancholy mood to their fellows. Mounds of earth or heaps of rubbish occupy the apartments once grand and gorgeous. The whole is a sad though striking picture of decay, desolation, and death. Just such a place is the heart of man. It was a palace once; it is a palace still, but the palace is now in ruins, and over these ruins Satan rules and reigns. But what are the goods , or vessels , or spoils ? If the unrenewed heart itself be the palace where Satan resides, and which he has made his dwelling, then the powers of that heart—for the Hebrews referred to the heart what we attribute to the head—its faculties so noble, its feelings so tender, its affections so precious, are Satan's goods, for he uses them for his own purposes; they are his vessels, for he employs them in his work and service; they are his spoils, for he has usurped authority over them. His, no doubt, they are by right of conquest, if might ever makes right. He is not only a possessor, but wields over them the power of a sovereign. He is enthroned in the sinner's heart, and exalted to a chief place in his affections. Accordingly, he receives the homage of his intellect, he claims and gets the ready service of his will, he controls the actions of the life; and thus over head and heart and life he sways his scepter, exercising unlimited and incessant control. To one faculty or feeling he says, "Come," and it cometh; to another power or principle of action he says, "Go," and it goeth.

3 . His possession , and how he keeps it. In the heart of man there are what Ezekiel calls "chambers of imagery." These chambers of imagery in the human heart are of themselves dark enough and dreary enough; but Satan, if we yield to him and resist him not, for he cannot control us without our consent or coerce us against our consent, will curtain those chambers with darkness—spiritual darkness. As long as he can keep us in the darkness of ignorance—ignorance of God, of Christ, of the way of salvation, of ourselves, of our slavery, of our responsibility, of our danger, and of our duty—he is secure in his possession. "The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." By subtlety and stratagem, by wiles and wickedness, he holds possession of those chambers, actually furnishing them with his own hand, while the furniture thus supplied consists of delusions—strong delusions, sinful delusions. Even the pictures on the walls are painted by him; scenes base and bad, wicked and abominable, are there portrayed to pervert the judgment and incline it to what is perverse, to debase the imagination with visions foul and filthy, to inflame the affections with objects indelicate and impure. Another effectual way in which Satan holds possession of the palace of man's heart is by keeping it under the influence of sense. He occupies men with the things of sense and sight, to the neglect of things spiritual and eternal; he employs them with material objects and worldly interests; he amuses them with the trifles of the present time, to the neglect of the interests of the never-ending future; he engrosses our attention with worldliness, vanity, and pride—things sensual, earthly, and perishable; thoughts about the body and its wants are pressed on men, to the neglect of the soul and its necessities. Such questions as, "What shall I eat, or what shall! drink, or wherewithal shall! be clothed?" are ever present, while the vastly more important question, "What must! do to be saved?" is lost sight of or left in abeyance. Present profits and worldly pursuits absorb attention, to the neglect of present responsibilities and future realities; the pleasures of sin, short-lived and unsatisfactory as they are sure to prove, divert men's thoughts from those "pleasures which are at God's right hand for evermore." But, as the Word of God warns us of Satan's devices that we may be on our guard against them, it may not be amiss to pay the more particular attention to them. Another way by which he holds possession of the palace of what Bunyan calls Mansoul is delay. This is a favourite method, and one specially successful with the young. "Time enough yet," Satan whispers into the young ear, and the inexperienced heart of youth is too ready to believe the falsehood. He persuades them into the belief that it is too soon for such grave subjects, too early to engage in such solemn reflections. Many other and even better opportunities, they are induced to think, will be afforded; they are yet young and strong, and with a keen zest for youthful pleasures, and the world is all before them. Every year the delay becomes more difficult to break away from, and the delusion the more dangerous; and while the difficulty as well as the danger increases, the strength of the sinner, or his power to overcome the suggestions of Satan, decreases. A more convenient season is expected, and thus procrastination becomes, as usual, "the thief of time; year after year it steals till all is past, and to the mercies of a moment leaves the vast concerns of an eternal scene." But to delay succeeds at length another means by which he keeps possession, and that other means, in one respect the opposite, is despair. Thus extremes meet. Satan had long flattered them with the delusive fancy that it was too soon; now he drives them to the desperate notion that it is too late. Once he flattered them with the false hope of a long and happy future, with death in the remote distance, and with means of grace not only ample but abundant, and power at pleasure to turn to God; now he tortures them with the thought that the day of grace is gone, irrevocably gone. Once he made them believe that the time to break up their fallow ground and sow to themselves in righteousness had not yet come; now, on the contrary, he induces the belief that "the harvest is past, the summer ended, and their souls not saved. Once he deluded them with the thought that sin was only a trifle, and they were willing to lay to their soul the false unction that sin was too small a matter to incur the wrath of Heaven; now he prompts the despairing thought that their sin is too great to be forgiven, and their guilt too heinous to be ever blotted out.

4 . The peace he produces. All the while he produces a sort of peace; all the while "his goods are in peace;" all the while sinners are promising themselves "peace, peace; but there is no peace," saith God, "to the wicked." Satan may promise, and even produce, a kind of peace; but that peace is perilous—it is a false peace. He may lead them into a sort of calm, but it is the lull before the storm; he may amuse them with a species of quietude, but it is the sure forerunner of the fast-approaching hurricane. The only true peace is that which the Spirit bestows—a "peace that passeth all understanding," a peace which the world with all its wealth cannot give, and with all its wickedness cannot take away. This peace is compared to a river: "Then shall thy peace be as a river"—a river broad and beautiful, glancing in the bright sunshine of the heaven above, and reflecting the varied beauties along its banks; a river deepening and widening at every reach, bearing health and fertility throughout its course, broadening out and expanding at last into the boundless, shoreless ocean of everlasting bliss.

5 . Satan ' s defeat and dispossession. Though Satan be strong, there is One stronger than he—One "mighty to save," even from his grasp, and "lead captivity captive." That stronger One is the mighty Saviour, whose mission of mercy was meant to take the prey from the mighty, to bruise his head and destroy his works, and so rescue man from the thraldom of Satan and the dominion of sin. Himself mightier than the mighty, he is "able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him." St. Luke informs us of the manner in which he effects the great emancipation. He comes upon him ( ἐπελθὼν ) both suddenly and by way of hostile attack. He comes upon him suddenly, and so takes him by surprise. Satan's goods are meantime in peace, and he fancies he has it all his own way, and that for ever. The Saviour comes upon the heart enslaved by Satan with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word and truth of God, and immediately the chains are burst asunder and the shackles fall off. Henceforth it enjoys that freedom with which Christ makes his people free. He comes upon the sinner's soul with the power of the Spirit, convincing of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. The Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them to the sinner, and so the truth is brought home to the heart and conscience; not in word only, "but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." He comes upon the sinner, whose powers lay dormant, or rather "dead in trespasses and sins," and he awakens the powers that thus lay dormant, and quickens the soul, it may be long dead, into new spiritual life , and makes it "alive unto God through Christ Jesus." But with life comes light. Soon as the life-giving Spirit operates upon the mass erewhile chaotic and dead, living forces are developed, and light springs up; the light of the glorious gospel of the grace of God shines through all that heart, however dead and dark it had been before. Every soul thus awakened, enlightened, quickened, and truly converted to God, is a victory of the Saviour over Satan—a trophy snatched from the strong one by him who thus proves himself stronger than the strong man. Every such one is evidence of Satan's defeat, and proves the destruction of his power, as also his expulsion from his usurped dominion—a thorough and blessed dispossession of the spirit of evil.

6 . Satan ' s armor. His offensive weapons are his snares, his devices, his wiles, his lies, his lusts; of all these we read in Scripture. But he has other armor; and, as panoply has its root in ὅπλον , or "thing moved about," as the shield, from ἕπω , according to Donaldson, the reference may rather be to defensive armor. The parts of this armor may be regarded as consisting of our ignorance of God and hatred of him, our unbelief and ungodliness, hardness of heart and unrighteousness. Theophylact explains Satan's armor to be made of our sins in general; his words are πάντα τὰ εἴδη τῆς ἁμαρτίας αὕτη γαρ ὅπλα τοῦ διαβόλου , equivalent to "All forms of sin, for this is the arms of the devil." By such armor he defends his possessions and maintains his interest in them; by such armor he repels all attacks on his goods, opposing the impressions of the Divine Word, the influences of the Holy Spirit, and the leadings of God's providence. Christ captures his arms when he enables us to guard against his devices and wiles, to avoid his snares, to discredit his lies, shun his lusts, and resist his temptations. Further, he takes from Satan the armor in which he places such confidence when he breaks the power of sin in the soul, opens men's eyes to the perils that surround them, regenerates the heart, and renews the life, humbles their spirit, rectifies their errors, checks their corruption, and, in a word, bruises Satan under their feet.

7 . Division of the spoils. This is usually the consequence of conquest. When Satan led the sinner captive and made him his prey, he took him with all he is and all he has for his spoil, employing all his endowments of mind and energies of body, his time, his talents, his health, his influence, his estate, small or great, in his service. But again, in the day of the sinner's conversion to God, not only is Satan defeated and dispossessed, Christ recovers the long-lost possession—all of it for himself. He regains those energies and endowments, that time, those talents, that influence; he restores all to their right use and to the great end for which they were intended. The whole man—body, soul, and spirit—is brought back to the service of his Maker, and every thought becomes subject to the law of Jesus Christ. Further, the Saviour not only regains those spoils and recovers them for himself, but also, like a great and good Captain, he divides them among his followers. In every case when he defeats, disarms, and dispossesses Satan, Christ shares with his soldiers—his servants—the spoils consequent on victory. The sinner thus rescued is blessed "with all spiritual blessings in heavenly things in Christ Jesus;" but he is not only blessed in his own soul, he is made a blessing to all around. He becomes a blessing to friend and fellow-man. In this way the spoil is divided and the blessing distributed. He becomes a proof of Divine power and a pattern of purity to an ungodly world; while his talents, be they many or few—ten, or five, or one—are employed for the good of Christ's Church," for the perfecting of the saints, for the edification of the body of Christ." To sinners he serves as a beacon-light to warn them of the sunken rocks or breakers ahead, and to direct their course into the haven of heavenly rest. A curious and not uninteresting exposition by Theophylact of the distribution of the spoils is to this effect, that men, being the spoils first taken by Satan, and then retaken by Christ, the Saviour distributes them, giving one to one angel and another to another angel as a faithful guardian, that, instead of the demon that lorded it over him, an angel may now have him in safe keeping—of course, in order to be his guide and guard him.

8 . Practical lessons.

"Thou hast, O Lord most glorious,

Ascended up on high;

And in triumph victorious led

Captive captivity ..

Bless'd be the Lord, who is to us

Of our salvation God;

Who daily with his benefits

Us plenteously doth load."


1 . Patristic explanations of this sin. Some have understood it of apostasy in time of persecution. This was the opinion of Cyprian, who says, in 'Epist.' 16, that "It was a very great crime which persecution compelled men to commit, as they themselves know who have committed it, inasmuch as our Lord and Judge has said, 'Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father who is in heaven. But he that denieth me, him will I also deny.' And again, 'All sins and blasphemies shall be forgiven to the sons of men: but he that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost, shall not have forgiveness, but is guilty of eternal sin' ( reus est aeterni peccati ) . " Some understand it of the denial of the divinity of our Lord, as Athanasius, who says that "the Pharisees in the Saviour's time, and the Arians in our days, running into the same madness, denied the real Word to be incarnate, and ascribed the works of the Godhead to the devil and his angels, and therefore justly undergo the punishment which is due to this impiety, without remission. For they put the devil in the place of God, and imagined the works of the living and true God to be nothing more than the works of the devil." And elsewhere the same Father says, "They who spake against Christ, considering him only as the Son of man, were pardonable, because in the beginning of the gospel the world looked upon him only as a prophet, not as God, but as the Son of man: but they who blasphemed his divinity after his works had demonstrated him to be God, had no forgiveness, so long as they continued in this blasphemy; but if they repented they might obtain pardon: for there is no sin unpardonable with God to them who truly and worthily repent." Others again have understood it to consist in the denial of the divinity of the Holy Ghost. Thus Epiphanius charged with this sin the Maccdonian heretics, because they opposed the Godhead of the Holy Spirit, making him a mere creature. In like manner Ambrose accused these same heretics of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, because they denied his divinity.

2. The two most important patristic authorities on this subject. These are Chrysostom among the Greek Fathers, and Augustine of the Latin Fathers; both near the close of the fourth century. The former on the nature of the sin itself says, "For though you say that you know me not, you are surely not ignorant of that also, that to expel demons and cure diseases are the work of the Holy Spirit. Not only, then, do you insult me, but the Holy Spirit also. Therefore your punishment is inevitable both here and hereafter." Again, in reference to the unpardonableness of this sin, he says, "'Ye have said many things against me—that I am a deceiver, that I am an opponent of God. These things I forgive you on your repentance, and I do not exact punishment of you; but the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven even to the penitent.' And how could this have reason, for truly even this sin was forgiven to persons repenting? Many, then, of those who said these things believed afterwards, and all was forgiven them. What, then, does he mean? That this sin above all is least capable of pardon. Why at all? Because they were ignorant who Christ was; but of the Holy Spirit they had had sufficient proof. For truly the prophets spake by him what they did speak, and all in the old dispensation had had abundant knowledge of him. What he means then is this: 'Grant it, you stumble at me because of the garb of flesh I have assumed; can you also say about the Holy Spirit that you are ignorant of him? Therefore this blasphemy shall not be forgiven you; both here and there you shall suffer punishment.'" Further on he proceeds to say, "For truly some men are punished both here and there; others only here; others only there; while others neither here nor there. Here and there , as these very persons ( i.e. the Pharisees), for truly both here they suffered punishment when they endured those irremediable sufferings at the capture of their city; and there they shall undergo the most severe punishment, as the inhabitants of Sodom, and as many others. But there only , as that rich man when tortured in flames was not master of even a drop of water. Some only here , as the person who had committed fornication among the Corinthians. Others again, neither here nor there , as the apostles, as the prophets, and as the blessed Job; for what they suffered did not belong to punishment, but was exercises and conflicts." The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is, according to Chrysostom, greater than the sin against the Son of man, and, though not absolutely irremissible to such as repent, yet in the absence of such timely repentance it will be punished both here and hereafter. Augustine has several references to this sin, but his opinion of the matter may be briefly summed up in continued resistance to the influences of the Holy Spirit by insuperable hardness of heart, and in perseverance in obduracy and impenitence to the last. Thus in his Commentary on Romans he says, "That man sins against the Holy Spirit who, despairing or deriding and despising the preaching of grace by which sins are washed away, and of peace by which we are reconciled to God, refuses to repent of his sins, and resolves that he must go on hardening himself in a certain impious and fatal sweetness of them, and persists therein to the end." He further insists that neither pagans, nor Jews, nor heretics, nor schismatics, however they may have opposed the Holy Spirit before baptism, were shut out by the Church from that sacrament in case they truly repented; nor after baptism in case of falling into sin, or resisting the Spirit of God, were they debarred from restoration to pardon and peace on repentance, and that even those whom our Lord charged with this blasphemy might repent and betake themselves to the Divine mercy. "What else remains," he asks, "but that the sin against the Holy Spirit, which our Lord says is neither forgiven in this world nor in that which is to come, must be understood to be no other than perseverance in malignity and wickedness with despair of the indulgence and mercy of God? For this is to resist the grace and peace of the Spirit of which we speak."

3. Modern expositions of this sin. Some of these reproduce or nearly so the interpretations of the ancients. They may in the main be divided into three classes. The first class consists of those who, like Hammond, Tillotson, Wetstein, understand the sin in question to be the diabolical calumny of the Pharisees, in ascribing to the power of Satan the miracles which the Saviour by the Spirit given him without measure performed. Here was evidently the mighty power of God, but these men, maliciously, wantonly, and wickedly, as also presumptuously and blasphemously, pronounced the miracle just wrought before their eyes and in their presence to be an effect produced by the evil one. The connection instituted between the twenty-ninth and thirtieth verses of this third chapter of St. Mark by the word ὅτι , corresponding to the parallel διὰ τοῦτο of St. Matthew, and the imperfect ἔλεγον , equivalent to" they kept saying," are both in favor of this interpretation. Under this first class are several modifications, such as that which proceeds on the supposed distinction between "Son of man" and "Son of God," as though he said that whosoever spake a word against Jesus as the Son of man, having his divinity shrouded and veiled in his humanity, might obtain forgiveness; but blasphemy against him as the Son of God, evidencing his divinity by miracles, could not obtain forgiveness. Another modification understands our Lord's warning the Pharisees that they were fast approaching an unpardonable sin by wickedly rejecting the Son of man as a Saviour; that one step further—one other blasphemy, that of the Spirit who, if not then, might hereafter reveal this, or a coming, Saviour unto them, would deprive them of the means and agent and so of the hope of salvation, and consequently of pardon. Yet another modification is that of Grotius, following in the steps of Chrysostom, to the effect that it is easier for any or all sins to obtain forgiveness than that this calumny should be pardoned; and that it will be severely punished both in the present and coming age. The second class, to which Whitby, Doddridge, and Macknight belong, holds that the Pharisees, by their conduct on this particular occasion or at the time then present, were not guilty of the sin referred to, and in fact that the sin against the Holy Ghost could not be committed while Christ still abode on earth, and before his ascension; because the Spirit was not yet given. They hold, therefore, that after our Lord's resurrection and ascension, when he would send down the Holy Ghost to attest his mission, and when his supernatural gifts and miraculous operations would furnish incontestable proofs of almighty power, any such calumny or blasphemy uttered against the Spirit then would be unpardonable. The reason was plain, because the Son of man, while he was clothed in human flesh, and his divinity shrouded from human sight, and while his work on earth was not yet finished, might be slandered by persons unwittingly, or, according to the Scripture phrase, "ignorantly in unbelief;" but once the Holy Spirit had come down, and shed the light of heaven over the events of the Saviour's life from the cradle to the cross, and had illumined with glory unspeakable the scenes of Gethsemane and Calvary and Olivet, making plain to every willing mind the momentous import of all those marvellous transactions, the blasphemy of the Spirit could not then be in ignorance or for lack of sufficient demonstration; but presumptuous against light and against knowledge, from sheer malevolence and unaccountable malignity. The Pharisees were preparing for this—they were approaching the brink of this fearful abyss, and our Lord warns them back before it was possible for them to take the fatal plunge, and involve themselves in ruin without remedy. A third class of interpreters generalizes the sin in question in much the same way as we have seen Augustine do, and resolves it into continued resistance and obstinate opposition to the grace of the gospel, impenitently and unbelievingly persisted in till the end. This is the view which Dr. Chalmers elabourates with great eloquence and power in his sermon on "Sin against the Holy Ghost." In that sermon we read as follows:—"A man may shut against himself all the avenues of reconciliation. There is nothing mysterious in the kind of sin by which the Holy Spirit is tempted to abandon him to that state in which there can be no forgiveness and no return unto God. It is by a movement of conscience within him, that the man is made sensible of sin, that he is visited with the desire of reformation, that he is given to feel his need both of mercy to pardon, and of grace to help him; in a word, that he is drawn unto the Saviour, and brought into that intimate alliance with him by faith which brings down upon him both acceptance with the Father and all the power of a new and constraining impulse to the way of obedience. But this movement is a suggestion of the Spirit of God, and, if it be resisted by any man, the Spirit is resisted. The God who offers to draw him unto Christ is resisted. The man refuses to believe because his deeds are evil; and by every day of perseverance in these deeds, the voice which tells him of their guilt and urges him to abandon them is resisted; and thus the Spirit ceases to suggest, and the Father, from whom the Spirit proceedeth, ceases to draw, and the inward voice ceases to remonstrate—and all this because their authority has been so often put forth and so often turned away. This is the deadly offense which has reared an impassable wall against the return of the obstinately impenitent. This is the blasphemy to which no forgiveness can be granted, because, in its very nature, the man who has come this length feels no movement of conscience towards that ground on which alone forgiveness can be awarded to him, and where it is never refused even to the very worst and most malignant of human iniquities. This is the sin against the Holy Ghost. It is not peculiar to any one age. It does not lie in any one unfathomable mystery. It may be seen at this day in thousands and thousands more, who, by that most familiar and most frequently exemplified of all habits, a habit of resistance to a sense of duty, have at length stifled it altogether, and driven their, inward monitor away from them, and have sunk into a profound moral lethargy, and so will never obtain forgiveness—not because forgiveness is ever refused to any who repent and believe the gospel, but because they have made their faith and their repentance impracticable The whole mysteriousness of this sin against the Holy Ghost is thus done away. Grant him the office with which he is invested in the Word of God, even the office of instigating the conscience to all its reprovals of sin, and to all its admonitions of repentance; and then, if ever you witnessed the case of a man whose conscience had fallen into a profound and irrecoverable sleep, or, at least, had lost to such a degree its power of control over him, that he stood out against every engine which was set up to bring him to the faith and repentance of the New Testament,—behold in such a man a stoner against conscience to such a woeful extent that conscience had given up its direction of him; or, in other words, a sinner against the Holy Ghost to such an extent that he had let down the office of warning him away from that ground of danger and of guilt on which he stood so immovably posted." There are some modifications of this view which it may be well to notice. One is that which makes the sin against the Holy Ghost to be resistance to conscience as the voice of God in the soul—the voice which the Holy Spirit employs in testifying to truth and goodness, and in reprobating sin and recommending the Saviour. Another modification is that which makes blasphemy against the Holy Ghost to consist in the expression of malignant unbelief of, and wilful apostasy from, the truth of God, and that, because it is the Holy Ghost which illumines the understanding and applies the truth to the heart of believers.

4. Remarks on the foregoing theories. In our observations on the foregoing theories we do not deem it prudent dogmatically to determine which of them is the correct one. In a ease where such diversities of opinion have prevailed, even among the ablest scholars and the most eloquent theologians, it is better that every one should be persuaded in his own mind. We may, however, be permitted to state that view which has recommended itself most to our mind, and some grounds for the preference to which we think it entitled. The view held by the first class above mentioned appears to us on the whole the most tenable, for

5. Perilous approximations to this sin. That marry have been unduly exercised and harassed by fancied guiltiness of this sin, is certain; that some have despaired or become melancholy on this account, is credible; that many have been driven to insanity by it we can scarcely believe. To any who are troubled with anxious thoughts about the matter we may say that, according to the theories of the first and second classes, they could not have committed the same sin in kind—as they did not, like the Pharisees, see the miracles wrought by our Lord, nor did they witness the supernatural operations of the Spirit after his descent at Pentecost—whatever the degree of their sin may have been; while, with respect to the third, the sin being that of continued resistance, they have only to abandon their dogged opposition, the abandonment of which their very anxiety proves to have become already an accomplished fact. To all, of whatever class of opinion, who are apprehensive—earnestly apprehensive and afraid of having committed this sin—their very uneasiness on that score is proof of their guiltlessness of the fancied crime, for these very upbraidings of conscience prove incompatibility with commission of this sin. At the same time, there are approximations to this sin which we should most carefully guard against. A rejection of the truth of Scripture wilfully persisted in; or trifling with the operations of the Holy Spirit in the heart; or ridicule of religion and opposition to its ordinances in general; or hostility to Christianity in particular; or contempt, malevolence, and slander directed against God and the things of God, or against the Church and people of God; or mockery of sacred things; or blasphemous suggestions harboured and indulged in—each of these involves an awfulness of criminality and a fearfulness of guilt that betoken a considerable similarity or close approximation to the heinousness of the unpardonable sin. We do not affirm that any of these is actually that sin, but only such an approach to the verge of the precipice as is sufficient to startle men to a sense of danger, and drive them back before they venture a step further. Alford, who makes the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost to be a state of wilful, determined opposition to the present power of the Holy Ghost, in which state or at least approaching very near to which the act of the Pharisees proved them to be, compares, among other Scriptures, Hebrews 6:4-8 and Hebrews 10:26 , Hebrews 10:27 . But the purport of the last-cited Scripture is that, in case the sacrifice of Christ is rejected, there is no other sacrifice available, all others having been done away, and consequently no other means of escape from the wrath of God; while the former passage refers to apostasy so aggravated as to render restoration impossible, because the persons guilty of it felt away in spite of the clearest possible evidence to the truth of the Christian faith. Another Scripture frequently compared with that before us is 1 John 5:16 . The there mentioned as tending unto ( εἰς ) death is regarded by some to be the act of denying Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God, or the state of apostasy indicated by that act; others hold it to be apostasy from Christianity, combined with diabolical enmity, and that in the face of extraordinary evidence; but it appears to be a specific act of sin, of the commission of which the evidence is clear and convincing, distinct and precise—such an act of apostasy as blasphemes the Holy Ghost by ascribing his operations to Satanic power. This sin unto death is certainly the nearest approach to the unpardonable sin, if it be not, as many hold it to be, identical with it. Of the three different readings, κρίσεως , κολάσεως , and ἁμαρτήματος , the last is the best supported; while the expression "an eternal sin" signifies either a sin that is not pardoned or a sin of which the punishment is not remitted. The connection of the aphoristic expression which immediately follows in St. Matthew, viz. "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," is briefly but correctly pointed out in the remark of Chrysostom, "Since they did not reprove the works, but calumniated him that did them, he shows that this accusation was contrary to the natural sequence of affairs."—J.J.G.

- The Pulpit Commentary