Actual sin, which originates with the original sin and with the temptations of the world and the devil, and with which all men are beset, consists of different kinds, which nevertheless all tend to eternal destruction.
209. Concerning actual sin, (which is committed either by an inward or an outward action) the following six points are to be considered:
1. the nature of sin,
2. the origin of this sin,
3. the sinner,
4. the different degrees of sin; of which some may he of a larger and some of a smaller signification,
5. how these different degrees distinguish themselves from each other and
6. the fruits which are produced by this actual sin.
210. 1. With regard to the question concerning the nature of sin we are in some measure led by the law of nature, according to which his conscience accuses every man of having done evil. Therefore the Apostle Paul writes concerning the heathen, who had not, like the Jewish nation, received the law: that “they are a law unto themselves….. their though accusing or else excusing one another”, Rom. 2, 14. 15.
211. But it is especially the divine law, from which we can derive a clear insight into the nature and character of sin; St. Paul writes: “by the law is the knowledge of sin,” Rom. 3, 20; “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, thou shalt not covet”, Rom, 7, 7. The law is therefore very justly compared to a glass, in which man beholds his natural face, James. 1, 23.
212. If we inquire of scripture as to what sin really is, we find that it consists in all that which is contrary to the law of God. It is thus that John (Epistle, 1, 3. 4.) describes sin. And like as every transgression of any law of the authorities of this world, is considered as evil, so all that to be looked upon as sin, by the practice of which the law of God is trespassed.
213. The question now arises, whether sin which has been committed unwittingly, or against ones own will, is also to be considered as sin? We answer in the affirmative. For the law of God is trespassed not only wilfully and with a purpose, but also unintentionally, — with outward gestures, inward lusts and thoughts. We have therefore to consider the two following points:
214. a. that, all transgressions which have been committed unintentionally and without purpose, are also sin, for:
i. Just as that man, who unintentionally kills another, is said to be his murderer i even so is he who trespasses the law of God, committing sin, whether he is doing so intentionally or unintentionally. And as, according to St. John’s teaching, all that which deviates from the law of God is sin, it is evident, that all that must be sin, by which, though unintentionally, the law of God is trespassed.
215. ii. The holy scriptures make a distinction between the sins, which have been committed wilfully and those which have been, committed unintentionally for St. Paul writes Rom. 7, 16. 19. that he is captive unto sin in that he does the evil which he would not do. He makes also mention of that sin which he committed in persecuting the Church of God, and on this occasion puts together sin and ignorance. 1. Timot. 1, 13: “(I) was before a blasphemer and a persecutor and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” And again, Heb. 10, 26. wilful sins are especially taken notice of; from all which we must conclude, that there can be possibly sins committed, which do not happen intentionally.
216. iii. In the laws of the mosaic institutions, sacrifices have been ordained for such among the people, as had committed sin out of ignorance; Levit. 4, 2. 13. 22. 27; 5, 4.
217. iv. It is also said of the saints that they have daily to pray for remission of the sins which they committed unintentionally, Psl. 19, 12: “Who can understand his errors, cleanse thou me from secret faults.”
218. We have also to consider: (#. 214.)
b. that even that is to he looked upon as sin which has its existence only in the thoughts of man. Thus for instance a man being desirous to love his neighbour with a brotherly love; is told that this his neighbour, has not dealt fairly towards him; — in such a case it may well happen that unholy motions and thoughts might rise in him with regard to a man of this description. Nevertheless he may very much dislike such thoughts and emotions, and strive earnestly to get rid of them. — Or suppose a man to be in the utmost distress, and he happens to get a sight of a valuable treasure, — in spite of all his endeavours to keep himself free of such snares — there will arise in him certain lusts and desires after the possession of the same. Such lusts lead to outward sin, and are therefore marked down as sins, for:
219. i. All that, which forms the real source of a sin, and is as it were the beginning of the same, undeniably stands in opposition to the law of God. And that which stands in opposition to the law of God must certainly be sin.
220. ii. The evil lust is forbidden like all other sins. For we are commanded in the ninth and tenth commandment, not to covet our neighbour’s house, nor his wife, nor his servant etc. nor any thing that is his.
221. iii. This evil lust is expressly called sin, Rom. 7, 7: “I had not known lust, except the law had said, thou shalt not covet.”
222. In short: every thought, lust and desire, every word, gesture, and every work, whatever may be their name, — as soon as they are contrary to the law of God, or to the love of God, be it wilfully or unintentionally, or be they large or small etc. — they all together are, without any distinction actual sin.
223. We now turn our attention:
2. To the reasons in which this sin originates. For it is by no means to he said to originate with God, or that He wills and determines sin, or that He is tempting us to, or ordaining the, commission of sin. That God is the source of sin is an idea which cannot even be imagined. For this is just the contrary to every thing which He has revealed in nature concerning Himself. Besides, Scripture plentifully testifies that God is not the reason of sin; Psl. 5, 5: “thou hatest all workers of iniquity”; Sirach 15, 11: “Say not thou, it is through the Lord, that I fell away, for thou oughtest not to do the things that he hateth. He hath commanded no man to do wickedly, neither has he given any man licence to sin”; James 1, 13: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God: for God cannot be tempted with evil neither tempteth he any man:”
224. The real source of all actual sin is to be found either within us or without us. Its source within us is the original sin, or the sinful flesh, of which it is said. Gal. 5, 17: “the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh;” V. 19: “the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, hatred etc.” — And the Lord Jesus also teaches us, Matth. 15, 19: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders” etc; James 1, 14. 15: we are told that “every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed; then when the lust hath conceived it bringeth forth sin.”
225. As to the causes from without which lead man to sin, two are to be mentioned, namely
a. the devil, and
b. the world.
226. a. The devil is a cause of sin, because he misled our first parents to sin, [and still continues to lead us also into sinning] Genes 3, 1. ff. The Lord Jesus testifies concerning him that “he is a liar, and the father of it,” John. 8, 44; and St. John, i. Ep. 3, 8: “he that committeth sin is of the devil, for the devil sinneth from the beginning.
b. The world also tempts us to sin: Wisdom. 4, 11: “Speedily was he taken away lest that wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul; for the bewitching naughtiness doth obscure the things that are honest.” [1. John. 1, 17]
227. 3. We have to inquire, who it is, that commits sin. This can be answered very shortly in the following way: As all men are partakers of the original sin, it follows that all men must also be affected by sin. For nobody can think himself free of it as soon as he examines himself. Besides we find this directly and frequently expressed by God himself, that all men are sinners, Pslm. 14, 2. 3: “the Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of man to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God: They are all gone aside, they are altogether become filthy, there is none that doeth good no, not one;” 1. Kings. 8, 46: “there is no man that sinneth not;” Pslm. 143, 2: “in thy sight shall no man living he justified;“‘ Rom. 3, 23: “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” Proverb. 20, 9; Eccles. 7, 21; Rom. 3, 10. 19; 11, 32; Gal. 3, 22; 1. John. 1, 10.
228. Nor are little children excepted from this charge. Inasmuch as the passions and evil thoughts which they frequently manifest are contrary to the law of God. And that which is not according to law, is sin, 1. John. 3, 4; God Himself testifies that the thoughts and imaginations of man’s heart are evil from his youth, Genes. 6, 5; 8, 21.
229. Neither are the regenerated, in whom the Holy Ghost is dwelling, to be excluded. For although they do not permit sin entirely to reign in their bodies, they are yet in captivity unto sin inasmuch as they are constrained to do the evil, which they would not do; as St. Paul expressly says of himself, Rom. 7, 15. 19.
230. This is moreover testified by the example of regenerated men of old. Thus David sinned heavily against God, in that he committed fornication and murder, 2. Sam, 11, 4. 15; Solomon in that he permitted his heart to turn unto idols 1. Kings, 11, 3. Moses and Aaron doubted the power of God and His promises, Numb. 20, 12. Peter denied Christ, Matth 26. 70. ff; he did not “walk uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel,” Gal. 2, 11, 14. Not to mention those sins which they committed daily in their intercourse, their thoughts and words. For there are a great many hidden sins (Ps. 19, 13.) which are not observed by any mortal.
231. Besides this, it is certain that even the saints have daily to pray for the remission of their sins, Ps. 32, 6; Matth. 6, 12. They can only be saved by grace, Act, 15, 11, and only through Christ, ibid 4, 12.; But through Christ none but sinners find their salvation, Matth, 1, 21; 9, 13. They would not stand in need of such a mediator, if they could come to God in their own righteousness and without sin, Rom. 4, 7; Gal. 2, 21.
232. 4. The next point we have to consider, is that of he different degrees, which exist in sin. Although all sins agree in this that they draw down upon the sinner divine judgment and eternal condemnation, there is yet a great difference between the different sins. For some of them are committed from ignorace, misunderstanding and simplicity, — others from design or wanton wickedness. Therefore says the Lord Jesus to Pilate, John. 19, 11: he that delivereth me unto thee hath the greater sin. — And St. Paul, on the occasion of his referring to the persecutions of which he had been guilty towards the Christians, expressly says: that he has obtained, mercy because he did it “ignorantly in unbelief,” 1. Timot. 1, 13. And it is also certain that any sin which has been committed unwillingly, and in consequence of the weakness of the flesh, is not so heinous before the judgment of God, as any sin which has been committed with purpose and wilfully.
For in the first case the flesh is, as it were, merely engaged in a struggle with the spirit, — whilst in the latter, this struggle has taken such a turn, that now the spirit has been made entirely subject to the flesh.
233. Thus it is, that upon different kinds of sin, different kinds of punishment are to follow, Luk. 12, 47. 48: “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will and prepared not himself neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes; ibid. 20, 47: “Which (Scribes) devour widow’s houses and for a show make long prayers, the same shall receive greater damnation.
234. 5. We have now to consider more particularly the different kinds of sin. It is unnecessary to give an account of each of them. Some there are which are committed against the first table of the law, and others again, against the second; some against the law with reference to the love of God, some against that of the love towards the neighbour. But there are two kinds of sin which we desire especially to take notice of. For a distinction is made;
a. between peccata mortalia, sins unto death, and peccata venalia, sins which are daily committed and in the commission of which, man remains in the grace of God; and
b. such sins which can, and sins which cannot be forgiven.
Not as though this was to imply, that there are some sins that deserve eternal death and condemnation, and others again that are only to be visited with some temporary punishment. With respect to this we know that all sins are “sins unto death.” But more especially such sins are called sins unto death, which have succeeded in subduing the soul and the body, and of the commission of which, no body can be said unwittingly to be guilty, nor ever has been said to be so.
Other sins again are called, in distinction from the latter, peccata venalia, — because they are not committed willingly. It sometimes happens to man, that he is not aware of doing any sin at all. Thus St. Paul persecuted the Church, with the intention of being zealous for the law, 1. Tim. 1, 13. In the same way the Apostles were killed by men, who fancied by this act to render God a service, John. 16, 2.
There are also daily sins committed of the commission of which, the sinner himself is not aware, Pslm, 19, 12; or there happen to rise, on a sudden, evil thoughts in the heart of man which however he strives to stifle very soon; or a word, an unhappy expression escapes him, which he, immediatly after, wishes not to have uttered at all.
235. The distinction between different sins consists therefore in the following facts: Sin unto death is a sin, which has been committed, in spite of conscience, out of mere wicked design, and concerning which man is aware, that it is sin and which yet he hesitates not to commit. By peccatum venale, on the other hand, such sins are intended, which although they are evil, are yet not known to be so by him, who commits them, or are committed in weakness or ignorance.
236. This difference can be established upon the following grounds: Whenever a sin unto death is committed, all parts of the human body have as it were agreed to the commission of the same, so that the sinner is entirely subdued unto sin, having rejected the Holy Ghost and cast away the faith which confides in Christ, as the bearer of our sins. All this amounts to a sin unto death, because the sinner has no concern either in sin, nor in God’s wrath, his punishment, in confession or forgiveness of sin. Such a sinner approaches very nearly to eternal destruction, and it will be difficult for him to come to repentance. For such a one cannot easily be brought to hate the sin, after which he has such a desire that he is able for the purpose of enjoying it, to reject the grace of God, and to despise His displeasure and His punishment. He is not easily moved by the law of God seriously to repent his sins; as little as this law had been able to prevent his, committing sin itself.
It is for this reason that wilful and premeditated sin is called, sin unto death, as Nathan says unto David: “thou art the man,” (who is deserving death); because he had made himself wilfully guilty of fornication and murder, 2. Sam. 12, 5. 7. But such results are not to be feared in the case, where sin has been committed unwillingly. Sins of this description therefore, can be mourned over and repented of, and the Holy Ghost also is striving against them and defeating them, Rom 8, 13; Gal. 5, 16: 17.
237. a. (cf. #. 234.) Sins which can, and such as cannot be forgiven, which latter is called the sin against the Holy Ghost.
Concerning the latter we have to inquire:
A. what is said about it in scripture,
B. why it is called the sin against the Holy Ghost,
C. its nature and form,
D. the reason why it cannot be forgiven.
238. A. What is said in scripture with regard to the sin against the Holy Ghost, can be gathered from the following. The Lord Jesus says, Matth. 12, 31. 32: “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world nor in the world to come.”- — The Apostles teach concerning this matter as follows: 1. Joh. 5, 16: “there is a sin unto death, I do not say, that you shall pray for it;” Heb. 6, 4: “for it impossible for those, who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame:” ibid. 10, 26: for if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of Grace.”
239. B. Why it is called the sin against the Holy Ghost? It is so, because all those are sinning against the Holy Ghost, who sin against God, for the Holy Ghost is real God.
But this sin is especially named in such a way, because the commission of the same is contrary to the teaching of the Gospel,
a. which the Holy Ghost causes to be propagated and preached in the whole world. Therefore even those may be said (though in another sense), to be sinning against the Holy Ghost, who oppose themselves to the ministry of the word, as ordained by the Holy Ghost, 2. Cor. 3, 6. Such did the people before the flood, in that they did not attend to warnings, which the Holy Ghost caused to be set before them by Noah, Genes. 6, 3; the Israelites who revolted against Moses and Aaron rebelled and vexed the Holy Spirit, Isa. 63, 10; Ananias and Saphira who lied to the Apostles, are said to have lied unto the Holy Ghost, Acts. 5, 3. 4.
b. which the Holy Ghost strengthens and seals in the hearts of men, bearing witness, that we are the children of God. Eph. 1, 13; Rom. 8, 16. And as the Holy Ghost testifies in this manner, any one making an opposition to the office of his ministry commits a sin against the Holy Ghost.
240. C. The nature of this sin, and its form. The sins, which are to be looked upon as sins against the Holy Ghost, must bear the following characteristics:
a. The sinner must have a right knowledge of the true, pure and saving faith, or with other words, he must have been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and tasted of the good word of God, Heb. 6, 4. 5. Whosoever does not know this Gospel cannot be said to commit sin against it, although he did despise and mock it. Thus St. Paul was, previous to his conversion, a persecutor, a mocker and slanderer, but he was so in ignorance, 1. Tim. 1, 13. Nor was the sin of those who crucified the Lord Jesus, a sin of such a nature, inasmuch as He himself prayed to the Father, that their sins might be forgiven them, because they did not know what they did, Luk. 23, 34.
241. b. This thoroughly acquired saving knowledge must be denied from a free, but wicked design. Evangelical truth can be said to be denied under the following circumstances:
242. aa. By an epicurean sort of assurance. Although great many confess the Gospel, yet their works evidently manifest, that in reality they care but little for it. This are the fool who say in their heart, their is no God, Pslm. 14, 1; who say that they “know God, but in works deny him,” Tit. 1, 16. But such people cannot be said to commit this sin, because they deny the truth from too great an assurance, not from premeditated design.
243. bb. Fear of persecutions. If the temptation in the respect becomes very strong, then the devil is very busy about it, and the flesh is weak (Matth. 26,41; Luk. 20, 32.) — such circumstances it may well happen even unto confirmed Christians, that sinking under suffering and despair, they deny the truth in fear and trembling. As for instance St. Peter, whom we nevertheless read that he received remission of the sin. (Matth. 26, 75; John. 21, 15. ff.)
244. cc. By wicked design and premeditation. If there happen to be no urgent reasons for denying the truth, and the sin is nevertheless committed, it is to be considered as Gradus or a step towards the sin against the Holy Ghost. Thus did for instance the Pharisees, who knew that Jesus was a teacher come from God, Joh, 3, 2. and who nevertheless rejected his doctrine, contrary to the convictions of their own consciences. And in the same manner some even in our days, who though they have a better knowledge of the truth do yet remain members of the Church of Rome, do approach, in a great measure, unto this sin against the Holy Ghost. Hebr. 10, 25, this Gradus is more especially taken notice of.
245. c. The saving faith which is thus denied must be blasphemed. Such a state is especially spoken of by the Lord Jesus, who called it “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost,” Matth. 12, 31. We read also Heb. 6, 6: “they crucify the Lord Jesus afresh and put him to an open shame;” ibid. 10, 29: “who hath trodden under foot the son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite, unto the spirit of grace.” Such did the Pharisees in that they blasphemed the Son of God, looking upon him as a deceiver, Matth. 27, 63. They blasphemed him, saying, that he had a devil. Job. 8, 48. 52. They blasphemed his works, as if they originally proceeded from the devil, Luk. 11, 15. Whereby they blasphemed the Holy Ghost, whose work and office the Son of God did accomplish Isa. 61, 1. Acts. 12. 38.
246. This sin consists therefore in a premeditated denial and blaspheming of the acquired saving, heavenly truth, concerning the forgiveness of sins, wrought out by Christ.
247. D. It now remains for us to, inquire, why this sin cannot be forgiven. The reason for this is not to be sought in a deficiency on the part of God’s grace, or of the merits of Christ. For in looking to the will of God, and to his grace, we find him prepared to forgive every sin, Rom. 5, 20: “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound;” 1. John, 1, 9: “(God) cleanseth us from all iniquity.”
248. If we look to the merits of the Lord Jesus, we find that he has cleansed us from all iniquity, Joh. 1, 7. And in reading therefore of a sin which cannot be forgiven we are not to suspect, either an insufficiency on the part of God, or
on that of the merits of Christ.
249. The real reason why a sin against the Holy Ghost cannot be forgiven, will be understood from the arguments which have been proposed already; namely because that man himself rejects and cuts off all the means by which he could come to repentance and be regenerated.
250. For a sinner can arrive at repentance and regeneration 1) through the law, by which his sins are revealed to him; 2) by the preaching of the Gospel of the divine grace; 3) by the doctrine concerning the propitiation for our sins, which has been accomplished by the Lord Jesus; and 4) by the seal of the Holy Ghost, which takes effect subsequent to the heart and conscience of man having been convinced, that all which is taught concerning the grace of God and the merits of Christ, is a heavenly, divine and eternal truth. Besides this there is no other means and no other way to come to repentance.
251. Now of all these means he who. commits a sin against Holy Ghost, has deprived himself in such a manner, that neither of them can be of any avail to him. For the law, which shows him his sins, he neglects; doing according to his own will and pleasure; the grace of God, as well as the merits of Christ he has no need for, for he who mocks, despises and blasphemes them, treads the Son of God under foot, crucifies him anew, and counts the blood of the covenant as unholy. He neglects the teaching of the Holy Ghost, rejecting and mocking it. There remains to such an individual therefore no way, by the help of which he can come to repentance and to the grace of God, — although these, means are freely offered unto him.
252. We have, with regard to actual sin, to inquire into the consequences which this sin is calculated to effect. In general, these consequences are common to all sinners; but there are some sins, which are productive of their own peculiar consequences.
253. Consequences which are common to all sins, are:
i. the wrath of God, and the curse of the law, which accompany the wrath of God. Of this it is said Rom 1, 18 that it is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of man. This unrighteousness implies not only the outward and gross sins, but also, without exception, everything which is contrary to the will of God, as revealed in the divine law. God himself has said, Deutr. 27, 26: “Cursed is he that confirmeth not at all the words of this law to do them.” As also James 2, 10: “for whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in on point he is guilty of all.” If therefore sins are committed by words, thoughts and works, be they ever so insignificant, it is evident that they are unrighteousness and ungodliness, since they draw down upon him who is committing them, the wrath of God and the curse of the law.
254. ii. An uneasy conscience. And although one conscience is sometimes much more burdened than the other, they yet all agree in this, that, without exception, they are all afflicted by sin. Even those who are not aware of having committed gross sins, do yet shrink from the judgment of God. This circumstance is to be ascribed to the fact that they are always “a betraying (rejecting) of the succours which reason affords. — St. Paul intimates concerning the heathen, that, though the law, was not given to them, as has been the case with the Jews, they had nevertheless the law of God written in their hearts; that their conscience is bearing them witness and that their thoughts are accusing and excusing one another, until the day, when God shall judge the secrets of men, Rom 2, 15. 16,
255. iii. Eternal condemnation in hell. God visits every one with punishment in time and eternity. That eternal destruction is the punishment, which, without exception, follows upon every sin, will be shown in the next chapter.
256. One special consequence of the sin, which has been committed contrary to the convictions of, the conscience, — as which afterwards predominates in the heart of man is, that, that Holy Ghost is taken from the regenerated, and his faith brought to nought; for:
257. a. By this sin the Holy Ghost is grieved, Eph. 4. 30; and vexed, Isa. 63, 10. And in cases where the Holy Ghost is vexed and grieved, the Holy Spirit can indeed not be said to be present;
258. b. This sin, in the heart in which it predominately has overcome the spirit. In the attempt to drive away the spirit, this sin succeeds in all cases, where it has acquired dominion over man.
259. Where the spirit of God dwells, there is life and happiness, Rom. 8, 13: “If ye through the spirit do mortify the deeds of the body ye shall live;” — 2. Cor. 3, 6: “the spirit giveth life.” Now wherever the spirit has got the dominion, there is life and, happiness, Rom. 8, 13: “If ye live after the flesh ye shall die;” ibid. 1, 32: “Who commits such things are worthy of death;” 1. Cor. 6, 9. 10:, “neither fornicators, nor idolaters etc. etc. shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.” Galat. 5, 19: “the works of the flesh are these: Adultery, fornication etc., of which I tell you before, as I also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
260. From which we learn: that, wherever sins contrary to the convictions of conscience are predominant, there the spirit of God cannot dwell. On every occasion therefore, in which sins are committed by the regenerated men (as was the case with David, Peter and others) the consequence accrues that the Holy Ghost is driven out of their heart, and their saving faith undermined.