Article XII--Sin after justification is one of the most controversial of all the articles. It reads, "Not every sin, willingly committed after justification is the sin against the Holy Ghost and unpardonable. Wherefore the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after justification: after we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin, and by the grace of God rise again, and amend our lives. And therefore they are to be condemned who say they can no more sin as long as they live here, or deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent."
The following scriptures are given in support of this article: Psalm 32:5 and 95:7, 11; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Jeremiah 3:13-15; Matthew 24:12; John 5:14; Galatians 5:4,7; Ephesians 5:14; Hebrews 3:7-13, 15; James 3:28; I John 1:8-9 and 2:12; Revelation 2:5.
This Article first appeared in "Articles of Faith" in 1553 with the title "Of Sin Against the Holy Ghost." It was altered in 1563 and entitled "Of Sin After Justification." The final revision was made in 1571 and was then as it now appears in our Discipline.
There is a general resemblance between this Article and the twelfth of the Confession of Augsburg; but the verbal similarity is not sufficiently close to justify us in saying that the "Confession" was the source of the Article. The two are aimed against the same errors, which existed in the revival of the views of some early days concerning blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, the impossibility of falling from grace, and the refusal of pardon to those who fall into deadly sin after justification.
These errors are also noted in the letter of Bishop Hooper, "A man, they say, who is thus regenerate, cannot sin. They add that all hope of pardon is taken away from those who, after having received the Holy Ghost, fall into sin.
The Anabaptists taught that the people of God are regenerated in justification into a pure and angelical life. But if any man fall after justification, they leave nothing to him but the inexorable judgments of God.
The Article takes into the consideration two facts: (1) the fact that deadly sin is not unpardonable, (2) the possibility of falling from grace.
"Not every deadly sin willingly committed after salvation is sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable."
This view of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost which is here rejected, appears to have been first propounded by Origin in the third century, and was revived in the sixteenth by some among the Anabaptists. A brief examination of the passages of the New Testament which speaks of the sin which "hath never forgiveness" will show that whatever may be the precise nature of the irremissible sin there is certainly no ground for maintaining that all deadly sin willingly committed after salvation should be regarded as unpardonable.
The passages to be considered fall into two groups. There are those in the Gospel in which our Lord speaks of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Then there are those passages in the epistles, especially Hebrews and the first epistle of John.
Those verses in the Gospels are Matthew 12:31-37, Mark 3:28-30 and Luke 12:10. You will notice, as you read these passages, that our Lord never speaks in general terms of "sin against the Holy Ghost" as being unpardonable. So the sin, that our Lord mentions is a sin of a particular class, belonging to the sins of the tongue, involving outward expression. These words were spoken by our Lord on the occasion when they questioned His character, declaring that He had an unclean spirit. They were ascribing Divine works to a Satanic agency. To do this was in a very real sense to "blaspheme against the Holy Spirit" by whose agency the works were done.
The Edwardian Articles, which includes Article XVI of the Church of England. endeavored to define this sin more precisely and say, "Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is, when a. man, of malice and stubbornness of mind, doth rail upon the truth of Gods Word manifestly perceived, and being enemy thereto persecuteth the same. And because such be guilty of Gods curse, they entangle themselves with a most grievous and heinous crime, whereupon this kind of sin is called and affirmed of the Lord unpardonable."
Bishop Ellicott, author of Ellicotts famous commentary, defines it: "an outward expression of an inward hatred of that which is recognized and felt to be Divine, and its irremissible or unpardonable nature depends, not on the refusal of grace, but on the now lost ability of fulfilling the conditions required for forgiveness."
This condition is noted in Matthew 6: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Our willingness to forgive others, prepares us to be forgiven. Our refusal to forgive others makes us unfit for His forgiveness. See Matthew 6:12, 14-15.
Then there are the two passages, Hebrews 6:6, 10:26-29 and 12:15-17 that must be considered and the passage in I John 5:16-17 which must be considered.
There is no doubt that Paul is speaking to believers about believers in the passage in Hebrews 6. Bishop Westcott points out, "the apostasy ascribed here is marked, not only by a decisive act, but also a continuous present attitude, a hostile relation to Christ Himself and to belief in Christ; and thus there is no question of the abstract efficiency of the means of grace provided through the ordinances of the church. The state of the men themselves is such as to preclude their application."
Arminius has a very clear answer to this situation. He states that a man can only be born "once" spiritually as he can only be born "once" physically. He declares that the sin question was settled once and for all at Calvary and that God is now dealing with the "Son" question. This is so stated in John 3:16-18. Arminius stated that we are eternally kept in Him by our belief and trust in Him and nothing can separate us from that love in Him but ourselves. He goes on to state that if and when we sever ourselves from Him by a complete denial of His work in us, we crucify Him afresh, put Him to open shame and there is no more salvation in Him.
The chapter 10 passage in Hebrews, (26-29) states the same fact that John declares. Willful or deliberate sin simply proves that we were never saved in the first place. John says that a man who deliberately practices sin and yet declares he is saved, is in reality, a liar and the truth is not in him, never has been in him.
The passage in Hebrews 12:15-17 refers primarily to the blessing that Esau despised and sold for a mess of pottage. He regretted the rash act but repentance was useless. He could not secure it again, because it had been, now, given to another.
The Article continues, "wherefore the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after justification."
This is proven by St. Pauls treatment of the man guilty of incest, a most deadly sin, as recorded in I Corinthians 5:4-5. He was to be excluded from the fellowship of the faithful and delivered unto Satan." But this deliverance did not necessarily mean final condemnation. On the contrary, when the man repented, as is recorded in II Corinthians 2:5-11, he is reinstated into the fellowship. He charges the Corinthians to forgive and receive him back into full fellowship with them.
The Article also states, "They are to be condemned which deny the place (right) of forgiveness to such as truly repent." The Article definitely states that God is willing and ready to forgive the penitent sinner and it also states that the Church has a commission todeclare His pardon and to grant reconciliation where there is true repentance.
On the possibility of falling from grace, the Article is clear and decisive, "After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given and fall into sin, and, by the grace of God, we may rise again and amend our lives. And therefore they are to be condemned which say they can no more sin as long as they live here."
These statements are primarily aimed at the Anabaptists who taught that a man who is regenerated cannot sin. Such teaching is contrary to the whole tenor of Scripture.