Of Actual Sin and the remaining distinctions of Sin, with its causes and effects.

Actual sin includes all those actions which are opposed to the law of God, whether they be such as have respect to the understanding, will, and heart, or to the external deportment of our lives, as to think, to will, to follow, and to do that which is evil; and an omission of those things which the law of God commands, as to be ignorant of, not to will, to shun and omit that which is good. The division of sin into sins of commission and omission is properly in place here.

The second division of sin. This distinction has respect to sin as reigning, and not reigning. By reigning sin we understand that form of sin to which the sinner makes no resistance through the grace of the Holy Spirit. He is therefore exposed to everlasting death, unless he repent and obtain forgiveness through Christ. Or it includes every sin which is not deplored, and to which the grace of the Holy Spirit makes no resistance, and on account of which he in whom it reigns is exposed to everlasting punishment, not only according to the order of divine justice, but also according to the nature of the thing itself. The following passages of Scripture refer to this distinction of sin: "Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies." "He that committeth sin," that is, he who sins habitually, willfully, and with delight, "is of the devil." (Rom. 6:12. 1 John 3:8.) It is called reigning sin, because it gratifies, and enslaves those who are the subjects of it, and also because it holds dominion over the man in whom it reigns, and exposes hith to eternal condemnation. All the sins of men in their unregenerate state are of this character. There are also some sins of this description in those who have been regenerated, such as errors in the ground-work of faith, and such offences as are against the conscience, which, unless they are repented of, are inconsistent with an hssurance of the forgiveness of sins, and true christian comfort. That those who are regenerate may be guilty of sin under this form, the lamentable fall of such holy men as Aaron and David abundantly testifies. *Those objections which are commonly brought against what is here advanced, may be found in Ursini vol. 1, page 207.

Sin which does not thus reign, is that which the sinner resists by the grace of the Holy Spirit. It does not, therefore, expose him to eternal death, because he has repented and found favor through Christ. Such sins are disordered inclinations and unholy desires, a want of righteousness, and many sins of ignorance, of omission, and of infirmity, which remain in the godly as long as they continue in this life; but which they, nevertheless, acknowledge, deplore, hate, resist, and earnestly pray may be forgiven them for the sake of Christ, the Mediator, saying, forgive us our debts. Hence the godly retain their faith and consolation, notwithstanding they are not free from these sins. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." "It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk after the Spirit." "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults." (1 John 1:8. Rom. 7:18; 8:1. Ps. 19:13.)

The common distinction of sin into mortal and venial may be referred to this division. For although every sin in its own nature is mortal, by which we mean, that it deserves eternal death, yet reigning sin may be properly so called, inasmuch as he who perseveres in it will at length be overtaken by destruction. But it becomes venial sin, that is, it does not call for eternal death, when it does not reign in the regenerate who resist it by the grace of God; and this takes place, not because it merits pardon in itself, or does not deserve punishment, but because it is freely forgiven those that believe on account of the satisfaction of Christ, and is not imputed to them unto condemnation, as it is said: "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1.) When thus understood, the distinction of mortal and venial sin may be retained; but not when it is understood in the sense in which the Romish priests use it, as if that were mortal sin which deserves eternal death on account of its greatness, and that venial which does not deserve eternal death on account of its smallness, but merely some temporal punishment. Hence we would prefer, in the place of mortal and venial sin, the distinction which we have made of sin into reigning, and not reigning, and that for the following reasons: 1. Because the terms mortal and venial are ambiguous and obscure. All sins are mortal in their own nature. The apostle John also calls the sin against the Holy Ghost mortal, or unto death. 2. Because the Scriptures do not use these terms, especially venial sin. 3. Because of the errors of the Papists, who call those sins venial which are small and do not deserve eternal death, whilst the Scriptures declare: "Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them." "Whosoever shall offend in one point, is guilty of all." "The wages of sin is death." "Whoso shall break one of these commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of God." (Deut. 27:26. James 2:10. Rom. 6:23. Matt. 5:19.) In a word, every sin in its own nature is mortal, and deserves eternal death. But it becomes venial, that is, it does not work eternal death in the regenerate, because their sins have been freely pardoned for the sake of Christ.

The third division of sin. There is sin which is against the conscience, and sin which is not against the conscience. Sin against the conscience is, when any one knowing the will of God does, with design and purpose, that which is contrary thereto; or it is that sin which is committed by those who sin knowingly and willingly, as did David, when he committed the sin of adultery and murder. Sin not against the conscience is, when any one does any thing contrary to the law of God, ignorantly or unwilllngly; or it is that which is indeed known to be sin, and deplored by the sinner, but which he cannot perfectly avoid in this life, as original sin, and many sins of ignorance, of omission, and infirmity. For we omit many things that are good, and do many that are evil, being suddenly overcome by infirmity, as Peter was, when by the force of temptation he denied Christ, knowingly, indeed, but not willingly. Hence he wept so bitterly, and did not lose his faith entirely, according to the promise of Christ: "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." (Luke 22:32.) This was not reigning sin, much less the sin against the Holy Ghost; because Peter loved Christ no less when he denied him than when he wept over his sin, although his love did not at the time shew itself an account of his fear, excited by the dangerous circumstances in which he was placed. Such was also the sin which Paul acknowledged and lamented, when he said: "The good, that I would, I do not; but the evil, which I would not, that I do." (Rom. 7:19.) his blasphemy and persecution of the church were likewise sins of ignorance, for says he: "I did it ignorantly in unbelief, and therefore obtained mercy." (1 Tim. 1:13.)

The fourth division of sin. There is sin which is unpardonable--sin against the Holy Ghost, and unto death: and there is also pardonable sin--sin which is not against the Holy Ghost, nor unto death. The Scriptures speak of this distinction of sin in Matt. 12:31. Mark 3:29. 1 John 5:16. By unpardonable sin, or the sin against the holy Ghost, and unto death, is meant a denial of, and a willful opposition to, the acknowledged truth of God, in connection with his will and works, concerning which the mind has been fully enlightened and convinced by the testimony of the Holy Ghost; all of which proceeds, not from fear or infirmity, but from a determined hatred to the truth, and from a heart filled with bitter malice. This sin God punishes with perpetual blindness, so that those who are guilty of it never repent, and consequently obtain no pardon. It is called unpardonable, not because its greatness exceeds the value of Christ's merit, but because he who commits it is punished with total blindness, and does not receive the gift of repentance. It is a sin of a peculiarly aggravated nature, and is, therefore, followed by a punishment in accordance with its character, which punishment is final blindness and impenitency. And where there is no repentance, there is no forgiveness obtained. "Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." "But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation." (Matt. 12:32. Mark 3:29.)

It is called the sin against the Holy Ghost, not that any one may commit an offence against the Holy Ghost which is not at the same time an offence against the Father and the Son, but by a significant form of speech, inasmuch as it is in an especial manner committed against the Holy Ghost, that is, against his peculiar and immediate office and work, which consists in the enlightening of the mind.

It is called by the Apostle John a sin unto death, not because it alone is a mortal sin, and deserves death, but, as has just been remarked, because it especially merits death, and because those who are guilty of it will most assuredly die, seeing that they never repent, or obtain forgiveness. The Apostle John, therefore, does not desire that we should pray for it; because it is in vain that we ask God to grant the pardon of it. The Scriptures also speak of this sin in other places, as in Heb. 6:4-8; 10:26-29. Tit. 3:10-11.