THE UNPARDONABLE SIN!
We do not agree with those writers who, while allowing that “the unpardonable sin” may be committed during this present dispensation, yet affirm it is a very rare occurrence, a most exceptional thing, of which only one or two isolated cases may be found. On the contrary, we believe that the Scriptures themselves dearly intimate that MANY have been guilty ofsins for which there was no forgiveness either in this world or the world to come.
We say “sins,” for a careful and prolonged study of the subject has convinced us that “the unpardonable sin” is not one particular act of committing some specific offense, like maliciously ascribing to Satan the works of the Holy Spirit (which, no doubt, is one form of it), but that it varies considerably in different cases. Both of these conclusions of the present writer will receive illustration and confirmation in what follows.
The first human being who was guilty of unpardonable sin was Cain. He was a professor or outward worshipper of God, but because Abel’s offering was accepted and his own rejected, he waxed angry. The Lord condescended to expostulate with him, and went so far as to assure him that if he did well he would not lose his pre-eminence as the firstborn. But so far from doing well, he persisted in wickedness, and his enmity against God was evidenced by his hatred of His child, ending in the murder of him. Whereupon the Lord said unto him, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth… A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth” (Gen. 4:10-12). To which Cain answered, “Mine iniquity is greater than it may be forgiven” (Gen. 4:13, margin).
The record of Genesis 6 makes it clear that a whole generation of the world’s inhabitants had transgressed beyond all hope of remedy or forgiveness. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts if his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth” (Gen. 6:5-7), which was duly accomplished by the Flood. The whole of mankind in the days of Nimrod sinned so grievously (Rom. 1:21-23) that “God gave them up” (Rom. 1:24-26), for His Spirit “will not always strive with men.”
A whole generation of the Hebrews were also guilty of “the great trangression.” In Exodus 23:20, 21, we read, “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him, and obey His voice, provoke Him not; for He will not pardon your transgressions: for My Name is in Him.” Alas they heeded not this solemn word: “our fathers would not obey, but thrust Him from them, and in their hearts turned back into Egypt” (Acts 7:39). Consequently the Lord said, “Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do always err in their heart, and they have not known My ways. So I sware in My wrath, They shall not enter into My rest” (Heb. 3:10, 11).
It seems evident to the writer that there have been some in every age who have gone beyond the bounds of Divine mercy. Passing by such individual cases as Pharaoh, Balaam, and Saul, we would observe that the Pharisees of Christ’s day—the bulk of them at least—were guilty of sin for which there was no forgiveness. It is clear from John 3:2 that they recognized Him as “a Teacher come from God” and from John 11:47 that they could not gainsay His miracles. Nay more, it is plain from Mark 12:7 that they knew the righteousness of His claims: “But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the Heir: come, let us kill Him.” Thus they acted with their eyes wide open, sinning against their own confession, against light and knowledge, against the strong conviction His miracles produced, and against His holy life spread before them. Therefore did Christ say to them, “I go My way, and ye shall seek Me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come” (John 8:21).
“Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me; then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression” (Ps. 119:13). Here the unpardonable sin is denominated “the great transgression.” It is called such because this is what a bold and audacious defiance of God necessarily culminates in, unless sovereign grace intervenes. “Presumptuous” sins are committed by those who, while professing God’s name and avowing a claim upon His mercy, persist in a known course contrary to His Word. Such rebels, presuming upon God’s patience and goodness, are mocked by Him, being suffered to go beyond the bounds of His forgiveness. It is also called “blasphemy against the Spirit” (Matthew 12:31), “resisting the Spirit” (Acts 7:51), “doing despite unto the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29). The “new testament” or “covenant” is “the ministration of the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:8), which far exceeds in glory the legal dispensation. To be guilty of the great transgression is to sin willfully against and to speak maliciously of the Holy Spirit, who is revealed and promised in the Gospel; it is a quenching of His convictions, resisting His enlightenment, defying His authority.
It is called “a sin unto death” (1 John 5:16) because its perpetrator is now out of the reach of the promise of eternal life, having made the Gospel, which is a proclamation of Divine grace unto those who will submit themselves to its requirements, a “savor of death unto death” to himself. He was convicted by it that he was legally dead, and because of his impenitence, unbelief, hardheartedness, and determination to go on having his own way, he is left spiritually dead. Unto others God grants “repentance unto life,” (Acts 11:18), but when once “sin unto death” has been committed, it is “impossible to renew again unto repentance” (Heb. 6:4-6). By his opposition to the Gospel and refusal to receive Christ’s “yoke,” the guilty rebel has trampled under foot the blood of God’s Son, and as that alone can procure forgiveness, there is now no pardon available for him.
The very fact that it is designated “a sin unto death” rather than “the sin unto death” confirms what we said in a previous paragraph, namely, that it is not some specific offense but rather that the particular form it takes varies in different cases. And herein we may perceive how the sovereignty of God is exercised in connection therewith. God allows some to go to greater lengths of wickedness than others: some evil-doers He cuts off in youth, while other workers of iniquity are permitted to live unto old age. Against some He is more quickly and more strongly provoked than others. Some souls He abandons to themselves more readily than He does others. It is this which renders the subject so unspeakably solemn: no man has any means of knowing how soon he may cross the line which marks the limits of God’s forebearance with him. To trifle with God is hazardous to the last degree.
That the sovereignty of God is exercised in this matter appears very clearly from the cases of those whom He is pleased to save. What fearful crimes Manasseh was guilty of before Divine grace renewed him! What dreadful sins Saul of Tarsus committed ere the Lord Jesus apprehended him! Let the writer and the reader review their own unregenerate days: how dreadfully did we provoke the Majesty on high; how long did we persevere in a course of open rebellion; against what restraints, privileges, light and knowledge, warnings and entreaties, did we act! How many of the godless companions of our youth were cut off in their guilt, while we were spared. Was it because our sins were less crimson? No, indeed; so far as we can perceive, our sins were of a deeper dye than theirs. Then why did God save us? and why were they sent to Hell? “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight” must be the answer.
A sovereign God has drawn the line in every life which marks the parting of the ways. When that line is reached by the individual, God does one of two things with him: either He performs a miracle of grace so that he becomes “a new creature in Christ Jesus,” or henceforth that individual is abandoned by Him, given up to hardness of heart and final impenitency; and which it is, depends entirely upon His own imperial pleasure. And none can tell how near he may be to that line, for some reach it much earlier in life than others—according as God sovereignly decreed. Therefore it is the part of wisdom for each sinner to promptly heed that word “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found” (Isa. 55:6), which plainly denotes that soon it may be too late—as Proverbs 1:28-31 and Matthew 25:8-12 plainly show.
In view of all that has been before us, how softly we should tread, how careful we should be of not provoking the Holy One! How earnestly we should pray to be kept back from “presumptuous sins”! How diligently should the young improve their privileges: how they should heed that warning, “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Prov. 29:1)! How careful we should be against adding sin to sin, lest we provoke God to leave us unto final impenitency. Our only safeguard is to heed the voice of the Lord without delay, lest he “swear in His wrath” that we “should not enter into His rest”! How we need to beg God to write those words upon our hearts, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Heb. 3:12), for there is no hope whatever for the apostate.
A word now unto those with tender consciences that fear they may have committed sin for which there is no forgiveness. The trembling and contrite sinner is the farthest from it. There is not one instance recorded in Scripture where any who was guilty of “the great transgression” and had been given up by God to inevitable destruction, ever repented of his sins, or sought God’s mercy in Christ; instead, they all continued obstinate and defiant, the implacable enemies of Christ and His ways unto the end.
While there be in the heart any sincere valuing of God’s approbation, any real sense of His holiness which deters from trifling with Him, any genuine purpose to turn unto Him and submit to His requirements, any true fearing of His wrath, that soul has not been abandoned by Him. If you have a deep desire to obtain an interest in Christ, or become a better Christian; if you are deeply troubled over sin, if your heart grieves over its hardness, if you yearn and pray for more tenderness of conscience, more yieldedness of will, more love and obedience to Christ, then you have no cause to suspect you have committed “the unpardonable sin.”
“Lest there by any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who, for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” [Hebrews 12:16,17].
The apostle was here addressing professing Christians, and the fearful case of Esau is set before them (and us!) as a warning against departing from the Narrow Way, of exchanging the high privileges of the faithful for the temporary advantages of a faithless world. The doom of the apostate is irretrievable. To lightly esteem, and then despise, sacred things, will be followed “afterward” by bitter regret and unavailing anguish. To reject the terms of the Gospel in order to gratify the lusts of the flesh for a brief season, and then suffer forever and ever in the Lake of Fire, is the height of madness.
No excuse could palliate Esau’s profanity, and nothing can extenuate the wickedness of him who prefers the drudgery of Satan to the freedom there is in Christ. Esau’s rejection by Isaac was the evidence of his reprobation by God. May it please the Lord to use this article to search the heart of every reader.