The Unpardonable Sin
May 8th, 1968 @ 7:30 PM
THE UNPARDONABLE SIN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Matthew 12:31-32; 1 John 1:16
05-08-68 7:30 p.m.
We have two more weeknights of this centennial revival. Tomorrow night, especially dedicated to our children, and the title of the sermon will be The Way Made Plain. We shall have a fellowship supper here tomorrow evening at six o’clock. And if you have someone you would like to encourage to believe in our Lord or to put their lives in our dear church, you bring them. We will break bread together. And tomorrow night the sermon will be so plain that a wayfaring man will not err therein; The Way Made Plain. Then Friday night is dedicate to our teenagers, our young people, and the title of the message is Where Can I Find God? If God is alive, He is somewhere. Where is He, and how can I know Him and recognize Him? Where Can I Find God? Then of course Sunday is Mother’s Day, and the title of the sermon Sunday morning is Mother’s God. And Sunday night, the last sermon of this centennial series, The Blood of the Cross, a sermon on the death of Jesus.
Now tonight, the message is on The Unpardonable Sin. In the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, beginning at verse 31:
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven [unto men]
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.
And one other, in the last chapter of 1 John:
If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.
[1 John 5:16]
Whether in the life of our Lord, as in Matthew 12:31, or whether in the life of the apostles in 1 John 5:16, this sin that is not forgiven is spoken of plainly, poignantly, succinctly, pointedly. There is a sin that God will not forgive. The very fact of such a thing makes our hearts tremble. “There is a sin unto death: I do not say that you shall pray for it” [1 John 5:16]. There is a sin God will not forgive “neither in this world, nor the world that is to come” [Matthew 12:32].
Now what is that sin? There is no one of us who has been introduced to the Bible, who has read these sacred words, but has wondered and sometimes been almost paralyzed before it; what is the unpardonable sin, the sin God will not forgive? There are many speculations, of course, and I’ve heard all of them; you have too. I’ve heard men say that the unpardonable sin is murder. For a man to take another man’s life robs him of the opportunity of repentance and of trust and of salvation, and to plunge a man into eternity is an unpardonable sin. Well, no one of us would question but that to dip human hands in human blood is an unspeakable atrocity. But that’s not the unpardonable sin, because Moses was a murderer; and after he had slain that Egyptian taskmaster he hid his corpse in the sand to hide away his transgression [Exodus 2:11-12]. No, it is not murder.
Then ofttimes have I heard it said that the unpardonable sin is adultery. And there is no sin that plows up the human life, and personality, and soul, and home like the sin of adultery. There are those who say the unpardonable sin is adultery; but it could not be, because the man after God’s own heart fell into that grievous and terrible transgression. David was an adulterer and sought to hide his sin by murder [2 Samuel 11:1-17]. The unpardonable sin, grievous as it is, is not adultery.
There are those who say the unpardonable sin is a denial of the Lord. And of course, in any time of persecution, any time of trial, all through the history of the church, there are those, who when the way is rough and the times are hard and the task is difficult, there are those who will deny the Lord. All through history that has ever been true. But that is not the unpardonable sin. Simon Peter, faced with the persecution that raged against the Lord Jesus in Jerusalem, swore with an oath, said, “I never heard of Him. I don’t know Jesus” [Matthew 26:69-74].
There are those who would say the unpardonable sin is to lay hands of violence on God’s holy church. To waste it and to persecute it is an unforgivable sin, to destroy the body of Christ. But Saul of Tarsus who became Paul the apostle [Acts 13:9], was a waster and a persecutor of the church of Christ [Galatians 1:13], even murdering God’s saints and haling them into prison [Acts 26:10].
Well, what is the sin that God will not forgive? Not here, not there, nor forever; what is it? I haven’t time to exegete, to go into those passages—and there are several of them—where the Lord speaks of this sin. But without fail and without exception, it has to do with an ultimate and a final rejection of Jesus our Savior. The only sin that I know that God will not forgive, in this life or in the life that is yet to come, in our days or at the judgment bar of Almighty God [1 Peter 4:5]—the only sin I know God will not forgive is the sin of a final and an ultimate rejection of Christ our Lord [John 3:36].
Now we shall speak of that tonight boldly and frankly and plainly. The American people are a stripe and a kind to themselves. And we pride ourselves upon our realism. We don’t like to be hoodwinked; we don’t like to be deceived, even though Barnum Bailey says a fool’s born every minute, yet we don’t like to classify ourselves as such. We love to look upon ourselves as being realistic. We like to face the facts, and the spirit of any congregation as it sits and listens to a preacher would go like this: “Now, preacher, let’s tell it straight; put all the cards on the table”—whatever that might refer to—“put all the cards on the table. Don’t beat around the bush. I can tell it; I can take it. Just say the facts.”
As you so well know, for years and years there was a radio program—and they’re reviving it—and always and in every one of those programs there was developed a scene where the detective said to the poor critter who was party to the scene, “Now, mister, just tell us the facts, just the facts, mister. Tell us the facts.” All right, we shall do that tonight. We shall be very bold and very plain and very realistic. “Just the facts, preacher, just the facts.” Now, if we live forever, if there were a second chance, and if our hearts did not harden and our wills did not paralyze, we could repent anytime, and we could accept Christ anytime, and we could put it off any day. “But what are the facts, preacher? Just tell us the facts!” Good, let’s all be realists tonight; just the facts.
Fact number one: we do not live forever. We shall surely and certainly die, and that at an appointed time. You may find all kinds of ventures, all kinds of programs for help and longevity and continuation of life, but at an appointed time, you shall certainly die. That is according to the Word of God. God says there is a time to be born [Ecclesiastes 3:2]. Why weren’t you born a hundred years before? Because God set a time for you to be born. Why weren’t you born a Hottentot? God set a house, and a place, and a home, and a family in which you were born. Now there’s a time to be born, God says, and there is a time to die. And when that time comes, you shall certainly die.
In God’s Word is one of the great sentences of life. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment” [Hebrews 9:27]. You shall not live beyond that moment and that hour that is appointed for you to die. Every day men die, crying, “But I must live! But I must live!” You will die anyway. “It is appointed unto men once to die,” and you shall certainly die. God knows that time and that hour, and when it comes, you shall die. Let’s be realists; let’s face the facts, “preacher, just tell us the facts!” That’s fact number one: you will not live forever. There is a time appointed of God when you shall certainly die [Ecclesiastes 3:2; Hebrews 9:27].
Out of Eastern lore, I have never read a story that was more poignantly pertinent than this one. In Bozrah, a servant came to his master in fear, in trembling, and said to his master, “O master, I saw Death on the streets of Bozrah today, and he looked at me! Master, lend me your fleetest horse that I might escape to Baghdad!” And the master, gracious to his servant, lent to his servant his fleetest horse, that his servant might escape to Baghdad! And the next day, the master met Death on the street of Bosrah and walked up to him and said, “Death, what do you mean by frightening my servant so?” And Death replied to the master, “Sir, I did not mean to frighten him. I was merely surprised to see him here in Bozrah, for tomorrow I have an appointment to meet him in Baghdad!” You shall certainly die when that moment comes [Ecclesiastes 3:2]. It is known to God, it is appointed unto men once to die [Hebrews 9:27]. “Just the facts, preacher, just tell us the facts.” Let’s all be realists.
Fact number two: there is no second chance. When we die, our destiny is sealed forever and ever and ever. There is no hint, there is no sentence, there is no syllable in God’s Word of a second chance. But the Bible does say, and the Holy Scriptures do avow, that as the tree falls, so shall it lie [Ecclesiastes 11:3]. And however you die, that is the way that you die, and are, forever and ever and ever and ever. The projection of the life you have lived goes forward into infinity and to eternity. And there is no changing or bending that projectile as it lasts and moves and lives throughout all eternity. There is no changing after you are dead.
Now not only do I find that in the Word of God, but I find that in human life. All life tends to fixation of character; what you are, you increasingly become, and the projection goes on and on and on, and forever. Here you are, there you are the same; and here you are and there you are, and here you die, and it continues on forever and ever. All life follows the pattern of that fixation in character; you increasingly become what you are more and more and more.
I ran across the other day the beatenest poem I ever read in my life. Why, if I had a few hours here to preach, I’d bring some of these things to the pulpit. But I want to tell you about that poem; it was a humdinger. The poem is about a country preacher; I know all about him, I was out there ten years. It’s about a country preacher. And there came to church a dear God-blessed old saintly woman, and the preacher said, “Where’s your husband?” And she said, “He’s a-sittin’ by the fire,” in the days when they had fireplaces and hearths—“He’s a-sittin’ by the fire.” So prayer meeting time came and there was that same dear old sainted woman, and he said, “Where’s your husband?” And she said, “He’s a-sittin’ by the fire.” Prayer meeting time came. “Where’s your husband?” “He’s sittin’ by the fire.” She even came, the poem says, to choir practice. And he asked her, “Where’s your husband?” And she said, “He’s a-sittin’ by the fire.” Revival meeting time came and that dear old soul was there in the revival, and he said, “Where’s your husband?” And she said, “He’s a-sittin’ by the fire.” Now, I’m not defending what some of these preachers do, but brother, some of them sure say, “The facts, mister, just the facts.” And when the critter died, when that old man died, the preacher got up, and he said, “All of us are a-wonderin’ where he is. Well, if he’s like I knew him, he’s a-sittin’ by the fire.”
There’s a projection of character that goes on forever. One of the doctors here, you—what has been going through my mind as you’re up here tonight—y’all writin’ this sermon down? But one of the doctors here; there was a man here in this town of Dallas that was complaining about the heat, the heat, every summer, always complaining about the heat, always thinking about the heat, always the heat. So upon a summertime in a hot August, his wife came to see the doctor, and he said to her, “How’s your husband standing the heat?” And his nurse said, “Come here doctor, come here.” Pulled him into the other room and said, “Don’t you know her husband has just died?”
I’m just trying to get you to see that there is in personality, and there is in character that same reverberation that you find in the Word of God. As we are, we are increasingly more so just like that, and we increasingly become. And when you ask a man,
“Are you a Christian?”
“Are you a member of the church?”
“Do you believe in Christ?”
“Will you accept the Lord as your Savior?”
And the man finally himself becomes a negation. He is “No!” Ask him anytime, ask him anywhere, and you will get the same response, “No!” He has become a negation himself. Rigor mortis has set in in his soul. “Just the facts, mister, tell us the facts. Say it straight.”
Fact number three: our hearts harden and our wills paralyze. You refuse, and you refuse, and you refuse, and you refuse, and the day will come when you cannot accept! I have good eyes. Let me bind one of my eyes, close one of my eyes and leave it closed for a certain period of time—and it doesn’t take too long, either. And then I unbind my eye, and I can’t see, for the nerve in my eye has atrophied; I am blind in it. I have good ears. But let me stop one of my ears, plug it up, and leave it plugged up for a certain length of time and then unstop it. I cannot hear; my ear has atrophied. By not using it, it has died. I have good arms. Bind one of my arms to my side and leave it bound for a certain length of time, and I cannot raise it. I cannot use it. The very muscles and the very fibers have atrophied.
Our souls and our hearts are just like that. You refuse to respond, and the day will come when you cannot respond. The heart may be touched, then again touched, but less moved, and then less moved, and less moved, and finally not moved at all. You can hear a thousand sermons and go to ten thousand services, and they’re all dull. Unmoved; your heart and your will are paralyzed.
I talked to an old man, lying there on his deathbed, doing every thing I could to get him to Jesus, and he finally said, “Preacher, somehow I cannot believe.” And he died lost. Anytime you think you can just turn that on and turn it off at will, you are mistaken! The soul has its favorable moments, and God has His accepted time. And when God says “Now” and you say, “Tomorrow,” you gamble with your soul. “The Lord God said, ‘My Spirit shall not always strive with man’” [Genesis 6:3]. And He took Noah and Noah’s family and put them in the ark, and God shut that door [Genesis 7:1, 7, 13, 16].
I went down somewhere to see a movie, a little private thing they wanted me to look at. Coming back to my mind, it was entitledThe Bible, The Bible, and I enjoyed it; and I enjoyed old Noah. I enjoyed all the animals going into the ark. But in that movie it says, “And after Noah got all those animals in there and the rain began to fall, Noah closed the door.” You won’t find that in the Book. The Book says God closed that door! [Genesis 6:16, 7:16]. God did it.
Same thing about the parable of the five wise and the five foolish virgins, and they knocked, “Open to us,” they said. But the Bible says that God closed that door! [Matthew 25:1-12].
In the first chapter of the Book of Romans—you’ll never hear it read in a mixed audience—and yet in the first chapter of the Book of Romans describes modern American society as openly and as bluntly as it was a description of the filth of the Graeco-Roman Empire. And in that first chapter of the Book of Romans that is never read publicly, time and time and time again, like the theme of a great symphony, you will find these words: “Wherefore God gave them up” [Romans 1:24]. “Wherefore God gave them up [Romans 1:26] . . . Wherefore God gave them up” [Romans 1:28].
There is a time in men’s lives when God says, “It is enough!” and He destroys them from off the face of the earth. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, it says, “Esau, for one morsel of meat, sold his birthright…and he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” [Hebrews 12:16-17]. God rejected him. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews and the twenty-sixth verse, it says, “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins” [Hebrews 10:26]. There’s nothing God will do beyond, but only a certain fearful looking for a judgment and fiery indignation [Hebrews 10:27]. There is a time when God says, “It is enough!”
There is a time I know not when
A place—I know not where,
That points the destiny of men
To glory or despair.
There is a line by us unseen
That crosses every path
The hidden boundary between
God’s patience and God’s wrath.
[from “There Is A Line By Us Unseen,” J. A. Alexander]
“Preacher, my soul, what must I do? What must I do?” This is it. Do I need another sermon? No! Do I need another argument? No! Do I need another explanation? No! Do I need a further exegesis? No! Do I need a further and deeper exposition? No! What do I need? I need to respond, if I am ever saved [Romans 10:9-10].
In Louisville, Kentucky, when the seminary was located at Fifth and Broadway, before it was moved out on Lexington Road, down in the heart of the city, like our church is in the heart of the city; right across the road, right across the street from Fifth and Broadway, there was a tall apartment building. And upon a day, that thing caught on fire, and the smoke was billowing out and the flames were licking upward, and they emptied all of the people in the apartments. And the firemen and a throng gathered round were fighting the fury of the blaze.
And to the horror of all the people standing by, there suddenly appeared from a window on the top floor of that high apartment building, there suddenly appeared a woman, and with her arms outstretched, she screamed to the top of her voice, “Save me! Save me! Help!” And the firemen got a net and they all gathered round it and pulled it tight and called to that woman, “Come, come we will catch you. Jump! We will save you! Jump! Jump!” She would go back into that flaming building and then reappear at the window of that top floor and cry, “Help! Save me!” And the men below stretching that life net would call back, “Jump! Jump! We will catch you, jump!” She died in that flaming holocaust when all to save her was to jump!
Men are like that. Do we need an argument? No! Do we need a sermon? No! Do we need some kind of an explanation? No! We need to respond! Without that response, no man is ever saved, never. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart, thou shalt be saved” [Romans 10:9]. But I must openly confess. “Whosoever therefore, shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in heaven” [Matthew 10:32]. But I must confess. I cannot be saved unless I confess the Lord Jesus. “For with the heart one believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” [Romans 10:10]. I must respond; I must confess Him!
John 1:12: “But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the children of God, even to them that trust in His name.” But I must receive Him; I cannot be saved without it. I must do what I can. I must respond. The thief on the cross with his hands nailed to the tree could do naught but turn his head, but he turned his head and said, “Lord, remember me.” And Jesus said, “Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise’” [Luke 23:42-43]. I must do what I can.
I was preaching in a service and when I gave the appeal, a crippled man who had been brought there and left there, a crippled man said to his neighbor seated with him on the pew, “Would you help me down to the preacher?” And several men brought him down to me. I must do what I can. I never saw anything more moving in a vast throng than in Dayton, Ohio, preaching there in a football stadium. Because of rules on the turf, I could not preach in the center of the stadium, so they put me on the cinder track on this side, and I preached to the people filling the stadium on the other side, and the people at the back just listened as I gazed across that football field. And as I gave the appeal, there was a blind man who apparently also had been left there at the service. And he said to somebody, who happened to be a little boy, he said to him, “Would you take me to the preacher?” And that throng of ten thousand and more watched as that little boy, a very small lad, took that blind man by the hand and slowly led him across the football field, and to me. I may be blind and I must find somebody to lead me, but I must go. I may be crippled and must find somebody to help me, but I must go. I may be nailed to a cross, but I must turn my head and ask, I must respond. And without that response, I am lost. It is the response that gives God the power to break all of our past to death and to judgment and to sin. It is the response that gives God the opportunity to bless, to hallow, to sanctify [John 3:36].
I must come; I must respond. I cannot be saved without it. And that is the burden of our appeal to your soul tonight. Dear couple, will both of you come? Young husband, young wife, giving your lives, your home, your every tomorrow to Jesus. Do you have children in your family, dedicating your children to God? But you must come; you must respond. A one somebody you, a youth, a teenager, a child, a man, a woman, you tonight; God calls; God is here [2 Corinthians 5:20], but you must respond; you must come. As the Holy Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. “I have said no for the last time, and here I am; here I come. I have argued this thing for the last day, and I’m settling it tonight; I’m coming. I don’t have all the answers, but God does. I don’t know all these things, but He knows all about them. I don’t have strength even for any tomorrow, but God has the strength, and I am committing my tomorrow to Him, and here I am; here I am.” A whole family of you: “Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children, all of us are coming tonight.” Or two of you, or one of you; in the balcony round, there’s a stairway at the back and at the front and on either side, and time and to spare; in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. The first step you take will be the greatest step you will ever make in your life, giving your heart to Jesus, or putting your life in the circumference of this dear church. And the throng on this lower floor, into the aisle, into the aisle, into the aisle and down here to the front. “Here I am, preacher, I make it now. I have decided for God now, and here I come; here I am.” Make the decision now, where you are, where you’re seated, make it now; make it in your heart now. And in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up coming. And God bless you and attend you in the way. Do it now, come now. God speed you now, while we stand and while we sing.