The Unpardonable Sin
March 16th, 1977 @ 7:30 PM
THE UNPARDONABLE SIN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-16-77 7:30 p.m.
Once again we are happy to share this hour of revival appeal with a throng of you who are listening to this service on our radio, KCBI. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Sin That God Will Not Forgive; from the days of my boyhood have I heard it called The Unpardonable Sin. It comes out of a severe and devastating and terrifying word of our Savior in the twelfth chapter of Matthew, verses 31 and 32:
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. 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, neither in the world to come.
That there could be such a thing as that is terrifying and horrifying to the soul; the possibility that a man could so sin that he could never be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come. I have been asked about that ever since I began to preach a half a century ago. And you could not name a sin that has not been named to me, asking me, “Could I have committed that unpardonable sin?” Almost always they will name a sin of the flesh, rarely will one name a sin of the spirit, yet it is the sin of the spirit that is always the more vicious and violent and unforgivable. But most of the times, they will ask, “Could it be,” and they’ll name a sin of the flesh. In anger, to murder someone; is that the unpardonable sin? It couldn’t be; Moses, in anger, struck an Egyptian and murdered him and hid his body in the sand [Exodus 2:11-12]. Well, could it be the lustful sin of adultery, a sin that more than any other disassociates the human spirit from God? Could it be the sin of unchastity and infidelity? There is no one who ever picked up the Bible but is most familiar with the sin of David and Bathsheba [2 Samuel 11:2-5]. Well, could it be the sin of denial? Simon Peter cursed and denied he ever saw or ever knew the Lord [Mark 14:66-72]. Could it be a sin of violence against the church, persecuting, casting it down, blaspheming it? Saul of Tarsus, breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, persecuted the church even unto strange cities [Acts 9:1-2, 26:9-11]. You can name every lustful, violent, angry sin of the flesh; all alike, they are forgivable in the sight of God.
Well, then what could be this sin against the Holy Spirit that the Savior says can never be forgiven, neither in this life nor in the life that is to come? There is only one that I know, and that is the sin against the witness and testimony of the Spirit of God to the saving grace of His Son. Jesus our Lord was conceived, He was brought into the world, He was shaped and formed by the Holy Spirit [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:30-35]. His life was one dedicated to and filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit. He was raised from the dead, horizo, pointed out, marked out as the Son of God and the Savior of the world by the Holy Spirit [Romans 1:4]. He is witnessed to in this dispensation and age of grace by the Holy Spirit [John 16:8], and for a man to deny and reject that witness – if I could say it crudely and rudely, to call the Holy Spirit in His testimony a liar – that is the sin that God will never forgive. And the confirmation of that in my own study of the Holy Scriptures is this: so far as I know and as deeply enmeshed in the Book as my mind can seek and understand it, the only sin I know at the judgment bar of Almighty God that will condemn a man to everlasting perdition and damnation is that he refused and finally rejected the invitation of the Spirit to trust in Jesus as a Savior [John 3:36].
Now Americans pride themselves upon their realism. They love to say it like this, “Tell it to us straight, preacher! Don’t beat around the bush. Put all the cards on the table.” I have no idea what that actually means, but that’s a good American phrase: put all the cards on the table. I can take it. Tell us the facts. Good, let’s all be realists tonight, and let’s look at the facts, honestly, openly, intrepidly, fearlessly. And for lack of time, we’ll choose three. Let’s look at three facts.
Fact number one: if we live forever, you’d have time and to spare to repent. Fact number two: if you had a second chance, it would be immaterial what you chose in this life. Fact number three: if our minds and our wills and our hearts did not harden, paralyze, we could choose the time and the day, any minute, any hour, to be saved.
But the fact – “tell it to us straight, preacher; I can take it” – all right; fact number one. We shall not live forever, but we shall certainly and inexorably die. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment” [Hebrews 9:27]. Every cemetery you ever saw, and every grave on the inside of it, and every tombstone you ever looked upon is a sermon and a funeral oration against our certain death. You look at that box; if you please and want to, pick it out now. Save somebody trouble later on; you shall certainly die! And God sends His messengers before the graying of the hair. When I came here, my hair was dark. The crow’s feet around our eyes and the lines in our faces and a thousand other messengers, God sends into your life. They are knockings at the door; he, that pale enemy, is just behind. We shall certainly die!
I couldn’t help but remember a story that I read out of Oriental lore. There was a favorite servant who came to his master in Bozrah, and said,
Oh, my master, my master! I saw Death on the streets in Bozrah today. And he looked at me. And oh master, master, lend me your fleetest horse that I might escape to Bagdad. Please, master, I met Death today, and he looked at me. Master, lend me your fleetest horse that I may escape to Baghdad.” And the master, for so faithful a servant, lent him his fleetest, swiftest horse, and the faithful servant fled to Baghdad. The next day, the master, walking down the street of Bozrah, met Death on the street, and walked up to him and said, “Death, what do you mean by threatening my servant so?” And Death replied, “Sir, I did not mean to frighten him. I was merely surprised to see him on the streets here in Bozrah, because tomorrow I have a date to meet him in Baghdad!”
It is appointed! Do you see that word? “It is appointed unto men once to die” [Hebrews 9:27]. And at that exact time, in that exact moment, in that exact place, you will certainly die.
“Just tell us the facts, mister, we can take it. Tell it to us straight, don’t beat around the bush.” Good. Fact number two: not in all of the word of God, nor in any revelation of the Lord to the human heart, has it ever even been suggested or broached that we have a second chance in the grave, beyond the day of our death. Ecclesiastes writes it like this: “As the tree falls, so shall it lie” [Ecclesiastes 11:3]. That is, a man’s character always tends toward fixation, always. What you are tomorrow you will be more like that, and the next day you’ll be more like it still. And as the years pass, you become increasingly like that, however you are. All character and all life tend toward solidification, fixation. That’s the way God somehow allowed life and character to be, and all of our eternity is just an extension, an extension of what we are and know and were in this life. It just goes on. That’s a remarkable thing; how people are a certain way, and a certain thing, and a certain kind, and a certain way, and a certain mannerism, a certain eccentricity, a certain speech, a certain gesture, a certain look, and they are increasingly that!
When I went to Muskogee, Oklahoma to be pastor of the church, one of the deacons said to me, “On the edge of town, there is a man who belongs to our church who has been stricken, and he’s paralyzed. He has been laid in his bed with a stroke. And it would be so gracious of you if you would go out there and visit him.”
“Why,” I said, “I’d be happy to.” So I went to such and such address on the edge of town and knocked at the home, and a dear wife met me at the door. And I said, “I am the new pastor of the church, and I have been told that your husband is laid low with a stroke. And I’ve come to see him.”
“Oh,” she said, “He’s in the bedroom, and he’s laid low with a stroke, and it’s such a joy to have you come to see him.” So she ushered me into the bedroom, and I stood there and looked at that man on the bed, and I said, “I am the new pastor, and I heard that you have had a stroke and that you were here invalid in the bed, and I have come to see you.”
And he said, “Goldang!” “Well,” I said, “do you know, I’m just so sorry that you are ill and that you have had this stroke and that you can’t get out of bed?” And he said, “Goldang!”
“Well,” I said, “you know, it’s just beautiful outside, the sun is shining, and everything is so bright. I just wish you were out where you could share it.” He said, “Goldang!” Well, I tried something else, and after everything I would say, he would say, “Goldang.” Well, after I visited with him a while, so frustrated I didn’t know what to think or do, why, I stood up, and I was going to ask his wife if I could pray, but he thought I was going to leave, so when I stood up, he took his hand, to the best he could, and pointed upward and said, “Goldang, goldang, goldang, goldang, goldang!”
And his wife said to me, “Pastor, he wants you to pray.”
So I said, “Oh, I’d be glad to pray!” So I knelt down by the bed, and I started praying, “O God in heaven, be good to this man who is so stricken.” And he said, “Goldang!” And I said, “Lord, in Your kindness and goodness, raise him up!”
And he said, “Goldang!” And as I prayed my best for him by the side of his bed, after every petition, he’d say, “Goldang!” And when finally I came to the end of my prayer, I said, “Amen,” and he said, “Goldang!”
I stood up and I said, “God bless you, my brother, ’til I see you again,” and he said, “Goldang.” When I got to the door, I turned around for one last word and said, “Goodbye, my friend,” and he said, “Goldang!”
When I got to town, I made my way to that deacon, and I said to him, “I did what you asked me to do. I went out to see that stricken man. And he just says one word!” “Oh,” said the deacon to me, “I forgot to tell you! I forgot to tell you. Pastor, I forgot to tell you that he had a habit in his life of a slang word, and he said that slang word over and over and over again all of his life. And when he was stricken with his stroke, all of his language left him except that one word.” And I said, “You don’t have to tell what it is! It’s goldang!”
That is one of the truest characterizations of human life that I know. What you are and what you do finally becomes you! It crystallizes in your character, in your soul! Look, here is a man, when you say, “Would you take Jesus as your Savior,” he says, “No.” “Would you accept the Lord into your heart?” “No!” “Would you come to church?” “No!” “Would you pray that Jesus will forgive your sins?” “No!” “Well, will you ask God to save you?” “No!” And finally his life becomes a negation itself: no, no, no! And he’ll come to the place in his life where he will say it automatically. He won’t even think, he won’t even be crushed in his heart that he treats Jesus so terribly. “No! No! No! Not interested! No!” He becomes the thing itself. That is human life. All of it tends toward crystallization and fixation of character, and it just extends on through the eternity that it to come.
“Preacher, tell it to us straight. Don’t beat around the bush. What are the facts?” Fact number three: if the soul didn’t paralyze, if the heart didn’t harden, a man could choose the day and the hour that he’s saved. But fact number three: as the days pass, our wills and our souls and our hearts harden. They atrophy. Look, I have good eyes. Here I am in my sixty-eighth year; I use my glasses to read small print. My father, when he died at seventy-six years of age, the only glasses he ever used were those he bought at a dime store to magnify, to make the letters larger. But if I were to cover over one of my eyes and leave it covered just for a while, when I took the cover away, I couldn’t see out of it. I’d be blind in it. The nerve would have atrophied. I have good ears, but if I were to stop one of my ears and leave it stopped for a certain length of time, I could unstop it, but I couldn’t hear. The nerve and the olfactory mechanism has atrophied. The audiometric mechanism has atrophied. I have well arms, but you could bind one of my arms to my side, and leave it bound there for a certain while, and then take the cords away, and I couldn’t raise my hand, and I couldn’t raise my arm. The muscles and the nerves have atrophied. It is the same way with a man’s will and with a man’s heart and with a man’s life. When he refuses to respond, the will and the heart atrophy! They are paralyzed, they cannot respond! This is not unusual.
I sat by the side of a dying, old man, did my utmost to win him to Christ, and he said, “Somehow, I cannot believe!” However I pled; prayed, and pled, and explained, and expounded, and made appeal, he died saying those words to me. “Somehow, I cannot believe!” The soul has its favorable moments, and God has His accepted time, and when God says, “Now!” and a man says, “No!” he’s gambling with his soul. Look at the Bible just for a moment, listen with your heart. Look at the Bible. God says when He placed Noah and his family in the ark, the Bible says God shut that door! God shut the door [Genesis 7:16]. That is, they [everyone else] had sinned away their day of grace. They had committed the unpardonable sin. For one hundred-twenty years [Genesis 6:3; 2 Peter 2:5], Noah preached, preached, preached and they scoffed and laughed and ridiculed, and God shut the door [Genesis 7:16]. The day of grace had passed. Lest you think that’s just in the Old Testament, it was our Lord Himself who said, “And the ten virgins entered in when the bridegroom came, and the five foolish virgins came to the door and said, ‘Lord, open to us’. And it was God who answered saying, “The door is shut!” It is shut! The time has passed! The age and the day of grace is gone! God shut the door [Matthew 25:1-13].
Esau, for one morsel of meat sold his birthright, and he found no place for repentance, “though he sought it carefully with tears” [Hebrews 12:16-17]. He was rejected of God. “If a man sin willfully after that he has received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins; just the fearful looking for of judgment that devours the adversary” [Hebrews 10:26-27]. “If he that despised Moses’ law died [without mercy] under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought guilty, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, who hath done despite to the Spirit of grace, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith He was sanctified, an unholy thing?” [Hebrews 10:28-29]. “For the Lord hath said, ‘Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord'” [Romans 12:19]. “And it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God [Hebrews 10:31], for our God is a consuming fire” [Hebrews 12:29].
There is a time, I know not when,
A place, I know not where;
That marks 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 mercy and God’s wrath.
[“There Is A Time”; by Joseph Addison Alexander]
One of those strange providences of life: my father believed in the unpardonable sin. And as a boy, growing up in a little town where we knew people intimately, my father would say to me, “Son, see that man? He will never be saved.” Then he described to me a time in a revival, when we had great outpourings of the Spirit of God. “And I saw that man,” my father would say to me, “I saw him tremble, and I saw him weep, and I saw the people gather around praying, and he stubbornly refused.” He said, “Son, he’ll never tremble again, he’ll never cry again, he’ll never be under conviction again; he has lost.” And you know, because I was a boy and outlived those people, my father never failed in that judgment. Every man that he said to me, “He is lost. He has committed the unpardonable sin. He has said no to God for the last time,” every one of those men died lost. And you know as I turned that over in my mind in the years since my father has gone, if my father was sensitive to that, think how much more is God Almighty? O Lord, no wonder the Bible says, “Wisdom begins in the fear of God!” [Proverbs 9:10]. Fear of God, the awesome reverence of the great God in whose hands the whole world is as dust in a fine box! The Lord who could take our breath away in a moment, who could appoint us to die tonight, who could see that we never rose in life tomorrow. Dear God, how completely is our destiny in Thy hands? The fear of the Lord, great God; worm of the dust, a dying sinner, Lord, Lord, be merciful unto me.
What does a man need who says no to Jesus? “Well, he needs another sermon.” No. “He needs another explanation.” No. “He needs another appeal.” No. What does he need? He needs one thing. He needs to move. He needs to respond. He needs to answer. He desperately needs to do it, and he’ll never be saved without it. You don’t understand, preacher, I’m waiting for, and then you could name a thousand things. I’m waiting for a great experience, or I’m waiting for a great feeling, or I’m waiting for a marvelous service, or I’m waiting for that final hour, or I’m . . . These are the things by which Satan damns our lives. Tomorrow, some other day, not now, but then.
What we need is to answer. We need to move, we need to reply. It’s like this; in the town in which I went to seminary, Louisville, just beyond the seminary, there was an apartment building. I remember it about four or five stories high at the most, an apartment building, four or five stories high. It turned into a fiery holocaust. The conflagration just swept upward, and the thing was on fire, it was in flames. The firemen who rushed to the place with all of their equipment thought they had everybody out, and as they were struggling against that furious flame, to the horror of everybody watching the thing burn, there was a woman who appeared at the window on the top floor, and in terror and agony cried for help! The firemen took a life net, and they gathered around it and pulled it taut, and calling up to the top of their voices said to that terrified woman, “Jump! Jump!” and held the net! She never leaped. She never jumped. Somehow, the fear of jumping into the space and that net down on the ground was more than her heart could ever respond to, and she burned to death in the top of that apartment building.
It is not another explanation, it is not another invitation, it is not another appeal, it is not another sermon; it’s to move! It’s to respond! It’s to act! Like we have said a thousand times, a thousand times in the appeal, that first step leads us to God. That first step, it’s that first step. “I have decided,” and it’s that first step that brings us to God. You see, you must do what you can, you must. Nailed to the cross, all that dying thief could do was turn his head, but he turned his head and said, “Lord, remember me,” and God saved him [Luke 23:42-43], nailed to a tree, just turn his head.
I was never more moved in a service here in our church than a stranger, somehow, came in that door and sat down there at the back, terribly crippled. How he got here, I don’t know? Must have been people, kindness, knowing him and seeing him, brought him to the service, and he sat back there. And God moved in the congregation. He was a stranger, but he turned to the people around him on those back rows and said, “Would somebody help me? Would somebody help me? I want to go and give my heart to Jesus.” And there were several men back there, and down that aisle they helped that crippled man to Jesus. And right there, he gave his heart to the Lord. Would somebody help me? I can’t walk, but I want to get to Jesus. That’s what it takes! If all I could do would be to raise my hand in token, God help me to raise my hand.
If all I could do would be to blink my eyes, God help me to blink my eyes in token that I open my heart to Jesus. If all I could do is to walk down the aisle, God give me strength to walk down the aisle. Lord, I want to be saved. I want to go to heaven when I die. I don’t want to be lost. I want to be counted and numbered among God’s redeemed, and this is the way. It’s in Christ [John 14:6]. It’s in the witness of the Spirit to Jesus [John 16:13]. It’s in the acceptance of Him as your Savior [Romans 10:9-13; 2 Timothy 1:12]. There is no other way [Acts 4:12]. Lord, look! Grant that tonight, without loss of one, when the benediction is said, all of the great throng in this sanctuary are in the kingdom, every one of us; pray with me to that holy end.
Lord, Lord, grant that no soul in divine presence tonight shall say that ultimate word, “No.” What darkness accompanies it, what judgment awaits it! O God, the lost soul that says, “No, no.” But Master, may we turn, what God calls repentance; may we turn, and may we say, “Yes, Lord, yes, yes. You want me to confess my faith in Jesus? Yes, I do! You want me to stand before men and angels? Yes, Lord, I will. You want me to give my heart and life to Thee? Yes, Lord, yes.”
“You want Me to stand by you in the hour of death?”
“Yes, Lord.” “You want Me to open a door for you into heaven?”
O God, that there might be a great affirmative, an infinite affirmation in our souls to the divine call. “Yes, Lord, yes. Look upon me, Lord. Save me. Wash my sins away [Revelation 1:5]. Write my name in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]. Keep me, Lord, in the hollow of Thy hand. Give me strength and glory for the pilgrimage and a triumphal entry into heaven someday. And what I pray, Lord, for myself, I pray for my family.” Not one be lost, and every soul that I know and everyone in divine presence, Lord, make this night a night of salvation. Please, God. Do it now.
In a moment, in a moment, we shall stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you: “The Lord has spoken to us, and we are coming.” A couple you: “God has spoken to us, we are on the way.” Or just one somebody you: “Pastor, I have decided for God, and here I am; I am coming now.” As the Spirit shall say the word and press the appeal, make it tonight, come tonight. Our Lord, sanctify and honor this so true and awesome a word from God’s Book. Deliver us, Lord, from that ultimate and final sin, but may there be the spirit of “O God, yes, here I am Lord. Take me. Use me, bless me, forgive me, save me. Lord, go with me.” And we believe that if Jesus hasn’t deceived us, when we look in faith and trust and expectancy to Him, He will answer, and He will see us through [Romans 10:13]. Please, Lord, give us that gift of souls tonight, for Jesus, amen.
Now we are going to sing our hymn of appeal, and in the prayers of our people, waiting upon the Lord, make that decision now in your heart. In the great group in the balcony, there is a stairway at the front and at the back and on either side, and there is time and to spare; come. In this lower floor, the press of people into that aisle; gather the family together and come. Or just two of you or one somebody you; do it now, on the first note of the first stanza, while we stand and while we sing.
THE UNPARDONABLE SIN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Matthew 12:31-32; 1 John 1:16
A. Christian people troubled by unpardonable sin
B. What is it? Rejection of the saving work of Christ
II. Facts about us
A. We do not live forever. There is an appointed time for us to die
B. There is no second chance after our death
C. Our hearts and our wills paralyze with rejection
III. The sin today
A. Christianity is more than an argument, intellectual sophistry, or a battle of words. It is eternal salvation
B. Rejection of Christ for salvation is a terrible decision, an irreversible after death decision