The Unpardonable Sin
January 15th, 1978 @ 7:30 PM
THE UNPARDONABLE SIN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-15-78 7:30 p.m.
These sixteen Sunday nights are given to the sermons that are favorite to me. This is now fifty years that I have been a pastor. And in those fifty years, there are certain sermons that I have studied, that I have delivered more than once, and that God has singly blessed. So each Sunday night for sixteen nights, beginning last Sunday evening, I am preaching one of those favorite sermons. And the one tonight is entitled the sin unto death, The Unpardonable Sin; the sin God will not forgive.
If you will turn with me, therefore, to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 3, let us all read out loud together verses 22 through 30: Mark, the Second Gospel, chapter 3, verses 22 through 30. Now, having found the place, all of us out loud together, reading Mark 3:22-30. Now, together:
And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth He out devils.
And He called them unto Him, and said unto them in parables,
How can Satan cast out Satan?
And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end.
No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.
Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme:
But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:
Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.
In the fifth chapter of the first letter of John, verse 16 reads:
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]
That could mean physical death. The man has the sentence of death, the judgment of God; and he will not live. He dies. It could also refer to eternal death. The man has committed a sin that God will not forgive. "There is a sin unto death: I do not say that you shall pray for it" [1 John 5:16].
This is an awesome subject, one that brings terror to the heart. The very fact that there is a possibility that there is a sin God will not forgive brings deepest concern to any zealous and responsible soul. What is this sin unto death [1 John 5:16], the one that God will not forgive, the one that Jesus describes as being "a sin unto eternal damnation"? [Mark 3:29].
There are several awesome sins: murder is one. To take another man’s life, and to deprive him of an opportunity to fill out his days or to do God’s bidding for him in the earth, God’s assignment for him, is an awesome thing for a man to do, to take another man’s life. But that is not a sin God will not forgive. Terrible as it is, God is merciful and pitiful toward a murderer. If he will repent and come to God, the Lord will forgive him. God forgave Moses who was volatile in his spirit. Because of his volatile spirit, he was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. And in his anger, Moses killed; murdered an Egyptian taskmaster and hid his body in the sand [Exodus 2:11-12], but God forgave him.
There is hardly any sin that has a deeper repercussion in human personality than the sin of adultery. One could pause and wonder, if that sin enters so deeply into the personality of the one who commits it, is it possible for God to wash away the stain and give the man freedom and liberty in forgiveness? This is one good thing, and the only good thing that I know, that comes out of the adulterous union of David and Bathsheba. All of these Sodomites, all of these homosexuals, cite the friendship between David and Jonathan as being perverted, homosexual. Nothing could be further from the truth. For what led David into that sin was he looked upon Bathsheba as she was bathing herself [2 Samuel 11:2-4], and lusting after her in his heart, finally murdered her husband, after having committed adultery with her [2 Samuel 11:14-24] – all of which is a grievous iniquity in the sight of God, but God forgave him. David was a man after the Lord’s own heart [1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22].
What is this sin unto death that God does not forgive? Could it be the treacherous infidelity of a man in high office to his great calling? No, because I think the highest office that any man has ever held under the surveillance of God is that held by Simon Peter, who was the chief of the apostles. It is not without reason that the Vatican names their church "The Church of Saint Peter." He was the first and the chief of the apostles. Always, he is named first. And yet, Simon Peter denied that he even knew the Lord [Mark 14:66-71], betraying the confidence God placed him in, in calling him to that high and chiefest office.
What is this sin unto death? Could it be the persecution of the church, wasting the house of God, whether by physical force or by intellectual attack, or by sowing seeds of infidelity and doubt? Is the concerted attempt to destroy the witness of God though His church a sin that the Lord will not forgive? No. Saul of Tarsus was perhaps the bitterest enemy that the church ever knew [Acts 9:1-2]; but he became, in his conversion and in the forgiveness of God [Acts 9:1-18], Paul the apostle [1 Corinthians 15:9-10].
What could be this sin unto death that God will not forgive, but leads to eternal damnation? [1 John 5:16]. It has to do with the ultimate and final rejection of Christ [Mark 3:29]. The scribes, in the New Testament, committed it: they were guilty of a sin that God would not forgive, an eternal damnation awaited them. What is that sin that the scribes committed? It was a rejection, finally and ultimately, of the witness of the Holy Spirit to the Lord Jesus. The Savior was conceived by the Holy Spirit [Matthew 1:20-21; Luke 1:35]. He was filled with the Holy Spirit [Luke 4:1]. He was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit [Romans 1:4, 8:11]. He is witnessed to today by the Holy Spirit. And to deny and to reject the witness of the Holy Spirit to the saviorhood of the Lord Jesus leaves no other recourse. It leads to a final and ultimate damnation [Mark 4:28-29]. So far as I know, when we stand at the bar of Almighty God [Romans 2:16], the only sin that will damn a man to eternal perdition is the sin of having ultimately and finally rejected the overtures of love and grace in Christ Jesus.
Now all of us in America pride ourselves upon our realism; we don’t like to be deceived. Out in the pew you would say to the pastor, "Now, preacher, tell it to us straight. I can take it. Tell it to us as it is. Don’t beat around the bush. Lay all the cards on the table – whatever that might mean – just stand up there and tell us the facts." Good, let’s all be realists tonight. There’s a TV show that went for years; and in it always was the scene, "Just the facts, mister, just the facts." So tonight, let’s all be realists and let’s look at just the facts. "Preacher, tell us just the facts."
Fact number one: if we lived forever, there would be time and to spare in which to get right with God. Fact number two: if we had a second chance, whatever decision a man made in this life would not matter. Fact number three: if the heart did not harden and the will did not paralyze, a man could repent and be saved anytime.
"Preacher, tell it to us straight, don’t beat around the bush. What are the facts?" These are the facts: fact number one, we shall not live forever. We shall certainly die – somewhere, sometime – not "if," but just "when." In the ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews it is written, "It is appointed unto men once to die; and after that the judgment" [Hebrews 9:27]. The third chapter of Ecclesiastes begins: "There is a time to be born, and there is a time to die" [Ecclesiastes 3:2]; an appointed and set time in which we shall surely die. Every cemetery and every grave is a commentary upon that text, and every tombstone is an oration, funeral, upon it.
Death sends his messengers before him, inexorable and certain. They assault the prince in his palace, the pauper in his poorhouse. All men everywhere, it is appointed to live, once to die.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
All that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
["Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"; Thomas Gray]
There is an appointed time when I shall die, known to God. There is a determined and appointed time when you shall die. And at that time, you shall certainly die.
Out of the lore of Oriental story, could I repeat this tale? There was a servant, loved by his master, who came to him in Bozrah and said, "Oh! My father, my lord, oh! I met death on the street, and he looked at me. And I am frightened, my father; I am frightened. Would you lend me your fleetest horse that I might escape to Baghdad? I saw death on the street. Please." And the kind master said, "You may take my fleetest horse and escape to Baghdad." The next day, the master met Death on the streets of Bozrah. And walking up to him, he said, "What do you mean by frightening my servant so?" And Death replied. He said, "Master, I did not mean to frighten your servant. I merely was surprised to see him on the street here in Bozrah, because today I have an appointment to meet him in Baghdad!"
At a determined time, known to God, you shall certainly die. And at a time elective, in the sovereign purpose of God, I, we, shall die.
Fact number two: we do not have a second chance. There is not a syllable in the Bible that even suggests that, having died, we have another opportunity to repent of our sins and to accept Christ as our Savior. There is nothing that even remotely moves toward a suggestion like that in the Word of God. Rather, the Word of God avows that human character continues on and on and on – not only in this life, but in the life to come. What we are, we become increasingly so; as Ecclesiastes writes in the eleventh chapter of the book, "As the tree is cut down, so shall it lie" [Ecclesiastes 11:3]; what you are, you are increasingly, and you continue that into forever. Character fixes itself; fixation of character is a phenomenon that you’ll find in all life. We tend to become solidly what we now are. And tomorrow we’re just the same, and forever it tends to continue.
One of the strangest providences into which I ever fell in my life, was in my pastorate at Muskogee, Oklahoma. When I came as a young man, to the church, one of the deacons said to me, "There is a member of the church, living in a little brick cottage on the edge of the city, and he’s had a severe stroke. I think it would be beautiful if you’d go out there and visit him." I said, "I shall be glad to do so." So as the young preacher, I went out to the address, walked up to the house, knocked at the door and a woman opened the door. And I said, "One of the deacons has told me that your husband has had a severe stroke. And I’m the new pastor; I’ve just come. And I’ve come to visit him."
"Oh!" she said. "We’re so glad to have you." So she invited me in, and then into the room where her husband lay, stricken on the bed. And I walked up to him, and I said – I said, "Sir, I am the new pastor, and I’ve come to see you."
And he said, "gol-dang."
Well, I didn’t know quite what, so I – I said, "I have heard that you are ill, and I’m so sorry that you are ill."
He said, "gol-dang."
Well, I said, "You know it’s just beautiful outside, and the weather is so perfect. And everything is just – birds are singing. And the trees are blooming and foliating. And everything is just,"
He said, "gol-dang."
Well everything I said to that dear man, he answered with, "gol-dang." Well, I stood up and I was going to kneel and pray, and he raised his hand up like this, and he said, "gol-dang, gol-dang, gol-dang, gol-dang."
And his wife said to me, "He wants you to pray."
So I got down on my knees by his side, and all through my prayer he’d say, "gol-dang, gol-dang." And then when I got through praying and said, "Amen," he said, "gol-dang." I stood up, and I bid him goodbye. And he said, "gol-dang." And I said, "I’ll be back to see you sometime."
He said, "gol-dang, gol-dang."
And I walked out of the house and I sought out that deacon who told me about him. And I said to him, "I went out there to see that man who is stricken." And he said, "Oh! Pastor, I forgot to tell you. He had a habit of using a slang word all the days of his life."
I said, "You don’t need to tell me what it is. It’s gol-dang."
He said, "That’s right. He had a habit of saying gol-dang all of his life. And when he was stricken, there was only word left in his vocabulary that he could pronounce and say, and that was that slang word of gol-dang." That is exactly how human life is. What you are, you increasingly become, and so into the eternity of the eternities.
When somebody asks you, "Have you accepted Christ as your Savior?"
"Have you been baptized?"
"Do you belong to the church?"
"Have you repented of your sins?"
"Are you going to accept Christ as your Savior?"
"Are you going to join the church?"
"Are you going to be baptized?"
"Are you going to repent of your sins?"
The man himself becomes a negation. Spiritual rigor mortis has already set into his soul and his life. He becomes increasingly what he is. And when a man rejects Christ, increasingly he becomes that tragic and awful negation, "No, no."
Fact number three: our hearts harden and our souls paralyze; if I say, "No," to Christ, it becomes easier the next time to say, "No"; then, "No"; then, "No." I am first moved, then I am less moved; and finally, I am not moved at all. My soul and my heart have atrophied.
I have good eyes. But if you bind this eye and leave it bound for a certain length of time and I don’t use it, unbind it, and I can’t see out of it; I have lost the sight of it. The nerve has atrophied. I have good ears. Stop one of my ears and leave it stopped for a while. After a period of time, unstop it; I cannot hear. The nerve has atrophied. It has died. I have good arms. Bind this arm to my side, leave it bound for a certain length of time, then unbind it. I cannot raise it. The muscles have atrophied; it is useless. Thus it is with a man’s soul and a man’s heart and a man’s volition; he can finally come to the place where he finds it impossible to respond.
I sat by the side of an aged man, who all of his life had said "no" to Christ. Facing death, I pled with him. I prayed with him. I read out of the Bible with him, pleading that he come to Jesus. And, finally, he closed the conservation saying, "Seemingly, I cannot believe." And he died, lost.
A man, a soul, has its favorable moment; and God has His appointed time [2 Corinthians 6:2]. But when God says, "Today" and I reply, "No, tomorrow"; when God says, "Now" and I say, "No, some more convenient time," I jeopardize my eternity, and I gamble with my eternal soul.
In the Bible there is oh so much terrifying and frightening about that. In the days of Noah, God said, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man" [Genesis 6:3], then came the judgment of the Flood [Genesis 6:5-7, 17], and the Bible says, "God shut the door" [Genesis 7:16]. Noah did not shut it; Shem, Ham, and Japheth did not shut it – God shut that door. They had committed the unpardonable sin; they had said "no" to God for the last time. They had gone beyond the pale of forgiveness. Judgment and damnation came [Genesis 7:17-23].
In the parable that Jesus told of the virgins – five wise and five foolish – when the five entered into the kingdom, the parable says, "God shut the door" [Matthew 5:10]. God shut the door. And when those five foolish hammered and knocked at the door, God had shut the door [Matthew 25:11-12]. In the story of Esau: for one morsel of meat, he sold his birthright [Genesis 25:29-34]. And listen to the word in Hebrews, "And he found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears" [Hebrew 12:16]. God had rejected him; and Esau could not undo, unmake, retract the tragic decision that he had made [Hebrews 12:17].
Listen to the word of the Lord, in the tenth chapter of that same Book of Hebrews:
For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation that shall devour the adversaries.
He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
For we know Him who hath said, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
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"; J. A. Alexander]
Isaiah cries in the fifty-fifth chapter of his prophecy, "Call upon the Lord while He is near" [Isaiah 55:6]. Seek His face while we have time.
Lord, Lord, if I pass that day known to God, nothing but abysmal tragedy faces my soul and my life. What do I need to do? What shall I do? Do I need another sermon? Do I need to attend another service? Do I need another explanation? Do I need another argument? No, what I need to do is to respond the best that I can. I need to come. I need to move out for God. I must do something.
The seminary in Louisville, in years past, was located at Fifth and Broadway. Just across the street, in that city of Louisville, was an apartment, a tall apartment building. And the building caught on fire; and when the firemen thought it was completely evacuated, they were there seeking to control the flames. And then to the horror of all of those gathered round in the streets below, a woman appeared in the topmost apartment on the top floor; she came to the window and cried for help. "Help! Help! Save me!" The firemen pulled, stretched the net below, and called to the woman there in that top apartment, "Jump! Jump! We’ll catch you!" The woman would go back into the apartment, and then come back out and scream, "Help me! Save me!" And those firemen, holding taut and tight that life net, called up saying, "Jump! Jump! We will catch you. We will save you. Jump!" She never jumped. She died in that apartment. She was burned to death in that apartment. What she needed to do was just to jump and let those strong firemen with their life net stretched catch her.
That’s what a man needs to do for Christ: not sit down and listen to an argument or an explanation, but to move toward Christ, to respond to the appeal; and when he does, he’s saved. Romans 10:9 and 10 avows:
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and accept in thine heart that He lives, thou shalt be saved.
For with the heart one trusts –
leans, believes, moves toward a God kind of righteousness –
And with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Matthew 10:32 says: "Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in heaven." But I must confess. John 1:12 says: "Whosoever received Him, to them gave He the right to become the child of God." But I must receive Him. The best I can, I must respond. Anything that I am able to do, God will accept as a whole.
In the wilderness, when they were dying, smitten of venomous, fiery serpents [Numbers 21:6], a brazen serpent was raised in the midst of the camp, and it was that, if a man would look, he would live. Some of them who had been bitten by those venomous serpents could do nothing more than just to look [Numbers 21:8-9]; but there was life for a look at that brazen serpent.
There is life for a look at the Crucified One,
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner, look unto Him and be saved,
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.
["There is Life for a Look"; Amelia M. Hull, 1832]
Just to look and live [John 3:14-16].
The thief on the cross, nailed, hands and feet, all he could do was to turn his head. But in that act of faith and commitment – turning his head, asking Jesus to remember him in the kingdom, that day – that day he was with Christ in Paradise [Luke 23:42-43].
There was a man seated back there, I don’t know how he came into the church. He was deeply crippled. As I gave the invitation, he said to another man seated by him, he said, "Sir, would you help me down the aisle?" And one man on one side of that crippled fellow and another on the other side, brought him down to me here at the front, saying "I want to accept Jesus as my Savior."
There was a blind man over there one time who, feeling, touched somebody’s arm and said to him, "Sir, would you take me to the pastor? I want to accept Jesus as my Savior."
It is doing what we can that saves us. It is the response that we need. Not that I come before God with a million dollars; what if I didn’t have it? I don’t buy my salvation. What if I am laden with sins? I could never be good enough to be worthy of it, to earn it. It’s by faith, a gift. It’s by the taking, a gift. It’s by the having, a gift [Ephesians 2:8-9]. It’s by the looking, that it might magnify the glorious ableness of God to save. Let it be not of us and what we have done, but all of Him and what He has done. It’s to the glory of Jesus that we’re saved; and the response is that act of commitment that God will bless [Romans 10:9-10].
Am I ever going to pray? Then, Lord, I pray now. Am I ever going to turn? Then, Lord, let me turn now. Am I ever going to be saved? Then, Lord, let me be saved now. Am I ever going to come? Then, Lord, bless me as I come now.
"The Spirit and the bride say, Come. Let him that heareth say, Come. Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely’ [Revelation 22:17]. Come. Come. Come.
In a moment we stand and sing our hymn of appeal, and, as we do, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, "Pastor, I have decided for God. He has called me, and I am answering with my life. Here I am." As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Decide now. Come now. Move out for God now. When you stand up, stand up coming down that stairway, walking down that aisle. That first step is the greatest step you’ll ever make in your life. God will see you through. The angels will war by your side. You can’t fail in Him. Come, come, come, while we stand and while we sing.