What Is the Unpardonable Sin?
November 7th, 1982 @ 7:30 PM
WHAT IS THE UNPARDONABLE SIN?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-7-82 7:30 p.m.
And welcome, the uncounted thousands of you, who are listening to this hour on radio: KCBI, the Sonshine Station of our Center of Biblical Studies, and on KRLD, the great voice of the Southwest. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor rejoicing with the thousands of the members of our church in the incomparable, financial victory that our people have brought to the feet of our dear Savior. We had a goal of eight million two hundred thousand dollars, and we have subscribed more than eight million six hundred eighty-eight thousand dollars, and God will be pleased to bless our congregation in a thousand other ways. When we do right by Him, God does a marvelous thing by us.
We are in the nine nights of our revival meeting, and this is the sixth night that we have jammed this auditorium. And the title of the message tonight chosen by our staff in its continuing series is What is the Unpardonable Sin? And in your Bible, turn to Mark. Matthew, Mark; the second book, the Second Gospel, the second book of the New Testament. Mark chapter 3, and we shall read out loud together verses 22 through 30. Mark chapter 3, verses 22 through 30. And if your neighbor doesn’t have a Bible, share yours with him and we’ll all read out loud together. Mark chapter 3, beginning at verse 22, concluding with verse 30. Now all of us 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 will 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.
That word, "but is in danger of eternal damnation," in danger of an eternal sin: in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Matthew it is reported like this, in Matthew 12:31-32:
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.
The sin that is eternal, the sin unto damnation, the unpardonable sin; first, in order to be honest, I must need remind us that there are many theologians who deny the possibility of anyone ever committing, in our generation, an unforgiven sin. They say, for example, in 1 John 5, the last chapter of 1 John beginning in verse 16, that this passage refers to a sin unto physical death, not unto spiritual death. The passage reads:
If any man sees 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.
All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.
[1 John 5:16-17]
They say that that passage, "There is a sin unto death; I do not ask you to pray for that," they say that sin refers to a sin unto physical death. They do not believe in an unpardonable, spiritual sin. They avow that in this day of grace, that any sin and every sin can be forgiven. In Revelation 22:17, "And whosoever will, may come," and in 1 John 1:7, "And the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin"; and these theologians, and they are legion, avow that there is no such thing as an unpardonable, unforgivable sin.
And they further defend it in the exegetical study and interpretation of these passages in Matthew 12 and Mark 3 that we have just read; they say that that sin was possible only when Jesus lived in the days of His flesh. And it was possible only in view of the marvelous miracles wrought by the hands of our Lord. But since Jesus died and is immortalized and is in heaven, and since these great miracles that He wrought are no longer presented in our view, therefore, they say, it is impossible in our generation, in this day of grace, for anyone to commit the unpardonable sin. Now, I have told you that to be honest in my theological studying and in my much reading.
Having said it and having presented it, there is an undercurrent in the Bible that is awesome. And it is not just in the physical days of the flesh of our Lord, and it is not just in the presence of the miracles that He did. There is an undercurrent in the Bible that is awesome. Now you listen to it: In the sixth chapter of the Book of Genesis, God said, the Lord said, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man." There is a limit to which God’s Spirit will go in pleading with a man to turn and be saved. "And God saw the wickedness of man, that it was great,And the Lord said, I will destroy him from the face of the earth" [Genesis 6:3-7]. And it was only because of righteous Noah that the race was not utterly annihilated [Genesis 7:1-16]. "My Spirit shall not always strive with man," and God condemned the world with a devastating flood. Now when I turn the page, this is what I read: "And there went into that ark Noah, and those with Noah; his wife, his three sons and their wives. And God shut the door." God shut him in. Noah didn’t pull that door to. God pulled it to. And when God shut that door of the ark, He shut it against the uncounted thousands and millions who populated the world in that day; "My Spirit shall not always strive with man." And God found Noah righteous in His sight, and God sent him into the ark, and God closed the door. It is left to our imagination the awesome sight of those who pounded on that door. Noah didn’t close it. God shut it. It is something God did.
Now I want to point out to you something in the sacrificial system of the Levitical worship of the Lord in the tabernacle and in the temple. Now you listen to this, in Numbers :27-31:
"And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring an offering, and the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, but the soul that doeth aught presumptuously,"
The Hebrew of that is with a high hand; that is with a fist raised toward God. "I don’t care what God says, this is what I say. I don’t care what God commands, this is what I choose to do. I don’t care what God invites me to believe or to trust or to have faith, this is what I’m going to do." Any man, the soul that doeth aught with a high hand, translated here in the King James Version, presumptuously.
,whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken His commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.
Now let me put that in my words. In all of the sacrificial system – and it’s from one end of the old, Levitical, Mosaic covenant to the other – in all of the sacrificial system, there was no sacrifice for a sin done willfully, done presumptuously, done with a high hand, done with a fist raised toward God.
I turn now to the Book of Matthew in chapter 25. The end of this world, the kingdom of heaven is like unto ten bridesmaids, ten virgins; and five of them were wise and five of them were foolish. And the Lord came and those that were wise who had oil in their lamps entered in, and they that were unwise went to buy oil, and while they were gone, the bridegroom came and the five entered in. And now look at verse 10: "And the door was shut." God shut that door. Now, you’ve heard that before, haven’t you? In the Book of Genesis, chapter 7, God shut the door of that ark. God shut the door, and afterward came those bridesmaids, those virgins, saying, "Lord, Lord, open to us!" And he answered saying, "Verily I say unto you, I do not know you. I know you not" [Matthew 25:11-12]. Something God did.
I turn now to the first chapter of the Book of Romans. Paul is describing Roman culture and Roman civilization in the day when he lived. Now you look at this recurring theme. In Romans 1:24: "Wherefore God gave them up," God gave them up. Now you look at verse 26: "God gave them up." Now you look at verse 28: "God gave them over." It’s like that recurring theme in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, "da-da-da-daaa." Then the whole symphony is a elongation, extensive use of that "da-da-da-daaa." The whole thing, the whole thing here is like that. God gave them up, God gave them up, God gave them up. He didn’t strive with them any longer; "My spirit shall not always strive with men" [Genesis 6:3]. And just one other: I am pointing out to you the recurring theme throughout all Scripture. In Hebrews 10, beginning in verse 26:
For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much more punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath despised the Spirit of grace; trodden underfoot the blood of the covenant, and counted Him who was sanctified, an unholy thing. Behold, we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people. It is a fearful – (this is verse 31) – it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. For our God is a consuming fire.
[Hebrews 10:26-31, 12:29]
These things make you tremble. There is such a thing as going beyond the pale of God’s patience and God’s grace. There is such a thing as a sin unto death! [ Now what could that be if you spell it our realistically in our lives? The saints of God have committed all the sins in the category, every one of them. You can start with Adam and go clear down through to the apostles. And there isn’t any sin that you can name that God’s saints have not committed. Disobedience, breaking the commandment of God: Adam did that and fell into death [Genesis 3:11-12]. Lying, Abraham did that; said his wife was his sister [Genesis 20:2]. Drunkenness, Noah did that; the first thing he did when he got out of the ark, he got drunk [Genesis 9:21]. Isn’t that a beautiful picture of a saint for you? That’s Noah. Covetousness, Lot did that; saw the beautiful plain that surrounded Sodom and Gomorrah and coveted it for himself and chose it for himself; covetousness [Genesis 13:10]. [Murder, Moses did that; murder [Exodus 2:12]. Harlotry, Rahab, a progenitor, a great, great, great, great grandmother of Jesus was a harlot, Rahab [Joshua 6:17]. Wifestealing, David did that [2 Samuel 11:3-4]. He killed her husband in order to try to hide it [2 Samuel 11:14-21]. Suicide, Saul did that; killed himself [1 Samuel 31:4-5]. Corruption, personal and national; Manessah did that, and God refused to forgive the sins of Manessah and sold the people into Babylonian captivity [2 Kings 24:1-4]. Cursing and swearing; "I never knew the Lord, do not even know what you are talking about when you name His name," Simon Peter did that [Matthew 26:69-74]. The list goes on and on. There are no sins in the category but that God’s saints have committed. And this Bible is no respecter of persons; it’s a white light that shines in the personal dereliction and iniquities of His saints.
But having said that, the Bible also presents that there is one sin, one sin that goes beyond the pale of God’s countenancing and God’s patience and God’s grace, and that is the sin unto death that is called the blasphemy, the sin against the Holy Spirit. When you think of it, it is very apparent. A man can reject God the Creator, and yet find Him in the Son. A man can reject God the Son, and yet find Him as Savior in the wooing and conviction of the Holy Spirit. But when a man rejects, ultimately and finally, the witness and the wooing and the testimony of the Holy Spirit to Jesus, there is no further appeal. That’s the end. There is nothing beyond. That’s the ultimate.
Let us look now at these passages that speak of an eternal sin. Let us look at Mark 3. We are going to look at it carefully and with great trembling. Mark 3, chapter 3, verse 22. It starts off, in verse 22, "And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem"; this is a deputation of theologians sent down from Jerusalem to Galilee in order to save those poor, common folk up there in Galilee from the monstrous teaching of this new Prophet from Nazareth named Jesus. So they are there in order to deliver the people from the machinations and deceptions and the untruths of this Prophet named Jesus of Nazareth, this deputation; so we turn to the twelfth chapter of the Book of Matthew and we see there what has happened. Beginning at verse 22, they brought to this "deception" and this "deceiver," they brought to Him one possessed with a demon, and the man was blind and he was dumb; and Christ healed him insomuch that the blind could see and the dumb spoke. And all the people were amazed and said, "This is the Messiah of God." But when the Pharisees were there and when the scribes – this deputation that came down from Jerusalem – when they saw it, they were filled with great consternation about how to explain it. There is no doubt but that the supernatural is in that Man, this Prophet from Galilee, from Nazareth. There never has been anything like that we have ever seen.
May I pause to explain how amazing that was? Miracles had ceased out of Israel for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. There had been no miracles in their generations, and the idea of miracles had died out. John the Baptist did no miracle, nor did he claim to. And when Jesus came after hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years and did those marvelous things – He could raise the dead, cleanse the leper, open the eyes of the blind and unstop the ears of the deaf – when Jesus did that, it called for some kind of an explanation, and these who were sent down officially to explain it couldn’t deny that there is something beyond the natural. "There is something supernatural in this Man Jesus, this Prophet of Nazareth." So what they said was this: "We can’t deny the power, nor can we deny the miracle, but our explanation is He is filled with the devil, and He does what He does by the power of the unseen evil one, Beelzebub. Satan. He is an emissary not of heaven, but of hell. He is not leading us to glory; He is leading us down to the fires that are stoked by Satan himself."
Now, that ultimate and final rejection on the part of the scribes and the Pharisees is called the sin unto death. It is called the unpardonable sin. And what I have read here in this passage we are expounding is but the culmination of their attitude toward the Lord from the beginning. This group, these scribes and Pharisees who committed the unpardonable sin, they looked upon Jesus with a jaundiced and critical eye from the beginning. They found fault with Him from the start, everything that they could accuse Him of; they asked, "Why don’t Your disciples fast? We do, you don’t." They asked, "Why do Your disciples eat with unwashed hands, ceremonial, unwashed hands?" They asked, "Why is it that You eat with publican and sinners, associate with lost people?" They asked, "How is that You heal on the Sabbath day?" And they said, "You blaspheme; for you say to this man, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee’, and no man can forgive sins; only God." Everything they saw in the Lord was an occasion of hostility. And their antipathy toward Him turned to malicious bitterness and hatred and finally culminated in this avow: "What He does, He does by the power of Satan and Beelzebub that is in Him" [Matthew 12:24], a final and ultimate rejection, and that’s when the Lord said, "You sin against the Father, you might come to know Him in the Son. You sin against the Son; you might come to know Him in the Holy Spirit. But when you deny the witness and testimony of the Holy Spirit, there is nothing beyond. It is an eternal damnation" [Matthew 12:31-32].
Now, let me bring it to us today. What of that exegetical, expository message you’ve just read out of Matthew 12 and Mark 3 and out of these other passages in the Bible? How does that concern us today? It is this: when a man touches Christianity, and when a man touches the Spirit of Christ, you are not speaking of forensics, of arguments, of words. You’re not in the midst of a debate. You are touching the very judgment of life and of death. It is awesome when a man stands in the presence of the appeal of the Holy Spirit to accept Christ as Savior; it’s a trembling thing. The Scriptures speak of the message of Christ as being one of anathema or benediction. It is one or the other. The apostle Paul describes it in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16. He says, "It is the savor of life unto life, or the savor of death unto death." What he is talking about in 2 Corinthians 2 is this: he is describing a Roman triumph. A Roman triumph was also characterized by the burning of incense as the conqueror went through the streets of the imperial city of Rome; they had censors that burned incense, and Paul is saying that the incense burned in that triumph to those who were victorious, it was the savor of life unto life: victory! But to the prisoners who were being led to death, it was the savor of death unto death! To those who perished, it was perishing. To those who were victorious, it was triumphant. He says the Christian gospel is like that: to those who are saved, it is a glory! It is a triumph, it is a victory, it is heaven. But to those who reject that gospel, it is a savor of death unto death, of condemnation unto condemnation, of judgment unto judgment, of an eternal sin.
Our Lord spoke of it in Matthew 21 like this: He took the occasion of the story of the great stone that the builders rejected when they built the temple and found out to be the great cornerstone, and He uses that concerning Himself, and He says, "Any man that falls over this stone," the message of Christ, the Messiahship of Christ, "any man that falls over this stone, he shall be broken in pieces: and any man on whom that stone falls, he will be ground to powder" [Matthew 21:44]. That’s the way the Lord spoke of it. It’s either one of life to life, or death unto death. Sometimes I think of it as one of those great hydroelectric transmission lines that I have seen pour out of the Hoover Dam or out of the Grand Cooley Dam. Those tremendous, powerful transmission lines; they bring light and life to the great cities, the homes, the industries, the great metropolitan areas. But if a man foolishly touches them, they bring instant and immediate costly death; same line, same transmission, same power. Lest it is, the Bible says regarding the message of Christ. When a man hears it and the Holy Spirit is convicting and inviting, it is a savor of life unto life for those who believe. It is the savor of judgment and death unto death to those that spurn it.
You know, I think of it in terms of the years of my own upbringing. Yesterday, I read for the first time – isn’t it strange that I would read this for the first time – yesterday, I read for the first time a long and involved article about a sixteen-year-old girl who went through an abortion. First time I had ever read anything like that in intimate detail; this was in a Christian magazine. It was not in a sordid magazine, it was not a filthy magazine; it was a wonderful, national, Christian magazine. And the girl was writing about the psychological effect that an abortion has upon a young woman, and she was writing it out of her own tragic experience. And over and over again, like that Beethoven theme, over and over again, I read in that article as that girl wrote about it, "I have murdered my own baby," and speak and then speak and then come back to that again. She saw pictures of a fetus at the age at the stage in which her baby was aborted, and "I have murdered my own baby." How do you retrieve that? How do you block that out? You don’t! You don’t! It is forever and forever and forever: "I have murdered my own baby!"
Well, pull that over into the spiritual world. You know, so many ideas that you have come from your family; you don’t ever get away from them. Well, here is one: my father believed in the unpardonable sin, and he told me and he used as an illustration something that I had watched with my own eyes. We had a town marshal named Charlie Stepp. And in a revival meeting that I attended, as I went to church, to all the services, I saw that man weep and cry and hold to the back of the pew in that revival service, and he refused the wooing of the Spirit of God: "No, I will not." And my father said to me, "Son, he will never be moved again. He will never weep again. He’ll never cry again. He committed the unpardonable sin." That’s what my father said to me. So for the years that followed after, I watched the town marshal. He never wept again, he never cried again, he was never moved again, and he died without Christ. I can’t get away from those things, and I see it all the time, all the time; gone beyond the day when the appeal of Christ means anything at all. You’d listen to a preacher forever, never be moved. Listen to the beautiful songs of Zion, never be touched. Listen to the appeal of the pastor, never have in your heart a wanting to respond. It’s dead. The little baby is dead; dead.
That’s why in the Scriptures time and again will you hear those earnest appeals. "We then are ambassadors for God, as though in God’s stead, in Christ’s stead, we plead, Be ye reconciled to God. For God hath made Him," on the cross, "to be sin for us, Him who knew no sin"; dying for us, "that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" [2 Corinthians 5:20-21]. "Wherefore He said, in a time acceptable have I heard thee, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee." Now the appeal: "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:2]. "Lord, if I am ever going to be saved, let it be now. If I am ever going to turn heavenward and Christ-ward, let it be now. If ever in my life I am going to begin this Christian pilgrimage that leads to heaven, Lord, help me to start now; this day, this hour, this moment. This is God’s time, and here I am, Lord, standing in Thy presence, accepting Jesus as my Savior, listening to the witness of the Holy Spirit of God, and I am coming." Do it, and a thousand angels attend you in the way as you come. May we stand for the prayer?
Wonderful, wonderful Savior who stands in life and in death and in resurrection glory between us and the judgment of Almighty God; Lord, how is it that sinners can be welcomed into the holy presence of the Almighty? It is because of the atoning grace and the shed, poured out crimson of the life and blood of Jesus our Savior. O God, before it’s too late, before we pass that point of no return, Lord, before our hearts harden, dear God, may the Lord’s Holy Spirit guide us in saving faith to Him who alone can forgive our sins, write our names in the Book of Life, and welcome us into the glory that is yet to come. Lord, Lord, we tremble at these things. They are so awesome. They are so terrible. God, in mercy, save us; and in love, reach down and protect us and keep us. Choose us, Lord, a member of the family of God. Please, God, save us.
And in this great throng here tonight, in the balcony round, a family you, down one of these stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: "Pastor, tonight, I have listened to the Holy Spirit of God, and I am answering with my life. I am coming." A family, a couple, or just one somebody you: "Here I am, pastor. I have made the decision, and I am on my way." And our Lord, give them that grace; boldly, courageously, victoriously to step into that aisle, down that stairway, here to the front. "Openly, unashamedly, I am accepting Christ as my Lord." And we’ll love Thee for the answered prayer: these who are coming to put life in our church, these who are coming to be baptized, and these who are coming to accept Jesus as Savior. We praise God for them; in Thy saving and keeping name, amen. While we sing the song, a thousand times welcome, as you come, as you come.
WHAT IS THE UNPARDONABLE SIN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Mark 3:22-30, Matthew 12:31-32, 1 John 5:16-17
I. Could such a thing be?
A. Many theologians say there is no such thing in our modern day
1. Interpret 1 John 5:16-17 as meaning physical death
2. Avow that in this day of grace, any and every sin can be forgiven(Revelation 22:17, 1 John 1:7)
3. Say that it was only possible when Jesus lived in days of His flesh
B. There isan undercurrent throughout Scripture warning of judgment(Genesis 6:3-7, 7:1-16, Numbers 15:27-31, Matthew 25:10-12, Romans 1:24, 26, 28, Hebrews 10:26-31, 12:29)
C. Saints of God have committed all the sins(Genesis 3:11-12, 9:21, 13:10, 20:2, Exodus 2:12, Joshua 6:17, 1 Samuel 31:4-5, 2 Samuel 11:3-4, 14-21, 2 Kings 24:1-4, Matthew 26:69-74)
D. One exception – sin against the Holy Spirit
II. Study of the text
A. Committee sent to "deliver" people from "deceptions" of Jesus(Mark 3:22)
B. Could not deny His miracles so accused Him of being in league with Satan(Mark 3:22-23)
C. A deliberate, studied, willful rejection(Matthew 9:14, 12:10, 15:2, Mark 2:1-7)
D. Response of Jesus (Matthew 12:31-32)
III. The sin today
A. Christianity more than debate, intellectual sophistry
B. An anathema or a benediction(2 Corinthians 2:15-16, Matthew 21:44)
C. A terrible, irreversible decision
1. Young girl writing about her abortion
2. Attitude of my father – Charlie Stepp
D. The earnest appeal of the Scriptures (2 Corinthians 5:20-21, 6:2)