The Three Greatest Sins
August 19th, 1987 @ 7:30 PM
THE THREE GREATEST SINS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-19-87 7:30 p.m.
The message tonight is the most terrible, the most fearful, full of trembling: it is entitled The Three Greatest Sins. Number one, the sin against the Holy Ghost; number two, the unpardonable sin; and number three, the sin unto death.
First: the sin against the Holy Spirit; the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—a sin never forgiven, neither in this world nor in the world to come. We read Matthew chapter 12, verses 22 to 32; Matthew chapter 12, verses 22 to 32. Then we are going to read Mark 3:22-30. Now, Matthew 12:22-32:
Then was brought unto Him one possessed with a demon—
in your King James Version you have it “devil.” “Then was brought unto Him one possessed with a devil.” There is one devil, one devil; there is one Satan, one. All the rest are demons. And the Bible in its Greek is very careful to make that distinction. There is one Satan, there is one prince over all the evil in the world [John 12:31, 14:30]; then there are multitudinous demons. So—
There was brought unto Him one possessed with a demon, blind, and dumb: and Christ healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.
And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the Messiah, the Son of David?
But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, houtos—
contemptuous word, houtos, “this guy, this scum of the earth, this whatever”—
houtos, this fellow doth not cast out demons, but by Beelzebub the prince of the demons.
Now Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:
And if Satan cast out Satan, if Beelzebub cast out Beelzebub, he is divided against himself; how could his kingdom stand?
But if I by Beelzebub cast out demons, by whom do your children cast them out?
But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.
Or else how can one 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.
He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth abroad.
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.
Now turn to Mark 3, verses 22 to 30; Mark 3:22-30. Mark 3, beginning at verse 22:
And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, Christ hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the demons He casteth out demons.
And Christ called them unto Him, and said unto them in parables, How can Beelzebub cast out Beelzebub? How can Satan cast out Satan?
And if a kingdom be divided against itself, it could not stand.
And if a house be divided against itself, it could not stand.
If Satan rise up against himself. . .he cannot stand . . .
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 can spoil him . . .
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, not in this world, not in the world to come, but is in danger of eternal damnation.
Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.
The sin of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit carries with it a note of finality and eternal judgment that is not a mark of other transgressions known to man. If you will carefully look at our Lord, the sins of the flesh, the sins of the weakness of human nature are always met by our Savior with compassionate response. For example, the prodigal son wasted his substance in riotous living, gave himself to every worldly compromise that was possible to an affluent young man. The Lord’s description of him, presentation of him, is one of infinite compassionate love and concern. That’s the Lord [Luke 15:11-32]. In John 8:1-11 is the story of the woman taken in adultery, who’s brought before the Lord. He received her in loving compassion. In John 4 you have the story of the Samaritan woman who had five husbands; and she didn’t even bother to divorce them anymore. But the Lord delivered to her the greatest sermon—a congregation of one—the greatest sermon on spiritual worship the world ever heard [John 4:7-28]. Let me just take time to cite one other: in Matthew 26:74, “Then Simon Peter began to curse and to swear, saying, I do not know Him; I know not the Man”; to curse and to swear.
These sins of the human frailty, of human nature, the Lord always met with deepest compassion: but the sins of the spirit are of another category, and this is number one. Well, let’s look at it. Jesus said in Matthew 12:28 that we just read, “I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, a sign that the kingdom of God is come unto you.” They said in response, Matthew 12:24, “houtos, this guy doth not cast out demons, but by Beelzebub the prince of demons.” And they said in Mark 3:30, “He hath an unclean spirit.”
Now that sin, in the Bible, takes two tremendous complexions. One: it was a national sin; a damning and unforgiven response to the coming of the Lord. The leaders of the nation saw Christ as a threat to their power. In John 11:47, I quote, “Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we?. . . If we let Him alone, all men will believe on Him; and the Romans shall come and take away our place” [John 11:48]. “Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put Him to death” [John 11:53]. The credentials of Jesus as the Messiah of the promises, the prophetic presentations and hope of the Old Testament, the credentials of Jesus were from heaven itself. The testimony of John the Baptist, the miracles of our Lord, the words that He spake, “Never a man spake like that Man” [John 7:46], and the continual fulfillment of prophecies in the life of our Lord, the affirmation and the testimony of Jesus from heaven that He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world was convincing and overwhelming to any heart that was open to receive it. But they said His credentials have their origin in hell: “He is in league with Satan, with Beelzebub” [Matthew 12:24]; “He has an unclean spirit” [Mark 3:30]. And God said, “It is enough”; and in 70 AD, the nation was destroyed, scattered to the ends of the earth; the sin against the witnessing of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 12:32; Mark 3:29-30].
If you ever want to take time to read the most tragic of all of the recountings in history, take from the library the book of Josephus; he was the leader of the army of the rebellion in 66 AD in Galilee. They captured him there, they destroyed his army, and as a captive he came with the Roman army in the siege of Jerusalem that fell in 70 AD. And his description of that war is beyond anything in human literature. I cannot imagine a visitation from heaven as tragic as the judgment of God upon Israel; the sin against the Holy Spirit [Matthew 12:32; Mark 3:29-30].
Now, not only is it a national sin in the Bible, it can be a personal sin. The witness of the Holy Spirit to the deity and the saviorhood of Jesus our Lord is exhibited before every eye. You cannot escape it today. The radio, the television, the printing press, the missionary, the steeple of the church pointing to heaven, it is everywhere in evidence. And yet men refuse to listen to the affirmation of Jesus as our hope and our Savior; and some of them respond in bitterness and hatred—the sin against the Holy Spirit [Matthew 12:32; Mark 3:29-30].
Do you remember about two or three Sundays ago, I spoke of being in Hyde Park at the speaker’s corner? From the flotsam and jetsam of humanity, from every strange and unusual tribe they are there at liberty to speak. Well, to my amazement, when my partner Jack Pogue and I were walking around listening to those inanities, and ignoramuses, and nuts, and screwballs, and nitwits, and the Lord only knows what all, to my amazement, right there in the middle of them stood a godly Baptist pastor. I never, I’ve been there several times; it was an astonishing thing to see that godly man there, and by his side, a layman, a precious deacon. And the preacher was there delivering a beautiful message of the affirmation of the grace and goodness of God in Jesus our Lord. And while he was speaking, while he was testifying to the grace of Jesus, preaching the gospel, just preciously, in the center and right in front of him came a man with a heavy Irish brogue, and said the vilest things that my ears had ever heard against the Lord. “If He were to come today,” he said, “I would seize Him with my own hands and choke Him to death! And if He were sent to this earth again today, we would crucify Him just as we did when He came the first time.” Oh! it was awful!
What did God say about that? When the testimony of heaven points in affirmation to the saviorhood of the Lord Jesus and we say, “He has an unclean spirit; He is not of God, He is a deceiver and a liar, and He doesn’t show us the way to heaven,” that is a sin that is never forgiven, neither in this world nor in the world to come [Matthew 12:32].
Did you also remember when I told that about two or three weeks ago, that I said a thousand times a thousand times I wish I could go back to that hour, and when that rogue got through castigating and denouncing the Lord Jesus, I would to God I’d stepped out in the middle of that circle and said, “I am a believer and a confessed disciple of the Lord Jesus; and I want you to know that I stand here as a convicted and converted and saved child of the great King of glory.” Why didn’t I do that? I don’t know why I didn’t, I just stood there and listened to that man blaspheme God—the sin against the Holy Spirit: ascribing to evil the wonderful grace and goodness of God.
All right, the second one—we’re talking about the three greatest sins—the second one: the unpardonable sin. The phrase “the unpardonable sin” is not in the Bible; but the terrible truth is taught throughout. For example, in Genesis 6:3, “And the Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man”; then the Flood destroyed the civilized world [Genesis 6:17; 7:17-24]. In 1 Samuel 16:14, “But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him,” because he persisted in refusing to do the will of God. Then the terrible refrain in Romans 1:24, “Wherefore God gave them up.” In Romans 1:26, “For this cause God gave them up.” In Romans 1:28, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them up to a reprobate mind.” John 3:36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the judgment, the wrath of God abideth upon him.” Continued persistent unbelief and rejection and refusal of our Lord brings to the soul the unpardonable sin. Spiritual sensitivity dies; the soul becomes dead and unresponsive, and the longer a man refuses the more likely he will never accept the Lord. And he dies and enters eternity a lost sinner, unpardoned, separated from God.
My father believed in that with an unwavering conviction; that if a man said, “No, no, no,” to the invitation of grace that the day would come when he went beyond the line and will never be saved. And he used an illustration sometimes in that, my father did, that I saw as a boy. Our town marshal was named Charlie Step; big, rough guy. And in those days we had revival meetings that were earthshaking. That day is gone; I haven’t seen a revival in years and years such as I used to see when I was a boy. Well, in this revival meeting when the Spirit of God came down, I was there, just right there in our little village church. I was right there, seated, and the invitation was given, and that man Charlie Step, as I watched him, was under great conviction. And people came and witnessed to him—things you don’t see anymore—people came and witnessed to him, and he cried and trembled, and held to the pew. He was greatly moved, deeply moved; but refused the overtures of God’s mercy and remembrance. And my father said to me, “Son, he will never be saved. He has gone beyond the pale of God’s grace. He’s committed the unpardonable sin.” Well, as a lad I watched that man because of what my father said about him. We’d have revival meetings; he was like a stone. We’d have services; he was like an image. There’ll be a people once in a while appeal to him; he was dead. And Charlie Step died just like that.
Now whether my father had a biblical theology or not I’m not able to say; but I am able to say this: that when a man refuses the invitation to come to Christ, and he refuses, and he refuses, the day will come when there’s no sensitivity in his heart at all to the gospel appeal, and he dies just like that. He’s gone beyond the line; he has committed the unpardonable sin. Do you remember the Word in Hebrews: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”? [Hebrews 10:31].
Now the third one—the three greatest sins—the sin unto death. In 1 John chapter 5, 1 John chapter 5, beginning at verse 16; the last chapter of 1 John, beginning at verse 16; 1 John 5:
If any one 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.
All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.
[1 John 5:16-17]
There is a sin unto death. This is a sin of the saints. “If any man see his brother,” you see in verse 16, “if anyone see his brother sin a sin” [1 John 5:16], therefore he’s a Christian. Now what kind of death is it? It is physical death; cut off by physical death. It is not eternal damnation. It is not a single act of transgression, but a willful, constant, consummate opposition to the will of God.
Now I have here in my Bible two instances of that. One is in 1 Corinthians 5, verses 1 and verses 4 and 5; this is the sin unto death. “It is reported commonly, holos, notoriously, that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife,” incest [1 Corinthians 5:1]. He was carnally living with his stepmother, his father’s wife. Cicero alludes to such a crime with the words, “Oh, incredible wickedness!” And it was everywhere seen and known, this man living with his father’s wife, incest in the house, in the family.
Did you know—I never thought or heard or was introduced to anything like this when I was growing up—but did you know in the years of my pastoral work, one of the commonest of all of the transgressions in human life is incest in the family? Can you think of such a thing? Children molested, children molested. Molested by whom? By robbers and by highwaymen and by thieves? No! they’re not molested by strangers passing by. You’re talking about when you read about child molestation, you’re talking about families; you’re talking about fathers, brothers, kinsmen. Good God in heaven!
Well, that’s what this is here: incest, molestation. Now, what Paul says in verses 4 and 5: “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” [1 Corinthians 5:4-5]. The destruction of the flesh, death: God visits it with death.
Now there is one other instance of this sin unto death. In 1 Corinthians 11, verses 27 to 30, this is one of the most unusual passages for me that I know of, but it’s this, it’s the sin unto death, it’s a sin on the part of Christian people that leads to the judgment of death, physical death. First Corinthians 11:28: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of this bread, and drink of this cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, in an unworthy manner,” it’s an adverb “unworthily”; not one of us is worthy to eat, “he that eateth and drinketh unworthily,” as they did in Corinth, they made a carousal out of it, a heathen festival out of it, “he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” [1 Corinthians 11:28-29]. Now look at that: “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many have died, many sleep, many are dead” [1 Corinthians 11:30]. Oh dear! that just, oh! So vital a ministry was the Lord’s Supper in that early day, that when they took it and made of it an occasion of revelry and riot and feasting and drunkenness, Paul said, “That is the reason that some of you are dead, and that is the reason that many of you are weak and sickly” [1 Corinthians 11:30]—a sin unto death.
I can’t stay here all night, and you shouldn’t. Let me close. When George Reever knelt here and began his prayer after the fifty-first Psalm [Psalm 51:1-19], he began it with the confession, “Lord, all of us are sinners, and we come before Thee in Thy grace, and in Thy goodness, and in Thy mercy, and in Thy forgiveness, and in Thy remembering help.”
Paul wrote in Romans 5:6-12: “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the”—for whom?—“for the ungodly. Scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. . . Now if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” [Romans 5:6-8, 10], by His intercession in heaven. That’s what you mean by “justification”: when you say, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3]; and He was raised the third day for our justification” [1 Corinthians 15:4; Romans 4:25]. What you mean when you say that is: Christ paid the penalty for our sins on the cross [Galatians 3:13], and He was raised [1 Corinthians 15:3], He is living today to keep us saved [Hebrews 7:25], to present us faultless before His great glory in heaven [Jude 1:24]. That’s what you mean by “He was raised for our justification” [Romans 4:25]: He was raised to keep us saved. Died on the cross, that we might be forgiven [Hebrews 10:5-14]; raised that we might make it to heaven [John 14:19]. Well, that’s what he means here: “Much more, being reconciled by the death of our Lord, we shall be saved by His life” [Romans 5:10], by His intercession remembrance of us in heaven.
Now the concluding part of it:
Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of One shall the free gift come upon all men unto justification. . .
For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One many shall be made righteous.
For the law entered, that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:
That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
When we meet here, we don’t meet here as perfect saints. We all are sinners alike, all of us [Romans 3:23], and we come together praising God and loving Jesus for the grace that reached down and saved us [Ephesians 2:8]. That’s why we sing and that’s why we praise: the goodness of God extended to us.
Denny, let’s sing us a song. And I’ll be standing right here with my brethren. Somebody you to give himself in love and grace to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], come and welcome. A family you to put your life in our dear church, a couple you to build your home on the Lord, or one somebody you answering God’s call in your soul—these young people can remain, our orchestra, you can find your way—and give me your hand. “Pastor, this is God’s time and call for me, and I’m answering with my life.” Come and welcome, and God bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
I. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-30)
Compassion of Jesus toward sins of the flesh, human weakness (Luke 15:11-32, John 4, 8:1-11, John 5:1-11, Matthew 26:74)
of the spirit (Matthew 12:24, 28, Mark 3:30)
A national sin (John 11:47-48, 53, John 7:46)
A personal sin
II. The unpardonable sin (Hebrews 10:26-31, 12:29)
truth taught throughout Scripture (Genesis 6:3,
1 Samuel 16:14, Romans 1:24, 26, 28, John 3:36)
rejection brings death of spiritual sensitivity
2. Charlie Stepp
III. The sin unto death (1 John 5:16-17)
A. A sin of the saints (Hebrews 10:31)
that brings reproach upon the cause of Christ (1
Corinthians 5:1, 4-5)
that leads to judgment of physical death (1
IV. The forgiveness of sin
A. Casting ourselves upon
the mercy of God (Romans 4:25, 5:6-12, 18-21)