THE THREE GREATEST SINS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-4-90 10:50 a.m.
Thank you, choir and orchestra. And God bless the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message, one of the most terrible that could ever be brought. It is the other side of salvation. It is God’s revelation of eternal damnation. Preaching in the Book of Mark, we are in chapter 3, verse 22:
And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, This Jesus hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth He out devils. . . .
And the Lord said, 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.
[Mark 3:22, 28-30]
The three greatest sins—the first: the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost [Mark 3:29].
Our Lord had infinite compassion in His response to human weakness and sins of passion and of the flesh. There is never in the Word of God an instance of bitterness or condemnation from our Lord as He faced the weaknesses of human life; always met the sins of passion and of the flesh with sympathy, forgiveness, understanding, compassion. For example, there is no more beautiful story in the world than the story of the prodigal son [Luke 15:11-32]. He had entered into every depth of degradation, wasted his life and strength and substance in riotous and sinful living [Luke 15:13]. But he was welcomed home in loving compassion and in heavenly forgiveness [Luke 15:21-24]. That’s our Lord. In the fourth chapter of the Book of John, our Lord is with this woman of Samaria. She had five husbands; and the man she was now living with was not her husband [John 4:18]. Yet the Lord, in infinite and tender compassion, taught her the way into the kingdom of God [John 4:10-29].
One of the most interesting things you could ever come across in textual criticism, looking at the text of this Holy Book—way back yonder and yonder in the beginning, nobody knows when, they cut out a part of what Jesus had done and said, and didn’t know what to do with it. It was the response of our Lord to the woman taken in adultery [John 8:3-11], cast at His feet, with a pronouncement of the law that she should be stoned to death. Now what do You say? [John 8:5]. And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more” [John 8:11].
What would you do with a passage like that? They cut it out. Then somebody said, “This is the Word of our Lord.” And they stuck it in, in a place where it doesn’t belong in the text, between the seventh and eighth chapters of the Book of John [John 8:3-11]. But that’s our Lord Jesus; what do you do with Him? His compassionate kindness toward those who had fallen is infinite.
Same way about Simon Peter, there at the trial of our Lord, cursing and denying he even knew the Lord [Luke 22:54-60]. The Lord turned, and looked upon Peter [Luke 22:61]. In that look there was infinite love and forgiveness and compassion. “How do you know that, pastor?” Because when Peter looked into the face of our Lord, whom he was denying and cursing, in the next verse, he went out, and wept bitterly [Luke 22:62]. It’s hard to hate somebody, reject somebody like Jesus.
But there is a side of human nature and human life that leads to condemnation and damnation. It is not sins of the flesh. It is the sin of rejection. It is the sin of the spirit.
The national leaders committed that sin. Our Lord came into this world with the approbation and the credentials of heaven. John the Baptist introduced Him as the Savior of the world [John 1:19-34]. His miraculous works affirmed His glorious deity. It was never so seen in Israel [Matthew 9:33]. His matchless words here in the Bible are unlike any spoken by human tongue or speech: “Never a man spake like that Man” [John 7:46], even His enemies said. And the loving gift of the life of our Lord for the sins of the world [1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 John 2:2] is unequaled on the pages of human story.
Yet they said that His credentials originated from hell, that He was in league with Beelzebub, that He and Satan were of the same stripe and kind, and that He had an unclean spirit [Mark 3:22]; He was motivated by an evil one. It is amazing, the response of these leaders of national life. Never was a man’s work under such scrutiny and such caustic reprobation as the work of our Lord Jesus. They repudiated the ministry of the John the Baptist. They hated our Lord with a bitterness indescribable when He cleansed the temple [Mark 11:15-18]. And everything they saw in Him brought more bitterness than the thing they had seen before. Everything that He did, they criticized.
“Why do Your disciples not fast? [Matthew 9:14]. Why do You eat with unwashed hands? [Mark 7:5]. Why do You sit down with publicans and sinners? [Matthew 9:10-11]. How is it that You dare to heal on the Sabbath Day? [Matthew 12:10-14]. And You blaspheme because You say You forgive sins” [Mark 2:5-7]. And finally, antipathy turned to such hatred that they murdered Him [Mathew 27:32-50]. And God looked down from heaven and said: “It is enough. It is enough. There is an eternal damnation to those who reject the witness of the Holy Spirit” [Matthew 12:31-32]. He that speaks and rejects the testimony of the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, faces an eternal damnation. Because, they said, “He hath an unclean spirit” [Mark 3:28-30]. That’s the first great sin.
The second great sin is a facet of the first. It is called the unpardonable sin. A phrase not used in the Bible, but is descriptive. I read from the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, “If we sin willfully”—the Greek construction is a present participle, abiding, continuing in settled unbelief, rejection, yielding ourselves permanently to a denial of the Lord.
If we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
Just a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which 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 underfoot 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?—God’s Holy Spirit.
For we know Him who said, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, 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.
For our God is a consuming fire.
Great God, this is just one out of an endless series of texts that the pastor could read from this Holy Word. From the beginning of the Bible to the end, that is our admonition and warning again and again. In the sixth chapter of the Book of Genesis, God says, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” [Genesis 6:3]. And He sent the Flood, the judgment [Genesis 7:17-24].
In the seventh chapter of that same Book of Genesis, Noah and his family are in the ark, and it says, “God shut the door” [Genesis 7:16]. I can well imagine, when the flood began to rise [Genesis 7:10-11], the people knocked on the door of that ark. The Bible says that God shut that door [Genesis 7:16]. One of the most amazing things about the whole sacrificial system: there was no sacrifice for willful sin; none at all, none at all [Hebrews 10:26]. In the story of Saul, the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from God troubled him [1 Samuel 16:14]. In the story in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew of the ten virgins [Matthew 25:11-13], those five foolish ones hammered at the door, “Let us in” [Matthew 25:11]. And God had shut it. God shut the door [Matthew 25:10].
One of the most terrible of all of the passages that you could read in the Bible is here in the Book of Romans like a resounding, repetitive theme in a great symphony, the repetition of this word in the first chapter of Romans, “Wherefore, God gave them up” [Romans 1:24]. And then in the next: “Wherefore, God gave them up” [Romans 1:26]. And then the next one: “For this cause, God gave them up” [Romans 1:28]. God said, “I am through. I am done. It is finished. It is over with.” O God, what an awesome judgment we face when we reject our blessed Lord!
You know, in the Bible the sins of His saints are on these pages depicted. The Bible is no respecter of persons. And the saints—just look at their lives. Adam, in his sin of disobedience [Genesis 3:1-6]; God forgave him. Noah, in his drunkenness [Genesis 9:21], and a part of the tragedy of the nations today is due to that curse; yet God forgave him. Abraham lied, and he lied, and he lied [Genesis 12:10-13, 20:1-2]. And God forgave him. Lot was covetous, greedy, and pitched his tent toward Sodom [Genesis 13:10-11]; and God forgave him. Moses was a murderer [Exodus 2:12]; and God forgave him. I suppose there are more sermons preached on the adultery of David than any other one thing in the Bible [2 Samuel 11:1-5]. God forgave him. The sinners in the Bible; Manasseh led the nation into corruption and destruction [2 Kings 21:9]. He repented [2 Chronicles 33:11-13]; God forgave him. Rahab was a harlot [Joshua 2:1]; God forgave her. I have mentioned Simon Peter and his denial of the Lord [Matthew 26:69-75]; the Lord loved him and forgave him [John 21:15-17]. But there is one sin God will not forgive. It brings eternal damnation. And that is the sin of an overt, conscious, volitional rejection of our Lord [Mark 3:28-30].
O God in heaven, when you touch Christianity, you don’t touch a forensic confrontation! When you touch Christianity, it is not a battle of words. It is not a forensic exercise. When you touch Christianity, you touch the judgment of God upon life here and upon the life hereafter. When you touch Christianity, it is either for you a benediction or an anathema. As the Bible calls it, “It is a savor of grace unto grace, life unto life, or death unto death.” [2 Corinthians 2:16]. Our Lord spoke of it in these words, He said, “It is like a stone. The man that stumbles on it is broken in pieces. And on whom that stone shall fall, he is ground to powder” [Matthew 21:44]. It’s like a great power line, it brings light and warmth to the people, but touch it in a wrong way, and it brings death. That’s the Christian faith.
My father believed in the unpardonable sin, and he used an illustration of it, pointed it out to me when I was a boy. In a revival meeting in that little white cracker box church where I grew up, in a revival meeting, Charlie Stepp, our town marshal, was moved by the Spirit of the Lord under great conviction. And he wept and he cried in the invitation, and the men came and gathered around him, and pled with Charlie Stepp to accept the Lord, and he steadfastly and stubbornly refused. And my father said to me, “He’ll never be saved. He’s committed the unpardonable sin. He’ll never be moved again.” Well, that was interesting to me. And I followed the life of Charlie Stepp for a generation. And my father was right. He died in damnation. He died and went to hell. He died, still rejecting the Lord Jesus.
O God! I went to an old man in a revival meeting that I was conducting, and pled with him to accept the Lord as his Savior. He steadfastly refused, and finally said to me, “I am not simply able to believe.” He had lost his sensitivity to the appeal of the gospel of Christ. And he died lost, damned. There is a line by us unseen that crosses every path, the hidden boundary between God’s mercy and God’s wrath [Romans 9:22]. And when you step across that line, you’re damned forever. You’ll never be saved.
And as I do my work as a minister of the gospel, I see that everywhere in this earth. People who are hardened—you can pray with them and talk with them and plead with them, and it is like pleading and praying with a stone, with a rock. They are going to be lost. They have rejected God, and rejected His Savior, and rejected the plan of salvation, and they are going to die without Christ, without hope. Great God, how we need a tender heart and an open, open soul toward God our Lord!
The third greatest sin: the one you read about, the sin unto death. “If any one see his brother sin, and it is not unto death, he shall ask, and God shall give him life. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that you are to pray for it” [1 John 5:16].
That sin is the sin committed by God’s people. “If any man see his brother, his sister”—it’s a sin of the saints. And it is a sin unto death. This death—not damnation, not hell, but the loss, and may I use that word “death” as a figure of the judgment of God upon the sins of His people—my brother, my sister, you, we—a sin unto death [1 John 5:16-17], the judgment of God upon the life in this world, death; the death of a dream, of an influence, of a ministry, of a family, of a home.
Does it ever make you think, do you ever pause, the great ministries of these far-famed television evangelists? The sin of my brother; the sin of the saints and the greatest of all of them now, this minute, is in the penitentiary. The death, the judgment God visits upon His people in this world, in this life. The Bible is full of that. Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire unto the Lord and the Lord consumed them [Leviticus 10:1-2]. I see it everywhere: cults and these sainted people of God entering those cults—strange fire offered unto the Lord. And there’s a judgment that follows it.
I think of that young prophet in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Kings. God sent him to deliver a message. And the Lord said, “And when you have delivered your message, you are not to pause, you are not to stop, you are not to tarry, you are not to break bread; you are to come back!” And the young prophet delivered his message in the power and the voice and the word of the Lord God, and turned to leave according to the commandment of the Lord. And an older prophet stopped him and said, “You come and break bread with me.” “No,” said the young prophet, “God told me when I delivered my message to come back, and not to pause to eat bread.” “But I have got a new message from the Lord,” the old prophet said. “You come and abide with me.” And the young prophet listened to the old man’s prophet voice, and he paused, and broke bread, and God took his life [1 Kings 13:11-30].
Do I see that? Everywhere! Here’s a young minister, filled with the Spirit of God, preaching the Word of the Lord, and some professor in some school, some liberal infidel and unbeliever, gets ahold of the young man. And instead of delivering the message of the Lord, he begins preaching that aberration and that infidelity that he learned in a liberal school, and his ministry is ruined. I’ve seen it till my heart breaks.
Take again, and O God, how I tremble! How I tremble! Take again in the Lord’s Supper: “Whosoever shall eat this bread, drink this cup of the Lord unworthily,” adverb, not adjectival, describing us in an unworthy matter:
… shall be guilty of the body and blood of Jesus.
But let a man examine himself, and so eat and drink.
For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, in an unworthy manner, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep, many are dead.
[1 Corinthians 11:27-30]
Oh, I read that, and I can’t enter into it! Because of the way those churches observed the Lord’s Supper, many were weak, many became sick, and many died [1 Corinthians 11:30]. But I can tell you this: that’s the reason that in this dear church, I do everything I know how to make that service deeply reverential before God. And you’ll see it tonight and every time we gather at the Lord’s Table. We even kneel, we even kneel, we even kneel when we eat that bread and drink that cup. Reverence before God.
One other: the responsibility we have before God with what we own. In the fifth chapter of the Book of Acts:
A certain man named Ananias and Sapphira, his wife, sold a possession,
And they kept back part of the price, his wife being privy to it, brought a certain part, laid it at the apostles’ feet.
And Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and keep back the part that belongs also to God? . . .
And he gave up the ghost and they carried him out and buried him.
And three hours later his wife came in
And Peter said, You tell me, what did you sell it for? Thus and so and here it is.
And Peter said, The same feet that carried your husband out will carry you.
And she fell down and yielded up the ghost.
Sweet people, it is not a picayunish thing, it is not an incidental thing, what you do with what God places in your hand. A part of that belongs to Him, belongs to Him [Malachi 3:10; 1 Corinthians 16:2]. And if I steal it from Him, and if I use it for myself, there is a judgment that comes inevitably [Malachi 3:8-9; 2 Corinthians 9:6].
O God, help me to realize that even my breath comes from Thee. If I have strength to raise my arm and my hand, it came from Thee. And anything that I’m able to do, it’s in Your grace and goodness. And Lord, if this belongs to You, then help me, Master, to be a good steward, and love Thee enough to devote to Thee that part as a sign that I belong to God.
I have to conclude. You who have listened to this message on radio and on television, may this be the day you give your heart to the blessed Lord Jesus [Romans 10:9-13]. He came into this world to die for our sins [Matthew 1:21; 1 Timothy 1:15; Hebrews 10:5-14]; He was raised to take us to heaven. And if you will give your heart to Him, I will meet you up there in His presence someday. If you do not know how to be saved, there is a number on the screen. Call and there will be a devout man or woman to lead you into the very presence of God Himself. Make that call.
And to the great throng in the sanctuary this solemn morning hour, when we stand in moment to sing our hymn of appeal, down one of these aisles, down one of those stairways, “Pastor, God has spoken to me and I am answering with my life” [Romans 10:8-13]. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.