PROBABLY MOST people under biblical influence have been either perplexed or distressed by the alarming phrase, “the unpardonable sin.” The fear has been aggravated by the way modern evangelists use this idea, finding it a very convenient one with which to frighten those they wish to persuade to seek salvation according to their formula. They will tell their hearers that if they do not respond promptly to the sermon, the holy spirit may cease to operate on them for conversion, and in that case they will be eternally lost and doomed. Some have gone insane and suicidal as a result of this entirely needless worry.
For it is needless, because “unpardonable sin” is not found in the Scriptures, only unpardoned sin. And though there are a few texts on which this traditional fear is based, these do not teach the thought as it is being forced upon people in this needless way.
After paying the double penalty of death and suffering that the divine Judge has imposed on sin, all unpardoned (not “unpardonable”) sinners will be like criminals that an executive official cannot pardon, but who go free after serving their sentence. After they have endured the future judgment, they will be free to a finality, because penal law will have no further claim upon them.
The passage usually cited in order to prove the “unpardonable sin,” concerns the Jews who asserted that the Master cast out demons by Beezeboul, their chief (Matt.12:24-32; Mark 5:22-30). The sin here was blasphemy of the holy spirit. Blasphemy must be expressed in words. Their words attributed the spirit’s work to Beezeboul.
The Pharisees did really speak blasphemous words against the spirit by which the Master cast out the demon (Matt.12:28), when they attributed the healing to Beezeboul.
Their blasphemy was primarily against Him for they said that He had an unclean spirit; but while they did not name the holy spirit, He interpreted their words as being against it, because He did His healing in its power.
Thus by their words they secondarily attacked the spirit of God. So, although they spoke seemingly “against the Son of Man” (and, as he said, all words and blasphemies against Him will be pardoned), in a deeper sense, their blasphemy was against the holy spirit–“the finger of God” (Luke 11:20). Mark 3:30 emphasizes this point by saying this warning was spoken to them, “for they said, ‘An unclean spirit has he.’ ”
These quoted words of theirs show the gist of the whole matter. Their sin was that of disbelief and denial of His Messiahship, when one purpose of His miracles was to prove it (John 5:36; 10:25). So, as long as
1 they did not believe in Him as the Christ on the evidence of such powerful deeds as this healing, they could not be pardoned, because pardon comes through faith (Acts 10:43; 13:38). But when blasphemers in unbelief, because of ignorance, became believers, they could be, and were pardoned, as three thousand of this same nation of blasphemers were in one day (Acts 2:37-41), and, as Saul, the worst sinner of them all, who was also a blasphemer (1 Tim.1:13) obtained mercy because of that ignorance.
Let those, then, who have been anxious over whether they have committed “the unpardonable sin” take comfort, encouragement, and hope from the very evident fact that even if they had sinned a sin “unto death” (cf 1 John 5:16; which does not occur in our time of visitation under grace, not law), at least they would have been dead. They would not be alive and worrying over their too-limited view of God’s goodness and mercy. Then, it is true, if they were not in Christ, they would have been awaiting the judgment; but, just as surely, beyond the judgment, the consummation, when they themselves shall become partakers of vivification, the very life itself, full of glory, which, even now, Christ Himself enjoys.
It is hoped that our words here may contribute something to the peace of mind of any readers who may have been distressed over this matter, as so many have, even to despair. Nothing in all the universe can separate you from God’s love (Rom.8:35-39). You cannot even separate yourself from it by your sin, for it was for needy sinners that a Father’s love sent His son into the world, that the world may be saved through Him (John 3:16,17).
So let any who have worried over “unpardonable sin” cast away all fear in perfect love, and rejoice in the infinite mercy of a heavenly Father’s loving kindness, that never wearies and that will accomplish the full salvation which His wisdom has designed.
J. W. Williams
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