Introduction by Dr. Roger W. Maslin
There have been many explanations as to the nature of this particular sin. Most of them have been used to implement an evangelistic thrust. For the most part they ignore the contextual setting and invent their own conclusions. The best explanation I have ever read on the subject is by the late Dr. C. D. Cole, a pastor, writer, professor and personal friend. To my knowledge his article has not been copywrited and is presented here in its entirety.
THE UNPARDONABLE SIN
Dr. C.D. Cole
"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" (Matt. 12:31,32).
"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 3:28-30).
"And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blashphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven" (Luke 12:10).
The writer believes that the above Scriptures are all that can certainly be applied to the question of the unpardonable sin. He does not believe that Heb. 6:4-8 and 10:26-31 have anything to say on the subject. They do indeed sound a solemn warning against apostasy, but they give no help in defining the unpardonable sin. As to I John 5:16, we are not so sure. Dr. Broadus thought it alludes to the unpardonable sin. Be that as it may, it throws no light on what the unpardonable sin is.
The unpardonable sin is a much abused and sadly misunderstood subject. It has, we fear, been used to frighten the unregenerate into the church, thereby making them twofold more the children of wrath. Wrong views of the matter have driven men to despair and, in some instances, into insanity.
A NECESSARY DISTINCTION
We must distinguish between an unpardoned sin and the unpardonable sin. There are many unpardoned sins, but only one unpardonable sin. All the sins of the finally impenitent and unbelieving will be unpardoned, but there is one sin for which there is no pardon. Murder may be an unpardoned sin, but it is not unpardonable. Any and every sin is a damning sin if not repented of. Our Lord clearly distinguished between the one sin that "hath never forgiveness," and all other sins that shall be forgiven on the terms of repentance and faith.
WHAT THE UNPARDONABLE SIN IS NOT
It is not any sin against men. Many are the sins men commit against one another, such as murder, theft, false witness, malice and envy. But none of these is the sin that will not be forgiven. Many have been guilty of these sins and through repentance and faith have been forgiven.
It is not any sin against Jesus Christ. Many are the sins against the Son of Man, such as denial of His deity and virgin birth, denial of His blood atonement, ignoring His claims of Lordship; in short, rejecting Him as the Lord Jesus Christ. These are sins of the deepest dye, but many who have been guilty of them have repented and found forgiveness. If rejecting Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord is the unpardonable sin, then well nigh everybody would have committed it. To be sure the man who rejects Christ until his time runs out will be unforgiven--all sins are unpardoned--but this does not mean that he committed the unpardonable sin. Our Saviour made it clear that it is not any sin against Himself, but a particular sin against the Holy Spirit.
It is not any sin against the decalogue or ten commandments. There is no sin covered by the ten commandments for which there is no provision of pardon. Christ died to redeem sinners from the curse of the law, therefore, there must be forgiveness from every part of the curse.
It is not any sin against God the Father. "...All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men" (Matt. 12:31).
It is not every sin against the Holy Spirit. There are sins committed directly and specifically against the Holy Spirit. He is grieved, resisted, quenched, and ignored. Believers may and do grieve, quench and ignore the Spirit. Unbelievers resist the Spirit in the objective ministry of His word. They resist Him by rejecting the call of the gospel and by opposing and persecuting the preachers of His word. The Holy Spirit is the Author of the Bible. "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:" (Acts 7:51,52). This is the only passage in the New Testament where there is any mention of resisting the Spirit. In rejecting the preaching of Stephen, the Jews were behaving as their fathers had towards the prophets, and Stephen called this resisting the Holy Spirit. Unbelievers resist the outward ministry of the Spirit in the preaching of the word until their resistance is overcome by the subjective work of the Spirit in the effectual call. Dr. Broadus says that resisting the Spirit and blasphemy against the Spirit "are quite different things."
WHAT THE UNPARDONABLE SIN IS
It is expressly said to be blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. To blaspheme is to speak injuriously against somebody. Blasphemy is an insulting or slanderous remark about some one. Every blasphemy is not unpardonable; it is only the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The Jews at Antioch spake against Paul and his doctrine, "...contradicting and blaspheming" (Acts 13:45). Paul, before his conversion, compelled the saints to blaspheme: "And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities" (Acts 26:11). Paul tells the Jews that they caused the name of God to be blasphemed among the Gentiles:
“For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written" (Rom. 2:24). And Paul himself was formerly a blasphemer: "Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief" (I Tim. 1:13). But none of these cases was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
The Scriptures with which we began this article give us a clear and unmistakable instance of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and therefore, an example of the unpardonable sin. The Pharisees blasphemed against the Spirit when they said, "...He hath an unclean spirit." (Mark 3:30). Matthew tells us that they attributed the miraculous work of the Spirit in Christ to Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Of course, they blasphemed our Lord too, in saying that He had an unclean spirit, but that was not what made their sin unpardonable. They recognized the Holy Spirit in the miracle, and slandered Him by calling Him an unclean spirit. And in doing this, they were guilty of an eternal sin.
CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH THE SPIRIT IS BLASPHEMED
There must be an unmistakable work of the Spirit. Dr. Broadus thought the sin was committed in connection with public miracles, and therefore, not committed in our day. He says, in commenting on Matthew 12:31,32: "There is here no allusion to the peculiar gracious office and work of the Spirit in calling, renewing, and sanctifying the soul; it is the Spirit of God as giving power to work miracles."
There must be knowledge that it is the work of the Spirit. Paul had blasphemed Jesus of Nazareth, and yet obtained forgiveness, "Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief" (I Tim. 1:13). Paul did not believe that Jesus spoke and wrought miracles by the Spirit of God. He was ignorant of the Spirit working in Jesus, sincerely believing Jesus to be an impostor and possessed of an evil spirit. But the Pharisees knew better; they knew the miracles had been performed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and blasphemed against Him by calling Him Beelzebub, an unclean spirit. It was not a case of mistaken identity with them as it was with Saul of Tarsus
Thomas Goodwyn, one of the Puritans, says that two things are necessary in committing the unpardonable sin: "Light in the mind and malice in the heart." Anxiety or fear of having been guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is in itself evidence that one is not guilty of it. Those who are afraid they have committed the sin may be assured they have not.
WHY BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT IS UNPARDONABLE?
It is not because the sin is too great for the blood of Christ to atone for. This would limit the intrinsic value of His blood. We believe the death of Christ is sufficient for the salvation of every accountable being, including the devil and his angels, had it been designed for them.
It is not because the sin is too great for the grace of God to cope with. Where sin abounds grace much more abounds. This is obvious when we consider some of the cases God has pardoned. Take, for example, the case of Manasseh, the wicked son of the godly Hezekiah, whose wicked career is recorded in II Chron. 33:2-10: "But did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, like unto the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel. For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. Also he built altars in the house of the LORD, whereof the LORD had said, In Jerusalem shall my name be for ever. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger. And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen before all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever: Neither will I any more remove the foot of Israel from out of the land which I have appointed for your fathers; so that they will take heed to do all that I have commanded them, according to the whole law and the statutes and the ordinances by the hand of Moses. So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err and to do worse than the heathen, whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel. And the LORD spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken." Surely, if any man could sin away the day of grace, Manasseh had done so. Surely, if the enormity of offenses makes them unpardonable, those committed by this man must have been such. Surely, if there are crimes too much for the mercy of God to save from, it must have been those of which this Satan-controlled King was guilty. Surely, if there is a sinner too much for the Holy Spirit to cope with, it was this wretch who provoked God so grievously. And yet the happy sequel is the story of his conversion. Consider also the case of Saul of Tarsus, denominated the chief of sinners, who, by the grace of God, became the greatest exponent of the faith he once opposed. Truly, "...Where sin abounded grace did much more abound" Rom. 5:20).
The unpardonableness of sin must be attributed to the sovereign will of God. And He has sovereignly (I do not say arbitrarily) determined that there is one sin He will not forgive. He could if it pleased Him to do so. We believe with Job that "What His soul desireth, even that He doeth." There is one kind of sin for which there is no provision of pardon. Therefore, there is one kind of sin for which Christ made no atonement. There is one sin of which the Holy Spirit will not convict, and from which He will not convert. There is one sin God will not pardon. The Bible calls it blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and we dare not call it by any other name.
The Holy Spirit is thus highly honored in the divine economy. His personality and deity may be denied by men and He may be contemptuously referred to in the neuter gender as "it," but He is in truth a person of high esteem in the Godhead.
"To God the Spirit's Name
Immortal worship give,
Whose new-creating power
Makes the dead sinner live:
His work completes the great design,
And fills the soul with joy divine."
This article is one of a trio of interrelated articles that should be read in order to understand the Apostle John’s teaching in his first letter concerning sin. The other articles are: Unable to Sin and A Sin Unto Death.