Unpardonable Sin

Arthur Pink, 1935

We feel that a separate though brief word on this subject needs to be added to what we said in the Hebrews' article (December, 1934 issue). The particular point we are here concerned with is to remove any possible misconception from the mind of the reader as to why there is no hope of forgiveness after a sinner has passed a certain bound, as to why certain sins are unpardonable. We say certain "sins," for as pointed out in the Hebrews article, the "unpardonable sin" is not some one specific offense—but varies considerably in different cases, "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" is one form of it, total apostasy from the Truth is another, suicide is yet another. The sin of Esau was quite different from that of Cain's, and each of theirs was different from that of King Saul's. This fact of itself surely intimates that the unpardonableness of any sin lies not in the character of the offence itself—but must be sought for elsewhere. In this conclusion we differ from other writers on the subject.

Negatively, the unpardonableness of any sin lies not in the enormity of it, abstractly considered. By which we mean, it is not because the guilt of it is so great—that the mercy of God cannot remit it. This should be obvious from a careful examination of those cases which God has pardoned. Take such a one as Manasseh. Peruse the dark record of his life, and bear in mind that he lived not amid the gross darkness of heathendom—but in the favored land of Israel where God was known; that he was not a private person—but king in Jerusalem, where his evil example exerted an incalculable influence for harm; and that he was guilty of not only one or two isolated crimes—but persisted in a steady course of vile conduct for many years. Compare the recorded sins of Cain, Esau or Saul—with what is said of this monster of wickedness.

"Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. He did what was evil in the Lord's sight, imitating the detestable practices of the pagan nations whom the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He rebuilt the pagan shrines his father Hezekiah had destroyed. He constructed altars for the images of Baal and set up Asherah poles. He also bowed before all the stars of heaven and worshiped them. He even built pagan altars in the Temple of the Lord, the place where the Lord had said his name should be honored forever. He put these altars for the stars of heaven in both courtyards of the Lord's Temple. Manasseh even sacrificed his own sons in the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom. He practiced sorcery, divination, and witchcraft, and he consulted with mediums and psychics. He did much that was evil in the Lord's sight, arousing his anger. Manasseh even took a carved idol he had made and set it up in God's Temple! Manasseh led the people of Judah and Jerusalem to do even more evil than the pagan nations whom the Lord had destroyed when the Israelites entered the land. The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they ignored all his warnings. (2 Chronicles 33).

Surely if any man had sinned away the day of grace—Manasseh must have done so! Surely if the intrinsic evil of any offences renders them unpardonable, those committed by this man must have been such. Surely if there are some crimes too high for the mercy of God to reach unto, it must have been those perpetrated by this Satan-controlled king.

Surely if one may sink too low for the Holy Spirit to deliver him, it must have been this wretch, who so grievously provoked Jehovah. Ah, read the sequel, "But while in deep distress, Manasseh sought the Lord his God and cried out humbly to the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed, the Lord listened to him and was moved by his request for help." (vv. 12, 13).

If, then, the case of Manasseh demonstrates that the unpardonableness of sin lies not in the enormity of it abstractly considered—then the history of Saul of Tarsus makes it equally evident; that it is not because the crimson of certain crimes is of too deep a dye for the atoning blood of Christ to cleanse it. This man, who by the Spirit of inspiration, denominated himself "the chief of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15), was present at the brutal stoning of the godly Stephen, "his murderers laying down their clothes at Saul's feet (Acts 7:58). He would, therefore, hear not only that proto-martyr's sermon—but also his dying prayer.

That a deep impression must have been left on his mind we cannot doubt—but instead of yielding to the convictions made upon his conscience, he resisted them, as is evident from the Lord's words, "It is hard for you to kick against the goads" (Acts 9:5).

"And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him" (Acts 8:2). But so far from "the chief of sinners" being melted by such a tragic spectacle, he added sin to sin, "Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison" (Acts 8:3). Nor did that content him, "Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners" (Acts 9:1, 2). What a vivid picture do those words "breathing out murderous threats" set before us, as of one possessed with an insatiable thirst for blood, like a ravenous beast seeking its innocent prey. Hear his own account at a later date. "I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them" (Acts 26:9-11).

Now my reader compare these atrocious deeds with the recorded sins of Cain, Esau, or Saul king of Israel. What comparison is there between them? If they angered God so that He gave them up to final impenitency, which He did, don't you suppose that Saul of Tarsus provoked Him yet more sorely? Did, then, this "chief of sinners" commit offences which no atoning sacrifice could reach unto? Are there some sins too black, too heinous, too Heaven-insulting, for the blood of Christ to cleanse? If there are, must they not have been perpetrated by Saul of Tarsus? In view of the fact that he found mercy of the Lord, that even his dreadful crimes received forgiveness, are we not obliged to conclude that the unpardonableness of any sin lies not in its being beyond the reach of Christ's atonement? We are therefore shut up to one alternative—the unpardonableness of any sin must be attributed to the sovereign will of the Divine Judge. So He Himself affirms, "Therefore has He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens" (Romans 9:18). The exercise of Divine mercy, the provision of an atoning sacrifice, the application of its virtues to particular cases—lies entirely within the good pleasure of the sovereign God.

This has not been recognized and acknowledged as it ought to have been. Even good men, well taught in the Scriptures, have been guilty of speaking about what God was obliged to do, and what He could not do. The fact that Scripture repeatedly affirms that "with God all things are possible," should curb us from limiting the Holy One of Israel, even in our thoughts. Talk not of "impossibilities" in the presence of Him who is both omnipotent and omniscient.

There is only one thing which God "cannot" do (we stoop not to such absurdities as to whether He can make two and two equal five), and that is, act contrary to His own infinite perfections. And therein lies His ineffable uniqueness—God cannot lie, God cannot deny Himself, God cannot be tempted with evil. And why not? Because He, and He alone, is immutable. Apart from acting contrary to His own perfections, God can do anything and everything He pleases. He is under no restraint whatever. His actions are circumscribed or constrained neither by His "nature," His "law," or "the good of the universe"; but are regulated solely by His own imperial will.

The only reason why there is a universe—is because God was pleased to will it into existence. The only reason there was a law given by God to His creatures—is because it so pleased Him to enact one. True, having given the law, God now deals with His creatures according to its requirements. But there could have been no reason outside Himself why, in the first instance, He purposed to place His creatures under law; and therefore His will must be the sole source of it.

What do the Scriptures say? This, that God "works all things after the counsel of His own WILL" (Eph. 1:11). This foundational fact is exemplified and illustrated at every point. Why were the elect chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world and predestinated unto the adoption of children? Because such was "according to the good pleasure of His will" (Eph. 1:5). Again; "What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction" (Romans 9:22). Let our friends note that the exercise of God's wrath—"His punitive justice," proceeds not from any moral "necessity," but is ascribed purely to the Divine will. Observe again those words "He will by no means clear the guilty" (Exo. 34:7), and dare not to change them to "He can by no means clear the guilty." Both justice and mercy, are regulated solely by God's will.

Again we ask, What do the Scriptures say? This, "Therefore has He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens" (Romans 9:18). And again we affirm, Divine mercy and Divine justice are regulated solely by God's imperial will. While it be true, blessedly true, that God cannot act contrary to His own perfections or attributes, yet it is equally true that God is under no restraint or constraint in the exercise of them. Patience and power are among the excellencies of God's nature or being—but is there ever a time when He is obliged to exercise them? Perish the thought. The same is true of every other Divine perfection—the exercise of them is determined by nothing outside of God's own will. He is supreme sovereign, doing as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases; though never doing wrong. Nor are we in any way competent to decide what is right and what is wrong in the conduct of the Most High. What He does is right simply because HE does it.

The absolute sovereignty of God supplies the key, and nothing else does, to the unpardonableness of any sin. God has sovereignly assigned the limits to which He will allow each rebellious creature to go—and that limit varies considerably in different cases.

He has sovereignly determined when any sinner shall be finally deserted by the Holy Spirit and given over to hopeless impenitency. He has sovereignly determined when sin becomes unpardonable in the life of each transgressor. It is this which makes the subject so unspeakably solemn, for men have no means of knowing whether or not their very next act may seal their doom irrevocably! When Christ said to the Pharisees, "You shall die in your sins" (John 8:21), they might be allowed to live on another fifty years, and hear the Apostle Paul preach the Gospel, yet their day of grace was over. The sins of Manasseh and Paul were pardoned because God had sovereignly decreed they should be; the sins of the Pharisees were unpardonable because God had so sovereignly ordained. Beware then of trifling with God. Beware of continuing to provoke the Most High. He will not be mocked with impunity!