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The Unpardonable Sin

The May 2013 issue of the "Covenant Reformed News" contained this article on the unpardonable sin by Prof.Herman Hanko. You may also find it online at the CPRC website.

The Unpardonable Sin


A brother from Brazil asks, “What is the unpardonable sin?”

It is probably best that I quote the three main passages in Scripture on this sin. The first text is Matthew 12:31-32: “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.” It is important to understand that Jesus spoke these words in response to the wicked claim of the Pharisees that He cast out demons in the name of the prince of demons.

Hebrews 6:4-6 also speaks of this sin: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”

Finally, there is I John 5:16-17: “If any man 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.”

On the basis of these texts, we may come to some conclusions. Jesus does not accuse the Pharisees of the unforgiveable sin. But He warns strongly against it, because they had come very close to committing it. They had blasphemed Christ when they accused Him of casting out devils in the name of Satan. Jesus says that that sin can be forgiven. But the danger was real that the Pharisees would not only blaspheme Christ, but would blaspheme the Spirit of Christ, whom the Lord poured out on the church at Pentecost. Thus the unpardonable sin is the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 6 teaches that the sin against the Holy Spirit is committed by someone in the church and under the preaching, for the Spirit works in connection with the preaching. In fact, those of whom Hebrews 6 speaks lived for some time in the church and enjoyed, though only outwardly, the blessings the Holy Spirit gave to the church. They had experienced in some measure the blessedness of heaven. They knew not only what the blessings of salvation are, but had even seen how great and wonderful they are. They knew of the work of the Holy Spirit in the church and how He brought the blessings of Christ’s work to the church. They could see the priceless value of this blessedness. They spoke of their own participation in the work of Christ’s Spirit and joined the church in worship, prayer, singing and confessing the faith.

So close were they to true and full salvation that Arminians have used this text as proof for the falling away of real saints. But the Arminians are mistaken, even though the text tells us how close to the blessedness of salvation people can come, such as those who have been born and raised in the church, and have lived in it for many years.

The sin of those who leave the church and repudiate their profession is a terrible one: “they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh.” Christ was once crucified on Calvary. He was crucified because neither the Jews, nor Herod, nor Pontius Pilate would confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the only Saviour.

Those who commit the unpardonable sin do not leave a faithful church for a less faithful church. They do not leave the church to live outside the church. They leave the church and openly speak against what they once confessed. They deny that Jesus Christ is God’s eternal Son. They deny that salvation is only to be found in Him. They ridicule the faith of the saints, mock Christ, speak sarcastically about salvation, laugh at the “foolishness” they once professed, and even persecute God’s people if they have opportunity. They want everyone who knows them to understand that they want nothing to do with the Christ preached in the church. That is crucifying the Son of God afresh.

John tells us that we may not pray for one who has committed the unforgiveable sin. The admonition implies that it is possible to tell when one commits this sin. Other sins committed by those from the church may be brought to God with the prayer that the sinner repent. But from this sin there is no repentance.

That is understandable. Confession of sin is the way of repentance and fleeing to the cross of Christ. But vilifying a Saviour whom they once confessed as their Lord is to shut the only path that leads to repentance and forgiveness. No man will go for forgiveness of sins to the One whom he mocks as an imposter.

The Scriptures are even stronger. The Scriptures tell us that it is “impossible” for such a man ever to come to the knowledge of his sin, see its horror, repent of it and flee to Christ for pardon. God does this. He makes repentance impossible for such a one.

This too is in keeping with God’s way of working. When people who once confessed Christ fall away from the faith, God cuts them and their generations out of His olive tree (Rom. 11:17-21). God does not return again and again to apostate people, apostate families and apostate nations.

One more remark must be made. There may be times in the lives of Christians when, in moments of distress and depression, they lose their assurance of salvation and wonder whether they have committed the unforgiveable sin. Some can become very agitated over this question. But they must not despair, nor live in fear and doubt. One who commits the unpardonable sin is not one who is agitated about the question, nor concerned about the answer. The very anxiety that some experience when asking themselves this question and the very fear that they may have committed the sin is, paradoxically, the proof that they have not done so. If they had, they would be cold and hateful about the matter. They would not be consumed with worry and terror. They would laugh at their former foolishness. They would have no concern about the question. 

When doubts and fears assail our soul, it is good to confess our sins, humble ourselves beneath God’s mighty hand, confess also the sin of doubting (for sin it is) and flee to the cross for refuge. God, in His own time and way, will take His trembling child into His everlasting arms and speak peace to his soul.  Prof. Herman Hanko

Last modified on 17 July 2013
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Additional Info

  • Volume: 14
  • Issue: 13
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001

Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko

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