THE SIN FOR WHICH THERE IS NO FORGIVENESS
“This is the truth I tell you–all sins will be forgiven to the sons of men–I mean all the insulting things that they say; but whoever insults the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven for ever but he has made himself guilty of the sin that not even eternity can wipe out.” This he said because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
If we are to understand what this terrible saying means we must first understand the circumstances in which it was said. It was said by Jesus when the Scribes and Pharisees had declared that the cures he wrought were wrought not by the power of God, but by the power of the devil. These men had been able to look at the incarnate love of God and to think it the incarnate power of Satan.
We must begin by remembering that Jesus could not have used the phrase the Holy Spirit in the fun Christian sense of the term. The Spirit in all his fullness did not come to men until Jesus had returned to his glory. It was not until Pentecost that there came to men the supreme experience of the Holy Spirit. Jesus must have used the term in the Jewish sense of the term. Now in Jewish thought the Holy Spirit had two great functions. First, he revealed God’s truth to men; second, he enabled men to recognize that truth when they saw it. That will give us the key to this passage.
(i) The Holy Spirit enabled men to recognize God’s truth when it entered their lives. But if a man refuses to exercise any God-given faculty he will in the end lose it. If he lives in the dark long enough he will lose the ability to see. If he stays in bed long enough he will lose the power to walk. If he refuses to do any serious study he will lose the power to study. And if a man refuses the guidance of God’s Spirit often enough he will become in the end incapable of recognizing that truth when he sees it. Evil to him becomes good and good evil. He can look on the goodness of God and call it the evil of Satan.
(ii) Why should such a sin have no forgiveness? H. B. Swete says, “To identify the source of good with the impersonation of evil implies a moral wreck for which the Incarnation itself provides no remedy.” A. J. Rawlinson calls it “essential wickedness,” as if here we see the quintessence of all evil. Bengel said that all other sins are human but this sin is Satanic. Why should all this be so?
Consider the effect of Jesus on a man. The very first effect is to make him see his own utter unworthiness in comparison with the beauty and the loveliness of the life of Jesus. “Depart from me,” said Peter, “for I am a sinful man.” (Lk.5:8.) When Tokichi Ishii first read the story of the Gospel he said, “I stopped. I was stabbed to the heart as if pierced by a five-inch nail. Shall I call it the love of Christ? Shall I call it his compassion? I do not know what to call it. I only know that I believed and my hardness of heart was changed.” The first reaction was that he was stabbed to the heart. The result of that sense of unworthiness and the result of that stabbed heart is a heartfelt penitence, and penitence is the only condition of forgiveness. But, if a man has got himself into such a state, by repeated refusals to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, that he cannot see anything lovely in Jesus at all, then the sight of Jesus will not give him any sense of sin; because he has no sense of sin he cannot be penitent, and because he is not penitent he cannot be forgiven.
One of the Lucifer legends tells how one day a priest noticed in his congregation a magnificently handsome young man. After the service the young man stayed for confession. He confessed so many and such terrible sins that the priest’s hair stood on end. “You must have lived long to have done all that,” the priest said. “My name is Lucifer and I fell from heaven at the beginning of time,” said the young man. “Even so,” said the priest, “say that you are sorry, say that you repent and even you can be forgiven.” The young man looked at the priest for a moment and then turned and strode away. He would not and could not say it; and therefore he had to go on still desolate and stiff damned.
There is only one condition of forgiveness and that is penitence. So long as a man sees loveliness in Christ, so long as he hates his sin even if he cannot leave it, even if he is in the mud and the mire, he can still be forgiven. But if a man, by repeated refusals of God’s guidance, has lost the ability to recognize goodness when he sees it, if he has got his moral values inverted until evil to him is good and good to him is evil, then, even when he is confronted by Jesus, he is conscious of no sin; he cannot repent and therefore he can never be forgiven. That is the sin against the Holy Spirit.
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