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The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit
By Milburn Cockrell (1941-2002)
“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” (Mark 3:28-29).
“And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven” (Luke 12:10).
Much of what is found in the Bible is “plain to him that understandeth” (Prov. 8:9), but the verses I have just read contain “some things hard to be understood” (II Pet. 3:16). The sin against the Holy Spirit has never been fully explained by the greatest of theologians of all time. It is not difficult to show from Scripture what the sin is not, but it is difficult to show what it is. Of one thing we can be absolutely certain. According to the verses that I have just read, there is a sin which never has forgiveness.
A LOOK AT THE CONTEXT
No text should be separated from its context. In Matthew’s account I see a man possessed of a demon who had inflicted him with blindness and dumbness (v. 22). Christ healed the man so that he both spoke and saw. The common people were amazed and pronounced Christ as the Messiah (v. 23). When the scribes and Pharisees heard this they accused Christ of being in league with the Devil: “This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of devils” (v. 24). Beelzebub (sometimes called Baalzebub) was the fly-god of Ekron (II Kings 1:2-6, 16), or Baal of the fly, or lord of the fly. Here it is doubtless a reference to Satan himself.
Our Lord answered their lies by pointing out that a divided kingdom or house would fall: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (v. 25). He then went on to say that Satan is not divided against himself, and he and his demons do not fight each other: “And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall his kingdom stand?” (v. 26). The fault of fight against each other is reserved for the servants of a better Master.
In verse 27 Christ makes a reference to Jewish exorcists: “And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges.” The Lord wanted to know if their children had dealings with the demon-prince. Their very sons would not agree with what they had said.
After this the Lord delivered the death-blow to their lies: “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house” (vv. 28-29). In verse 30 Christ declared that there was no compromise with Satan: “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” Immediately after saying this Christ spoke the alarming words about the unpardonable sin.
A NECESSARY DISTINCTION
Before I proceed farther I must distinguish between an unpardoned sin and the unpardonable sin. All the sins of the wicked who die in unbelief will be unpardoned. The final impenitent will suffer eternally in the lake of fire for these unpardoned sins (Rev. 21:8). Any sin not repented of is unpardoned, but all sins may be pardoned upon repentance except the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
In the text Christ clearly distinguished between the sin that “shall not be forgiven unto men” and “all manner of sin and blasphemy” which “shall be forgiven unto men” (Matt. 12:31). It is so very good to know that every sin can be forgiven to those who repent, save just one. Even blasphemy against Christ can be forgiven: “And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him. . .” Before conversion Paul blasphemed the Lord Jesus Christ, but he obtained mercy because he “did it ignorantly in unbelief” (I Tim. 1:13). God always forgives those who truly repent, and no sin is in itself of too great a guilt to be pardoned.
WHAT THE SIN IS NOT
1. It is not every sin against the Holy Spirit. There are numerous sins committed directly and specifically against the Holy Spirit. The Third Person in the Godhead can be insulted (Heb. 10:29), vexed (Isa. 63:9-10), resisted (Acts 7:51), tempted (Acts 5:1-9), quenched (I Thess. 5:19-20), and grieved (Eph. 4:30). All of these sins against the Holy Spirit are pardonable. One may even attack the deity and personality of the Spirit and still be forgiven, if God is pleased to grant him repentance.
2. It is not a sin against Christ. Some say the Spirit in Matthew 12:32 refers to the Divine nature of Christ, and that the verse has no reference to the Third Person of the trinity. But the term “Holy Ghost” is never employed in Scripture of the Divine nature of Christ. It is universally applied to the Holy Spirit, the Third Person in the adorable trinity. The first part of the verse reveals the reference is not to the Son of God: “And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him. . .” (Matt. 12:32). A person may deny the deity and virgin birth of Christ, deny the blood atonement, despise His Divine person, ignore His lordship, yet still be granted repentance and forgiveness.
3. It is not the final rejection of Christ. This is the most commonly held view. In my humble opinion this is a great and grievous error. According to Matthew 12:32, just one act of speaking against the Holy Spirit is the unpardonable sin. “. . .whosoever speaketh (just one time) against the Holy Ghost. . .” If just one committing is unpardonable, how can time after time rejecting salvation be it? Would not the final rejection be the same as the first?
4. It is not unbelief in Christ as Savior. If rejecting Christ as Lord and Savior is the unpardonable sin, then every person in the world almost is guilty of it. “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32). Seeing that all men by nature are unbelievers in Christ, this cannot be the sin, otherwise nearly all of Adam’s race is guilty of it. This is not to say that if men die in unbelief that they shall be pardoned. Unbelief, like any other sin a man may commit, is an unpardoned sin if it is never repented of. “. . .he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16).
WHAT THE SIN IS
The unpardonable sin is an act of speech: “. . .but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matt. 12:32). “But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation” (Mark 3:29). “. . .but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven” (Luke 12:10). Looking at all of these verses, the unpardonable sin is to speak malicious words against the Holy Spirit. According to the context, it is to ascribe the miracles wrought by the Holy Spirit to the agency of the Devil. This is what the Pharisees did. One can blaspheme the Father and the Son (Acts 13:45; 26:11) and be forgiven upon repentance, but he cannot blaspheme the Holy Spirit and be forgiven.
Why is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit rather than the Father and the Son? The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the trinity who imparts spiritual life to the sinner. The blasphemy has never forgiveness, for he who thus blasphemes sets himself in direct hostility to that Holy Spirit who is the only source of spiritual life. By blaspheming the Spirit, the blasphemer shows God has given him “over to a reprobate mind” (Rom. 1:28) and never designed him to receive forgiveness through Christ. In God’s sight the sin against the Spirit is more heinous than the sin against the Father or the Son. If the Spirit is condemned as the agent of evil, what power is left to move the heart toward God?
The sin is said by scholars to be unpardonable because of the consequence connected to one single act of blaspheming the Spirit. Look again at the verses. “. . .shall not be forgiven unto men. . .shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matt. 12:31-32). “. . .hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation” (Mark 3:29). “. . .it shall not be forgiven” (Luke 12:10). The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a sin of eternal abiding guilt. It is a sin whose guilt is never removed from a soul by a pardon. If some sins are forgiven they are forgiven to eternity, and if unforgiven they will eternally remain so.
No man can blaspheme unconsciously. Blasphemy of the Spirit is the act of one who, in defiance of light and knowledge, opposes after due deliberation, the work of the Spirit. The unpardonable sin involves an obstinate, persevering, and malicious rejection of the Holy Spirit to the point of ascribing His work to the Devil. Practically this person pronounces Jesus Christ an imposter, His blood an unholy thing, the Spirit worthless, the Bible a fable, death a sleep, the judgment a dream and eternal realities a mere illusion.
WHY IS IT UNPARDONABLE?
It is not because the sin is too great for the blood of Christ to atone for. The blood of Jesus is efficient and sufficient to atone for every sin it was designed to make atonement for. The teaching about the unpardonable sin proves the doctrine of a definite atonement. Christ did not die for the sin of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, for if He did it would be forgivable. The blood of Christ would have been sufficient to atone even for the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit if God had designed it to be so. We must not limit the sufficiency of the blood of Jesus Christ.
“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” (C. D. Cole in Definitions of Doctrine, Vol. II, pp. 25-26).
A saved person cannot commit the unpardonable sin. The condemnation is not only upon the word spoken, but it is also upon the heart that prompts the blasphemy. Note Matthew 12:33- 34: “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Christ spoke these words immediately after He uttered the words about the unpardonable sin. Since a saved man has a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek. 36:26) he cannot commit this sin. The new nature within him “cannot sin,” (I John 3:9) and, therefore, he is incapable of committing the unpardonable sin.
Any person who sincerely desires salvation has not committed the unpardonable sin. The fact that he still desires to be saved and is penitent is evidence that he has not committed this terrible sin. The person who commits it is indifferent to all good and all spiritual things. He is in a deadly impenitence. His conscience is seared as with a hot iron. A troubled conscience, a concern about one’s soul, and a desire to escape the wrath of God, will never be found in the heart of the person who has blasphemed the Holy Spirit.
Some theologians say the unpardonable sin could only be committed in the age when Christ was personally present on earth in the flesh. They say that when the Pharisees saw the evidence of our Lord’s miracles, and refused to believe in Him as the Messiah, they committed the unpardonable sin. Their assertion that our Lord worked miracles by Beelzebub, was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. They point out that the word for “world” in Matthew 12 is the word in the Greek text for “age,” and they confine the sin to the age of our Lord’s personal ministry.
I believe this is wrong for at least two reasons. First, the word in the Greek text is the word for “age,” but this word included the whole period of time from the days of Christ to the millennium. I say this because “this age” must have this meaning, seeing the millennium is “the age to come.” Second, this idea is erroneous because the sin is against the Holy Spirit, not against Christ. The Holy Spirit has always been in the world to regenerate sinners from the days of Adam to the present hour. Therefore, the sin could have been committed in any age since the beginning of the world, and it may be committed even today, or even in the millennium.
It is not our business to go around and judge who has, or who has not, committed this awful sin. Christ did not even judge the Pharisees here. He warned them of the possibility of this terrible sin. All of us have far less sense than Jesus Christ. Hence we are not qualified to judge who has, or who has not, committed this sin. A merciful God has so ordered things that man can never decide positively if any man has committed the sin which has never forgiveness.
Will some sins be forgiven in the age to come? Note again the words of Matthew 12:32 of the true rendering: “. . .neither in this age, nor in the age to come.” As I have already shown, “this age” is the present dispensation, and the “age to come” is the millennial age. We know from the words of Christ that all sins are pardonable upon repentance, save the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. The verse implies that in the age to come all sins are pardonable, save one. This means that God will forgive sinners in the millennium with one exception; therefore, Matthew 12:32 proves some people will be saved in the 1,000-year reign of Christ.
How can a minister preach to a mixed congregation and invite sinners to receive the gospel, if there may be present some who have committed the unpardonable sin? Let the minister preach the gospel to all, invite all to repent of sins, and believe on Christ, for this is his duty. Preach the truth to all men and leave the results to God. There is no danger of getting one saved who is guilty of the unpardonable sin, for those who commit this terrible sin have a hard and impenitent heart that will never desire to be saved.
Sin is sin, but there are some sins worse than others in God’s sight. Christ told Pilate: “. . .he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin” ( John 19:11). According to Scripture, there is a “greater sin” which deserves “the greater damnation” (Matt. 23:14). Some sins are worse than others. There is a sin unto physical death which a Christian can commit (I John 5:16). There is an unpardonable sin which a lost sinner can commit. All sin is sin, but there are degrees of sins and degrees of punishment for these sins.
Here is a serious warning to lost sinners. Be careful what you say. Be very cautious about any remarks about the Holy Spirit which are of a slanderous nature. You may go too far and sin against the Holy Spirit and put yourself in an unpardonable state before God. The very thought of one being guilty of this sin brings before my eyes screaming, dying, doomed, and damned men and women who shall never have forgiveness. Will you be one of them? Remember the words of Christ: “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).
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