There are two sins, both of spiritual condition, which cannot be forgiven; that is, which cannot be excused, passed by, made little of by the tenderness even of God, inasmuch as they will allow no forgiveness to come into the soul, they will permit no good influence to go on working alongside of them; they shut God out altogether. Therefore the man can never receive into himself the holy renewing saving influences of God’s forgiveness. The one of these sins is against man; the other against God.
The former is unforgiveness to our neighbor, the shutting of him out from our mercies, from our love. It may be infinitely less evil to murder a man than to refuse to forgive him; the former may be the act of a moment of passion, the latter is the heart’s choice. We quench the relations of life between us; we close up the passages of possible return. This is to shut out God, the Life, the One. For how are we to receive the forgiving presence while we shut out our brother? Tenfold the forgiveness lies in the words, “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses.” Those words are kindness indeed. God holds the unforgiving man with his hand, but turns his face away from him. If, in his desire to see the face of his Father, he turns his own towards his brother, then the face of God turns round. God loves the sinner so much that he cannot forgive him in any other way than by lifting him out of the mire of his iniquity.
SIN WHICH CANNOT BE FORGIVEN
by Dave Roney
The commonly held teaching concerning this verse is summed up in the turn of phrase ordinarily voiced; it is called “the unpardonable sin.” Why do men not say “the unforgivable sin?” That which separates between the which is unpardonable and that unforgivable is no trifling difference. A judge may for various reasons pardon a man for his crime yet hold personal bitterness, a grudge, unforgiveness, against him. The two things, pardon and forgiveness, are not the same. At the same time there is, however, a certain sameness, a positive and a negative aspect, between the two: For, there is neither a sin which can not be pardoned, and certainly none which can not be forgiven—but sin, in any dimension, left uncured is both unpardonable and unforgivable. Which is to say that no sin is pardonable by God, but every sin by Him is forgivable. Why, then, does our Lord say blasphemy (what ever that may actually be) against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable?
I ask why not because the answer isn't evident to me or, even were it not evident, still I would be satisfied in what I do know; by that I mean I trust my Lord to say only what it is like Him to say, His words then to be an audible expression, an exact representation, wholly transparent, of what is in Him and of what He is ever doing—to say in surety, even by what is a question, that whatever it might mean, it means it is just like Him and His Father, and in that I am at ease of heart, placing in Him all my trust. For that He is worthy; and if my brother blasphemes the Holy Spirit I trust our redeeming Lord to save that chief of sinners even as He saves others.
What is it about the blasphemer which is “unforgivable?” It is the same thing in him that is in you, though you have not, or hope you have not, blasphemed the Holy Spirit. That which is in every man, applicable to every sin, and is unforgivable for every person without exception is a man's condition. But what is condition if not mutable? What is a conditional clause? Does it not mean if, or unless, or except? “On one condition,” we say, indicating that if a demand isn't met, unless certain criteria are honored, except the terms of agreement are discharged, etc., the agreement, or contract, fails? Conditions are always subject to change; it is the hope for the blasphemer or, since he may not hope, the sure hope of God that his gross sin, that is his condition, may change, will at some point in time change, must change because of the power, the will, the love of God.
That is what I think the meaning of the Lord's words to be; that it is the condition of the man which is unforgivable and not the man himself. You sin and know you do it; are your sins, though not specifically a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, in any wise forgivable? Are they unpardonable? Do you suppose that, with known sin upon you, you shall leave this life and go straightway to a place where God has said no sin may enter in? Through His servant He has said to you to confess your sins and when you do He is faithful, in fact He is justified, in forgiving you; in that contrition you are changing one condition for another, the former condition—yours as well as the blasphemer's—is unforgivable, the latter is always forgiven. There are two basic types of sin a man can commit, one against God, the other against men; neither type is pardonable, both are conditional, and both must be dealt with and, when dealt with, bring forgiveness in every case:
“There are two sins of spiritual condition, which cannot be forgiven; that is, which cannot be excused, passed by, made little of even by the tenderness of God, inasmuch as they will allow no forgiveness to come into the soul, they will allow no good influence to go on working alongside of them; they shut God out altogether. Therefore the man can never receive into himself the holy renewing saving influence of God's forgiveness.”
As to these two sins I will first address the sin of not forgiving our neighbor; in such case we are withholding from him all the Divine which is ours to share, which he desperately needs, of our tenderness and compassion, our mercy poured out on him without regard to his deserts, the withdrawal of our love, and our failure to live out for him and to him the very life of Christ. But it is not as if, when we refuse to forgive, that the Divine in us is readily available to give; for by our hardness of heart we prison the good within the shell of our own evil condition. If we are cold to our neighbor, or cynical, or hating—do we not realize that we carry the same in our heart for God? You do not believe it so? Then think of your neighbor whom you hate and see if your prayers for God to forgive you have any real meaning to you? You know He cannot forgive you as long as you do not forgive others. How could God forgive us if we are in such a condition? He would needs suffer a fatal internal change, become something far less than what He is and much more like some theologians would have Him to be; He would have to reinvent Himself in our image, and become Himself unforgivable—for then our Father would blaspheme His only Son and His own children. (I said earlier “...blasphemy, what ever that may actually be.” This is an occasion to ask yourself what it is in a practical sense.):
“It may be infinitely less evil to murder a man than to refuse to forgive him; the former may be the act of a moment of passion, the latter is the heart's choice.”
How many the apprehended murderer, sitting in the interrogation room clad with handcuffs, breaking down in tears of remorse for what he has done—but the man who will not forgive may, because of the hardness of his heart, persist in his condition for ages. “This is to shut out God, the Life, the One... Tenfold the forgiveness lies in the words, 'If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses'.”
If one should ask when it is that a man is forgiven, the answer is that he is eternally forgiven; how, then, do I say that when a man is in a certain condition he cannot be forgiven? Simply this, the provision made is eternal and dependent solely upon God in Christ Jesus—but the appropriation of the provision, the forgiveness of God, depends on the man. He may refuse the provision of God by his unforgiveness of his neighbor, may continue to do it all his earthly life, but all the while God's forgiveness is there for him when he will receive it—the forgiveness of God for you, for me, even for the blasphemer. The Prodigal had a home of which his father kept the door open for him, yet the tenderness of the father could do little for the condition of the son until the lad was ready to do what was in his power alone to do; to change that condition—and when he did, his father who had always been ready to receive him could then receive the one seeking reception.
So also is God ready to forgive all those who confess their sins, “The same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on Him," including blasphemers. When Christ said to the scoffers “...shall not be forgiven” He says the same to every man for every sin; as long as the sinner continues his sinning and blasphemer holds to his blasphemes, they cannot be forgiven; nor as long as I may refuse to forgive my brother can I be forgiven—that which is unforgivable in both those men and me is our condition, and our condition can change. The only difference, as to this subject, between my sin and that of the blasphemer is that I spurn my brother while he spurns his God.
Forgiveness, powered by love, is destructive but in a positive manner; for it destroys the walls of partition separating between man and his fellows, and man and his God. Some have taught that if a man blasphemes the Spirit it offends the Spirit so badly that He withdraws from the man and, in that case, and since salvation comes only by the wooing of the Spirit, the man is forever lost. But the Son and the Spirit are one even as the Son and the Father are one: Christ declared, when facing Jerusalem and Calvary, “For this cause I came.” And He sent into the world the Spirit Who ministers and does the work of Christ—He, as Christ, if asked “Do You still do your redemptive work in the one who has blasphemed against You?” would answer “For this cause I came.” For, if God be God, and if the Persons of the trinity are “one” with each other, then if Christ Who suffered so horribly prayed the Father “Forgive them, they know not what they do,” then it is the same prayer of the Spirit of Christ. And by that God, Who is no respecter of persons, swings wide the door of redemption to every person...
“The Wreck, The Ruin, and The Remedy”
by Dave Roney
“That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them...” (II Cor. 5:19)
Many have taught that there is but a single unpardonable sin which can never be forgiven; this teaching is founded upon the single utterance of our Lord, located in Mark 3:29 and also in our text under this heading, Luke 12:10. St. Mark's rendering of our the Lord's words are more ominous than those of St. Luke, for he goes further than Luke, saying; “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin." We must pull back the veil at this early point to discover what the verse actually says, and proceed from there to understand the God Who said it.
In another place I have spoken of the word which is here translated as “eternal” and will not enter into any discussion of it now, except to reassert that it is a form derived from the Greek noun αἰῶν, pronounced “aye-own,” which means “An indefinite period of time, an age,” and is the source of our English word “eon” which carries the same definition. The translators came to the table with certain preconceived notions (i.e., the Penal/Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement which harks back to Augustine), and have forced the Scripture to say what they believed it is saying, rather than simply allowing it to say what it is actually saying.
Accordingly, the phrase “guilty of an eternal sin” supplied in Mark 3:29 would more accurately be translated as “...will be guilty of this [specific] sin for an indefinite period of time.” In the earlier reading for January 11th, MacDonald employs this understanding of αἰῶν, which is part and parcel to his theology, when he says “It may be centuries of ages before a man comes to see a truth,” and, again, “For this vision of truth God has been working for ages of ages.” In other words, he does not see the wretched estate of a man to be “eternal” in duration, though it may be “ages of ages” before he, quite the same as with biblical Prodigal son, “comes to his senses.”
This understanding leads immediately to a question; what is the nature of God if His judgment against a man is not “eternal?” We would first submit that this judgment, whatever it is (for its form differs from person to person), is not meant to destroy and damn, but is of a purely purgatorial nature, intended to drive out from a man his dross, to refine his gold: It is, in this life and also in the coming one, the Consuming Fire doing its work of redemption. The purity of a man is measured but by a single standard; is he like the Son of God? Anything in him that is not exactly like the Lord Jesus is his dross; it is this slag that the Fire burns, brings to the surface, and expels from the man, rendering him pure.
One need not have great spiritual insight to see that God is ever planning, and working, for the redemption of sinners. He is doing it in every way, in every case, for every beloved child estranged from Him, including the one so wayward as to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. God cannot pardon sin, any sin; He must forgive it, in fact is bound to destroy sin in order to reconcile sinners; yet until He is able to forgive it it remains unforgivable. Had He for any reason been able to simply forgive, without regard to a man's condition of heart, as though to turn His face and not see the sin, then the Atonement would have been the most foolish and cruel thing God ever did—not only to His Son, but also to the sinner. In that unthinkable case, Jesus would have died in vain, at least for the great masses of humanity, and the sinner would be condemned to forever exist in his miserable, sinful, condition.
Our Lord summed the entire satisfaction for every Divine commandment by setting forth a single two-fold command: Love God, and love your neighbor. It is not two commands but one; for, God cannot be truly loved except the neighbor also be loved, and a man cannot truly love his neighbor unless he also loves the Father of the man. The “unforgiveable” sin is likewise a single two-fold condemnation: In the first part it is “unforgiveness of our neighbor” and in the second “the heart's choice” to “shut out God.”
A second question arises: When is a man forgiven by God? The answer is that the man is eternally forgiven, that he has ever been forgiven; this must be the case, else the Lamb “slain from before the foundation of the created world” is wholly lacking in logic, both human as well as Divine. If, then, Christ is the eternal Atonement, there must be that which eternally needed Atoning. The theologians have long told us that the Atonement is sufficient but not necessarily efficient; in this, though they mistakenly imagine that the inefficiency shall continue “eternally,” they are very close to the truth of the matter. There is a Divine depository in the Heart of God, filled with the sacred forgiveness, extending to every person, awaiting only the time—whether in this life or the next, in this moment or after ages of ages, that indefinite αἰώνιος length of time if needed, when the lost sheep sees, recognizes, surrenders to, and follows his Great Shepherd.
In the meanwhile, the God of all Love “holds the unforgiving man in His hand, but turns His face from him. If, in his desire to see the face of his Father, he turns his own towards his brother, then the face of God turns round.” In Galatians 5:14 the Apostle quotes our Lord, but with a modification; he states “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'." In quoting our Lord, why does St. Paul not include His phrase which says to “love God?” It is for what I said above; it is impossible to truly love neighbor unless one also loves God. Thereupon, I say, that more is included in MacDonald's words quoted above from the daily reading than is overtly expressed.
In closing, the fact is that God will not rest until He has redeemed His lost sheep, each and every one of them without exception; and the manner of that redemption is through Christ, is found in Him alone; for it is “in Christ, that God was reconciling the world to Himself.” What of offenses? How shall He exact Justice? He shall do it even as Christ has demonstrated, uttering through His unspeakable abuse and pain, crying out, “Father, forgive them...” And no prayer of our Lord shall ever be contrary to the heart throb of His Father and ours. Therefore, the second portion of the verse; “...not counting their trespasses against them.” God does not count our trespasses against us, those things which we have done: It is not for sins which a man has done that God must condemn, but for the sin which a man continues to do. And when the chief of sinners finally comes to the place of self-loathing, of finding himself at the end of Self, then, then, he will turn to Love, will find his God and Father, and be through the Atoner, Who is his Elder Brother, finally reconciled with the Divine. It will be the day when the sinner forgives trespasses levied against himself as he welcomes, rather than shuts out, his God. Man has been Wrecked by sin, thus he has been Ruined; the Remedy is found in Christ Jesus alone:
“God loves the sinner so much that He cannot forgive him in any other way than by lifting him out of the mire of his iniquity.”