by Arthur W. Pink
Philologos Religious Online Books
Studies in the Scriptures
by Arthur W. Pink
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 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 an 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 favoured 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.
“He did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, like unto the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel. For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. Also he built altars in the house of the LORD, whereof the LORD had said, In Jerusalem shall My name be for ever. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger. And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God . . . So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen, whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel. And the LORD spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken” (2 Chron. 33:2-7, 9, 10).
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: “And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto Him: and He was entreated of him, and heard his supplication” (vv. 12, 13).
If, then, the case of Manasseh demonstrates that the unpardonableness of sin lies not in the enormity of it abstractly considered, 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 thee to kick against the pricks” (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: “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Nor did that content him: “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1, 2). What a vivid picture do those words “breathing out threatenings and slaughter” 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 verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities” (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—”suppose you not 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 propitiation?
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 hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth” (Rom. 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 a sovereign God. This has not been recognised 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 whatsoever. 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 saith the Scriptures? This, that God “worketh 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” (Rom. 9:22). Let our Sublapsarian 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 “that will by no means clear the guilty” (Exo. 34:7), and dare not to change them to “who can by no means clear the guilty.” Both justice and mercy are regulated solely by God's will.
Again we ask, What saith the Scriptures? This: “Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth” (Rom. 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 anywise 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 suffer 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, “Ye 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.—”A.W.P.