Here is a subject that causes fear in the hearts of many a sensitive believer. “Have I ever blasphemed the Holy Spirit?” “What does it mean? How can I know whether I have or not?” It is good to face this problem head on, and find an answer that is wholly scriptural and satisfactory, without any dodge, any wangle, any contrivance, something that one’s spirit knows is right and acceptable in the sight of God.
First of all, let us see the actual statement the Lord made, using a literal translation of the Greek Matthew 12:31-32. “All sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy of the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or the coming one.”
Let us first of all deal with the last phrase “either in this age or the coming one.” The force of these words is as follows “Don’t expect conditions to change when the Kingdom of God is set up. These words will apply under any future administration, because they reflect the character of God, which does not change.” (I must confess here to propagating in some earlier writings in the Prophetic Telegraph, that God would not forgive certain sins in this age, or the Kingdom age, but would do so after that. But I now retract that view, believing it was a contrivance to explain a difficult verse. Thank God for further light!)
The next point concerns the Greek word translated FORGIVE. Basic meaning = “send away”, hence the idea of forgiveness, which is perhaps better thought of as “pardon”, the rescinding of a payment that is due, a debt that is outstanding. It is this concept that enables us to grasp the fullness of what the Lord was saying, because He Himself gave a parable to explain it.
Matthew 18:23-35. It is the story of the unforgiving servant. The King calls for the payment to be made of an enormous debt, which translated into modern terms might represent millions of pounds. The servant is convicted of his guilt, falls down, and pleads for mercy. The King is “moved with compassion”, and the debt is wiped out. It is “sent away”. He is completely cleared. We are told that he is “forgiven”. This part of the parable is a wonderful illustration of the character of God that “all sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men.”
But the sad part is what follows. The man, now cleared of debt, goes and treats his fellow servant in the OPPOSITE MANNER to his King. The poor man, who only owed about four month’s wages, implored him to have mercy, but was thrown into prison “until the debt is paid”. But of course, this would prevent the man from earning money to pay the debt; hence the debt would theoretically last forever.
The King is justly angry at what has happened. Mercy has not begotten mercy. Forgiveness has not begotten forgiveness. “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-servant, even as I had mercy on you?” The wicked man’s debt, which had been rescinded, is now re-applied. He was required to pay all of it. The “pardon” was revoked. The “forgiveness” was removed. And the Lord told His disciples that the same would happen to them if they didn’t forgive their brothers’ trespasses.
In other words, the wicked servant was committing the “unforgivable sin”. He had “tasted of the heavenly gift” but gone away and effectively “crucified the Son of God afresh, and put Him to open shame.” (Hebrews 6:4-6) “Of how much sorer punishment he will be thought worthy for trampling on the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, and done despite to the SPIRIT OF GRACE.” (Hebrews 10:29)
The “unforgivable sin” is therefore contained in the Lord’s words, “If you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” It is not some dreadful thing that we might unwittingly do without realising it, and which constantly causes us torment and for which we will never be forgiven. It is rather an everyday principle that applies to every believer all the time. We have been shown mercy, and been forgiven our trespasses “by the riches of His grace”, and this should beget a similar attitude towards everyone else. “He who has been forgiven much, loves much”, or so it should be, but in the case of the wicked servant in the parable, it didn’t work out that way, and in the end he found himself having to pay for his debts in completeness.
I should like to add a personal reflection here. I have been accused of being a heretic, or a cultist, for believing in the Ultimate Reconciliation of All. But it seems to me that all the fearful verses in the Bible about hell-fire and future punishment are explained by the Lord’s parable, and show why such punishment is necessary. It is reserved for those who have received much but return little, not for those who have never received anything. Furthermore, the King said that the debt had to be paid in full. When it is paid, then all was settled. The King didn’t demand what the wicked servant demanded, in other words imprisonment where debts could never be paid. Those who believe in conscious eternal punishment are in fact acting out the mind and attitude of the wicked servant, in wanting the state of debt to remain for ever. A careful reading of our Lord’s parable eliminates that falsehood, and brings enlightenment and joy.
An example of a huge debt being paid is Saul of Tarsus, who was a violent man and a murderer. But he recognised that he was “the chief of sinners” and therefore he was “not disobedient to the heavenly vision” given him on theDamascus road. The Lord forgave him an enormous debt, and produced a man of noble character, to whom we are all indebted. In the Old Testament two very wicked men receive ultimate reconciliation, Nebuchadnezzar, after paying for his debts for seven years, and Manasseh, after paying for his in chains in the Babylonian jail. Both of these men are examples of those who go through “hell fire”, and come out cleansed. The compassion of the Lord may seem to be withheld for a season during just punishment, but afterwards draws men back to Himself. Shall we not emulate such a wonderful example?
P.S. I should like to give credit to Thomas Talbott, in “The Inescapable Love of God”, for much help in understanding the truth about the “Unforgivable Sin”. Also to Madeleine L’Engle in her book “A Wind in the Door”, in which Meg has to learn how to love the awful Mr Jenkins by learning that “love is not a feeling, it’s an act of the will” as Don Francisco said in one of his songs.