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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Title:God will not permit his elect to sin against the Holy Spirit
Text:CD 5 art. 6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Blaspheming The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)


Psalm 61:1,2,3

Apostle's Creed: Hymn 1


Read:  Matthew 12:22-32; 1 John 5:13-21

Psalm 51:4

Text:  Canons of Dort chap. 5, art. 6.  R.E. 3,4

Hymn 51:1,2,3



Hymn 47:3,4,5


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ

If the Bible's teaching about sin against the Holy Spirit makes you feel uneasy, even fearful, you are not alone.  Throughout the history of the Christian church many people have agonised over what this sin is and if they themselves had actually committed it.  What did Jesus mean when he said that the one who sins against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven and why did he say it?  And how should Christian, particularly the troubled Christian, respond to the Lord's teaching about this?

  Turning to what we have read from the Bible, and considering this in the light of the Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints as confessed by the church in the Canons of Dort, I proclaim God's Word under this theme:

God will not permit his elect to sin against the Holy Spirit

1. A serious warning

2. An enduring comfort


1. A serious warning

In order to understand the Bible's teaching regarding sin against the Holy Spirit, we first need to know what it is.  We read together from both Matthew 12, which speaks about blaspheming the Holy Spirit and also 1 John 5, about the sin that leads to death.  We will look at Matthew 12 in a moment, but first let's take a closer look at 1 John chapter 5.  1 John 5:16-17 says,

"If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death."

 When John wrote about the sin that leads to death, we can assume that the first readers of this letter understood what was meant.  Since then, however, there has been a of debate as to what this sin is.  In the Early Church there were some people who thought that this was the sin of apostacy, of renouncing your faith.  When persecution against the Christian church was very strong, there were some people who, under the threat of death or the suffering of their loved ones, denied their faith in Christ.  Later, however, they repented and wanted to be received back into the church.  Some Christians, however, refused to accept them back, declaring that since they had denied Christ, there was no way back for them.  But that is not true:  the Bible tells of people who had, in one way or another, turned their back on God but later repented and were received back by Him.  That was what happened, for example, to Simon Peter.  In fact, in that case the Lord even told Peter in advance that he would pray for him.

  Another, more common, way of understanding this sin that led to death was to divide sins up into serious and less-serious sins.  Serious sins such as murder, suicide, adultery, blasphemy and idolatry, when they are deliberately committed could not be forgiven, it was said, whereas less serious sins could be.  The Roman Catholic Church still has their lists of venial sins, those that can be forgiven, and mortal sins, sins that officially result in eternal death.  And it is particularly this teaching that has caused so much anguish to Christians over the years.  Because what does that mean regarding the sins of one's youth, or the sins committed when, for a time, a person pushed all thoughts of God and law to the side and gave in to the lusts of his flesh?  Could he ever be forgiven?  Or was it too late?  Was there no hope left? 

  You can understand, brothers and sisters, that this interpretation of what a sin that leads to death might be has struck terror in the hearts of many people over the years.

But is this true?  Is it possible to sin so badly, so seriously, that God can never forgive you?  No!  That is not what the Bible teaches us.  Listen to what it says, for example, in Isaiah 1:18.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."

And 1 John 1:7,

"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin."

There is no sin that is so great, we are told, that it cannot be covered by the blood of Christ.  And that's why Noah the Drunkard could be saved.  That's why Moses, who murdered an Egyptian could be forgiven.  That's why David, who committed both murder and adultery did not have God's Holy Spirit taken from him.  That's why Paul, a persecutor of the Church could be redeemed.  And that's why we too can be assured that when we come to God in repentance, pleading for forgiveness in Jesus Christ, we will be forgiven. 

  So the idea that there are some sins that are too serious to be forgiven and no longer able to be covered by the blood of Christ, is clearly wrong.  It is necessary, therefore, that we understand what  1 John 5 means with this "sin that leads to death" differently.  And in order to do this, let us first consider a clearer part of Scripture, to what the Lord means by "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" in Matthew 12, and then return to the "sin that leads to death" in 1 John 5.

In Matthew 12 there was a dispute as to who Jesus really is.  Earlier, in Matthew 12:9, the Lord Jesus had entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day, where he met a man who had a withered hand.  At that time the Pharisees asked Jesus, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"  They asked this question because they wanted to accuse Jesus of sin.  But Jesus showed himself to be Lord of the Sabbath and, in doing so, the Messiah himself, by healing this man.  The Pharisees, however, refused to believe in Jesus and, Matthew 12:14 says, they went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

  Then in verse 22, the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees became even stronger.  Reading again from verse 22-24,

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”

So this is what had happened:  Jesus had healed a man who was demon possessed, thus proving to all that he was the Christ and that demons were forced to submit to him, but the Pharisees, who were the spiritual leaders of God's people, did not simply say "We don't know who this Jesus is" but they went so far as to accuse him as being on the side of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, the devil himself.  That was their sin.  And Jesus warned of the seriousness of that sin.  First, he explained to them just how foolish and illogical their claim really was.  "If Satan casts out Satan", he said, "he is divided against himself.  how then will his kingdom stand?"  (Verse 26). And then he said in verse 28,

"But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast our demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you."

And if that was true - and it was - then they needed to repent and confess Christ as their Lord and Saviour.  "Whoever is not with me", verse 30, "is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters."

  And it was in this specific context that the Lord Jesus spoke about sin, or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  Mathew 12:31-32,

"Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."

With these words the Lord Jesus gave the strongest warning possible to the Pharisees and those who rejected not only him but the Holy Spirit who was working though him.  Christ had come to bring about salvation from sin and deliverance from the evil one.  But the Pharisees said, "Do not come to Jesus for your salvation, for he is not of God but of the devil."  And so Jesus said, "Watch out!  Be warned.  If you commit the sin of deliberate unbelief, where you openly and totally reject God's work of salvation and of his Holy Spirit, then there is no salvation for you."

And that's a warning that still stands today.  Jesus teaches us that you cannot sit on the fence forever.  Yes, it may take time for you to embrace the truths of the gospel, of the forgiveness of sin and life in Christ Jesus.  Many of God's people go through a time of questioning, of probing and of wondering if it is all true.  But you cannot sit on the fence forever.  "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters."  (Verse 30). The time must come for you to give your Amen, your I Do to the gospel promises of God.  Because the alternative is to reject him.  And if you knowingly and deliberately do that, having tasted the heavenly gift, having tasted the goodness of the Word of God, as Hebrews 6 describes it, if you then reject the promises of God's covenant, then watch out.  Be warned, because if you reject the Christ, there is no sacrifice for sins left.  And then it may indeed be found that you have sinned against the Holy Spirit, you have died in that sin that leads to death.

But what about Matthew 12:32?  What did the Lord mean when he said, " whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come"?  Isn't the Lord Jesus true God, just as the Holy Spirit is?  If you speak against the Son, don't you also then speak against the Holy Spirit?  Yes you do.  But what our Lord Jesus was referring to here was the Pharisees' rejection of him in his state of humiliation, before he had gone to the cross, before he had risen from the dead and been exalted to the right hand of God.  And inasmuch as a rejection of the gospel is due to ignorance and a failure to see Christ for who he really is, there is forgiveness, a person can still turn to Christ and be saved.  You only need to think of the apostle Paul, who had formerly been a persecutor of the church, to see that.  But for those who know but who willfully and deliberately harden their hearts, block their ears, and reject the gospel, the time will come when it will be too late.

And that's what we also see in 1 John chapter 5.  1 John 5:1 says,

"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him."

But there were others who did not believe that Jesus is the Christ, and therefore the evidence was there that they had not been born of God.  1 John 2:18-19 says,

"Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

And verse 22-23,

"Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also."

It is this, then, that appears to be that sin that leads to death, and it is this sin that John tells them not to pray about.  Because ultimately these people had proven of themselves that they were not true brothers, that they never had been born of God in the first place.

And that is also the way that our Fathers at the Synod of Dort understood the sin that leads to death.  They then saw this sin that leads to death in much the same way as we understand what the Lord Jesus meant by the sin against the Holy Spirit.  And they concluded that this sin can only be committed by the reprobate: it cannot be committed by one of God's elect, it cannot be committed by one who seeks his forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ.  In the Chapter 5, Rejection of Errors number 4, the Arminians said,

"True regenerate believers can commit the sin that leads to death or the sin against the Holy Spirit."

But the Reformed Fathers at Dort refuted this and wrote,

"The same apostle John, after speaking of those who commit the sin that leads to death and forbidding prayer for them, immediately adds: We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning (namely, with that kind of sin); but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him (1 John 5:16-18).

And therefore while the Bible's teaching about the sin that leads to death and the sin against the Holy Spirit is a serious warning against those who do not believe and who stubbornly reject Christ and the gospel, God's people may rest in the enduring comfort that God will not permit his elect to sin against the Holy Spirit.  We will see that further in our second point.

2. An enduring comfort

Some people have the impression that the Canons of Dort deals with doctrinal teaching that does not have much of an impact on our faith and our daily walk with God.  As we've made our way through the Canons, however, we have seen again and again just how relevant and how pastoral these teachings really are.  That's the case again in chapter 5, article 6.  The Arminians were teaching - as many still do today - that Christians can not only fall into serious sins, but that they can fall away so fully and so completely that they lose their salvation altogether.  In that context they also used what the Bible says about the sin that leads to death and the sin against the Holy Spirit to say that this can be committed by one who had previously been born again.  But if that was true where would our comfort be?  From where would we receive the assurance of our salvation?  Our comfort and our assurance would only be as strong as we feel within ourselves.  But that is not true comfort at all.  For that will lead us either to pride or despair.

  But where, then, does our comfort lie?  Our comfort, the Canons of Dorts reminds us, lies in the conviction that God will not permit his elect to be lost.  Let's read chapter 5, article 6 once more.

For God, who is rich in mercy, according to the unchangeable purpose of his election, does not completely withdraw his Holy Spirit from his own even in their deplorable fall. Neither does he permit them to sink so deep that they fall away from the grace of adoption and the state of justification, or commit the sin unto death or the sin against the Holy Spirit and, totally deserted by him, plunge themselves into eternal ruin.

Even if we fall into sin, and even if that fall is deplorable, when we turn to God, seeking forgiveness, God will hear us and he will forgive.  Because our election and our salvation is based not on us but of God.  He is rich in mercy.  He is unchanging in his purposes of election.  And he will hold on to his own so that they do not fall from the grace of adoption or the state of justification. 

  And that's why, for God's people, what the Bible teaches about the sin that leads to death and the sin against the Holy Spirit, this should not leave us in total despair, but with the warning concerning that sin comes a word of hope.  Matthew 12:31 says,

"Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people."

And 1 John 5:16,

"If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life - to those who commit sins that do not lead to death."

The promise of forgiveness stands!  If you turn to God in Jesus Christ, you will be forgiven!  That's the gospel promise for you, and that's the gospel promise you are to share with your brother or your sister, especially when they have fallen into sin and they wonder if there is still forgiveness available to them.

  Christ's warning regarding sin against the Holy Spirit is a serious warning to those who rebel against him and who deliberately block their ears and harden their hearts to the gospel message.  We ought to fear this and warn those who are hardening themselves in unbelief of the wrath to come.  Do not presume on the riches of God's kindness and forbearance and patience, Romans 2:4 warns us, since God's kindness is meant to lead us to repentance.  But for those of us who are God's children, our security is not in ourselves but in the grace and the mercy of God.  And therefore the message of the gospel is this:

"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."  Isaiah 55:7


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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