Sin Unto Death

Elder Sylvester Hassell
The Gospel Messenger–December 1897

1Jo 5:16-18

I have been requested to write on this important subject.

The exact literal translation of 1Jo 5:16-17,18 as follows: “If any one see his brother sinning sin not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for those sinning not unto death. There is sin unto death; not concerning it do I say that he shall pray. All unrighteousness is sin; and there is sin not unto death.”

It appears, from the above words of the Apostle John (the present participle sinning, and the noun sin not limited by any article or adjective) that he means, by “sin unto death,” not a single sin, but an habitual course of sin, resulting in death; and that the sin is plain, visible, and perceptible (“if any one see his brother “).

The Apostle does not say that a brother, much less a real Christian, a genuine child of God, can commit sin unto death; but he implies that one professing to be a brother may commit such sin.

Four kinds of death are spoken of in the Scriptures, all of which are the penalties of sin (Ge 2:17; Ro 6:23)

1st. Physical or Bodily Death, the separation of the soul, which is the life of the body, from the body, followed by the corruption of the body and its return to dust; {Ge 3:19; Ec 12:7} this is the most usual meaning of the word death in the Scriptures; and all the children of God, except Enoch and Elijah and those who are living on earth at Christ’s Second Coming, experience this death.

2d. Eternal Death, called in Revelation ii. ii and xx. 6, 14, 15 the Second Death, and in Mr 3:29 eternal damnation, everlasting separation of a creature from the Creator, who is the true life of every creature; also called “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power”, {2Th 2:9} and “everlasting punishment,” “everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels”; {Mt 25:41,46} both in this Epistle and in his Gospel, the Apostle John emphatically and repeatedly denies that a real child of God can commit sin resulting in Eternal Death. {Joh 2:25; 7:37-40,44,50-51,53,53; 10:27-30; 17:2-3,11-12,24}

3d. Spiritual Death, separation of the sinner here in the from God, the Spirit of life, called “death in trespass and sins”; {Eph 2:2; Mt 8:22; Lu 15:24,32; Joh 5:24; 2Co 5:1; Joh 3:14} all human beings are, by their natural generation, in this condition of spiritual death; and from this condition the elect are quickened by the Spirit of God. {Eph 2:1-10; Joh 3:5; 6:63; Tit 3:5}

4th. What may be called Akoinonian (or Non-Fellowship) Death, a loss of the light and warmth and comforts of God’s salvation here in time, a separation, not from the love, but from the face and fellowship of God and from the fellowship of His people, described in the Scriptures as darkness, dryness, captivity, sleep, dissolution, and burial (Isa 59:2,9; Eze 37:1-14; 39:23-24; Eph 5:14; Re 3:20; 1Jo 1:5-10); into this miserable death the children of God may temporarily plunge themselves by gross, willful, presumptuous, habitual, persistent sins, but, just as certainly as they do, their Heavenly Father, their holy, faithful, unchangeable, covenant-keeping God, will chastise, humble, and correct them, make them repent of and mourn over and hate and confess and forsake their sins, and, in His own good time, restore unto them the joys of His holy salvation.

If the Apostle, in 1Jo 5:16-17, means that a child of God can commit sin unto death, the death cannot be the Second or Third Deaths just mentioned; for the child of God never falls into Eternal Death and has been forever delivered from Spiritual Death; and if he plunges into the Fourth or Non-Fellowship Death, he will also be delivered from that, and it would seem that his brethren should love him enough to pray for him {Eph 6:18} that the Lord would fulfill His promise to deliver him from that, and, if so, the Apostle John, the Apostle of love, either does not here mean that a real child of God can commit such sin, or he does not mean Non-Fellowship Death. It is possible that, if he here means that a real child of God can sin unto death, he may mean that such a person can commit a sin tending to result in the First, Physical or Bodily Death {1Co 11:30; Jas 5:13-20; but, if such is the meaning of John, it would seem, from the passage in James, that fervent, effectual (literally, inwrought, inspired} prayers should be made by the elders of the church for the sinning, afflicted, and confessing member, who will, according to the Divine promise, be forgiven of his sins, converted from the error of his way and restored to health; while, if John means sin of a child of God unto Bodily Death, he would seem to differ from James in declining to encourage prayer in regard to it; but, as there can be no conflict in the teaching of inspired writers. It seems certain that John does not mean sin of a child of God unto Bodily Death, nor, as I have shown above, unto Eternal, or Spiritual, or Non-Fellowship Death, so that the conclusion seems inevitable that John does not here mean to imply that a real brother, a genuine child of God, can commit sin unto death. On the other hand, he declares, all through this Epistle, that every one that has been begotten of God, does righteousness, does not, as before regeneration, keep on committing sin willfully, outwardly, habitually, and persistently, believes that Jesus is the Christ, loves God and His children, overcomes the world, and has eternal life given him by God in His Son, and, by the grace of God, keeps himself so that the wicked one touches him not, that is, to his destruction. He is a tree of righteousness, and bears fruit unto holiness, and has, as the end thereof everlasting life. {Ro 6} John says that a brother may sin so unto death; but he does not say that a brother, a real child of God, can sin unto death. The life spoken of in this Epistle is Eternal Life; and so the death spoken of in it seems to be its opposite-that is, Eternal Death.

Only the non-elect, the unredeemed, and the unregenerate can commit sin resulting in Eternal Death. One form of such sin is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, speaking evil of, calumniating, reviling, vilifying the Holy Ghost, calling Him an unclean or unholy or evil spirit. {Mt 28:20; Mr 3:24-30; Lu 12:10} Blasphemy means speaking evil of; and blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is not sin in general, but the special sin of reviling the Holy Ghost, and it is not the cause but the mournful effect and evidence of a seared conscience, a reprobate mind given up by the Lord to everlasting hardness; impenitence, and unbelief, to utter and endless ruin. Christ solemnly declares that this sin “shall not be forgiven,” “hath never forgiveness”. The occasion of Christ’s mentioning the unpardonable sin of blaspheming the Holy Ghost was the charge made against Him by His carnal, selfish, jealous, ambitious, proud, bitter, scoffing, malignant, determined enemies, the Scribes and Pharisees, that He cast out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils, that the Holy Ghost in Christ was an unclean or wicked spirit, thus making Christ the incarnation, not of God, but of the Devil, not of the Kingdom of Light, but of the Kingdom of Darkness. These evil trees brought forth corrupt fruit, and were known by their fruit; these wicked men had evil hearts that brought forth evil things; they were not for, but they were against, Christ; they were a generation of vipers, filled with the poison of their father, the Old Serpent, the Devil, and utterly hated truth, holiness, and God, and could not escape the damnation of hell. {Mt 12:30-37; 23:33; Re 20:2} It seems to me strange and deplorable that a few (I am glad to say a very few) of our beloved, intelligent, and devout ministering brethren violently wrest the language of Christ in Mt 12:31-32 and Mr 3:28-29, from its plain and certain connection, and apply this language to the children of God, whom they thus fill with distress and despair by the belief that they have committed this unpardonable sin of blaspheming the Holy Ghost. Such an application is not only a sad perversion of these Scriptures, but it also ignores the certain fact that blasphemy is not evil conduct, but is evil speech-nothing more and nothing less. I never read or heard of the most disobedient child of God reviling the Holy Ghost-calling the Holy Spirit a Satanic or evil spirit. The idea that a child of God can commit this unpardonable sin and then must atone for such sin by his own sufferings in this life, involves a denial of the faithfulness and power of God to keep His people; a denial of the sufficiency of the atonement of Christ for His people; and a denial of even the necessity, of His atonement for if the suffering of sinners in this world or in eternity can atone for their sins, there was no need of Christ’s dying for sin, and the whole human race will be finally saved, not by the atonement of Christ, but by their own sufferings. This idea seems to me a departure from the vital, central doctrine of the Christian religion-salvation by grace alone, justification by faith alone, redemption by the blood of Jesus alone. The principle is, to my mind, precisely the same as that if the Roman Catholic doctrine of Penance and Purgatory.

Our brethren who maintain that the children of God can blaspheme the Holy Ghost fail to observe the distinctions, clearly given in the context, between “blaspheming “ and “resisting” and “vexing “ or “grieving the Holy Ghost “ and “quenching the Spirit.” The corrupt and viperous Pharisees, notwithstanding the light of Christ’s wondrous words and works, blasphemed the Holy Ghost in Christ, calling Him an unclean spirit, and they never would be regenerated or forgiven. {Mt 12:22-37; Mr 3:22-30} The stiff-necked Jews, uncircumcised in heart and ears, “resisted the Holy Ghost” in the prophets, in Christ, in Stephens and in the Apostles, and persecuted and slew these inspired men, but some of these Jews, such as Saul of Tarsus, might afterwards be regenerated and forgiven. {Ac 7:51-52; Ne 9:29-30; Ac 9; Lu 23:34; Mt 12:31} While the elect, redeemed, and regenerated children of God may, by rebellion, disobedience, neglect, falsehood, dishonesty, filthiness, bitterness, wrath, clamor, evil speaking, covetousness, and jesting, “vex” or “grieve” (the original words mean the same) “the Holy Spirit,” “by whom they are sealed unto the day of redemption,” that is until the resurrection of their bodies (the Holy Spirit being here compared to a dear Friend, who, when displeased, hides His face or frowns upon the loved ones who offend Him, but still never will utterly forsake them), Isa 63; 64; Eph 4:30 with all the Epistle. And the children of God, by not using and manifesting the graces and gifts of the Divine Spirit, may for a while “quench” His holy influences in their hearts, dim the light and chill the warmth of His presence within them (He being here compared to a holy flame, but the whole Epistle shows that this divine light and warmth within them will never be utterly extinguished, for they are the elect, redeemed, and regenerated children of God, and will be preserved blameless unto the coming of Christ. The inspired writers do not command the children of God not to “blaspheme the Holy Ghost “ or “resist Him” by murdering His ministers, for these things the regenerate will never do But they do command them not to “grieve the Holy Ghost “ or “quench the Spirit,” for these sums those born of the Spirit, and in whom He dwells, may commit.

Another form of sin unto Eternal Death is apostasy, a drawing back unto perdition by those whose minds have been illuminated by the doctrine of a gracious salvation from sin by the atoning death and justifying resurrection of the Son of God, and who have openly professed to believe and trust in Christ to have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and to have been sanctified by the blood of the everlasting covenant, and then have renounced that profession, and gone back to the law for justification such proud, scornful, contemptuous adversaries of God are worthy of and shall receive from Him, not merely temporal death justly inflicted upon a presumptuous violator of the law given by Moses, but much sorer punishment, even everlasting vengeance, destruction, burning, and perdition. {Ga 5:4; Heb 6:4-8; 10:26-39} As John does not tell us to pray for those who commit sin unto death, so the Lord told Jeremiah not to pray for the apostate, hypocritical, idolatrous, and corrupt people of Judah, whom He had continually instructed and warned by His prophets, and who, while falsely professing to he His people, were really worshippers of Baal and other idols, and whose utter destruction, for their apostasy, hypocrisy, idolatry, and iniquity, He had irrevocably decreed {Jer 7:16; 14:11-12; Eze 14} But the elect and redeemed children of God, who have eternal life, never apostatize unto Eternal Death. The Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, declares that the objects of God’s everlasting love {Ro 8} have had their sins purged away by the atoning death of the incarnate Son of God, once crucified but now glorified, and are _heirs of salvation, _the children whom God has given to Christ, _the many sons whom He brings unto glory, who _believe in Jesus and enter into spiritual rest, ceasing from their own works for justification, of whom the Apostle is _persuaded (better things than falling away and cursing and burning,) things that accompany salvation, and that they are secured from destruction by _the immutable promise and oath of God and the intercession of their holy and everlasting and unchangeable High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Mediator and Surety of a better covenant than that of the law, founded upon better even unconditional promises, in accordance with which _God puts His laws in their minds and hearts, gives them a saving knowledge of Himself as their God, and is merciful to their unrighteousness and remembers their sins and iniquities no more, that, by _the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, their consciences are purged from dead works to serve the living God, that _as Christ has come the first time to bear their sins, so they look for Him to appear the second time to bring them into the fullness of His salvation, that _by His one offering He has forever perfected them, and that they _are not of those who draw back unto perdition but of those who believe to the saving of the soul, that they _confess that they are strangers and pilgrims on the earth, and look for a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God, that they _desire a better, a heavenly country, and _choose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, that _they all die in faith, of which _Jesus is the author and finisher, that they _endure chastening from their wise, holy, and loving Heavenly Father, that They are no more under the black, fiery, tempestuous, terrible mountain of the law, but have come in spirit to _Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, an innumerable company of angels, the general assembly and church of the first-born, who are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel, that they have

“received a kingdom that cannot be moved-a gracious, spiritual, holy, and everlasting kingdom, of which God is the Head and they are the subjects, to the eternal glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, apostasy, and all other forms of sin unto Eternal Death is characterized as utter and final obduracy, impenitence, and unbelief. Of these awful, unpardonable sins; it is certain, from the Scriptures, that not a real, but only a nominal child of God can be guilty. The true child of God, though a sinner, is, through the influence of the Holy Spirit, humble, penitent, believing, watchful, and prayerful, and is kept by God from committing sin unto Eternal Death.

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