The expression “sin and death” occurs in our Canons, in the fifth head. In Article 6 of the positive section we read, and we quote:
But God, Who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people, even in their melancholy falls; nor suffers them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption, and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death; nor does He permit them to be totally deserted, and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.
And in the fourth article of the rejection of errors (V, B, 4) we read, and we quote:
Who teach: That true believers and regenerate can sin the sin unto death or against the Holy Spirit. Since the same Apostle John, after having spoken in the fifth chapter of his first epistle, vss. 16 and 17, of those who sin unto death and having forbidden to pray for them, immediately adds to this in verse 18: “We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not (meaning a sin of that character), but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and the evil one toucheth him not,”
We will notice that our fathers, in V, B, 4, speaking of this “sin unto death,” identify it with the sin against the Holy Spirit. And this is undoubtedly correct. We read inMark 3:28-29: “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.” The same expression we read in Matthew 12:31, 32. In I John 5:16 we read: “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” And inHebrews 6:4-6 we read: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame.”
In the subject assigned to me in this special issue of our Standard Bearer, Perseverance and the Sin unto Death, the question is of the utmost importance: what is the relation between this perseverance and the sin unto death? Can this sin unto death ever frustrate or thwart the perseverance of the saints? This is the position of the Arminians. It is true that in the fifth point of the Remonstrance they declare that they are not ready to give a definite answer to this question. This, however, is only camouflage. We understand, of course, that any conception that is rooted in the free will of the sinner cannot believe in the certain perseverance of the saints. Besides, the Arminian surely does not believe in this truth.
The Arminian, we understand, and this is surely understandable, is very fond of quoting Hebrews 6:4-6. In this Scripture, already quoted in this article, the inspired writer speaks of those who have been once enlightened, have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost and have tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the world to come; and he declares of them that, if they shall fall away, they cannot be renewed again unto repentance. Of course, he does not endorse fully this particular Word of God. He does call attention to what we read here, namely, that they fall away. But he surely does not endorse what follows in this text, namely, that they cannot be renewed again unto repentance. He will surely maintain that, even as through his free will he can fall away or out of grace, so he can also through his free will return into the grace of God. He will surely maintain that if it be true that the saint can fall from or out of grace and therefore not persevere even until the end, so it must also be true that he can always return into the grace of God should he will to do so. But does not this Scripture speak of those who were made partakers of the Holy Ghost and that they fall away? Does not this Word of God, therefore, speak of a falling away of saints? We can understand why he is so fond of quoting this particular Scripture.
How terribly wrong he is! In the first place, the holy writer is not referring here to the elect but to the reprobate. This appears from what we read in the verses 7 and 8. In verse 7 he speaks of herbs which are brought forth and which receive blessing from God. These, we understand, are the people of God. But in verse 8 he speaks of thorns and briers which are rejected, are nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned. Mind you, their end is to be burned; they are surely the reprobates. Thorns and briers never become herbs, even as tares are never wheat and wolves never become sheep. Secondly, although we read that they were once enlightened, had tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, this must be understood, not in the spiritual sense of the word, but in the intellectual, natural sense of the word. How true it is that the reprobate will and does speak of the wonders of the heavenly gift! He will concede the wonders and glories of the heavenly Jerusalem, the City that has foundations. Thirdly, when we read that they cannot be renewed again unto repentance, this surely implies that they had once been renewed unto repentance. The word “again” emphasizes this. We read that they cannot be renewed again unto repentance. But this does not mean that they had actually and spiritually been renewed unto repentance, had been regenerated by the Lord. Besides, that they cannot be renewed again unto repentance does not mean that this repentance lies beyond the power of God’s grace and Spirit, that the heart of this sinner has become so hard and obdurate that even the power of the grace and Spirit of God is unable to break it. This, we understand, cannot possibly be the meaning of this Word of God. Of course, when we read that they cannot be renewed again unto repentance, the meaning is that the Lord cannot renew them again unto repentance, inasmuch as it is only the Lord Who renews unto repentance. However, the Holy Spirit does not operate this way; the elect do not serve the manifestation of sin in the highest, the extreme sense of the word, its greatest manifestation—this is reserved for the reprobate. The elect, we must understand, serve to reveal the power and the glory of the grace of God. Hence, that they had been renewed once unto repentance means that this had been their confession. They had once confessed that the Lord had renewed them, had called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. Having fallen away, having repudiated their confession, means that they cannot be renewed unto repentance again. This is not the Lord’s mode of operation.
The sin unto death or against the Holy Spirit occurs, we understand, only in the sphere of God’s covenant. It occurs only by those who, according to their confession, had once been renewed unto repentance.
Can the sin unto death ever thwart the perseverance of the saints? Or, can an elect, regenerated child of God ever commit the sin unto death? Indeed not! We read in I John 3:9: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” This, we understand, does not mean that the child of God never sins. Paul writes in Romans 7:19: “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” And in I John 1:8we read: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” The meaning of this latter passage is that if at any moment we say that we are not sinning, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, that is, we are not being led by the truth. Hence, when we read in I John 3:9 that a child of God cannot sin because he is born of God, the meaning is that which is born of God cannot sin. That seed, wrought in us by the Lord, is perfect. And if the child of God, born of God, cannot sin, then, of course, he cannot sin the sin against the Holy Ghost. And this certainly implies that the perseverance of the saints is sure; the child of God cannot fall away or out of grace.
We need not in this article discuss the sin unto death, the sin against the Holy Spirit. Besides, this is a difficult passage. Does this sin unto death refer to the sin whereby one in full consciousness sins against the fullest manifestation of the truth? Of course, every sinner does not commit this sin. Incidentally, this sin is committed only within the sphere of God’s covenant. According to Hebrews 10:29, this sinner treads under foot the Son of God and counts the blood of the covenant, which sanctifies, an unholy thing. And this occurs, of course, only in the sphere of the covenant. However, we need not discuss this sin in this article, although we may say that every sin that is not confessed leads to death. Of importance is the truth that the child of God does not commit this sin. And he may certainly know that he does not commit this sin. 0, it is true that a child of God may experience melancholy falls into sin. Our fathers speak of this in Canons, in V, A, 6. It is certainly true that a child of God may at times even wonder whether he is guilty of this sin. Children of God can sin very grievously. The Word of God speaks of these incidents. This merely establishes the truthfulness of the Word of God. The world may cover up the sins and shortcomings of its heroes in their history books. This is not true of Scripture. Of this, David is a glaring example. He committed premeditated murder when, having committed adultery with Bathsheba, he murdered her husband, Uriah the Hittite. Nevertheless, a child of God cannot commit the sin unto death. Are we sorry for the sins we commit, confess them before the face of our God? Do we seek and implore His mercy? Then we have not committed this sin. A sinner cannot experience sorrow for a sin unto death. Confessing our sins, we will surely experience forgiveness. However, there is no forgiveness of the sin against the Holy Spirit. And this means that there is no true sorrow for this sin. Hence, we may surely know whether we have committed the sin unto death.
The perseverance of the saints is sure. We may commit sin and we often do. There is never a moment when we are not sinning, according to I John 1:8. We do proceed stumblingly to Zion’s top, to the city that has foundations. Sin will plague and torment us throughout our earthly pilgrimage. But we shall persevere. And we shall persevere because we shall be preserved. Believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, by God’s almighty grace, we ‘are assured that the work which God has once begun by His grace will surely be finished. That work is rooted in God’s unchangeable election, rests upon the perfect sacrifice of Christ upon the cross of Calvary, and is being completed in us by the Spirit of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. His work knows of no repentance; it will be finished in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.