State Road, Del., December 14, 1886.
Dear Brother Respess: – I will offer you such understanding as I have upon the sentence “There is a sin unto death.” – I John, v, 16. I have recently beard considerable about committing an unpardonable sin, and as many may now be subject to more or less worry over the fear of death on account of this sin, and as from earliest recollection I have heard and read of trouble and distress on account of the fact that there is believed to be an unpardonable sin, I will try to give your readers what light I can upon the subject. If there be some special sin that God, for Christ”s sake, cannot forgive, what is it? Can believers commit it? Various conjectures have been put forth by the wise and learned and among them I have seen a supposed case; supposing one to have a knowledge of God and malice against him at the same time. As for instance, if Peter had denied his Lord with the same malice with which Saul persecuted him, or if Saul had persecuted him with the same knowledge of him that Peter had, either would have committed the supposed unpardonable sin. But this is gratuitous, and is supposing an impossible case. Those who have the knowledge of God love him; and who have the knowledge of the truth, love it; and it cannot be otherwise. It is, I think, quite generally supposed that what is called a sin unto death is the same that the Lord Jesus speaks of as the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. I do not understand the two passages as having any connection, but I will give you my understanding of both, for the reason that both have been taken together by others. All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man it shall be forgiven him, but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven, neither in this world nor in the world to come. – Matt. xii, 31, 32. One of the evangelists finishes out this declaration with the expression, “Because they said he had an unclean spirit.” This last sentence had led me to suppose that the Redeemer meant to charge home upon them the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost when they attributed his miraculous power to the Prince of devils. I have, however, for some years, believed that the idea that there was some particular sin, or kind of sins, that were unpardonable, is a fallacious one. Such a sin as it has been supposed to be, there is nobody capable of committing. The Lord was merely informing his revilers that while sins, and all manner of sins, could be forgiven unto men through him, that there was no other salvation, and never could be forgiveness in any other way. Sin or blasphemy against the Holy God, or Holy Spirit, could not be forgiven. If our sins are not charged against the Son of man, and borne and cancelled by him, they cannot be forgiven; but all manner of sin and blasphemy laid upon him and charged to him as the sin-bearer of his people, is taken away in its penalties and consequences from them, and they experience the forgiveness of sins. The sins of those whom he represented are all laid upon him, and he bore them in his own body on the tree. On this ground they are justified. “For the transgression of my people was he stricken.” If our sins were not laid upon him and borne by him, then they remain as sins against a Holy and Infinite Being, who cannot look upon sin, and there is no other way in which forgiveness can ever come.
The other sentence, “There is a sin unto death,” I understand to have reference to church discipline, and as a part of the instructions given by the apostle to the brethren of the churches for their guidance in dealing with transgressions of the law of Christ. “If a 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.” This instruction to labor for the restoration and forgiveness of a brother who has transgressed is plain enough, and is in accord with what the Master himself taught, and what was taught by other apostles in their instructions to the churches, The distinction between a sin unto death and other sins not unto death, this apostle does not clearly define; so we have to look elsewhere for fuller instructions. But the death here spoken of is in regard to standing in the church and the fellowship of the brethren. As Israelites of old were cut off from among their people for certain transgressions of the Jewish law, so Israel in gospel times are instructed to cut off frown the congregation those who tread under foot the Son of God, and do despite unto the Spirit of Grace. The apostle Paul gives directions in one instance to “Deliver such an one unto Satan,” and in another, “Put away from among you that wicked person.” The church in her discipline does not have to know whether an individual is a Christian or not, but only whether he or she walks orderly as becometh saints. There are certain crimes that are so at variance with the profession of faith, and with the character and standing that a church of Christ is required to maintain, that no apologies or professed penitence can be accepted. The apostle does not forbid labor in their behalf, but he does not enjoin it. “I do not say that he shall pray for it.” I do not understand the apostle as objecting to praying to the Lord in behalf of any and all offenders. But he speaks in reference to labor in their behalf in the church.
It would seem a pity that the little ones who hope in the divine mercy, should be tempted and worried about something that never has been, and never can be. Their very fear and tenderness of conscience on the subject, is proof, at least in their ease, that they have not sinned away the love and favor of God. It, was the Redeemer”s object in partaking of flesh and blood, to destroy in behalf of his people, death and him that had the power of death, so as to deliver them at once and forever from the fear of death. Otherwise, if there is reason to fear the death of the transgressor at last, they are all their lifetime subject to bondage.