The Sin Unto Death & Heb. 10:26

Dear Pastor Mencarow,

I would like to ask for clarification of the verse in Hebrews 10:26 that says, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins …” as it would seem to imply a wilful decision to sin. Therefore, how can we sin “wilfully”? And how can it be possible that no more sacrifice can remain to cover it?

L. B., Kent, England

Dear L. B.,

Let’s consider the context:

Heb. 14

For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified . 15 Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before ,16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; 17 And their sins and iniquities will Iremember no more. 18 Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. 19Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a newand living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say , his flesh; 21And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in fullassurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washedwith pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) 24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching . 26 For if we sin wilfully afterthat we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour theadversaries. 28 He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye , shall he be thought worthy , who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he wassanctified , an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him that hath said , Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense , saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 32 Butcall to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated , ye endured a great fightof afflictions; 33 Partly , whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions;and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used . 34 For ye had compassionof me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods , knowing in yourselves that yehave in heaven a better and an enduring substance. 35 Cast not away therefore your confidence,which hath great recompence of reward. 36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye havedone the will of God, ye might receive the promise. 37 For yet a little while , and he that shallcome will come , and will not tarry . 38 Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back ,my soul shall have no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition;but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.

First, we know that the elect cannot commit a sin that will result in damnation: “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. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.” (I Jn. 5:16-17)

Many are perplexed at this verse, but a little thinking clears it up. I Jn. 5 begins with, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God:” If you believe that Jesus is the Christ you are born of God; you will be saved (“believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31]). Those who do not believe in Him are damned: “if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” (Jn. 8:24). The only way to be damned is not to believe that Jesus is the Christ. That is the sin unto death.

Therefore, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,” means that if we have understood the Gospel then turn from it, there is no other Christ to save us.

It cannot be otherwise; all of us sin willfully. There are times when we are tempted and fall, knowing we are sinning, even if for a moment.  If the verse meant that if we are ever tempted and fall into sin after we have believed then we are damned, then every one of the elect would be damned.

The great expositor of Hebrews, John Gill, says about this verse: “not of immoral practices, but of corrupt principles, and acting according to them; it intends a total apostasy from the truth, against light and evidence, joined with obstinacy.”

Here is what Matthew Henry says:

v. 26, v. 27, etc.1. From the description he gives of the sin of apostasy. It is sinning wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, sinning wilfully against that truth of which we have had convincing evidence.

This text has been the occasion of great distress to some gracious souls; they have been ready to conclude that every wilful sin, after conviction and against knowledge, is the unpardonable sin: but this has been their infirmity and error. The sin here mentioned is a total and final apostasy, when men with a full and fixed will and resolution despise and reject Christ, the only Saviour,—despise and resist the Spirit, the only sanctifier,—and despise and renounce the gospel, the only way of salvation, and the words of eternal life; and all this after they have known, owned, and professed, the Christian religion, and continue to do so obstinately and maliciously. This is the great transgression: the apostle seems to refer to the law concerning presumptuous sinners, Num. 15:30, Num. 15:31 . They were to be cut off.

2. From the dreadful doom of such apostates. (1.) There remains no more sacrifice for such sins, no other Christ to come to save such sinners; they sin against the last resort and remedy. There were some sins under the law for which no sacrifices were provided; but yet if those who committed them did truly repent, though they might not escape temporal death, they might escape eternal destruction; for Christ would come, and make atonement. But now those under the gospel who will not accept of Christ, that they may be saved by him, have no other refuge left them. (2.) There remains for them only a certain fearful looking for of judgment, v. 27. Some think this refers to the dreadful destruction of the Jewish church and state; but certainly it refers also to the utter destruction that awaits all obstinate apostates at death and judgment, when the Judge will discover a fiery indignation against them, which will devour the adversaries; they will be consigned to the devouring fire and to everlasting burnings. Of this destruction God gives some notorious sinners, while on earth, a fearful foreboding in their own consciences, a dreadful looking for it, with a despair of ever being able either to endure or escape it.

3. From the methods of divine justice with those who despised Moses’s law, that is, sinned presumptuously, despising his authority, his threatenings and his power. These, when convicted by two or three witnesses, were put to death; they died without mercy, a temporal death. Observe, Wise governors should be careful to keep up the credit of their government and the authority of the laws, by punishing presumptuous offenders; but then in such cases there should be good evidence of the fact. Thus God ordained in Moses’s law; and hence the apostle infers the heavy doom that will fall upon those that apostatize from Christ.

Here he refers to their own consciences, to judge how much sorer punishment the despisers of Christ (after they have professed to know him) are likely to undergo; and they may judge of the greatness of the punishment by the greatness of the sin. (1.) They have trodden under foot the Son of God. To trample upon an ordinary person shows intolerable insolence; to treat a person of honour in that vile manner is insufferable; but to deal thus with the Son of God, who himself is God, must be the highest provocation—to trample upon his person, denying him to be the Messiah—to trample upon his authority, and undermine his kingdom—to trample upon his members as the offscouring of all things, and not fit to live in the world; what punishment can be too great for such men?

(2.) They have counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing; that is, the blood of Christ, with which the covenant was purchased and sealed, and wherewith Christ himself was consecrated, or wherewith the apostate was sanctified, that is, baptized, visibly initiated into the new covenant by baptism, and admitted to the Lord’s supper. Observe, There is a kind of sanctification which persons may partake of and yet fall away: they may be distinguished by common gifts and graces, by an outward profession, by a form of godliness, a course of duties, and a set of privileges, and yet fall away finally. Men who have seemed before to have the blood of Christ in high esteem may come to account it an unholy thing, no better than the blood of a malefactor, though it was the world’s ransom, and every drop of it of infinite value. (3.) Those have done despite unto the Spirit of grace…etc.

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