Unbelief, the Greatest Sin
John 16:9
Of sin, because they believe not on me;

1. The Spirit convinceth of all sins, but chiefly of a state of sin — of unbelief;

(1) As the fountain of all sin. It was the first sin of Adam. It was the cause also of all the sin that grew up to such maturity in the old world. The faith of Abel is applauded (Hebrews 11:4); consequently the unbelief of Cain is marked. If Abel's sacrifice was more excellent in regard of his faith, Cain's was more vile in regard of his unbelief.

(2) As the ligament and band of all sin (John 8:24).

2. Unbelief is the greatest sin, because(1) God employs the highest means to bring men to a sense of it. The odiousness of sin to God appears by His sending Christ to expiate it; the odiousness of unbelief by His sending the Spirit to reprove it.

(2) It is a sin against the gospel, which is so holy a declaration of God's will that there cannot be an holier; so good in itself, that nothing can be better; the sin therefore against it is so bad, that nothing can be worse.

(3) It is a sin against the highest testimony (John 8:17, 18).

(4) As faith is the choicest grace, so that which is opposite to it must be the greatest sin. Note —


1. Negatively.

(1) Not a want of assurance. Drooping spirits may be believers. There is a manifest distinction made between faith in Christ and the comfort of that faith; between believing to eternal life, and knowing we have eternal life (1 John 5:13; Isaiah 50:10).

(2) Not every interruption of the act of faith. Faith may lie asleep in the habit, when it doth not walk about in the act. Fogs and mists darken the sun, but put not out that eye of the world.

(3) Not doubts. Such there are in the beginnings of faith, when the state of the soul is like that of the twilight, a mixture of light and darkness (Psalm 126:6, 7). This is rather infirmity than unbelief (Psalm 77:10; Matthew 14:31; Psalm 56:3).

(4) Not temptations to unbelief and unbelieving thoughts injected. If these be not entertained, formally they are not acts of our unbelief (Matthew 4:3; Psalm 73:21).

(5) Not unbelief of some truths through ignorance, provided they be not fundamental (Mark 16:11-14). Errors in the head do no more destroy the truth of faith than miscarriages in the life through infirmity nullify the being of grace, or every spot upon the face impair the beauty and features of it.

(6) Not a negative unbelief which is in the heathens, who never had the means of faith.

2. Positively it is —

(1) A denial of the truth of the gospel; when men assent not to the doctrine of the gospel by an act of the understanding.

(2) A doubting of the truth of the doctrine of the gospel as many do who will not openly deny it. Since all men are in the rank of believers or unbelievers, a suspension of our belief of the doctrine of the gospel cannot be ranked under the banner of faith; it is at best, for the present, a more modest refusal, rather than a downright rejection.

(3) Refusal to accept heartily of Christ upon the terms of the gospel, which is opposite to justifying faith, when there is not a fiducial motion to Christ as the centre.


1. It is against God.

(1) It is the greatest reproach and undervaluing of God (Isaiah 7:11-13). As faith "gives glory to God" (Romans 4:20), so unbelief casts reproach and scorn upon Him.

(2) It robs God of the honour of all His attributes.

(a) It blemishes the truth and veracity of God. He that believes "sets to his seal that God is true" (John 3:33). It makes God guilty of perjury (Hebrews 6:17, 18; Ezekiel 33:11).

(b) It casts a black aspersion upon the wisdom of God. Unbelief charges God with folly in regard of the unnecessariness of it. If men think they have ability to save themselves, what a needless work was this in God, to make His Son a sacrifice for man's salvation! Or, if men do account the coming of Christ necessary, and so free God from the charge of folly, they at least charge His wisdom with a mistake in the means of salvation, as if it were undertaken without precedent consideration. And further, by this sin the unbeliever doth, as much as in him lies, frustrate the design of God's glorious wisdom, in not consenting to that which the wisdom of God hath contrived.

(c) It slights the goodness of God. No greater act of love could spring from boundless eternity, than the parting with His only delight in heaven out of His bosom for the redemption of man (Isaiah 5:4).

(d) It disparages the power and sufficiency of God. First, In not coming to Him. Secondly, In trusting to something else. What then we trust unto, besides God and above God, we render in our thoughts more powerful than God.

(e) It strikes at the sovereignty and authority of God. It is a debt we owe, as subjects, to God as our sovereign, to give credit to what He cloth reveal, and to obey what He cloth command (1 John 3:23). It is a contradiction to the resolute and fixed will of God. All unbelief is a dislike of God's terms (Romans 10:3). And it renders God, as much as in it lies, unworthy of any sovereignty.

(f) It affronts the holiness and righteousness of God. If the setting forth Christ to he a propitiation for sin was to declare His righteousness (Romans 3:25), what doth unbelief signify hut that this act was unrighteous in God?

(g) It is a stripping God, as much as lies in man, of all His delight. The service Christ did, which was delightful to God, is contemptible to an unbeliever. First, It is a refusal of Christ, the "man that is God's fellow," His "daily delight." Secondly, It is a privation of faith, a grace so pleasing to God (Hebrews 10:38). Thirdly, It is a refusal of His mercy in Christ (Micah 7:18).

2. It is a sin peculiarly against Christ. It is a piercing Him again (Zechariah 12:10).

(1) It is a nullifying the work of His meditation and death.

(a)  It renders the design of His coming a vanity, when it receives not the fruits of it (2 Corinthians 6:1).

(b)  It is a vilifying the price of redemption (Hebrews 9:28).

(2) It is a denying of the love of Christ.

(3) It denies the wisdom of Christ. It chargeth Him with folly and inconsiderateness, in undertaking a task that was not worth His pains.

(4) It wrongs the authority of Christ. It receives an aggravation from the greatness of the person that published the doctrine of faith (John 5:43).

(5) It denies the excellency of Christ (Philippians 3:8).

(6) It denies the sufficiency of Christ: the greatness of His priesthood, the fulness of His satisfaction, His prevailing intercession. Where no trust is reposed in Him, it implies that no benefit can be expected from Him.

(7) It denies Christ His right and reward (Isaiah 53:11).

(8) It puts Christ to the greatest grief. His soul was never more deeply impressed with grief before the hour of His passion than when He saw men would not come to Him that they might have life.

3. It is also a wrong to the Spirit of God (Acts 3:51: Hebrews 3:10, 17).

(S. Charnock, B. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Of sin, because they believe not on me;

WEB: about sin, because they don't believe in me;

The Work of the Spirit in the Conviction of Sin
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