Loving the Unlovable

“We are bound to love even sinners, and not to drive them from the land of hope, but seek to reclaim even these. Is a man a rogue, a thief, or a liar? I cannot love his roguery, or I should be a rogue myself. I cannot love his lying, or I should be untrue; but I am bound to love him still, and even though I am wronged by him, yet I must not harbor one vindictive feeling, but as I would desire God to forgive me, so I must forgive him. And if he so sins against the law of the land, that he is to be punished (and rightly so,) I am to love him in the punishment; for I am not to condemn him to imprisonment vindictively, but I am to do it for his good, that he may be led to repent through the punishment; I am to give him such a measure of punishment as shall be adequate, not as an atonement for his crime, but to teach him the evil of it, and induce him to forsake it. But let me condemn him with a tear in my eye, because I love him still.”

—Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)

About Jon J. Cardwell

"The Spirited Speaker" - Pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Anniston, Alabama. Nationally recognized speaker and publisher. Author of several books, including the bestseller, Christ and Him Crucified.


  1. Could anyone have said it better?

  2. This quote goes well alongside the topic of forgiveness.

    I do have a question. Spurgeon said, “even though I am wronged by him, yet I must not harbor one vindictive feeling, but as I would desire God to forgive me, so I must forgive him.”

    Do you think he is suggesting that true forgiveness can take place without repentance?

    • That’s an excellent question, sister; and prayerfully, by God’s grace, I may answer it with a blessed and Biblical reply:

      As God is sovereign and extends His mercy to whom He will, repentance is a grace granted by God upon those whom His favor and forgiveness is bestowed. Repentance, in other words, is an evidence that God’s forgiveness has been received by that soul the Holy Spirit is effectually calling.

      On our part, however, for those saved by God’s grace, repentance is not a requirement for mercy and forgiveness to be dispensed to another. As we are in the hand of God, so we recognize that the offensive sinner is as well. As I understand that I could not possibly repent unless were it not given me from above, I must also realize that the wicked that have offended God, or even offended me, cannot repent unless it is imparted to him from above.

      As Mr. Spurgeon refers to both those portions in the model prayer of Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4 (and even the Lord’s own commentary on forgiveness in Matthew 6:14-15), as we have received for giveness so freely unto repentance through the precious blood of Jesus Christ, if I would know the depth of God’s forgiveness more, if my desire is to know Christ unhindered and the majesty of His sacrifice unrestrained to my mind and heart, I must forgive. In other words, my own unforgiveness hinders me from the precious intimacy of walking in the fullness of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

      I do hope that I have conveyed that so as not to cause further confusion (for if Mr. Spurgeon didn’t mean that… he should have).

      • In the 3rd paragraph, I meant to say: On our part, however, for those saved by God’s grace, repentance is not a requirement for mercy and forgiveness to be dispensed to another; that is, repentance is not required on the part of the one who has sinned against me or against the Christian saved by God’s grace. We are repentant. They will not have the capacity to repent unless it is given them from above. They can be sorry for it; but they can’t truly repent. We forgive because we are new creatures in Christ and have received the grace of repentance. We are commanded to forgive, and therefore we must.

    • One other thought on that, sister, which I do believe Mr. Spurgeon had in mind from that sermon where the quote was taken; especially since he goes on to say:

      “I am to love him in the punishment; for I am not to condemn him to imprisonment vindictively, but I am to do it for his good, that he may be led to repent through the punishment…”

      That brings his statement, “even though I am wronged by him, yet I must not harbor one vindictive feeling, but as I would desire God to forgive me, so I must forgive him,” a much fuller flavor and implies his knowledge of the passage in Romans 5:8,

      “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

      Though the forgiveness was offered in Christ while we were yet sinners, it was not appropriated until God granted repentance to the soul effectually called by His Spirit:

      “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).

  3. Hmmmm…Can you hear the wheels turning?

    Some thoughts that I am mulling over:

    1. I agree with forgiving a repentant sinner “Until Seven Times.” I think the Bible is clear that someone who does NOT forgive a repentant offender is in danger of hell.

    2. I agree with Spurgeon in that we must maintain a posture of grace towards our unrepentant offenders. That is biblical. We love our enemies, do good to them, pray for them, etc.

    3. Struggling with an unrepentant person receiving forgiveness. If the Bible has laid out the blueprint for us, how then can there be forgiveness without a turning from sin? Ephesians 4:32 says “forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

    This is not our license to be bitter or angry. On the contrary.

    Also, am I understanding this correctly…The argument for forgiving an unrepentant sinner is based upon the fact that our own forgiveness and grace was unmerited to begin with anyway?

    • Sister, as you said this: “Also, am I understanding this correctly…The argument for forgiving an unrepentant sinner is based upon the fact that our own forgiveness and grace was unmerited to begin with anyway?” you are spot on.

      As far as receiving forgiveness from God, there must be repentance (but as I mentioned before, it is a grace given).

      I know that many have objections to what I will type next because it would almost imply that our forgiveness is greater than God’s if we forgive the unrepentant and God only forgives the repentant.

      We must forgive others regardless of the offending persons condition.

      It is commanded of God for us to do so.

      Rom 12:19-21
      19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
      20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
      21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

      Matt 5:44-48
      44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
      45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
      46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
      47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
      48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

      When we do forgive unconditionally, we acknowledge that:
      1. God’s commandments are just and for our benefit.
      2. God’s sees the heart of men whereas we do not. God is sovereign for He knows who, through our forgiveness unto the unrepentant, will come to repentance according to His mercy bestowed upon them through us.
      3. God knows who is elect are and not us, because even though someone appear repentant, they may not be at all and vice-versa (see the Lord’s parable in Matthew 21:28-31).
      4. God is merciful to even the vilest wretch through the mercy and kindnesses He bestows through His people.
      5. This gives us opportunity to bow to God’s sovereignty in the most sinister of matters.

      This forgiveness bestowed upon the unrepentant is not willy-nilly, nor does it cast wisdom and discernment away, but is compassionate according to the grace given and measure of faith in the soul that has been saved by grace.

      Hope that helps.

    • Sorry, sister.

      I failed to mention that your observation in your last sentence was the answer to where you were struggling with an interpretation for Ephesians 4:23 in your #3 point.

      Only a consistent view of the doctrine of sovereign election will reconcile this in our hearts.

      We can’t possibly know who is truly elect. The only assurance I can certainly have is my own by the unction of the Spirit according to the truth of scripture. This is why the Calvinist is truly passionate to evangelize souls (or at least should be), because it displays the glory of God by the means He has ordained, the preaching of the gospel through souls saved by grace.

      Likewise, forgiveness is dispensed by the truly Calvinistic in view of compassion, because mercy is offered to display God’s great glory that He would grant such grace to men among men. That is truly amazing, supernatural, and incomprehensible grace.

  4. Another place where the soul saved by grace may have a bit of trouble with this is truly grasping the difference between the forgiveness dispensed by God and the forgiveness dispensed by His people.

    God’s forgiveness brings reconciliation and restitution.

    That may or may not happen when redeemed man dispenses mercy and forgives. Your mercy and mine, your forgiveness and mine, carries no real weight, power, or authority except as it is in Christ. In and of itself does nothing. But when it is dispensed in the power and authority of God in Christ, it sanctifies, at the very least, you and I who dispense mercy and offer forgiveness for the power of God does abide in us; and Lord willing, that power may move upon that unrepentant soul that he or she may be repentant… may receive forgiveness from the Father by life through Christ…

    for after all, what have they done to you or me, that we wouldn’t have done to Christ were it not for the restraining grace of God to keep us from being that vile and wicked?

  5. Talk about wheels turning! Hope you don’t mind me budding in, but my pastor once said something that has really helped me in being able to forgive an non repenting sinner. He said that unrepentant sinners are dead and blind in their sin and can neither understand the truth nor repent (not without the grace of God). He bids us to remember our own lost and rebellious state before salvation. If we required repentance first, we’d probably get only a superficial repentance. Jesus’ act of forgiveness does not mean to recruit false converts either.

    Of all the scriptural evidence, the one that popped out at me the most is: “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’” Luke 23:34

    Forgiving does not mean accepting a wrong as right! Jesus had paid for the wrong while he spoke these words. Spurgeon rightly points out that a sin cannot go unpunished, but that we can forgive and love sinners in their punishment. Forgiving does not mean easing or overlooking a consequence or punishment. If this were the case, then Jesus suffered needlessly.

    Perhaps our act of forgiveness will be the very thing that God will use to turn a sinner toward His grace (perhaps at the same time or much later). Thus we can say that forgiving unrepentant sinners is based upon the fact that our own forgiveness and grace were unmerited to begin with! Jesus forgave us on the cross while we were yet sinners. His forgiveness is sure and cannot be undone whether we repent or not. Is not His sacrifice the very thing that helped us to our knees??

    Many blessings upon all, and may our wheels keep turning toward God, His word and His truth!

  6. Now can you smell the smoke from the spinning wheels?

    I will admit that this deviates pretty sharply from the teaching that I have very recently come to embrace.

    Bottom line is, I want to be biblical, so I am open.

    1. I respectfully submit that the verses you provided Rom 12:19-21 and Matt 5:44-48 don’t make a case for forgiving the unrepentant. They do instruct us as to how we can be in the posture of grace but there is not one reference in those verses to forgiving.

    2. For lack of a better term, the “selling” point for me on what you are saying COULD be the larger argument that is based on understanding the doctrine of sovereign election. I have to think about that….

    3. Hi Petra! Wonderful to see you here, my sister! The fact that Jesus prayed on the cross for the Father to forgive them would indicate that they were NOT forgiven. For those who came to repentance and saving faith, I would argue that that was in fact answered prayer. In the same way, Stephen prayed for his persecutors. Perhaps Paul was answer to that prayer. And, in the same way, we pray that God would grant our offenders repentance so that we can extend biblical forgiveness.

    • Actually, using the scripture support of Rom 12 and Matt 5, though it doesn’t make the case specifically for forgiving the unrepentant, forgiving the unrepentant is included in it because those passages speak of enemies, those who are the very worse case scenario because these are enemies of God, since we are Christians. Even if they were repentant (or more actually, sorry for what they did), they cannot be repentant in that which the Bible speaks of, godly sorrow that works repentance (2 Cor 7:10).

      Specifically, if I might be so bold as to paraphrase and change slightly the word love for forgive in Matt 5:46-48, it might read:

      “For if ye [forgive] them which [repent], what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye [forgive] your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

      Perhaps a better illustration would be the parable of the “Good Samaritan” from Luke 10 in answer to the lawyer’s question to justify himself in affirming that “To love thy neighbor as thyself” is the second great commandment of the law. The one who was a neighbor to the injured Jew was a Samaritan, a people who were loathesome to the Jews, so much so that it was nothing for James and John to think to call down fire upon them for not allowing Jesus to pass through (Luke 9:51-56). The Samaritan had mercy and compassion upon this injured man without any thought of his inner condition (whether he was saved, repentant, etc). Jesus said that we should do likewise.

      With forgiveness in particular, Jesus also says this in Matthew 12:31, “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.” Does this mean that all men will be forgiven of everything else except the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. No, I wouldn’t expect that. Because of the rejection of Christ, “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit,” who certainly testifies of Christ, those sins that they have committed in their unrepentance to the end, will most certainly be judged in that day. What it says is that every sin apart from rejecting Christ ultimately has forgiveness in Christ unto those who repent. The most heinous sin ever committed is forgiven by Christ for all those who are in Christ. The only sin that will not be forgiven is the one that keeps them from the forgiveness of Christ.

      If Christ considers every other sin as forgivable, then we must forgive as well. For us forgiveness is a condition of our heart unto all because we acknowledge that we do not know who the elect are. Logically, think about it. If a soul who offends you, receives not forgiveness from you, and goes away, never to be seen again, but repents before God for their sins and are washed in the blood of the Lamb unknown to you, then you have sinned by not forgiving a repentant brother or sister, eternally speaking. Is your sin of unforgiveness forgiven before God? Absolutely. What sin is not washed clean in the precious blood? Past, present, or future, known or unknown, are sins are cleansed by His precious blood.

      Our forgiveness is more like that of mercy, dispensed by God’s grace. This is one place where Matt 7:1-5 is appropriate. For we make ourselves to be hypocrites to suggest that someone has sinned without repentance, when we have sinned against God in so many ways without repenting before Him. There are sins that continue to be illuminated in my life that I have not repented before God in the past because I didn’t realize that they were sins, or I didn’t see them as sins. I’m sure many still exist that require greater illumination than I have yet received. Should another not receive mercy from me, when God has been so longsuffering and merciful in my ignorance and obstinance? God forbid.

      Please forgive me that I have been unable to properly convey this truth. I believe it to be truth with all my heart. I have not had an opportunity to give it the kind of study that I believe it requires to expound upon it so thoroughly. I pray that I might have further opportunities to grow in it.

      Again, this forgiveness (mercy), as even Mr. Spurgeon put it in his quote (form his sermon) does not remove punishment due the sinner for his crimes, especially in unrepentance. But it provides us an opportunity to display an attribute of God, mercy and forgiveness, whereas apart from Christ, we would only demonstrate sentimentality born of mere flesh.

      Christ and the truth of His cross is the goal of our mercy. That we show His glory in us as His forgiveness is manifested in our forgiveness of others.

      Again, I apologize sincerely that I have not conveyed this well enough Biblically… and if I have shamed Christ in anyway through my failure to communicate what I believe to be in His word, I do repent before Him and before everyone who reads these comments I have made.

      Without comment upon it, I’ll leave it with this scripture portion unless the Lord Christ, by His grace, might show me how I might rightly handle His Word after so miserably presenting it. Bless you all.

      Rom 11:31-36
      31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.
      32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
      33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
      34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
      35 Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
      36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

  7. Sometimes we get a little overwhelmed with a topic in order to illustrate one side, we do so to the detriment to the other.

    We are all guilty of that to one extent or the other; and those most passionate by nature are guilty quite a bit more often. In that i am the chief of sinners.

    I am guilty of using the term “unconditional forgiveness” and it probably ought not be used. Probably because can cause, and in many cases outright provides, a laxity in due justice where justice may be served in holiness. A case in point would be church discipline according to Matthew 18:15-20. Clearly these are recognized as part of the church. And if they remain in unrepentance, they must be released from the church in all sorrow, holiness, mercy, and in with every desire for these to repent and return to the joy of being enjoined to Christ through His body, the church.

    Putting someone out of the church may produce that fruit of repentance among either a true believer that has backslidden, or among those who had made a false confession but have found true, saving faith unto repentance, being enlightened by the mercy shown them previously.

    Our love and mercy, and even our “forgiveness” isn’t a pardon for evil, wickedness or injustice. I do acknowledge that even among Reformed, Calvinistic believers that there is a difference of opionion on the issue.

    As i said, i do need to give this a bit more study than i have.

    Again, please forgive my ignorance. i have, in the past, been ostracised for such a view. Perhaps i should have given it much more study then. Perhaps in my zeal to be merciful, i have sinned to cast pearls before swine, but whatever the case, i pray our Lord Jesus forgive me my indulgence of flesh and ignorance of truth.

    • ps, when i said “casting pearls before swine,” i wasn’t talking about any of you who have commented, i was speaking of a few times when i would preach the truth increasingly to those who continued to be unrepentant, showing mercy to them and forgiving them of wrongs done to me and my family.

      i pray that none of you took offense to that portion of what i had written. please forgive me if you had.

      • Well, I’m glad you clarified….I was going to say! But seriously, of course I did not think you were referring to me when you mentioned “casting pearls before swine.” Please! You are too gracious for that to have even been a thought!

        This is a lot. And, like I said, all I want is to be biblical.

        I have some immediate reactions to some of your points, but I think its best, in view of everything that you have explained to refrain and sit still. I truly need to review it all in its entirety.

        Lord bless you and your family abundantly, brother Jon.

  8. You’ve made some very convincing statements, Christina. I am beginning to see your point. I too strive to be biblical and to be corrected if need be. You’ve mentioned recent teachings on the matter. Could you cite them?

    I thank God for blessing me with our friendship, Jon and Christina, and pray that He will illumine our quest for His truth!

    I’ll bring a fire extinguisher in case those spinning wheels should get too hot. 🙂

  9. Thank you, my dear sisters.

    i appreciate your patience with me. i too desire to be Biblical with this. i would much rather be a pastor than can humbly come before the throne of grace and admit that i may not have the answer, or am not yet skilled enough to articulate a true, Biblical response, than to be caught in the arrogance of flesh.

    As our upcoming study, either July 18 or 25 will be on that last portion of Romans 12, especially since i brought it up as a connection, i believe that it will give me opportunity enought to study it thoroughly, especially in light of all the comments.

    i am ever grateful to our Sovereign for allowing all these comments because it has given me much to consider when handling the text in Romans 12, as well as some other texts when dealing with forgiveness, mercy rejoicing against judgment, &etc., while maintaing a stand for truth in holiness. Those are tremendously important things, all.

    May the Master continue to bless us all with His wisdom on these important matters.

    Thank you so much.

  10. I’ve been giving this a great deal of study and prayer the past few days. Although the insights of this forgiveness are more rightly given in the petitions found in the Lord’s model prayer found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11, the topic we will cover this Sunday at Sovereign Grace Baptist in our expositional walk through Romans may include forgiveness as one of the elements in Romans 12:14, 17-21.

    Lord willing, we will have an appropriate article on the nature of forgiveness very shortly.

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