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Abstract

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part II: Crystallization of the Theology of Grace

Definition Of Depravity (continued)

     Now, the Belgic Confession (XV. 1) holds that "sin is a corruption of the whole nature and a hereditary disease wherein even infants in their mother's womb are infected, and which produces in man all sorts of sin, being in him as a root thereof." Calvin saw sin as the definitive term for the root, and sins as the fruits of this root (Institutes, II.i.8). Calvin recognized that while we have an inherited defect we do not actually inherit the wickedness which results from it. The defect and what results from the defect are causally related (Institutes, II.i.5), but we cannot blame upon our parents the fruits of the defect which we ourselves exhibit by allowing or encouraging them. Every man is to bear the guilt of his own sin. Calvin wrote on this matter thus:

      Pelagius [rose up] with the profane fiction that Adam sinned only to his own loss without harming his posterity. Through this subtlety Satan attempted to cover up the disease and thus to render it incurable. But when it was shown by the clear testimony of Scripture that sin was transmitted from the first man to all his posterity (Rom. 5 12), Pelagius quibbled that it was transmitted through imitation, not propagation. Therefore, good men (and Augustine above the rest) laboured to show us that we are corrupted not by derived wickedness, but that we bear inborn defect from our mother's womb. [my emphasis]

     And Augustine had expounded the same view when he wrote (City of God, XVI.xxvii): "Infants
are . . . born in sin not actual but original" [my emphasis]. The Lutherans likewise interpreted the relationship between SIN and SINS (Formula of Concord, 1.5):

      It is an established truth that Christians must regard and recognize as sin not only the actual transgression of God's commandments but also, and primarily, the abominable and dreadful inherited disease which has corrupted our entire nature. . . .
     Dr. Luther calls this sin "natural-sin" or "person-sin" in order to indicate that even though a (natural) man were to think no evil, speak no evil, or do no evil which after the Fall of our first parents is of course impossible for human nature in this life nevertheless man's nature and person would still be sinful. This means that in the sight of God original sin, like a spiritual leprosy has thoroughly and entirely poisoned and corrupted human nature. [emphasis mine]

     And so we have this basic pattern of relationships:

  SIN

 SINS   
 The Root  Fruits
 The Disease  Symptoms
 The Defect  Manifestations
 Not accountable  Accountable
 Merely "repugnant"  Under moral judgment, or morally reprehensible

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     Although this defect or disease called SIN is the direct cause of SINS, we nevertheless are not held morally accountable for the root itself. God has taken upon Himself the responsibility of dealing with it and therefore of dealing with the physical mortality which it causes.* SIN, being a disease, is accordingly not forgiven, but in the Old Testament is "covered" (Psalm 32:1), and in the New Testament it is to be "cleansed" (1 John 1:7) until it will be taken away" (John 1:29) or "put away" (Hebrews 9:26). Hence the Lamb of God became in respect to this aspect of the Fall "a ransom [from death] for all men to be proven in due time" (1 Timothy 2:6), when as "in Adam all die, so in Christ will all men be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22) not merely resurrected like Lazarus who later must have returned to the grave, but placed beyond the power of physical death. It is in this sense that by the grace of God the Lord Jesus Christ "tasted death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9).
     Thus Original Sin is not itself to be identified with Total Depravity. Yet it is the root cause of it. The newborn babe bears the defect of Original Sin but is not yet totally depraved. We are conceived and born in SIN (Psalm 51:5) but not born in SINS, though we die in them (John 8:21). The Pharisees entirely misquoted the passage from Psalm 51 because they did not understand its significance (John 9:34). Adult Total Depravity results from the fact that the spirit is pervasively influenced by the flesh and so weakened by it that the law becomes powerless to convert our initial innocence into demonstrated righteousness (Romans 8:3). The Lord Jesus became a Saviour by escaping this poisonous stream through the circumstances of the virgin conception. Whereas Paul, speaking for all of us, could say categorically, "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing" (Romans 7:18); of the Lord Jesus Christ, John could say with equal justification, "In Him is no sin" (1 John 3:5).
     Original Sin is the cause of man's Total Depravity, and this Total Depravity manifests itself spiritually in man's natural refusal of God's salvation. He is not forced to this position by anything external to himself. When he refuses, he is merely exercising his freedom; but it is clear that this freedom, real as it is in the consciousness of the individual who exercises it, is actually a bondage. Luther said that man's freedom was in his slavery to sin. Augustine explained what happens when a man does will to salvation by saying, "Man is not converted because he wills: he wills because he is converted." The turning of the will necessarily precedes the willing acceptance, and this turning is a work of God, not of man.
     Man is free to choose salvation if he wills it. Whosoever will may come (Revelation 22:17). But by nature he does not so will. It is not that any man is denied salvation though he wills it; it is simply that no man wills it unless God turns his will around. Furthermore, the elect are not saved whether

* This view was shared by Semi-Pelagians and the earlier Arminians. Wesleyan Arminians hold that this inborn corruption also involves guilt. See Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 4th revised and enlarged edition, 1949 [1939], p.241.

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they will or not. They are saved by the grace of God, because they will it by the grace of God. As Luther put it, "When God works in us, the will, being changed and sweetly breathed upon by the Spirit of God, desires and acts, not from compulsion, but responsively" [his emphasis]
     The Westminster Confession deals with this matter (XII.1, 2) under the heading Of Effectual Calling as follows:

     All those whom God has predestined unto life, and those only He is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call by his word and Spirit out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ: enlightening their minds, spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good; and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as [i.e., in such a way that] they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.
     This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until being quickened, and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it. [emphasis mine]

    A. H. Strong has this statement regarding the nature of man's impotence resulting from Original Sin:*

     In opposition to the plenary [i.e., complete] ability taught by the Pelagians, the gracious ability taught by the Arminians, and the natural ability of the [Liberal] theologians, the Scriptures declare the total inability of the sinner to turn himself to God, or to do that which is truly good in God's sight.

     Strong goes on to point out that this is not to deny man has a range of freedom in acting out his nature, even as there is a range of freedom in slavery though that slavery is inescapable. The freedom which man lacks towards God is supplied by God. He is "made willing in the day of God's power" (Psalm 110:3). John Owen underscores the fact that there is not only impotency towards God which might be considered negative but enmity towards God which can be highly active.** Berkouwer spoke of this as the "dynamism of sin."
     Such enmity towards God is like enmity towards life itself. And enmity towards life is by definition suicidal. James Gall considered that one of the most profound differences between animal nature and human nature lies in this, that human nature is suicidal in its tendency.*** And SIN is the suicidal powerhouse of the human will.
     One of the most profound questions to occur in the mind of man is the extent of his freedom. The right to make free choices has been battled for


* Strong, A. H. Systematic Theology, Valley Forge, Judson Press, 1974 reprint [1907], p.640.
**.John Owen: The Works of John Owen, edited by William H. Goold, London, Johnstone and Hunter, vol.x, 1852, p.127.
*** Gall, James, Primeval Man Unveiled, London, Hamilton, Adams, 1871, p.91.

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throughout history. It has been fought for even by those whose outright materialism forces them to admit that they themselves are merely bundles of electrochemical activity, the course of whose doings are absolutely predetermined by all that has gone before. Pure materialism reduces all willed activity to mere mechanism and locks all behaviour into a chain reaction from which there is no escape. Mind is reduced to brain, soul to central nervous system. Freedom becomes an illusion. Yet the most ardent of materialists, like Bertrand Russell, spoke eloquently in defense of man's right to self-determination as an individual!
     Moralists are likewise on the horns of a dilemma. We recognize in ourselves and in others, as a universal part of experience, that we have a sense of making decisions where alternative choices are open to us. We are aware of exercising volition. And the whole concept of moral responsibility deeply embedded in the culture patterns of every human society is predicated on the freedom of choice, on the ability, and therefore the responsibility, to choose what is right and reject what is wrong. Even if cultures define right and wrong differently, they still recognize these two categories of human behaviour which tend in opposite directions.
     Some theologians, convinced of the Total Depravity of man, perceive as a corollary of this depravity total absolvement from all moral accountability. If a man cannot do good, is he then culpable for failing to do it? Can God judge man for not obeying his commands if man is constitutionally unable to obey them even if he wants to? Is not ability to perform the test of duty?
     This was Pelagius' argument: "Ability is always the measure of responsibility."
(5) It was also the argument of Arminius. Their followers have therefore said: If God commands man to repent and believe, it must be assumed that he is capable of repenting and believing, otherwise God is unjust in his demands. But it was observed by the Reformers that both Pelagians and Arminians were mistaken in their assumptions because a logical extension of this argument leads to an absurd and manifestly erroneous conclusion. If a man's responsibility to obey is to be gauged by his ability to perform, then as his behaviour degenerates and his ability is progressively reduced, he has less and less duty. The wholly evil man thus ends up by having no responsibility whatever, and must be accounted blameless! In point of fact, the measure of our duty is not our capability to perform but God's requirement of us whether we can perform it or not. That we cannot perform it is our hurt, not his; and there is no injustice in his refusal to lower his standard of requirement on account of our failure.
     So it is apparent that man's total incapacity does not absolve him from

5. Pelagius: quoted by A. W. Pink, Gleanings from the Scriptures: Man's Total Depravity, Chicago, Moody Press, 1969, p.227.

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full responsibility. The reason that he is culpable is that he has willingly allowed himself to degenerate to the point of total incapacity. Man now takes pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:12). He is not incapacitated against his will. His bondage to sin is embraced willingly. Man finds his freedom in this way. Being a bondslave of corruption man promises himself liberty by accepting this corruption as normal (2 Peter 2:19). Thus when man sins he is acting as a truly free agent, though he is in bondage. As Dostoyevsky says in his Letters from the Underworld, "Man commits sin simply to remind himself that he is free."(1) The most abject slave who willingly embraces his slavery is no longer a slave perforce: he has found freedom in bondage.
     Now the Reformers never denied that man is morally free, in spite of his total moral depravity. He is not a puppet, for a puppet cannot choose to be a puppet. Man not only chooses to be a sinner, but by nature prefers to remain one. As originally created, Adam was free in the absolute sense that he could choose either way, to obey or to disobey the command of God. The important thing is that he had freedom of choice in either direction, upwards or downwards. As Augustine put it: "It was possible for him not to sin but not impossible for him to sin."
(2) But when man made his fatal decision he destroyed this absolute freedom and left himself thereafter with freedom in only one direction. This is still freedom but it is uni-directional. When man finally reaches heaven he will still have freedom only in one direction, but this time it will be in the opposite direction. He will be constitutionally unable to sin, even as now he is constitutionally unable not to sin. That one should be free and yet not free is a difficult concept until we realize what it means. We know from Scripture that God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18), but this does not mean that God is not free; it means that God is free from the possibility of sin. At the present moment in our fallen state we ourselves are, as Paul said, "free from righteousness" (Romans 6:20). Thus whereas in his innocence Adam need not have sinned, now in his fallen state, so long as he is acting freely so long as he is acting according to his nature man can do nothing else.
     This tendency towards sin and unrighteousness is like gravity. We fall freely. No doubt if stones had consciousness, they would claim to be falling without compulsion. It is only when the free-falling man attempts to go in the opposite direction that he realizes his freedom is uni-directional and downward only. As such, it is in fact an absolute bondage within which, so long as he does not attempt to resist it, he lives with a sense of complete freedom. Total bondage therefore is a kind of total freedom, and it is only when the bondage is not total that a man may discover he is not wholly free. Every time a man says, "I will be free and do as I please," he accelerates his degeneration. In this natural state we are conscious of making choices, but most of the time we do not ask why we make the choices we do. As

1. Dostoyevsky, Letters from the Underworld   DOC
2.
Augustine    DOC

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Strong says, we never know the force of any evil passion or principle within us until we begin to resist it. (6)
     Then why does God command of us what we cannot possibly do? He does so because his requirement, not our capacity or our preference, is the true measure of our duty. His command is not his expectation but his judgment of our fallen nature, the condemnation of our unrighteousness.

      Now God undertakes to convert this uni-directionality of will into a bi-directionality, thus setting it free. He does this by a gracious severing of the bondage which we have allowed our inherent corruption to impose upon us. Man redeemed has once again freedom to choose in either direction, to disobey or obey the will of God. But something more than this is accomplished in us by the Holy Spirit. We are not merely given alternatives where we formerly had no alternative, but preference for righteousness. We are not merely transformed from a negative to a neutral position, but from a negative to a positive one. If we walk in his light and allow his grace to work in our hearts, we may increasingly tend upwards by choice, for it is God who thereafter works in us not merely to do but also to will his will (Philippians 2:13). We are turned around, converted, as to the direction of our will. The law of God instead of the bondage of self is written in both our minds and hearts (Hebrews 8:10). That is, it is written in both our understanding of his will (mind) and our willingness to do it (heart). This is the new covenant which God makes with us. Yet the downward will remains, though it is no longer representative of our true selves (Romans 7:120). Not until we reach heaven shall we be truly free, in such total bondage to righteousness that to will downwardly will be constitutionally impossible. We could perhaps set forth this sequence of events diagrammatically as shown in the accompanying chart.

 

6. Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, Judson Press, 1907, p.577. 

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     Thus man unredeemed is able only to sin, though various restraints which are both internal and external and which may or may not be part of the Common Grace of God have placed limitations even on this form of freedom which remains to him. But whatever freedom he is permitted, its direction is always downwards whether he goes only a little way along the road of sin, or plumbs the depths of sin.
     Luther was very clear on this matter and one of his most famous and earliest works dealt with the subject. In his essay On the Bondage of the Will (Section XXV) he wrote:

     If it be proved that our salvation is apart from our own strength and counsel, and depends on the working of God alone (which I hope I shall clearly prove hereafter, in the course of this discussion), does it not evidently follow, that when God is not present with us to work in us, everything that we do is evil, and that we of necessity do those things which are of no avail unto salvation? For if it is not we ourselves, but God only, that works salvation in us, it must follow, whether or not, that we do nothing unto salvation before the working of God in us.
     But by necessity, I do not mean compulsion; but (as they term it) the necessity of immutability, not of compulsion: that is, a man void of the Spirit of God, does not evil against this will as by violence, or as if he were taken by the neck and forced to it, in the same way as a thief or a cutthroat is dragged to punishment against his will; but he does it spontaneously, and with a desirous willingness. And this willingness and desire of doing evil he cannot, by his own power, leave off, restrain, or change. . . .
     When God works in us, the will, being changed and sweetly breathed on by the Spirit of God, desires and acts, not from compulsion, but responsively. . . .

      Salvation means not merely the payment of penalty as the basis for forgiveness, but also the breaking of the bondage of the will towards sin. In the Fall, man ruined his spiritual life absolutely. But the ruin was not quite as complete with respect to other elements of his nature. Because of the interaction of his spiritual life and his relationship to other men, he severely crippled his social life. Because of the poisoning of his body and therefore of his brain also, he made his intellectual life defective in certain areas, but not in all. And because of this same poison ingested from the forbidden fruit he

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robbed himself of an original physical immortality and has become a dying creature from the moment of his birth. Physically we are but rubbish compared to Adam as created. We thus suffer from spiritual death, social malaise, the darkening of our understanding, and physical mortality. When we are born again, the new birth restores our spiritual life (John 10:10); revitalizes our ability to relate to our fellow men (Romans 15:5); renews our mind (2 Timothy 1:7): and gives us promise of physical resurrection in a new and glorious body
(1 Cornthians 15:52, 53 and Philippians 3:21). This regenerative process which touches every aspect of our being is entirely the work of God; without it man's condition is hopeless.
     The hopelessness of man's unredeemed condition is, however, not always apparent because the Common Grace of God acts to mask the fatal consequences of the Fall. Remove these restraints and the appalling evil which lies barely suppressed in man's heart is revealed in all its terrible reality. Potentially we are all capable of being a Nero or a Hitler. It is largely a question of lack of opportunity for self-expression. The simple act of coveting (which we have euphemistically renamed ambition) is stealing but for lack of opportunity. Lust is adultery but for lack of opportunity. Hatred is murder but for lack of opportunity. There is no moral distinction between men in their potential for wickedness: only the accidents of life place different kinds of restraint upon each of us. In spite of man's tremendous creative energy, human nature is totally depraved at the source and any other view of man is dangerous in the extreme. This sad fact is recognized very clearly by the formulators of the Westminster Confession (XVIII.7):

     Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and to others; yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith: nor are done in a right manner, according to the word: nor to a right end, the glory of God: they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God. And yet their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing to God.

     There is perhaps no better way to state the matter truthfully man is essentially reduced only to the choice of evils. Of course, man may do some good by choosing the lesser of possible evils. Those who consistently manage to do this benefit mankind. But this is a deception. For a lesser evil is not in fact a positive good.
     In the New Testament Jesus Christ expressly states that men do good to one another. On a horizontal plane and in man-to-man relationships there is this kind of goodness. Luke 6:33 records the Lord's words as follows: "If you do good to them that do good to you, what reward do you have? For even sinners do the same." That there should be no reward for this kind of goodness implies that it is not meritorious, but expedience only. Seen in the light of hidden motivation, man's goodness is destitute of true virtue

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because it springs from a poisoned source and is indeed fundamentally self-serving. We have only to observe in ourselves our reaction when some supposedly genuine deed of kindness is credited to someone other than ourselves. We are at once offended, hurt, aggressive or withdrawing. We resent being robbed of that ministry.

     In the process of conversion there are several discernible steps, each of which is divinely initiated. Man is purely the recipient, making no more contribution towards his spiritual birth than he did towards his natural birth, or than inanimate Adam did towards his own animation when God turned him into a living soul. Whatever the circumstances surrounding any particular conversion, we normally view the process as being one of repentance followed by saving faith.
     Repentance may or may not mean "sorrow for sins." It often does, but not always. Sometimes there is no very great sense of guilt at the time of conversion, as I know from personal experience. Some tremble with an overwhelming apprehension of the terrors of the judgment to come, and casting themselves before God they cry aloud for mercy. Others experience a kind of emptiness and meaninglessness and say, "Oh, that I might find Him!" And then there are those who are suddenly stopped in their tracks as Paul was, and immediately exclaim, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" People who experience little sense of personal wickedness at the time often become increasingly conscious of unworthiness as they mature in their Christian life. It is a growing experience. Paul began as the "least of the apostles," though an important individual because an apostle (
1 Corinthians 15:9). Later he described himself as the "least of all the saints" (Ephesians 3:8), yet, as a saint, enormously privileged. But finally he had to confess himself the "chiefest of sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15).
     Unbelievable as it may seem, this was progress! It was progress in truth, progress in integrity, progress towards the Lord. The closer we come to his glory the more clearly must we see our own unworthiness and shame, and our own darkness of soul. I am persuaded that when we are truly ready to go home to be with the Lord we shall hate sin with a perfect hatred, and be able to identify it in ourselves where we had been previously quite unaware of it.
     Repentance really means "change of mind." This is the root meaning of the Greek word metanoia: a turn-around in attitude and point of view. We begin to look towards eternity with a new longing and hence sometimes also with new apprehension lest we prove unworthy of it. This change is brought about by the renewing of the mind by the Holy Spirit, who in some mysterious way unlocks a deep-rooted mental barrier, making a new kind of thinking possible. Things that were unreasonable previously suddenly

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begin to appear as reasonable, and the unbelievable begins to become believable.
     Repentance is thus a multi-dimensional word that signifies change in a number of directions. It is filled with the seeds of a new liberty of understanding. It is filled with promise of a new kind of spiritual vitality divinely engendered. It is above all the first step towards light and life and salvation. It is in no way self-generated, nor is it argued into being by the use of reason. It is supernatural. It is a gift of God. Scripture is very explicit on this subject, and rightly so because it is the first step towards eternal life.
      Consider Romans 2:4: "Do you despise the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" It is the goodness of God and not the goodness of man that effects this fundamental re-orientation. For this reason we are to be patient with those who seem unable or unwilling to understand. They are only acting according to their nature as we too acted according to ours until the Lord intervened. "In meekness instructing them that place themselves in opposition; lest God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25).
     So in Acts 5:31: "Him [Jesus] has God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins." Not only to Israel is this gift given but to Gentiles also. Thus Peter rejoiced greatly when he witnessed the rebirth of Gentiles so that he and his co-workers glorified God, saying, "Then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18).
     The Old Testament reflects the same gracious truth. Psalm 65:4 reads: "Blessed is the man whom You choose and cause to approach unto You that he may dwell in your courts." And so likewise Lamentations 5:21: "Turn Thou us unto You, O Lord, and we shall be turned." It is the Lord Himself who gives a new heart (Jeremiah 24:7; Ezekiel 11:19) and the Lord who opens the closed doors of the heart, making our response possible (Acts 16:14).
     That such repentance unto life comes before saving faith is clear from many Scriptures. We do not live because we believe: we believe because we are made alive. The dead know not anything. "Whosoever lives and believes. . ." (John 11:26) in that order. When Jesus said, "You do not believe because you are not my sheep" (John 10:26), He was not saying, "You are not my sheep because you do not believe." Similarly He said, "You therefore hear not [God's Word] because you are not of God" (John 8:47); He did not say, "You are not God's children because you will not hear his Word." Until the Spirit of God awakens the soul we cannot hear, for "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned"  

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(1 Corinthians 2:14). Acts 13:48 illustrates the hedge that is set around the outcome of all preaching when it tells us that only as many as are "ordained to eternal life" actually respond believingly. Like the case of Lazarus, who must first have been animated before he could respond to the command to come forth from the tomb, so life precedes faith. "Whosoever believes [present active participle, i.e., is believing] that Jesus is the Christ is born [perfect indicative passive, i.e., has been born] of God" (1 John 5:1).
     It would be foolish to preach in a cemetery, trusting that some of the interred dead would hear the Gospel and come to life; and yet this is what many ministers are doing. Their congregations are cemeteries of spiritually dead people. Unless God makes some of them alive, they cannot possibly respond with saving faith and be redeemed. This is why Paul in writing to the Ephesians says that when we were dead in sins, we were quickened first and then raised up (Ephesians 2:5, 6).
     Moreover, it is not even our own faith but a faith given to us from the Father, channelled through the Son, and made effective through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is "by Him" (Jesus Christ) that we believe in God
(1 Peter 1:21), a truth perceived by Peter from the very beginning of his ministry: "The faith which is by Him" (Acts 3:16). In both these instances the Greek is dia autou, through Him. Saving faith is not the human contribution of a sinner seeking salvation but the divine contribution of the gracious God seeking a sinner (Acts 18:27). We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8) and that not of ourselves. It is through faith as a channel that we are saved and not because of a faith of our own which is taken as a kind of guarantee of our earnestness. So also in 1 Corinthians 3:5, where Paul speaks of himself and Apollos as those by whom the Corinthians had believed. He does not speak of either of them as the originators of their faith but as the channels of it (dia with the genitive). To indicate the actual originator of this faith in the sense that a painter is the originator of his painting, the Greek word dia would have to be followed by the accusative, not by the genitive as it is in these instances. As Paul said to the Philippians (1:29), it had been given them to exercise saving faith. It was a gift.
     The Canons of Dort rightly say: "That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it, precedes from God's eternal decree. . . .  According to which decree He graciously softens the heart of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe" (Chap. I, Art. 6). Calvin was even more specific when he wrote:

     But here we must beware of two errors: for some make man God's co-worker, to ratify election by his consent. Thus according to them, man's will is superior to God's plan. As if Scripture taught that we are merely given the ability to believe, and not, rather, faith itself! Others . . . make election depend upon faith as if [that election] were both in doubt and ineffectual until confirmed by faith. (Institutes, III.xiv.3) 

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     As Warfield put it, justification is through faith not on account of faith. (7) Augustine said, "We are not numbered among the elect because of foreseen faith but because of foreseen unbelief." It is man's natural inability to exercise saving faith while he is yet unsaved that makes Election so necessary. It is not an Election because of faith but an Election to faith. The Lord Jesus Christ is truly the "author of faith" (Hebrews 12:2), the word our (preceding "faith") in the King James Version not being part of the original text. Thus it is really his salvation (Psalm 8:9; Luke 2:30: 3:6); it becomes our own only after we have received it as a gift (Philippians 2:12).

     Although repentance and faith are both gifts, it is perfectly proper that God should command men everywhere to repent and believe (Acts 17:30). Such commands exhibit only what God requires of us, not what are his actual expectations. It is most important to realize this fact. God commands men to repent and believe though He knows perfectly that man has no power in himself to initiate such repentance or saving faith. They must be given to man from above. God commands men to love Him and to love their neighbour as themselves, though He knows that this is impossible for fallen man. Then why does He command impossibilities?
     There are two answers. The first is in order to show man what are his requirements if man should demand the right to earn his own passage into heaven. God sets these standards of perfection as a man sets a plumb line against a wall (Amos 7:8) in order that the judgment may be just when the time comes. Man can never say, "I did not know what was required of me."
     But there is also another reason. The law of God was given with the promise that if any man should fulfill it perfectly he would be declared not guilty of any offense, not worthy of any punishment, and under no sentence of death. As Moses said (Leviticus 18:5): "You shall therefore do my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live." This was a serious promise, and not as hypothetical as it sounds. It is repeated in the New Testament with emphasis, for example in Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12. It is a valid promise, not a mockery. If a man never broke the commandment of God in any point, God would declare him righteous and worthy of heaven. He would enter heaven by right, needing no Saviour for sins. His name would never have been blotted out from the Book of Life.
     One day a young man came to the Lord, seeking to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17). In classical Greek this word was used with the meaning of "acquiring as a right." "How can I achieve this?" he asked. The Lord said, "Keep the commandments." Deceived by the simplicity of this, the young man asked, "Which?" And Jesus began to enumerate those commandments which He knew the young man had kept, and which the young man

7. Warfield, Benjamin B., Calvin and Augustine, edited by Samuel Craig, Philadelphia, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1971, p.292.

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assured Him he had kept. But then the Lord said, "If you would be perfect. . ." (Matthew 19:21), and here is the problem. Heaven is for those made perfect.
     To a certain lawyer who asked how he might earn eternal life (Luke 10:25-28) the Lord said, "What does the law say?" When the lawyer repeated the Great Commandment about loving God with all one's being, Jesus said, 'This do, and you shall live.' This was a promise the covenant of law that God had made with man. As it had been God's promise through Moses in Leviticus 18:5, so it had been the promise of God renewed through Ezekiel 20:11: "I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them." It was in effect when the Lord was present with us on earth, and so it is today. If a man fulfills the whole law, in its great summation of Luke 10:27 which combines Leviticus 19:18 with Deuteronomy 6:5, he has kept unbroken the old covenant of God with man.
     Is perfection possible by this route? The answer must be Yes for unfallen man, but No for fallen man. It is no longer possible for us, but it was possible and was realized by the Lord Jesus Christ who fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). The requirement is to fulfill all or nothing. As James 2:10 tells us: "Whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point is guilty of all." While it is true that "he that does the law shall live," it is also true that one offense kills. If spiritual death is the consequence of sin in any form, whether great or small, there can be no half successes. "The soul that sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4) is the corollary of "he that does the law shall live." Death is terribly once-for-all. As Ezekiel 33:13 states it so clearly: "When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live; if he trust in his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he has committed, he shall die for it." What could be plainer: many righteousnesses (plural) cannot compensate for one iniquity (singular). If the penalty of one offense is death it makes little difference whether a man commits one offense or hundreds of them. When hanging was the penalty for stealing, it was perfectly logical for a man to say, "One might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, so why not steal a sheep?"
     But is this principle really worth setting forth in Scripture if it is so hypothetical? Yes, indeed. God is assuring us that righteousness is possible for man and that any man who has never departed from the law will be truly without spot or blemish and therefore not worthy of death on his own account. And one Man did indeed perfectly fulfill it! The Lord Jesus Christ, having satisfied all the demands of the law (even the ritual ones) was without spot or blemish or sin of any kind, and was not therefore on his own account worthy of death. That is why He could be a Saviour of sinners by substituting for them. "God made Him who knew no sin to be a sin offering for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Thus He proved

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that the law was just and proper and capable of serving to demonstrate the sinlessness of the One who was to become a Saviour of men.
     As for the rest of men, conceived in sin and born defective, there is no hope by this route. "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10). "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). And what is this "glory of God"? It is none other than the Lord Himself (John 1:14), who is to be the plumb line, the standard by which we shall be judged (Amos 7:8), "because He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He has ordained, whereof He hath given assurance unto all men in that He has raised Him from the dead" (Acts 17:31).
     Were human behaviour to be judged by our own defective standards, there could be no infallible standard of justice, for righteousness is absolute and relates equally to both action and motive. And the human heart is desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Man is potentially an appallingly evil creature and only by accident do some men appear less evil than others. But we are all spiritually dead, and there is not in any of us an impulse towards good in spiritual matters. When his mercy overwhelms us and clothes our nakedness, only then can we stand before Him without shame or fear. Otherwise, like Adam, we flee from Him and hide unless He intervenes.

      So the initiative must rest with God and the first step has to be his, not ours. This first step is the infusion of life. It is truly a spiritual resurrection. The source of action is God's. This is an essential part of the meaning of Total Depravity.
     There is nothing new about all this. It has been said in many different ways with equal force in every one of the great Confessions of churches with a Reformation faith. Thus in 1561 the Belgic Confession (Article XV: "Original Sin") made the following statement:

      We believe that through the disobedience of Adam original sin is extended to all mankind; which is a corruption of the whole nature and a hereditary disease, wherewith even infants in their mother's womb are infected, and which in man produces all sorts of sin, being in him as a root thereof, and therefore is so vile and abominable in the sight of God that it is sufficient to condemn all mankind. Nor is it altogether abolished or wholly eradicated even by baptism; since sin always issues forth from this woeful source, as water from a fountain; notwithstanding it is not imputed to the children of God unto condemnation, but by His grace and mercy is forgiven them. Not that they should rest surely in sin, but that a sense of this corruption should make believers often to sigh, desiring to be delivered from this body of death.

     So also in the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England in 1562 (Article IX: "Of Original or Birth-Sin"):

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     Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk); but it is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of the nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated. . . .

     Likewise the Westminster Confession of 1647 (Chap. VI: "Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of Punishment"):

     By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.
     From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.
     This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated. . . .

      And the Baptist Confession of 1689 (Chap. 2: "Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of Punishment Thereof"):

      Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them, whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.

     The Reformers recognized that while man is able to reason about temporal matters correctly (mathematics, for example), in all spiritual matters his understanding is darkened and his will is impotent towards righteousness and towards God. The Fall wholly corrupted his will, but only partially damaged his intellect.
     Then when an act is sinful and not merely a mistake, it is an expression of our will, of our fallen nature, just as when Satan lies "he speaks of his own" (John 8:44), for he was and is a liar by nature. The New American Standard Version renders this: "He speaketh from his own nature." So likewise the Revised Standard Version: "He speaks according to his own nature." Man, too, is willfully sinful in heart and mind. "The heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). "Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil" (Genesis 6:5).
     We see men performing good deeds towards their neighbours, as I have often experienced at the hands of my neighbours; and one cannot but be grateful both to them and to the Lord for their kindnesses. Nevertheless long experience teaches that it is the secret motive, the motive often never even consciously recognized by the doer himself, that God judges. For He 

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judges the thoughts and intents of the heart and looks not on the outward man (1 Samuel 16:7). We would recognize that even such kindnesses as these are poisoned at the source if we could only see them as God sees them. In a real sense man's inhumanity to man, to use Shakespeare's famous phrase, is no worse than his humanity to man. Both are fundamentally self-serving, though the one has all the appearance of evil and the other all the appearance of good.
     The Augsburg Confession (XVIII.1) says:

     It is also taught among us that man possesses some measure of freedom of the will which enables him to live an outwardly honourable life and to make choices among things that reason comprehends. But without the grace, help, and activity of the Holy Spirit, man is not capable of making himself acceptable to God.

     To act acceptably before men is not beyond most of us for much of our lives, because outward conformity to the cultural standards of our society is usually advantageous and does not require that we be inwardly what we seem to be outwardly. But to act acceptably before God is quite a different thing for He demands inward conformity. Concealment is proper in social relationships and is largely covered by the word courtesy. In many aspects of social intercourse, human behaviour is acceptable and the exchange of service, ideas, and materials proceeds smoothly and without the effects of the Fall creating any serious disruptions. Thus subsequently there were added to this statement from the Augsburg Confession the following words: "We are not denying freedom to the human will. The human will has freedom to choose among the works and things which reason by itself can grasp." Yet so many human relations depend upon the integrity of the contracting parties that in the Formula of Concord (1.3) the true inner situation is spelled out more darkly: "Original Sin is not a slight corruption of human nature, but is so deep a corruption that nothing sound or uncorrupted has survived in man's body or soul, in the inward or the outward powers." Indeed, "this damage is so unspeakable that it may not (even) be recognized by a rational process, but only from God's Word."
    This is a grim picture indeed. Oddly it is a picture that is being increasingly admitted by the more perceptive psychiatrists of our time as it was by Freud.

     When an unregenerate man by the grace of God begins to truly despair of his own nature, he is often, as Luther put it, "near akin to divine grace." To preach that man need not despair of himself is to challenge God's design to bring men near to grace by this means. It is also a demonstration of the damage done to the powers of reason by the very defect which is being denied. 

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     What then does man have in his unredeemed, totally depraved state upon which God can act? He has eyes, but is blind. God can restore his vision. He has ears that are deaf. God can open his ears. He has a heart, but it is of stone. God can convert it to a heart of flesh. He has a spirit, but it is dead. God can make it live. So God has made man with the capacity to see, hear, and act responsively to his inspiring, but he cannot act until he is made alive. He cannot come forth from the tomb until he has been given a new life. Only then does he hear the voice of God saying, "Come forth."
     When the Lord knocks at the door of a man's heart he cannot hear for he is deaf. Only when God opens his ears does he hear. And even then when he hears he is likely at first to say, "I am in no convenient position to open. My children are in bed, the door is locked, we are 'closed for the night,' please don't bother me now" (Luke 11:5-8). Only the caller's persistence, not the householder's desire to entertain the caller, drives him in the end to open the door; the Spirit of God acting upon his heart makes him a willing host. It is God's persistent knocking at the door of man's heart and not man's persistent knocking at the gates of heaven that brings the elect finally to salvation.
     Such, then, is the nature of the Total Depravity of man. 

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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