Part II: Crystallization of the Theology
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]
had expounded the same view when he wrote (City of God,
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.
And so we have
this basic pattern of relationships:
1 of 17
| The Root
| The Disease
| The Defect
| Not accountable
| Merely "repugnant"
|| Under moral judgment, or morally reprehensible
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 , p.241.
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"
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
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.
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 , 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.
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.
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
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.
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 7:1‹20). 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.
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
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.
. . .
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
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
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
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
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"
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
(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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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"):
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. . . .
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
This corruption of nature, during
this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated. . . .
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.
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
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
The Augsburg Confession (XVIII.1)
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.
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."
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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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.