The Doctrine of Human Depravity: Its Extent by Arthur W. Pink

By April 3, 2011 April 12th, 2016 Total Depravity

Neither the scientist, the philosopher, nor the psychologist can correctly diagnose the fatal malady which has seized upon all mankind, and still less is any of them able to gauge the full extent thereof. For a right and true knowledge of the latter, as much as of the former, we are shut up to what the Holy Spirit has revealed in Holy Writ. There we are shown that man has become not only a fallen and corrupt creature, but a totally depraved one: that he is not only a criminal before the Divine Law, but a foul and repulsive object in the eyes of his Maker. There are two inseparable properties or effects in connection with sin: pollution and guilt, for neither of them can be detached from its being. Where there is sin, there is a stain. Uncleanness, ugliness, filthiness, and such-like expressions, indicate not only a property of sin objectively considered, but also the effect which it produces in its subjects. It defiles, leaving the imprint of its odious features behind it, making the soul the reflection of its own hideousness. Wherever it touches, it leaves its filthy slime, rendering its subject hateful and abominable.

No representations of sin are more common in the Scriptures than those taken from its defiling effects: throughout it is portrayed as ugly and revolting, unclean and disgusting. It is figured by leprosy, the most loathsome disease which can attack the human frame. It is likened to wounds, bruises and putrefying sores. It is compared to a cage of unclean birds. The inseparable connection of the two notions of the beautiful and good and the ugly and sinful pervades the moral teaching of both Testaments. That connection is ethical and not aesthetical: to reverse the order would be to reduce righteousness to a matter of taste, and to make regulating authority dependent upon its appeal to our sentiments. As another has said, ‘The aesthetical sentiment should be regarded as a reflection from the moral sphere, a transfer to the sensitive world of those perceptions which are found in their purity only in the realm of the spiritual and Divine. Sin is the really and originally ugly, and nothing else is ugly except in consequence of its analogies to sin.’ The ugliness which it creates is its own blot. It has deranged the whole structure of the soul, and morally ulcerated man from head to foot.

‘We are all as an unclean thing’ (Isa. 64:6) is how God’s Word describes us—foul and filthy. That pollution is a deep and unmistakable one: of a crimson dye (Isa. 1:18). It is likened unto the blackness of the Ethiopian (Jer. 13:23), which cannot be washed away by the nitre of repentance or the soap of reformation (Jer. 2:22). It is an indelible pollution, for it is ‘written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of the heart’ (Jer. 17:1). The great deluge did not remove it from the earth, nor did the fire that came down upon Sodom wash it out. It is ineradicable, for the fire of Hell to eternity will not take away the stain of sin in the souls that shall be there. It is spreading, like leaven and leprosy—yea, it is universal, for it has defiled all the faculties of the inner man, so that there is ‘no soundness in it’ (Isa. 1:6). Soul and body are alike contaminated, for we read of the ‘filthiness of the flesh and spirit’ (2 Cor. 7:1). It extends to the thoughts and imaginations, as well as to words and deeds. It is malignant and deadly—’the poison of asps’ (Romans 3:13). ‘I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live’ (Ezek. 16:6)—the doubling of that expression shows the deadly nature of the pollution.

Sin is as loathsome as it is criminal, exhaling foul vapours which are a stench in the nostrils of the Lord. Hence, the very day that man corrupted himself, his Maker could no longer endure him, but drove him out of the Garden (Gen. 3:24). The Scriptures liken man to foxes for their subtlety, to wild bulls for their intractableness, to briars and thorns for their hurtfulness, to swine for their greediness and filthiness, to bears and lions for their cruelty and bloodthirstiness, to serpents for their hatefulness. However unpleasant and forbidding this subject, it is an integral part of ‘the counsel of God’ which His servants are not at liberty to withhold. They are not free to pick and choose their themes, still less to tone them down: rather is each one bidden by his Master, ‘speak unto them all that I commanded thee be not dismayed at their faces’ (Jer. 1:17). Insane asylums, prisons and cemeteries are depressing sights, yet they are painful facts of human history. Refusal to consider fallen man’s condition helps no one. Until we are brought to believe and realize this truth, we shall never despair of self and look away to Another. This solemn side of the picture is indeed dark, yet it is the necessary background to redemption.

The effects of the Fall are not only more terrible, but much wider-reaching than are commonly supposed. Yet this would not be the case were our thoughts formed by the teaching of Holy Writ thereon. God’s Word is plain enough. It declares that ‘God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually’ (Gen. 6:5). Those words are as impressive as they are solemn. In Genesis 1:3 1, we read, ‘And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good’ but here the Omniscient One is portrayed as taking a universal survey of the condition of mankind, and recording His righteous verdict unto their utter condemnation. They announce His unerring diagnosis of their inward state in terms which fully explain their outward conduct. The spring of all their actions is thoroughly corrupt. It is to be duly noted that the translators of the Authorized Version have given a fuller rendering in the margin, informing us that the Hebrew word signified ‘the whole imagination,’ including the purposes and desires. The very fount of man’s being was defiled, and a most offensive sight did it present unto the Holy One.

The heart is the moral center from which all the issues or outgoings of life proceed, and none but God knows how ‘evil’ it is. The thoughts which are formed within such a heart are vain and sinful. The imagination or formation of them, their very first motions, are evil. The Hebrew word for ‘imagination of the heart’ signifies matrix, the frame in which our thoughts are cast. Observe that ‘every imagination’ is evil: no good ones are intermingled with them—they are unrelieved badness. It is not simply the outward acts, but the first movements of the soul unto an object. There we have the source from which all the wickedness of men proceeds: the corrupt humour within us are in a constant fermentation. Man’s heart is such that, left to itself, it will always be producing inordinate affections and motions. They are ‘only evil’ without exception, wholly so, not a single virtuous one among them. Furthermore, they are ‘evil continually,’ without intermission all the days of our lives. Such is the habitual state of every unregenerate soul, and therefore are all his works evil and dead ones.

‘The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth’ (Gen. 8:21). The former verse described human nature and conduct as it was prior to the flood: this one shows what man still is after it. The great deluge had swept away the whole of that corrupt generation to which Enoch had prophesied and Noah had preached in vain, but it had not cleansed man’s nature: that remained as vile as hitherto. Man continued to be conceived in iniquity and born in sin, and that which is bred in the bone ever comes out in the flesh. From the first moment of his existence, every descendant of Adam is a defiled creature, fit only for God’s abhorrence. His very thoughts while in embryo are essentially evil: every one of them is so. The Hebrew word for ‘youth,’ (neurim), is rendered ‘childhood’ in 1 Samuel 12:2, and both personal experience and observation sadly verify this solemn fact. As Charnock said, ‘not a moment of a man’s life wherein our hereditary cormption doth not belch its froth.’

‘Behold, He putteth no trust in His saints (for they are but mutable creatures, in themselves); yea, the heavens are not clean in His sight. How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity like water?’ (Job 15:15, 16). What a description of human nature is this—obnoxious to God, corrupt in itself! Filthy indeed is man, for sin is of a defiling nature, polluting the soul with all its faculties and the body with all its members. Man is thoroughly unclean, as his life bears witness, his very righteousness being ‘as filthy rags’—so impure that nothing but the blood of Christ can cleanse him. With such a character man is never weary of sinning. Even when worn out by age, his lusts are still active within: as Peter expresses it, ‘they cannot cease from sin,’ for it is their very nature to be sinful. Possessed of a disposition which craves indulgence with a greedy appetite, seeking satisfaction thereof with as passionate an earnestness as parched throats in the burning desert long for the quenching of their thirst, man delights in iniquity and, so far as he is left to follow his inordinate propensities, he is continually seeking to take his fill thereof.

‘Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil’ (Eccl. 8:11). Such is the perversity of corrupt human nature that it abuses the very patience and forbearance of God: since the Divine judgment is not visited at once upon evil-doers, they set themselves against the Lord and promise themselves immunity. Thus it was with those in the days of Noah: God deferred the flood for one hundred and twenty years, giving them ample ‘space for repentance,’ but instead of availing themselves thereof, they regarded His threats as idle ones, and became increasingly corrupt and violent. Thus it was with Pharaoh, who only hardened his heart when respite was granted him. And thus it is still: though the marks of the Divine displeasure against our generation are multiplied, they grow more and more daring and desperate in defying God’s Law, sinning with a high hand and presuming on their security.

‘The heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead’ (Eccl. 9:3). As Christ was, and is, ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14), the natural man is filled with unrighteousness and wickedness. He is filled with such enmity against God that as his corruptions kindle the same, so Divine and spiritual things stimulate and stir it into action. That awful enmity comprises the sum of all evil. ‘Madness is in their heart’: they are so infatuated as to seek their pleasures in the things which God hates. They cast off all the restraints of reason and conscience as their heady and violent passions press them forward into sin; and, as we have just seen above, the Divine delay in taking vengeance upon them but emboldens them unto more wickedness. Who but a madman would strengthen himself against the Almighty and rush into evil heedless of danger and disaster? Who but madmen would plan a ‘festival’ of money-squandering and merriment when the clouds of war hang so darkly over the nation? They are maddened by their lusts, mad against piety. ‘After that they go to the dead’ signifies more than the grave, namely, gathered to their own company— the dead in sin, and not ‘the spirits ofjust men made perfect.’

The teaching of the Lord Jesus was, of course, in perfect harmony with that of the Old Testament. He never flattered human nature or extolled its excellencies: instead, He painted it in the darkest of colours, announcing that He had ‘come to seek and to save that which was lost’ (Luke 19:10). For the benefit of young preachers, here is an outline. Fallen man has lost all likeness to God, all communion with God, all love for God, all true knowledge of God, all delight in God, all favour with God, all power toward God, and has thrown off all subjection to God. The Saviour was not deceived by religious pretences or fair profession. Even when many believed in His name as they saw the miracles which He did: ‘Jesus did not commit Himself unto them . . . for He knew what was in man’ (John 2:23-25). By declaring, ‘I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’ (Matt. 9:13), He had not only intimated the needs-be for His mission—for there had been no occasion for His coming among men unless they were perishing—but imported there were none righteous, for He called upon all to repent (Mark 1:15; Luke 13:5).

When Christ asserted, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God,’ He showed how desperate is his plight, for the new birth is not a mere correcting of some defect——nor the righting of a single facility, but an entire renovation of the soul: the same Spirit which formed Christ in the virgin’s womb must form Him in our hearts to fit us for the presence of God. When he averred that ‘men loved darkness rather than light’ (John 3:19), He exposed their awful depravity: that they were not only in the darkness, but delighted therein, and that ‘because their deeds were evil.’ When He stated that ‘the wrath of God abideth on’ the unbeliever, Christ testified to man’s awful condition. When he said, ‘I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you’ (John 5:42), He again revealed their fearful state, for since all goodness or virtue consists in love to God and our neighbour, then where love be wanting, goodness or virtue has no existence. His ‘No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him,’ (John 6:44), plainly showed the moral impotency of every descendant of Adam—an impotency which consists of turpitude and baseness, namely an inveterate opposition to God, due to its bitter hatred of Him—none will seek unto one he loathes: before ever he does so he must be given an entire change of disposition.

‘For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man’ (Mark 7:21-23). Note well that Christ employed ‘heart’ in the singular number, for such is the common and uniform one of all mankind. Here the Lord made known what a loathsome den is the center of man’s being, and that out of the abundance of its evil issues all those horrible crimes—they take their rise from that fountain which is poisoned by sin, being the external expressions of corrupt nature. Man is vile and polluted. ‘If ye then, being evil’ (Matt. 7:11). In those words, too, the Son of God expressed His estimate of fallen mankind; they not only do that which is evil, but are so in their very nature—as the Psalmist said, ‘their inward part is very wickedness’ (5:9). It is to be duly noted that those words were spoken by Christ not unto open enemies but to His own disciples, and that His language affirmed that by birth they were defiled both root and branch. How they abase human pride! Those who prate about the dignity and nobility of human nature fly in the face of Christ’s solemn verdict to the contrary.

The Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him’ (John 14:17). 0, my reader, what a truly dreadful condition this world is in! As Christ said to the auditors of His day, ‘Because I tell you the truth, ye believe Me not’ (John 8:45), so now—men are so infatuated with lies, they cannot receive the Spirit of Truth. In those fearful words the Son of God represented the unregenerate as not having the least degree of spiritual discernment and knowledge, which is the same thing as being completely destitute of holiness. Nothing but total depravity can render men so wholly blind to spiritual things as to be thoroughly opposed to and blankly despise and reject them.

Let us now define our terms more closely, and thus prevent anyone arguing with us at cross purposes. Our English word ‘depraved’ is taken from depravatus, which means twisted, wrenched from the straight line, and thus moral disturbance—its root being pravits, ‘crooked,’ ‘bad.’ Total depravity connotes that this distortedness has affected the whole of man’s being to such an extent that he has no inherent power of recovery left to restore himself to harmony with God, and that this is the case with every member of the human race. Yet ‘total depravity’ does not import that sin has reached its highest intensity in a person, so that it is incapable of augmentation, for men add unto their sins (1 Sam. 12:19); and over and above their native spiritual blindness, God judicially blinds some (John 12:40), and then their doom is irrevocably sealed. No, fallen man does not enter this world as bad as he can be, but he has ‘no good thing’ in him (Rom. 7:18); instead, he is wholly corrupt, entirely vitiated throughout his constitution.

The children of Adam are possessed of no degree of moral rectitude, but have hearts that are desperately wicked. In so affirming, we are but saying that the effect corresponds to the cause: as the apostasy of the first man was total, so his descendants are wholly sinful. That this is the case with all mankind was clearly and abundantly proved from Scripture in the last chapter. The entire corruption of the whole human race could not be stated more strongly and decisively than in the passages there cited. The natural man has not one iota of holiness in him, rather is he born with the seeds of every form of evil, radically inclined to sin. In our nature we are vileness itself, black as Hell, and unless a miracle of grace be wrought upon us we must inevitably be damned for all eternity. It is not that man has a few imperfections, but that he is altogether polluted—’an unclean thing,’ with ‘no soundness’ in him (Isa. 1:6). Not only has man no holiness, but his heart is inveterately averse thereto.

The solemn doctrine of total depravity does not mean that there are no parents with a genuine love for their children, and no children who respectfully obey their parents; that there are none imbued with a spirit of benevolence to the poor and kindly sympathy unto the suffering; that there are no conscientious employers or honest employees. But it does mean that, where the unregenerate are concerned, those duties are discharged without any love for God, any subjection to His authority, or any concern for His glory. Parents are required to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and children to obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1, 4): while servants are bidden to serve their masters ‘in singleness of heart, as unto Christ.’ Do the unconverted so act and render compliance with those injunctions? They do not, and therefore their performances not only possess no spiritual value, but are polluted. Every act performed by the natural man is faulty: ‘the plowing of the wicked is sin’ (Prov. 21:4)-because done for selfish ends. Then better not plow at all? Wrong, for slothfulness is equally sinful! There are different degrees of enormity, but every act of man is sinful.

The condition of the natural man is such that in the discharge of his first responsibility unto his Maker he is utterly recreant. His chief obligation is to live unto the glory of God and to love Him with all his heart, but while he remains unrenewed, he has not the least spiritual, holy true love unto Him. Whatever there may be in his domestic and social conduct which is admirable in the eyes of his fellows, it is not prompted by any respect for the Divine will. So far as man’s self-recovery and self-recuperation be concerned, his depravity is total, in the sense of being decisive and final. ‘Man is fallen: every part and passion of his nature is perverted: he has gone astray altogether, is sick from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet; yea, is dead in trespasses and sins and corrupt before God. 0 pride of human nature, we plow right over thee! The hemlock standing in thy field must be cut up by the roots. Thy weeds seem like fair flowers, but the plowshare must go right through them, till all thy beauty is shown to be a painted Jezebel, and all human glorying a bursting bubble’ (C. H. Spurgeon).

What makes this awful view of man’s total depravity yet more solemn is the fact that there is no exception to it, for it is universal. Corrupt nature is the same in all. The hand that writes these lines is as capable of perpetrating the foulest crime on the calendar, and the heart of the reader of devising the worst deed committed by the vilest wretch who ever lived. The only distinction of character between man and man is that which the sovereign power and grace of God effects. ‘We are all as an unclean thing’ (Isa. 64:6), our original purity gone. ‘There is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.’ In his comments on Romans 3:10-18. Calvin said, ‘In this terrible manner the Apostle inveighs not against particular individuals, but against all the posterity of Adam. He does not declaim against the depraved manners of one or another age, but accuses the perpetual corruption of our nature. For his design in that passage is not simply to rebuke men in order that they may repent, but rather to teach us that all men are overwhelmed with an inevitable calamity, from which they can never emerge unless they are extricated by the mercy of God.’

When the Lord Jesus called Paul, He informed him that He was about to send him to the Gentiles ‘to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God’ (Acts 26:18). In those words Christ indicated what was the character of the whole Gentile world: they were all as ignorant of God, and of the way of acceptance with Him, as blind men are of the true objects of sight. True, there were then, as now, devout religionists, esteemed poets and boastful philosophers who gloried in their wisdom, professing to teach what was the true happiness of man. There were renowned sages, with innumerable disciples, whose schools were engaged solely with the study of virtue, knowledge and felicity; nevertheless, ‘the world by wisdom knew not God,’ and He declared, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent’ (1 Cor. 1:19), for it deceived and deluded them. The schools themselves were darkness, and the minds of their authors—men like Pythagoras and Plato, Socrates and Aristotle— ‘blinded by the god of this world,’ completely under the control of the Devil.

‘The LORD looked down from Heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God’ (Psa. 14:2). ‘Behold the eyes of Omniscience ransacking the globe, and prying among every people and nation. He who is looking down knows the good, is quick to discern it, would be delighted to find it; but as He views all the unregenerate children of men His search is fruitless, for of all the race of Adam no unrenewed soul is other than an enemy to God and goodness. ‘They are all gone out of the way.’ Without exception, all men have apostatized from the Lord their Maker, from His laws, and from the eternal principles of right. Like stubborn heifers, they have sturdily refused to receive the yoke. The original speaks of the race as a totality, humanity as a whole has become depraved in heart and life. ‘They have altogether become filthy.’ As a whole they are spoiled and soured like corrupt leaven, or, as some put it, they have become putrid and even stinking. The only reason why we do not more clearly see this foulness is because we are accustomed to it, just as those who work daily among offensive odors at last cease to smell them’ (Treasury of David).

That terrible indictment, ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be’ (Rom. 8:7), is not restricted to particularly reprobate persons, but is an unqualified statement which applies to every individual. It is ‘the carnal mind’: whatsoever mind may properly be designated ‘carnal,’ i.e., natural, unspiritual. The undeveloped mind of the infant is ‘enmity against God.’ Moreover, that description is true at all times, though it is not equally so evident. But though the wolf may sleep, he is a wolf still. The snake which lurks amid the flowers is just as deadly as when it lies among noxious weeds. Furthermore, that solemn declaration holds good of the whole mind, of all its facilities. It is true of the memory: nursery rhymes, silly jokes and foolish songs are retained without effort, whereas passages of Scripture and spiritual sermons are quickly forgotten. It is so with the affections: the creature is idolized and the Creator slighted. So of the judgment: what erroneous conceptions it forms of the Deity and how fearfully it wrests His Word! It is true even of the conscience, for there have been those who, while killing the saints, thought they did God a service (John 16:2)—witness Saul of Tarsus.

As might well be expected, fierce opposition has been made against this flesh-withering truth of the total depravity of man, and ever will be where it is faithfully preached. When men are informed that they are suffering from something far more serious than a defect in their characters or an unhappy bias of disposition, namely that their very nature is rotten to the core, it is more than human pride can endure. When told that the center of their moral being is corrupt, that their heart—the potent fountain from which issues their desires and thoughts—is desperately wicked, that it is inherently and radically evil from the first moment of their existence, hot resentment is at once aroused. It is indeed awful to contemplate that not only is sin the element in which the natural man lives, but the whole of his life is one unmixed course of evil: and it is scarcely surprising that those who are not subject to the Word of Truth should revolt at such a concept, especially as it is contrary to what appears in not a few characters who must be respected for many amiable qualities. Nevertheless, since all sin be a coming short of the glory of God, then every act of fallen man has in it the nature of sin.

Even with Christendom this doctrine has been strongly and steadily resisted. The great controversy between Augustine and Pelagius in the fifth century turned upon whether that moral corruption which pertains to all mankind be total or partial. If the latter, then of course it follows that man still has within him something which is good, something which is accordant to the Divine Law, something which enables him at least partly to discharge the obligations lying upon him as a creature of God. Ever since the days of Augustine there have been those posing as Christians who, while acknowledging that man is a fallen and depraved creature, have flatly denied that he is totally depraved. Those who repudiate the inward and invincible call of the Spirit realize not the actual state of man’s soul, nor perceive that a miracle of grace is necessary before he is made willing to comply with the demands of the Gospel. Arminians acknowledge the aid of the Spirit, but at once negate their admission by affirming that He can be successfully resisted after He has put forth all His efforts to woo the sinner unto Christ.

It is important to recognize that the principles of faith and love are not produced by mere moral suasion, by the external presentation of Christ to a person. Rather are they wrought by a miracle of Divine power and grace in the soul. Such a glorious work must be done by an efficient cause, and not by an deficient one. The natural man is blind, yea, dead, to spiritual things, and what can make the blind to see or the dead to act! Suasion is so far from giving a faculty that it presupposes one: the use of it is not to confer a power, but to stir and move it to act. God is far more than an Orator beseeching men, namely a mighty operator quickening. His word of power is a commanding one: as He said, ‘Let light be,’ and there was light, so He calls for a new heart and brings it into existence. God is no mere Helper, but a Creator. ‘We are His workmanship,’ and not our own. It is God who makes us new creatures, all not we ourselves: ‘born not . . . of the will of man, but of God’ (John 1:13). To say that we are in part born of our own wills is to blaspheme the Author of our spiritual beings and to place the crown on nature instead of grace.

Likewise does the evolutionist emphatically deny the total depravity of man, for the only fall he believes in is an upward one. He is loud in insisting that there is a Divine spark of life in the soul of every human being, burning very feebly it may be in some, yet capable of being fanned into a flame if the right influences be brought to bear upon it. A Divine ‘seed’ of goodness, others term it, a seed which only needs cultivating in order to the ultimate development of a noble and virtuous character—a blank repudiation of the teaching of Christ that the human tree is essentially ‘corrupt.’ Now since the whole system of redemption rests upon this basic fact of man’s total depravity, and since every false system of religion originates in the repudiation thereof, it is incumbent upon us to expose the fallacy of those objections which are commonly made against it—the principal ones of which we will now consider.

The first is an attempt to show that we do not enter this world in a defiled condition. The engaging simplicity, dependence and harmlessness of little ones is dwelt upon, and reference is even made unto Scripture in support of the contention that they are born in a state of innocence. But this need not detain us very long, for it scarcely presents even an apparent force. Appeal is made to, ‘And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan’ (Psa. 106:38), which simply means they sacrificed their little ones, who had not been active participants in their idolatry. ‘For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil’ (Rom. 9:11) is nothing to the point, for those words refer not to their nature, but to a time before they committed any deeds. While in contrast with adults, infants possess a relative innocence in that they are guiltless of personal transgressions, yet that they partake of original sin is clear from Psalms 51:5; 58:3; Proverbs 22:15. Scripture never contradicts itself.

In rebuttal of this doctrine it is insisted that there is some good in the very worst, that even the most confirmed villains, though it be but momentarily, turn away shudderingly from certain deeds of wickedness when temptation unto the same is first presented to them. From that the conclusion is drawn that, deeply buried under the ashes of a life of unbridled crime, the sparks of some power of goodness still remain. But that is to confound the faint motions of man’s moral nature with potential spirituality. Moreover, it is nothing but confusion of thought which leads people to infer that because there are degrees of wickedness there must still he a modicum of good. Because one stage of depravity is lower than another, this does not warrant us to deny that the first stage is degraded. The development of wickedness is one thing, the presence of any measure of holiness or virtue is another. The absence of certain forms of sins does not imply any innate purity. It might as well be affirmed that a recent corpse, which is less loathsome, is therefore less dead than one which is far gone in decay and putrefaction.

Not a few have argued that the strivings of conscience in the unregenerate demonstrate that they are not totally depraved. It is pointed out that every man is possessed of that faculty which bears witness within him in countless instances of what is right and wrong: that this inward monitor exerts considerable influence even on wicked men, so as to impel them to the performance of actions which are relatively good, and to deter them from others which are evil. That is freely admitted, but it makes nothing whatever against the truth we are here contending for. In the first place, while conscience he necessary to the performance of both good and evil, it does not itself partake of either the one or the other, for it is that part of the mind which takes cognizance of the virtue or vice of our actions, but is itself quite distinct from both. It is that ethical instinct which passes judgment upon the lawfulness or unlawfulness of our desires and deeds. The conscience itself needs instructing, for its dictates go no farther than the knowledge it possesses. It does not reveal anything, but simply declares the character of what is presented to the mind’s eye, and that according to the light it has.

It is important that we should be quite clear upon this point. The conscience is not in itself a standard of duty, for that of the heathen speaks very differently from that of a Christian who is taught by the Holy Spirit. It is an ear to hear, and the character of what it hears— whether true or false—is the measure of its intelligence. In proportion as this inward eye is tutored will be the truthfulness of its perception. The term defines itself: conscience, with knowledge—to know with oneself—informing and impressing us with the difference between good and evil. But, since all duty consists of and is contained in love (unto God and our neighbour), then good and evil must consist entirely in the disposition of the heart: and the mere dictates of conscience including no such dispositions, then neither good nor evil can, strictly speaking, be predicated of those dictates. Both men and demons will forever possess consciences witnessing to them what is good and evil, even in Hell itself—being ‘the worm that dieth not’— when, as all must allow, they will be utterly destitute of any virtue or goodness. We do indeed read in God’s Word of a good conscience and an evil one; and so too we read of ‘an evil eye,’ yet there is neither good nor evil in the sight of the eye, only as it is under the influence of a holy or unholy disposition of the soul. So it is with the dictates of the conscience.

The conscience, then, bears solemn witness unto the loss of man’s purity and the presence of depravity. But to regard the resistance which conscience makes to each successive stage of sin as an evidence of innate goodness asserting itself is to ignore the very real distinction there is between the authority of conscience and a soul’s love for God. The conscience certainly remonstrates and enforces the right in the form of an unconditional and absolute imposition: it also threatens man with the destruction of his peace if he persists in his course of wrongdoing: but that remonstrance and threatening comes to him as a restraint, as a force, as something against which the current of his soul is set. There is no love for God in it, no respect to His will as declared by it, no reward for His honour. The struggle is not between good and evil (as is the case in a saint), but between sinful inclination and positive prohibition. To know duty and yet be reluctant to perform it is no evidence of any goodness of heart; even to find satisfaction in the performing of duty at the dictate of conscience argues no complacence whatever in God Himself.

Let it be clearly understood that the conflicts which the natural man experiences are most certainly not between any love he has for God and the inordinate desires of his fallen nature, but rather between his conscience and his lusts; and that any remorse which he may suffer is not sorrow for having offended his Maker, but a vexation under the sense of his degradation, which is naught but the injury done to his pride. There is no grief before God for having been a reproach unto Him. Nor does the wretchedness which dissipation produces in any wise dispose its subject unto a more favourable reception of the Gospel. The groaning under the chains which sinful habits forge and the sighing for deliverance therefrom are not longings to be freed from sin, but rather desires to escape from its painful consequences, both to the conscience and to the body. It is mental tranquillity and physical health that are coveted, and not the approbation of the Lord. Any misery suffered by the natural man is not from having offended God, but because he cannot defy’ Him with impunity and immunity.

None but the Holy Spirit can produce a hatred of sin as sin, for that is something the conscience never does. While we do not wish to labour unduly any particular point in these pages, there are some aspects of the Truth which call for a greater emphasis and fuller treatment than do others. That is not because of any ambiguity in them, for our failure to apprehend the teaching of Holy Writ is not due to its indistinctness, but because of our unwillingness to receive God’s Word at its face value, or the obscuring of the same by the clouds of dust raised by the opposition of men against the same. Noticeably is that the case with the one now before us, for though the evolutionists and even openly avowed infidels cannot get away from the fact that man, as yet, is a very imperfect creature, they are far from allowing that he is totally depraved— averse to all that is good, prone to all that is evil. Such a declaration is much too humbling and humiliating for any natural heart honestly to accept and be duly affected by it. Plain and insistent as is God’s Word upon the subject, not a few professing Christians find it so distasteful that, if they do not repudiate it in toto, they go to a great many shifts in order to blunt its sharp edge and remove its most cutting features. The language of Hazael well expresses their resentment against the dark picture which the Divine Artist has drawn of them.

When the Syrian beheld Elijah weeping, and inquired what was the occasion of his distress, God’s servant replied, ‘Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child’ (2 Kings 8:12). So little was Hazael aware of the vileness of his nature that he became highly indignant, and answered, ‘But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?’ He fondly imagined himself to be incapable of such foul deeds. Nevertheless the sad sequel fully vindicated the Prophet, for albeit Hazael supposed himself to be as gentle as a lamb, when he came into power he proved himself to be as fierce as a savage dog and as cruel as a tiger, for he not only murdered his royal master, usurped the throne of Syria, burnt the cities of Israel and slew their inhabitants with the sword, but barbarously conducted himself toward the women and children, until, as 2 Kings 13:7 states, he went on destroying Israel till he ‘had made them like the dust by threshing.’

Every passage in the Word of Truth which declares the impossibility of the natural man doing anything acceptable to God (such as Jer. 13:23; Matt. 7:18; Rom. 8:8; Heb. 11:6) demonstrates man’s total depravity. If men performed any part of their duty toward God it would be pleasing to Him, for He is not a capricious or hard Master, but delights in righteousness wherever He sees it. But as the Lord Jesus pointed out, men will gather grapes of thorns and figs of thistles before unrenewed nature will yield any fruit unto God. Every passage in the Bible which insists upon the necessity of the new birth imports the total depravity of man, for if there were any degree of virtue in the human heart it could be cultivated and increased, and in that case regeneration would be obviated, since the development and improvement of what is already in man would suffice. But our Lord informed a devout religionist, a master in Israel, that except he were born again he could not enter the kingdom of God. Likewise, every passage which calls on men to repent and believe the Gospel presupposes their present sinful and lost condition, for they that are whole need not a physician. ‘Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish’ (Luke 13:5) was the decisive verdict of Christ.

We will now resume our notice of the different forms taken by the repudiation of this truth. They are varied and numerous, for unbelief is very fertile. That is but another way of saving that the carnal mind is enmity against God, and at no one point is that enmity more active and evident than in its antipathy to God’s Word in general, and the opposition it makes more particularly unto those aspects of it which expose and condemn mankind. Thus, when we are told that all the actions of the unregenerate are not only mixed with sin, but are in their own nature sinful, many sneeringly reply that such is a palpable absurdity. They argue that there be many actions performed by men, such as eating and drinking in moderation, which, being merely natural actions, can have in them neither moral good nor moral evil. But that is a bare assertion rather than a logical argument, and is easily refuted.

When we affirm that all the actions of the unregenerate are sinful, we refer only to those which are performed voluntarily, and which are capable of being exercised unto a good end. Whatever falls into that category is not a merely natural but a moral action. That eating and drinking, and all other voluntary exercises, are moral actions is evident, for Scripture expressly exhorts us, ‘Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Cor. 10:31). In an irrational being such actions would be merely natural ones, but in a moral agent it is otherwise—the manner in which he attends to them rendering the same good or evil. It is the motive which, largely, determines the quality of the act. Eating and drinking are virtuous when, from a gracious principle, the agent thankfully acknowledges God as the Giver, prayerfully seeks His blessing upon the food, and purposes to use the strength therefrom to His praise. But the unregenerate lack that gracious principle, eating and drinking out of no respect to God’s authority, without any love to Him in their hearts, and with no concern for His glory: merely to satisfy their appetites and to provide fuel for the further gratification of their lusts.

If every act of the unregenerate be sinful, then, asks the objector, how is the fact to be accounted for that God Himself regards favourably and even rewards some of the performances of the wicked—such as the case of Ahab and the repentance of the Ninevites at the preaching of Jonah? The first answer is, We must distinguish between God’s governmental ways in connection with this world, and that which He requires in order to admittance into Heaven. Though the Most High knows the secrets of all hearts, He does not always proceed accordingly in His administration of the affairs of earth. When God approves of any of the deeds of the wicked, it is not because He regards the same as theirs, but because those deeds tend to further His own wise counsels. ‘God rewarded Nebuchadnezzar for his long siege against Tyre, in giving him the land of Egypt, yet Nebuchadnezzar did nothing in that undertaking which in its own nature could approve itself unto God. The only reason why he was thus rewarded was that what he had done subserved the Divine purpose in punishing Tyre for her insulting treatment toward His people (Ezek. 26:1-7; 29:17-20). God rewarded Cyrus with the treasures of Babylon (Isa. 14:3), not because he did anything that was pleasing in His sight, for his motive was the lust of dominion: but because what he did effected the deliverance of Judah, and fulfilled the Divine predictions upon Babylon'(Andrew Fuller, to whom we are indebted for part of what follows).

In God’s governmental dealings with men, actions which possess no appearance of having any intrinsic goodness in them may well be rewarded without any compromise of holiness and righteousness, yea, even those which have such an appearance though it be nothing but appearance. God does not always deal with men according to His omniscience, but rather does He generally treat with them in this life according to what they profess and appear to be. Thus, the Lord’s design in punishing the wicked person and house of Ahab was to make manifest His displeasure against their idolatries. If, then, when Ahab humbled himself and rent his garments, God had proceeded toward him on the ground of His omniscience, knowing him to be destitute of godly sorrow, and made no difference in His treatment of him, that design would not have been answered. Whatever might be Ahab’s motives, they were unknown to men, and had no difference appeared in the Divine treatment they would have concluded it was vain to repent and serve Him. It therefore seemed good unto Jehovah to deal with him in this life as though his reformation were sincere, leaving his insincerity to be called to account in the day to come.

As Fuller pointed out, there is a case much resembling that of Ahab in the history of Abijah, the son of Rehoboam. In 2 Chronicles 13 we read of his wars with Jeroboam, king of Israel, and how he addressed the apostate Israelites previous to the battle. Having reproached them for forsaking the God of their fathers and turning to idolatry, he added, ‘But as for us, the LORD is our God, and we have not forsaken Him; and the priests, which minister unto the Lord~ are the sons of Aaron, and the Levites wait upon their business: and they burn unto the LORD every morning and every evening burnt sacrifices and sweet incense: the shewbread also set they in order upon the pure table: and the candlestick of gold with the lamps thereof, to burn every evening: for we keep the charge of the LORD our God: but ye have forsaken Him’ (vv. 10, 11). To all appearance this prince was very zealous for the Lord, and one might conclude that the signal victory given him over Jeroboam was an expression of Divine approbation, but if we consult the account given of his reign in 1 Kings 15 (where he is called Abijam), we learn that he was a wicked king, and that he walked in all the sins of his father, and although God granted success to his arms, it was not out of regard to him, but for David’s sake, and for the establishment of Jerusalem.

Much of what was said above about Ahab holds good of the Nmevites, and Pharaoh too. Concerning the former, there might have been sincere and spiritual penitents among them for all we know, but whether godly sorrow or slavish fear actuated them they professed and appeared to be humbled before God, displaying the external marks of contrition; and for God to treat with them on the ground of their repentance being apparently sincere was obviously an exemplificatoin of Divine wisdom, for it magnified his righteous and merciful government in the sight of the surrounding nations. In like manner, the acknowledgments of Pharaoh’s sins, and his requests for Moses to entreat the Lord on his behalf, were repeatedly followed by the removal of those judgments which so appalled his proud spirit; yet who would insist that there was any good or spirituality in Egypt’s king? Not only God, but Moses himself, perceived his evident insincerity; nevertheless, it became the Most High to remove His rod when that guilty tyrant made confession, even though he might laugh to himself for having imposed upon Moses so far as to gain his point.

In their strictures upon the doctrine of man’s total depravity some have appealed to Christ’s words in Mark 13:28-34, where He assured the scribe who answered Him ‘discreetly’ that ‘thou art not far from the kingdom of God’; arguing therefrom that though he was unsaved, yet our Lord found in his character which was praiseworthy. But if the passage be read attentively it will be found that Christ was not approving of his spirit or his conduct, but instead was simply commending his confession of faith. When this Jew acknowledged that the love of God and man was of more importance and value than whole burnt offerings—that the moral Law was more excellent than the ceremonial, which was soon to be abolished—he gave utterance to sound doctrine, and approximated so closely to the spirit of the Gospel dispensation that Christ very properly informed him he was not far from the kingdom of God, i.e., the principles which he had avowed, if truly embraced and duly pursued, would lead him into the very heart of Christianity, for it is by the Law that a knowledge of sin is obtained, and thereby our need of mercy is discovered. The things to which the scribe assented were the very ones Christ insisted upon in His teaching.

Dissenters against the Truth ask, If all men alike be totally depraved, then how is it that some lead less and others more vicious lives? This objection was briefly noticed by us in an earlier chapter of this book, but since it be the one most likely to occasion difficulty to our readers, we will offer a few more remarks thereon. In examining the same it is necessary to revert unto our definition of terms, and bear in mind that total depravity consists not, in the first place, of what a man does, but what he is in himself: and second, what is his relation and attitude unto God. Because particular persons are not swearers, morally unclean, drunkards or thieves, they are very apt to imagine that they are far from being wholly corrupt, yea, that they are good and respectable people. Such are included among those described in Proverbs 30:12, ‘There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.’ However irreproachable be the walk of the natural man, his nature is polluted and his heart thoroughly defiled: and the very fact that he is quite unaware of his vileness is sad proof of the blinding power of indwelling sin.

The total depravity of human nature does not mean that it actually breaks forth into open acts of all kinds of evil in any man. It is freely granted that there are marked differences among the unregenerate in the eruption of sin in their conduct: some being more honest, sober and benevolent than their fellows, running into less excess of not than do others: nevertheless, the seeds of all evil are present in every human breast. ‘As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man’ (Prov. 27:19). It has been truly said of all that ‘If they were in Cain’s circumstances, and God should suffer them, they would do as he did. If they were in Pharaoh’s circumstances, and left of God, they would be as cruel, false, and hard-hearted as he. If they were in the like circumstances with Doeg, though they condemn him for his hypocrisy, flattery, and cruelty, they would do every whit as bad as he. If they were in like circumstances as Judas was, whatever indignation they feel against him, they would be as false and impudent, and as very traitors as he. If they were under the circumstances that the fallen angels are, they would be as very devils as they’ (Mr. T. Stoddard, The Nature of Conversion, 1710).

It is indeed true that their fearful enmity against God and the hatred which is in their hearts against their fellows (Titus 3:3) are less openly displayed by some than others, yet that is not because they are any better in themselves than those who are flagrantly irreligious and who cast off all pretences of decency. Not at all: their moderation in wickedness must be attributed unto the greater restraints which the Governor of this world places upon them: either by the secret workings of His Spirit upon their hopes and fears or by His external provldences, such as a godly home, early education, the subduing influence of pious companions. But none is born into this world with the smallest spark of love to God in him. Instead, ‘their poison is like the poison of a serpent’ (Psa. 58:4), and the poison of a serpent is radically the same in all its species. God estimates us by what we are internally, though we shall yet be called to an account for all that we have done externally. It is ever to be borne in mind—for our humbling— that there is very much evil within each of us that God does not suffer to break forth into particular actings of sin, sovereignly preventing temptations and opportunities unto the same.

All men are equally depraved, but that depravity discovers itself in many different forms and ways: and it is a fatal delusion to suppose that, because Divine power and mercy keep me from certain crimes, I am less corrupt than my fellows, and less a criminal in His sight. God judges not as man: Capernaum was more obnoxious to Him than Sodom! Many who do not act a brutish part act a diabolical one: there is a filthiness of the spirit, as well as of the flesh (2 Cor. 8:1), and though some give not free rein to their sensual lusts, yet they are under the dominion of mental lusts—pride, covetousness, envy, contempt of others, malice, revenge. God restrains both the internal and external workings of sin as best serves the outworking of His eternal purpose, permitting different degrees of iniquity in different individuals, though all be ‘clay of the same lump.’ None by nature possesses the slightest degree of holiness. Different measures of wickedness issue from the same individual at different times: that I have been kept from certain sins in the past is no guarantee that I shall not be guilty of them in the future.

Finally, the demurrer is made, If man be so totally depraved as to be entirely incapable of doing anything that is pleasing to God, then there can be no ground for a ministerial address, no motives by which to exhort the unregenerate to cease from evil and do good, and certamly no encouragement left for them to comply. Our first reply is that no minister of the Gospel is warranted to entertain the slightest degree of hope of success from his endeavours on the ground of the pliability of the hearts of his hearers: rather must their corrupt state exclude any such expectation. Unless the preacher’s confidence be based alone on the power and promise of God, his hopes are certain to be disappointed. But, second, if the objector means that in view of their total depravity it is unreasonable to exhort men to do good, this can by no means be admitted, for it would then follow that if a total depravity removes all ground for a rational address, then a partial one would take it away in part, and thus, in proportion as we perceive men to be disinclined unto good, we are to cease warning and expostulating with them—a self-evident absurdity!

While men be rational creatures they are justly accountable for all that they do, whatever be the disposition of their hearts: and, so long as they be not yet consigned to a hopeless perdition, their responsibility is to be enforced, and they are to be regarded as fit subjects of a Gospel address. Nor can it be truly asserted that there are no motives by which they may properly be exhorted to cease to do evil and leam to do well. The proper motives unto these things remain in all their original force, independently of the inclination or disinclination of men’s hearts to comply. God’s rights, His authority, His Law, abide unchanged, no matter what change has taken place in the creature. The example of Christ and His Apostles is too plain to be misunderstood. Neither the one nor the other toned down their demands upon fallen sinners. Repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ were the grand duties upon which they ever insisted, and so far from hesitating to exhort their unregenerate hearers unto what was spiritually good, it may be safely affirmed that they never exhorted unto anything else. Nothing less than the heart is what God ever requires. Throw down the weapons of your rebellion and yield to Christ’s sceptre must be the call of His servants.

The violent antagonism of men against this truth is precisely what might well be expected, so that instead of causing us to doubt it we should rather regard the same as a strong confirmation. Indeed it would be surprising if a doctrine so humbling and distasteful were not resisted. Nor need we be dismayed by its widespread repudiation by preachers and professing Christians. When the Lord Jesus averred, ‘I am come into this world, that they which see not might see: and that they which [pretend to] see might be made blind’ (John 9:39), the Pharisees haughtily asked, ‘Are we blind also?’ (John 9:40). When He declared that human nature is so in love with sin and possessed of such enmity against God, and insisted that ‘no man can come unto Me, except it were given unto him of My Father,’ we are told that ‘From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him’ (John 6:65, 66). The rejection which this doctrine meets with demonstrates how dense is that darkness which is not dispelled by so clear a light, and how great is the power of Satan when the testimony of Divine revelation does not carry conviction. Every effort to tone it down verifies the fact that ‘the heart’ is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.’