In our last chapter we showed how Scripture casts light upon the great moral problem of how an inherently corrupt nature originates in each child from the beginning of its existence without its Creator being the Author of sin. David declared, ‘Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me’ (Psa. 51:5). Carefully did he describe his depravity as innate and not created, as derived from his mother and not his Maker, that defilement is transmitted directly from Adam through the channel of human propagation. The same fact was expressed by our Lord when He said, ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh’ (John 3:6). In the Old Testament the word ‘flesh’ is used as a general term for human nature or mankind: ‘let all flesh bless His holy name’ (Psa. 145:21)—that is, all men; ‘all flesh is grass’ (Isa. 40:6)—the life of every member of our race is frail and fickle. The term occurs in the New Testament in the same sense: ‘except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved’ (Matt. 24:22); ‘by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight’ (Rom. 3:20)—i.e., by his own obedience no man can merit acceptance with God.
But since mankind be fallen and human nature is depraved, the term ‘flesh’ becomes the expression of that fact, and every time it is used in Scripture in a moral sense has reference to the corruption of our entire beings, without any distinction between our visible and invisible parts—body and mind. This is evident from those passages where ‘the flesh’ is contrasted with ‘the spirit’ or the new nature: Romans 8:5, 6; 1 Corinthians 2:11; Galatians 5:17. When the Apostle declared, ‘For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing’ (Rom. 7:18), he had reference to far more than his body with its appetites, namely his entire natural man, with all its faculties, powers and propensities: the whole was polluted, and therefore nothing good could issue from him until Divine grace was imparted. Again, when we find included in that incomplete list of the horrible ‘works of the flesh’ supplied by Galatians 5 such things as ‘hatred, emulations, wrath, and envyings,’ it is quite plain that the word takes in far more than the corporeal parts of our persons; the more so when we find that these works are set over against ‘the fruit of the spirit,’ each portion of which consists of the exercise of some inward quality or grace.
Thus it is clear that when Christ declared ‘that which is born of the flesh is flesh,’ He signified that that which is propagated by fallen man is depraved, that whatever comes into this world by ordinary generation is carnal and corrupt, causing the heart itself to be deceitful above all thing and desperately wicked. It is evident also from the immediate context (vv. 3-5), for what He affirmed in verse 6 was in order to demonstrate the absolute need of regeneration. Our Lord was there opposing the first birth to the new birth, and showing how imperative is the latter by the fact that we are radically tainted from the outset. All by nature are essentially evil, nothing but ‘flesh,’ everything in us contrary to holiness. Our very nature is vitiated, and by no process of education or culture can it be refined and made fit for the kingdom of God. The faculties which men receive at birth have a carnal bias, an earthly trend, a disrelish of the heavenly and Divine, and are inclined only to selfish aims and groveling pursuits. In the most polished or religious society, equally with the vulgar and profane, ‘that which is born of the flesh is flesh’ and can never be anything better. Prune and trim a corrupt tree as much as you will, it can never be made to yield good fruit. Every man must be born again before he can be acceptable to a holy God.
Coming more directly to our present subject, we shall now attempt to supply an answer to the still more difficult question, In what does the vitiation of man by the Fall consist, precisely what is the nature of human depravity? That is far more than a question of academic interest which concerns none but teachers of theology: it is one of deep doctrinal and practical importance, and which it behooves all of us, especially preachers, to be quite clear upon, for a mistake at this point is very liable to lead to the most erroneous conclusions and serious consequences. Such has indeed proved to be the case, for not a few who were sound and Orthodox in many other respects have answered this question in such a way as inevitably led them seriously to weaken, if not altogether to repudiate, the full responsibility of fallen man, and caused them to become hyper-Calvinists and Antinomians. We shall therefore endeavour most carefully to define and describe the present condition of the natural man, beginning with the negative side, under which will be a number of things in which human depravity does not consist.
First, the Fall does not result in the extinguishment of that spirit which was a part of man’s complex being when created by God: it did not either in the case of our first parents or in any of their descendants. It has, however, been argued from the Divine threat made to Adam, ‘in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,’ that such was the case, that since Adam did not immediately die physically, he must have done so spiritually. That is certainly a fact, yet it requires to be interpreted by Scripture. It is quite wrong to suppose that because Adam’s body died not, his spirit did. It was not something in Adam which died, but Adam himself—in his relation to God.
The same is true of his offspring: they are indeed ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ toward God, from the beginning of their existence, but nothing within them is positively dead in the ordinary meaning of that word. In the scriptural sense of the term, ‘death’ never signifies annihilation, but separation. At physical death the soul is not extinguished but separated from the body: and the spiritual death of Adam was not the extinction of any part of his being but the severance of his fellowship with a holy God.
The same is true of all his children. The exact force of the solemn statement that they are ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ is Divinely defined for us as ‘being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart’ (Eph. 4:18). When Christ represented the Father as saying, ‘this My son was dead, and is alive again’ (Luke 15:21), He most certainly did not mean that he had ceased to exist, but that while the prodigal remained ‘in the far country’ he was cut off from Him, and that he had now returned to Him. The lake of fire into which the wicked shall be cast is designated ‘the second death’ (Rev. 20:14), not in order to signify that they shall then cease to be, but because they are ‘punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power’ (2 Thess. 1:9). That fallen man is possessed of a spirit is clear from ‘the Lord, which . . . formeth the spirit of man within him’ (Zech. 12:1), from ‘what man knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of man which is in him’ (1 Cor. 2:11), and from ‘the spirit shall return unto God who gave it’ (Eccl. 12:7). Man was created a tripartite being, consisting of spirit and soul and body (I Thess. 5:23), and no part thereof ceased to exist when he fell.
Second, the Fall did not issue in the loss of any man’s faculties. It did not divest man of reason, conscience, or moral taste—for that would have been to convert him into another species of being. As reason remained, he still had the power of distinguishing between truth and falsehood; conscience still enabled him to distinguish between what was right add wrong, between what was a duty and a crime; and moral taste capacitated him to perceive the contrasts in the sphere of the excellent and beautiful. It is most important that we should be quite clear at this point: the Fall has not touched the substance of the soul—that remains entire with all its original endowments of intellect, conscience and will. These are the characteristic elements of humanity, and to deprive him of them would be to unman man. They exist in the criminal as well as in the saint. They all have an essential unity in the unity of the human person: that is to say, they are co-ordinate faculties, though each has a sphere that is peculiar to itself. Collectively, they constitute the rational, moral, accountable being. It is not the mere possession of them which renders men evil or good, but the manner and motive of their exercise which makes their actions sinful or holy.
No, the Fall deprived man of no mental or moral faculty, but it took from him the power to use them aright. They were all brought under the malignant influence of sin, so that he was no longer capable of doing anything pleasing to God. Depravity is all-pervading, extending to the whole man. It was not, as different theorists have supposed, confined to one department of his being—to the will as contradistinguished from the understanding, or to the understanding as contradistinguished from the will. It was not restricted to the lower appetites, as contrasted with our higher principles of action—nor did it obtain in the heart alone, considered as the seat of the affections. On the contrary, it was a disease from which every organ has suffered. As found in the understanding, it consists of spiritual ignorance, blindness, darkness, folly. As found in the will, it is rebellion, perverseness, a spirit of disobedience. As found in the affections, it is hardness of heart, a total insensibility to and disrelish of spiritual and Divine things. The entrance of sin into the human constitution has nor only affected all the faculties, so as to produce a complete disqualification for any spiritual exercise in any form, but it has crippled and enervated them in their exercise within the sphere of truth and holiness. They were vitiated in respect to everything wearing the image of God: of goodness and excellence.
Third, the Fall has not resulted in the loss of man’s freedom of will, or his power of volition as a moral faculty. Admittedly this is a much harder point to treat of than either of the above: not because Scripture is ambiguous in its teaching, or even because it contains any seeming contradictions thereon, but because of the philosophical and metaphysical difficulties it raises in the minds of those who give careful thought thereto. Certain it is that the Fall did not reduce man to the condition of a stock or stone, or even into an irrational animal: he retained that rational power of volition which was a part of his original constitution, so that he was still able to choose spontaneously. Equally certain is it that man is not free to do as he pleases in any absolute sense, for then he would be a god, omnipotent. In his unfallen state Adam was made subservient to and dependent upon the Lord. So it is with his children: their wills are required to be fully subordinated to that of their Maker and Governor. Moreover, their freedom is strictly circumscribed by the supreme rule of Divine Providence, as it opens doors for or shuts doors against them.
As pointed out above, though each distinct faculty of the soul has a sphere that is peculiar to itself, yet are they co-ordinate, and therefore the will is not to be thought of as an independent, self-determining entity, standing apart from the other faculties and superior to them, capable of reversing the judgments of the mind or acting contrary to the desires of the heart—rather is the will influenced and determined by them. As G. S. Bishop most helpfully pointed out, ‘the true philosophy of moral action and its process is that of Genesis 3 :6—’And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (sense-perception, intelligence), and a tree to be desired (affections), she took and ate thereof (the will).’ ‘ Thus the freedom of the will is also limited by the bounds of human capabilities: it cannot, for example, go beyond the extent of knowledge possessed by the mind—it is impossible for me to cognize, love and choose any object I am totally unacquainted with. Thus it is the understanding, rather than the will, which is the dominant faculty and factor: hence, when Scripture delineates the condition of fallen men it attributes their alienation from God to ‘the ignorance that is in them’ (Eph. 4:18), and makes regeneration to begin with ‘renewed in knowledge’ (Col. 3:10).
The limitations of human freedom pointed out above pertain alike to man unfallen or fallen, but the entrance of sin into the human constitution has imposed much greater limitations. While it be true that man is as truly free now as Adam before his apostasy, yet he is not so morally free as he was. Fallen man is free in the sense that he is at liberty to act according to his own choice, without compulsion from without; yet, since his nature has been defiled and corrupted, he is no longer free unto that which is good and holy. Great care needs to be taken at this point, lest our definition of the freedom of fallen man clashes with such scriptures as Psalm 60:3, John 6:44, Romans 9:16, for he only wills now according to the desires and dictates of his evil heart. It has been well said that, ‘The will of the sinner is like to a manacled and fettered prisoner within a cell: his movements are hampered by his chains and circumscribed by the walls that confine him. He is indeed free to walk, but in a manner so constrained and within an area so bounded that his freedom is bondage’—bondage to sin.
Whether we understand by ‘the will,’ simply the faculty of volition by which the soul chooses or refuses, or whether we regard the ‘will’ as the faculty of volition together with all else within us which affects the choice—reason, imagination, longing—yet fallen man is quite free in exercising volition according to his prevailing disposition and desire at the moment. Internal freedom is here used in contrast with external restraint or compulsion, and where such be absent, then the individual is at liberty to decide according to his pleasure. Where the Arminian errs so seriously on this point is to confound power with ‘will,’ insisting that the sinner is equally able to choose good as evil, for that is a repudiation of his total depravity or complete vassalage to evil. By the Fall man came under bondage to sin, and became the captive of the Devil: yet, even so, he first yields voluntarily to the enticements of his own lusts before he commits any act of sin, nor can Satan lead him into all wrongdoing without his own consent.
The natural man does as he pleases, but he pleases himself only in one direction—selfward and downward, never Godward and upward. As Romans 6:20 says of the saints while in their unregenerate state, ‘For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.’ In all his sinning man acts as a free agent, for he is forced neither by God nor Satan. When he breaks the law he does so by his own option, and not by coercion from another: in so doing he is freely acting out his own fallen nature. Thus it is a mistake to say that a bias of the mind or propensity of heart is destructive of his volition. Both must be self-moved in order for there to be responsibility and guilt, and both are self-moved. The murderer is not compelled to hate his victim. Though he cannot prevent his inward hatred by any mere exercise of will, yet he can refrain from the outward act of murder by his own volition, and therefore is he blameworthy when he fails to do so. These are indisputable facts of our own consciousness!
Fourth, the Fall has not resulted in any reduction, still less the destruction, of man’s responsibility. If all of the above be carefully pondered this should be quite evident. Human responsibility is the necessary corollary of Divine sovereignty. Since God be the Creator, since He is supreme Ruler over all, and since man be but a creature and a subject, there is no escape from his accountability unto his Maker and rightful Lord. If we be asked to define more distinctly— responsible for what?—we reply that man is obligated to answer unto the relationship which exists between him and his Creator: he occupies the place of creaturehood, subordination, utter dependency for every breath he draws, and therefore must he acknowledge God’s dominion, submit to His authority, and love Him with all his strength and heart. The discharge of human responsibility is simply the recognition of God’s rights and acting accordingly, a rendering to Him of His due. It is the practical acknowledgment of His ownership and government. We are justly required to be in constant subjection to His will, to employ in His service the faculties He has given us, to use the means He has appointed, to improve the opportunities and advantages He has vouchsafed us. Our whole duty is to glorify God.
From the above definition it should be crystal clear that the Fall did not, and could not to the slightest degree, cancel or impair human responsibility. The Fall did not change the fundamental relationship subsisting between the Creator and the creature. God is the Owner of sinful man as truly and as fully as He was of sinless man. God is still our sovereign, all we His subjects. Furthermore, as pointed out above, fallen man is still in possession of all those faculties which qualify for discharging his responsibility. Admittedly, the babe in arms and the poor idiot are not morally accountable for their actions, but, by parity of reason, those who have reached the age when they are capable of distinguishing between right and wrong are morally accountable for their deeds. Fallen man, though his understanding be spiritually darkened, is still possessed of rationality. Fallen man, though under the dominion of sin, has his power of volition, and is under binding obligation to make, every time, a right and good choice, to resist temptations and refrain from evil doing, as very human court of justice worthy of the name rightly insists.
Whatever difficulties may be theoretically involved by the fact that man’s nature is now totally depraved and that he is in bondage to sin, yet God has not lost His right to command because man has lost his power to obey. While the Fall has cast us out of God’s favour, it has not released us from His authority. It was not God who took from man his spiritual strength and deprived him of his ability to do that which is well pleasing in His sight. Man was originally endowed with power to meet the requirements of his Maker, and it was by his own madness and wickedness that he threw away his power. But as a human monarch does not forfeit his rights to allegiance from his subjects when they turn rebels, but rather maintains his prerogative by demanding that they cease their insurrection and return to their fealty: so has the King of kings an infinite right to demand that lawless rebels shall become loyal subjects. If God could justly require of us no more than we are able to render Him, it would follow that the more we enslave ourselves by evil habits, the less our liability—a palpable absurdity!
Not only is man’s responsibility insisted upon throughout the Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, but it is also asserted by man’s own conscience! Whatever quibbles the individual raises from depravity, and however he argues from his moral impotency that his deeds are not criminal, he repudiates such reasoning where his fellow sinners are concerned. When others wrong him, he neither denies their accountability, nor offers excuse for them. If he be cruelly slandered, robbed of his possessions or maltreated in his body, instead of saying of the culprit, ‘Poor fellow, he could not help himself: Adam is to blame,’ he promptly applies to the police and seeks redress in the law courts. Moreover, when the sinner is quickened and awakened by the Holy Spirit, so far from complaining against God’s righteous demands, he freely owns himself as deserving to be eternally damned for his vile rebellion, acknowledges that he was fully responsible for the same, that he is ‘without excuse,’ feels the burden of his guilt, and lies in the dust before God in sincere repentance.
Under this aspect of our subject we are endeavouring to supply an answer to the questions: What is connoted by the term ‘total depravity’? Wherein lies the essential difference or differences between man as unfallen and fallen? Precisely what is the nature of that awful malady which now afflicts us? In the last chapter we dwelt upon what it does not consist of, showing that man has not ceased to be a complete and tripartite being, that he is in possession of that spirit which is a necessary part of his constitution; that the Fall has not resulted in the loss of any faculties of his soul; that he has not been deprived of the freedom of his will or power of volition; and that there has been no lessening of his responsibility as an accountable creature unto God. Turning now to what has resulted from the Fall, it will be found that there is here both a privative and a positive side, that there were certain good things of which we were deprived, and that there were other evil things which we derived. Only as both of these are taken into consideration can we obtain a full answer to our question.
First, by the Fall man lost the moral image of God. As briefly pointed out in the second chapter of this book, the ‘image of God’ in which he was originally created refers to his moral nature. It was that which constituted him a spiritual being, and, as Calvin expressed it, ‘It includes all the excellencies in which the nature of man surpasses all the other species of animals.’’ More particularly what that ‘‘image consisted of is intimated in Ephesians 4:24, and Colossians 3:10, where a detailed summary of the same is supplied, for our being ‘renewed’ therein (at regeneration) clearly implies it to be the same Divine image in which man was made at the beginning. In those two passages it is described as consisting of ‘righteousness and true holiness’ and the ‘knowledge of God.’ Let us now enlarge a little upon each of those component parts.
By ‘righteousness’ we are to understand, as everywhere in Scripture, conformity to the Divine Law. Before the Fall there was an entire harmony between the whole moral nature of man and all the requirements of that Law which is ‘holy, and just, and good’ (Rom. 7:12). This was very much more than a merely negative ‘innocence’ or freedom from everything sinful, or even bias or tendency toward it, which is all that Socinians allow; namely something nobler, higher and more spiritual. There was perfect agreement and concord between the constitution of our first parents and the rule of conduct set before them, not only in their external actions, but also in the very springs of those actions, in the innermost parts of their beings—in their desires and motives, in all the tendencies and inclinations of their hearts and minds. As Ecclesiastes 7:29 declares, God ‘made man upright,’ whizh refers not to carriage of his body, except so far as that shadowed forth his moral excellence. That righteousness was lost at the Fall, but is, in principle, restored at regeneration, when God writes His laws in our hearts and puts them in our minds—imparts to us a love for and relish of them, makes us willingly subject to their authority.
By ‘holiness’ we are to understand chastity and undefilement of being. As righteousness was that which made Adam en rapport with the Divine Law, so holiness was that which rendered him meet for fellowship with his Maker. There was in him that spotless purity of nature which fitted him for communion with the Holy One, for ‘holiness’ is not only a relationship, but moral quality too—not only a separation from all that is evil, but the endowment and possession of that which is good. Jehovah is ‘glorious in holiness’ (Exo. 15:11), and therefore those with whom He converses must be personally suited to Himself—none but the pure in heart shall see God (Matt. 5:8). It is inconceivable that God would, by an immediate act, have created any other kind of rational and responsible being than one that was pure and perfect, the more so since he was to be the archetype of mankind. As Thornwell so aptly expressed it, ‘Holiness was the inheritance of his nature—the birthright of his being. It was the state in which all his faculties received their form. ‘That holiness was lost when man fell, but by regeneration and sanctification it is restored to the elect who are made ‘partakers of His holiness’ (Heb. 12:10)-a principle of holiness being communicated to them at the new birth, which develops as they grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord.
By ‘knowledge’ we are to understand the cognition of Grid Himself. As Adam’s holiness or purity of heart capacitated him to ‘see God’ in the spiritual sense of the word, so also was he enabled thereto by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of him. As Goodwin pointed out, ‘Where holiness was, we may be sure the Spirit was too.., the same Spirit (as in the regenerate) was in Adam’s heart to assist his graces and to cause them to flow and bring forth, and to move him to live according to those principles of life given to him’ (Vol. 6, p. 54).
It is clear from the nature of the case that since Adam was created in maturity of body he must have been created in maturity of mind, that there was then resident in him what we acquire only by slow experience. Adam was able to apprehend and appreciate God for what He is in Himself: he had a true and intuitive knowledge of the perfections of Deity, the heartfelt realization of their excellence. That knowledge of God was lost at the Fall, by Adam, and to his offspring, but it is restored to the elect at regeneration, when He shines ‘in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6).
Second, by the Fall man lost the life of God. The soul was not only made by God but for God: fitted to know, enjoy, and commune with Him—and its life is in Him. But evil necessarily severs from the Holy One, and then instead of being alive in God, the soul is dead in sin. Not that the soul has ceased to be, for Scripture distinguishes sharply between life and existence, as in ‘But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth’ (1 Tim. 5:6). It is a moral or spiritual death, not of being, but of well-being. ‘He that hath the Son hath life: and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life’ (1 John 5:12). To have the Son of God for my very own is to have everything that is really worth having: to be without Him, no matter what temporal things I may momentarily possess, is to be an utter pauper. ‘Life,’ spiritual and eternal life, is a comprehensive expression to include all the blessedness which man is capable of enjoying here and hereafter. He that hath life is eternally saved, accepted in the Beloved, admitted into the Divine favour, made partaker of the Divine nature, is righteous and holy in the sight of God: he that is without ‘life’ is destitute of all these things.
To be separated from God is necessarily to be deprived of everything which makes life worth living, for He is ‘the fountain of life’ (Psa. 36:9), and therefore of light, of glory, of blessedness. No finite mind can conceive, still less can any human pen express, the fullness of those words ‘the fountain of life.’ We can but compare other passages of Scripture which make known something of their meaning. As we do so, we learn that there is at least a threefold life which His people receive from God. First, His benign approbation: ‘in His fayour is life’ (Psa. 3 0:5). In Leviticus 1:4, it is tendered ‘accepted’ and in Deuteronomy 30:16, ‘the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush.’ But the verse which best enables us to understand its force is ‘0 Naphtali, satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the Lord’ (Deut 33:23)-those who are favourably regarded by Him need nothing more, can desire nothing better. To have the ‘good will’ of the triune Jehovah is life indeed, the acme of blessedness: contrariwise, to be out of His favour is to be dead unto all that is worth while.
Second, joy and blessedness of soul. ‘0 God, Thou art my God: early will I seek Thee.., to see Thy power and Thy glory . . . because Thy lovingkindness is better than life’ (Psa. 63:1-3). The life which His people receive from God is that which capacitates them to delight themselves in Him. Thus it was here. David had been rapt in adoration by the Divine attributes. It was the longing of his soul to have further communion with God, and this he was resolved to seek diligently, to have enlarged views of the Divine perfections and experiential discoveries of His excellence, as an anticipation of the felicity of Heaven. That he prized more than anything else. The natural man values his life above all else. Not so the spiritual: to him God’s ‘lovingkindness’ is better than all the comforts and luxuries of temporal life, better than the longest and most prosperous natural life. The lovingkindness of God is itself the present spiritual life of the saint, as it is also both an earnest and a foretaste of the life everlasting. It refreshes their hearts, strengthens their souls and sends them on their way rejoicing.
Thousands of his fellows are weary of life, but no Christian is ever weary of God’s lovingkindness. The latter is infinitely better than the ‘life’ of a king or a millionaire, for it has no sorrow added to it, no inconvenience in it, no evils attendant upon it. Physical death will put a period to the earthly existence of the most privileged, but it will not to God’s lovingkindness, for that is from everlasting to everlasting. It is esteemed by the believer beyond everything else, for it is the spring from which every blessing proceeds. It was in God’s lovingkindness that the Covenant of Grace originated. It was His loving-kindness which gave Christ unto His people and them unto Him. It is by His lovingkindness they are drawn to Him (Jer. 31:3), given a saving knowledge of Him, brought to know personally the love which He bears to them. Without God’s lovingkindness life is but death. Well then may each believer exclaim, ‘Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise Thee’—I will revel in Thy perfections and exult in Thyself: I will seek to render somewhat of the homage which is Thy due.
Again, that life which His children receive from God consists not only in being the objects of His benign approbation, in the experiential enjoyment of His lovingkindness, but also in the reception of a principle of righteousness and holiness by which they are fitted to appreciate Him, and for want of which the unregenerate cannot enjoy Him, for they are ‘alienated from the life of God’ (Eph. 4:18). It is clear, both from the immediate context and from the remainder of the verse, that the ‘life of God’ there has a particular reference to holiness, for the contrary thereto appears in ‘that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind.’ The contrast is further pointed in ‘Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the light of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.’ The unconverted are wholly dominated by their depraved nature. Their minds are in a state of moral fatuity, engaged only with vain things: their understandings are devoid of spiritual intelligence, lacking any power to apprehend Truth or appreciate the beauties of virtue. Their souls are estranged from God, with an inveterate aversion from Him—their hearts are calloused, steeled against Him. Thus the corruption and depravity of the natural man are set over against the grace and holiness communicated at the new birth, here termed ‘the life of God.’
Third, by the Fall, man has lost his love for God There are two cardinal affections that influence unto action: love and hatred. The one cannot be without the other, for that which is contrary to what is desired will be repellent—’Ye that love the LORD, hate evil’ (Psa. 97:10). Of the perfect Man the Father said, ‘Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows’ (Psa. 45:7). So of the triune Jehovah, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated’ (Rom. 9:13). It is the great work of grace in the redeemed to direct and fasten those affections upon their proper objects: when we put right our love and hatred, we prosper in the spiritual life. Fallen man differs from unfallen in this: they both have the same affections, but they are misplaced in fallen man, so that they now love what they should hate, and hate what they should love: their affections are like bodily members out of joint—as if the arms should hang down backward. To bestow their love and hatred aright is the very essence of true spirituality: to love all that is good and pure, to hate all that is evil and vile, for love moves us to seek union with and make our own, as hatred repels and makes us leave alone what is loathsome.
Now love was made for God, for He alone is its adequate and suited object: for all that is of Himself—His attributes, His Law, His ordinances, His dealings with us. But hatred was made for the serpent and sin. God is infinitely lovely in Himself, and if things are to be valued according to the greatness and excellence of them, then God supremely so, for every perfection centres and is found in its fullness in Him. To love Him above everything else is an act of homage due to Him, for who and what He is. There is everything in God to excite esteem, adoration and affection. Goodness is not an object of dread, but of attraction and delight. Now all that God required from Adam He freely furnished him with. Since he was created with perfect moral rectitude of heart and with a holy temper of mind, he was fully competent to love Him with all his being. He saw the Divine perfections shining forth. The heavens declared His glory, the firmament showed His handiwork, and His excellence was mirrored in everything around him. Thereby he realized what God deserved from him, and he was duly affected with His blessedness. His heart was filled with a sense of His ineffable beauty, and admiring and adoring thoughts of Him filled his mind, moving him to render unto Him that worship and submission to which He is infinitely entitled.
Love for God was what gave unity of action to all the faculties of Adam’s soul, for since it was the dominant principle in him, it rendered all the exercises of them as so many expressions of devotion to Him. Hence, when love of God died within him, his faculties not only lost their original unity and orderliness, but the power to use them aright. All his faculties came under an evil and hostile influence, and were debased in their action. The natural man is without a single spark of true affection for God: ‘But I know you,’ said the omniscient Searcher of hearts to the religious Jews, ‘that ye have not the love of God in you’ (John 5:42). Being without any love to God, all the outward acts of the natural man are worthless in His sight: ‘they that are in the flesh cannot please God’ (Rom. 8:8), for they lack the root from which they must proceed in order for any fruit to be desirable unto Him. Love is that which animates the obedience which is agreeable to God: ‘If a man love Me, he will keep My words’ (John 14:23). Love is the very life and substance of everything which is gratifying unto God.
As the principle of obedience, love takes the precedence, for faith works by love (Gal. 5:6): hence the order in that injunction ‘let us consider one another to provoke (1) unto love and (2) to good works’ (Heb. 10:24)-stir up the affections and good works will follow, as a stirring up of the coals causes the flames to arise. It is love which makes all the Divine commandments to be ‘not grievous’ (I John 5:3). We heartily agree with Charnock’s dictum, ‘In that one word love God hath wrapped up all the devotion He requires of us,’ and certainly our souls ought to be ravished with Him, for He is infinitely worthy of our choicest affections and strongest desires. Love is a thing acceptable in itself, but nothing can be acceptable to God without it. ‘They that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:23)-the most decorous and punctilious forms of devotion are worthless if they lack vitality and sincerity. True worship proceeds from love, for it is the exercise of heavenly affections, the pouring out of its homage to Him who is ‘altogether lovely.’ Love is the best thing we can render God, and it is His right in every service. Without it we are an abomination unto Him: ‘If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Mararnatha’ (1 Cor. 16:22).
Fourth, by the Fall our first parents and all mankind lost communion with God. This was enjoyed at the beginning, for God made man with faculties capable of this privilege, and designed them to have holy converse ~th Him. Indeed this was the paramount blessing of that covenant which Adam was placed under, and it was a foretaste of that more intimate communion which would have been his eternal portion had he survived his probation. But the apostasy of Adam and Eve could not but first deprive them and then all their posterity, of this inestimable privilege. This was the immediate and inevitable result of their revolt, whether we contemplate it from either the Divine or the human side, ‘for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?’ (2 Cor. 6:14). Two cannot walk together except they be agreed (Amos 3:3). The Holy One will not favourably manifest Himself unto rebels or admit them into His presence as friends. Nor had our first parents any longer the desire that He should do so, but rather very much to the contrary. Having lost all love to God, they had no relish for Him, but now hated and dreaded Him.
Here, then, my reader, is the terrible nature of human depravity. From the privative side, it consists of man’s loss of the moral image of God—consciously felt by our first parents in the shameful sense they had of their nakedness. The loss of the life of God, so that they became alienated from His favour, devoid of joy, emptied of holiness—faintly perceived by them, as was evident from their attempt to make themselves more presentable by manufacturing aprons of fig leaves. The loss of their love to God, so that they no longer revered and adored Him, but were repelled by His perfections—manifested by their fleeing from Him as soon as they were conscious of His approach. The loss of communion with God, so that they were utterly unfit for His presence—adumbrated by His driving them from Eden. None but a regenerate can estimate how irreparable was man’s forfeiture by the Fall, and how dreadful is the condition and case of the natural man: and their apprehension thereof is exceedingly meager in this life.
We have already pointed out a number of things in which the depravity of human nature does not consist: and, in the last chapter, some of the inestimable blessings of which man was deprived by the Fall. We now turn to the affirmative side, or a consideration of those evils which have come upon human nature as the result of our first parents’ apostasy from God. We do not agree with those who teach that what is transmitted from Adam and Eve to their descendants, via the channel of natural generation and propagation, is a merely negative thing—the absence of good. Rather are we fully persuaded that something positive, an active principle of evil, is communicated from parents to their children. While we do not consider that sin is a substance or material thing, we an sure that it is very much more than a mere abstraction and nonentity. Man’s very nature is corrupted: the virus of evil is in his blood. While there is privation in sin—a nonconformity to God’s Law—there is also a real positive potency in it to mischief. Sin is a power, as holiness is a power, but a power working to disorder and death.
It has been said by some orthodox divines that ‘Men’s natures are not now become sinful by putting anything in them to defile them, but by taking something from them which should have preserved them holy.’ But we much prefer the statement of the Westminster Catechism: ‘The sinfulness of that estate into which man fell consisteth in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of the righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed and disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to evil, and that continually, which is commonly called original sin, and from which sin proceed all actual transgressions.’ That fallen human nature is not only devoid of all godliness, but also thoroughly impregnated with everything that is devilish, may surely be argued from the two different kinds of sin of which every man is guilty—those of omission, wherein there is failure to perform good works, and those of commission, or positive contumacy of the Law of God. Something answerable to both of those must exist in our sinful nature, or otherwise we should predicate a cause inadequate to produce the effect: while the absence of holiness explains the former, only the presence of positive evil accounts for the latter.
There are many names given in Scripture to original sin or the depravity of human nature which serve to cast light upon its nature. The following list makes no claim to being complete, though it probably contains the most significant ones. It is called the plague of the heart (1 Kings 8:38), ‘foolishness bound up in the heart’ (Prov. 22:15), ‘the stony heart’ (Ezek. 11:19), ‘the evil treasure’ of the heart (MatI. 12:35). It is designated ‘the poison of asps’ (Rom. 3:13), ‘the old man,’ because it is derived from the first man and is part and parcel of us since the beginning of our existence, and ‘the body of sin’ (Rom. 6:6), for it is a whole assembly of evils, ‘sin that dwelleth in me’ (Rom. 7:17). It is denominated ‘another law in my members’ (Rom. 7:23), because of its unvarying nature and power, ‘the law of sin and death’ (Rom. 8:2), ‘the carnal mind’ which is ‘enmity against God’ (Rom. 8:7). It is frequently spoken of as ‘the flesh’ (Gal. 5:17), because conceived by natural generation, ‘the old man, which is corrupt’ (Eph. 4:22), ‘the sin which doth so easily beset us’ (Heb. 12:1), mans s ‘own lust’ (James 1:14), which inclines him to evil deeds.
It should be quite plain from the above definitions and descriptions of congenital sin that the human constitution is not merely negatively defective but positively depraved. There is not only in man’s heart the lack of conformity unto the Divine Law, but a positive deformity. Not only is the natural man without any desire for holiness, he is born with a disposition which is now radically opposed thereto, and therefore not only has he no love for God, but he is full of enmity against Him. Sin is also likened to ‘leaven’ (1 Cor. 5:6, 7), and that is far more than the negation of the right savour which should be in bread, namely a positive sourness which affects it in and makes it unsavoury. Sin is not only the absence of beauty, but the presence of horrid ugliness: not simply the unlovely, but the hateful; not only the want of order, but real disorder. As ‘righteousness’ expresses objectively the qualities which constitute what is good, and ‘holiness’ the subjective state which is the root of righteousness, so sin includes not only outward acts of transgression, but the evil and rotten state of the whole inner man which inclines to and animates those external iniquities. Very far from being only an ‘infirmity,’ indwelling sin is a loathsome disease.
In seeking to define and describe the nature of depravity from the positive side, we would say, first, that the Fall has brought man’s soul into subjection to death. But it must be remembered that for the soul to be under the dominion of death is a very different thing from the body being so. When the body dies it becomes as inactive and insensible as a stone. Not so in the case of the soul, for it still retains its vitality and all its powers. Fallen man is a rational, moral, responsible agent: but his internal being is thoroughly deranged. Alienated from the life of God, he can neither think nor will, love nor hate, in conformity to the Divine Rule. All the faculties of the soul are in full operation, but they are all unholy, and consequently man can no more fulfill the design of his being than does a physical corpse. Dreadful and solemn are the analogies between the two. As a dead body is devoid of the principles which formerly vitalized it, so the soul has been abandoned by the Holy Spirit who once inhabited it. As a physical corpse rapidly becomes a mass of corruption and a repulsive object, such is the depraved soul of man unto the thrice holy God. As a lifeless body is incapable of renewing itself, so is the spiritually dead soul completely powerless to better itself.
‘And you hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins’ (Eph 2:1). ‘The design of the Apostle in this and some following verses is to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and to set forth the sad estate and condemnation of man by nature, and to magnify the riches of the grace of God, and represent the exceeding greatness of His power by conversion’ (John Gill). More clearly and fully did Thomas Goodwin, the Puritan, expound the striking coherency of this passage with its context. In the nineteenth verse of the preceding chapter Paul had prayed that saints might duly apprehend and appreciate the greatness of that power which had been exercised by God in their salvation: that it was precisely the same as the Divine might put forth for the resurrection and exaltation of His Son, and which had now wrought an analogous change in them: the mighty power which had quickened Christ had also quickened them. Thus the blessed scope and end of the Holy Spirit here was to bring out the answerable parallel or show the analogous change which God had so wondrously wrought in them: that what had been effected for Christ, their Head, had been also in them, His members, the one being a glorious pattern for the other.
In connection with Christ’s exaltation three things were conspicuous. First, the condition of humiliation and death from which He was delivered and raised. Second, the sublime state of life and honour unto which He was exalted. Third, the Author thereof: God, whose almighty power was eminently manifested by the vast difference there was between those two states. Corresponding to the glorious miracles described in the closing verses of Ephesians 1 is what is so graphically portrayed in the opening verses of chapter 2. First, the dreadful state in which God’s elect were by nature, namely one of death in sin, and such a death as brought its subjects under complete bondage to sin and Satan, so that they walk not in conformity to the Divine Law, but according to the corrupt maxims and customs of the world: being guided not by the Holy Spirit, but energized and directed by the evil spirit, here denominated ‘the prince of the power of the air.’ Without any regard for God’s will or concern for His glory, they gave free rein to the lusts of the flesh and the desires of their camal minds. But second, notwithstanding their horrible condition, God, who is rich in mercy, had raised them from the grave of sin and made them one with Christ in the heavenlies, by a vital and indissoluble union. And third, this marvel had been effected solely by the invincible power and amazing grace of God, without any co-operation of theirs.
That death which has come upon man’s soul is at least a threefold one. First, he is dead in law, like a murderer in the condemned cell awaiting execution. Second, he is dead vitally, without a single spark of spiritual life. Thus, he is totally dead unto God and holiness, cast out of His favour, without any power to recover it. He is dead in opposition to justification, and also dead in opposition to being regenerated and sanctified. And third, he is dead to all that is excellent. As ‘life’ is not simply existence, but well-being, so ‘death’ is not the negation of existence, but the absence of all the real pleasures of existence. In its scriptural sense life signifies happiness and blessedness; death, wretchedness and woe. As the utmost natural misery which can befall man is for him to die—for ‘a living dog is better than a dead lion’ (Eccl. 9:4)—so spiritual death is the strongest expression which can be used to import our moral wretchedness. The former divests him of all those excellencies which are proper to him as man, but the latter makes him worse than a stone, for when he is dead he stinks, which a stone does not. So it is spiritually: the natural man is not only without any comeliness in the sight of God, but he is a stench in His nostrils.
In the first three verses of Ephesians 2 ‘there is an exact description of the state of man by nature, so complete and compendious a one as is nowhere together, that I know, in the whole Book of God’ (Goodwin). The careful student will have observed that there is one detail in it upon which the Holy Spirit has placed special emphasis, namely the one we are here treating of, for in verse 5 He repeats the words ‘dead in sin.’ Three things are outstanding in sin, its guilt, its pollution, and its power, and in each of those respects man is in his natural estate—’dead in sin.’ ‘Thou art but a dead man,’ said God to Abimelech (Gen. 20:3): that is, thou art guilty of death by reason of this act of thine. It is said of Ephraim that ‘when he offended in Baal, he died—sentence of condemnation came upon him (Hosea 13:1). So of its pollution, for in Hebrews 6:1, we read of ‘repentance from dead works,’ because every deed the natural man performs issues from a principle of corruption. So too of its power, for every sin man commits disables him the more unto good: his very activity in sin is his death, and the more lively he be in sin the more dead will he become toward God.
That there is such a threefold death of which fallen man is the subject is further evident from the nature of the work of grace in the elect, for their spiritual death must needs answer to their spiritual quickening, and that is clearly threefold. There is a threefold life to which we are restored by Christ. There is, first, a life of justification from the guilt of sin and the condemnation and curse of the Law— termed by Christ ‘passing from death unto life’ (John 5:24), and by the Apostle, ‘justification of life’ (Rom. 5:18). This is entirely objective, having respect to our status or standing before God, and is a greater relative change than for a condemned murderer to receive pardon. Second, there is a life of regeneration from the power and dominion of sin, called by Christ a being ‘born again’ (John 3:3), when a new nature or principle of holiness is communicated. This is wholly subjective, having respect to the change wrought in the soul when it is Divinely quickened. Third, there is a life of sanctification from the pollution of sin, promised by God through the prophet:
‘Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you’ (Ezek. 36:25). This is something experiential, consisting of a purifying of the heart from the love of sin, referred to as ‘the washing of regeneration’ (Titus 3:5). The first is judicial, the second spiritual, and the third moral: the three comprising the principal parts of God’s so-great salvation—the glorification of the saint is yet future.
Second, the Fall has brought man into hopeless bondage to sin. When the Holy Spirit assures the saints, ‘For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace’ (Rom. 6:14), He necessarily signifies that all those still under the covenant of works are beneath sin’s dominion, that it holds sway over them. As the Lord Jesus declared, ‘Whoever committeth sin is the servant of sin’ (John 8:34): that is to say, sin is his master. Nevertheless, he yields voluntary and ready submission to sin’s orders:
‘Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey: whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness’ (Rom. 6:16). No one outside themselves coerces and compels them. The dominion of sin is not even an indwelling force against the will and endeavours of those who are under it, but it is connatural and congenial to them. Even though, occasionally, conscience feebly protests, it’s voice is silenced by the clamourings of lust, to which the will freely complies. The dominion of sin over the natural man is entire, for it pervades the spirit with all its powers, the soul with all its faculties, the body with all its members, and it does so at all times and under all circumstances.
Sin is likened unto a monarch ruling over his subjects—’as sin hath reigned unto death’ (Rom. 5:21). Its kingdom is world-wide, for all the children of Adam are its subjects. Sin occupies the throne of the human heart until almighty grace deposes it. Sin has taken possession of the complete soul, and under its direction and influence it constantly acts. The mind is in subjection to evil as a governing principle which determines all its volitions and acts, for sin’s lustings are so many imperial and imperious edicts. Yet we say again, this rule of sin is not a force upon the mind to which it makes opposition, for the soul is a subject—as a king continues to occupy the throne only by the consent and free allegiance of his subjects. While the soul cannot but will evil because of the reign of sin, yet its volitions are spontaneous. The dominion of sin consists in its determining influence upon the will, and this sway it retains to the end, unless victorious grace makes a conquest of the soul by the implantation of a contrary principle, which opposes the influences of indwelling sin, and disposes the will to contrary acts. Let conscience remonstrate never so sharply against the fatal choice, sin ever regulates the decisions and deeds of the natural man.
This dominion of sin ‘is not a propensity to some particular evil, but an inclination to deviate from the rule of our duty taken in its full compass. Yet, as the mind is incapable of exerting itself in all manner of ways and about all sorts of objects at once and in an instant, it is sometimes acting in one manner and sometimes in another as it is variously affected by the different objects about which it is conversant: but all its actions are evil. And those who study their hearts most will best understand the surprising variety of ways wherein evil concupiscence acts its part in the soul. In the several stages of human life this sway of sin discovers itself. In childhood, by folly proper to that age. In youth it exerts itself in various ways: by a low ambition, pride, and a strange fondness for sinful pleasures. In the state of manhood, by a pursuit of the transitory things of this world, and this is often under specious pretences of more extensive usefulness: but, in fact, men are acted upon by a spirit of covetousness. In an advanced age, by impatience, etc’ (Brine).
The dominion of sin is made to appear more plainly and openly in some than in others, by their following a course of gross and flagitious evil, though it is just as real and great in those whose wickedness is more confined to the mind and heart. Scripture speaks not only of the ‘filthiness of the flesh,’ but of ‘the spirit,’ too (2 Cor. 7:1), i.e., vile imaginations, envy and hatred of our fellows, inward rebellion, and ragings against God when His will crosses ours. A sovereign God permits and controls the direction and form it takes in each one. Our lot is cast in a day when the power and reign of sin is more manifest in the world than it has been for several generations. Nor is the reason for this far to seek. It is not because human nature has undergone any deterioration, for that is impossible—it has been rotten to the core since the time of Cain and Abel. No, rather is it because God would the more evidence the lie of evolutionism and men’s proud boasts of ‘human progress’ by increasingly removing His restraining hand, and thereby allowing the horrid corruptions of men’s hearts to become more visible and obvious. There are indeed degrees of wickedness, but none in the root from which it proceeds: every man’s nature is equally depraved, and everyone in an unregenerate state is wholly dominated by it.
So mighty is the power of sin that it has made all the sons of men its slaves. Few indeed realize that they are held fast by the cords of their sins (Prov. 5:22), and still fewer wherein its strength lies. Sin is a powerful thing in itself, for it has a will of its own (John 1:13), a mind of its own (Rom. 8:6, 7), passions (Rom. 7:5), yea, fiery ones (Rom. l:27)—but as 1 Corinthians 15:56 informs us, ‘The sting of death is sin: and the strength of sin is the law.’ The first part of the statement is obvious, but the second calls for some explanation. Sin is manifestly what puts venom into the dart of death and gives it its power to hurt and slay. Sin places a painful sting in death from the fact that it was what brought death into the world: had there been no sin, there had been no death. But more: it is sin, unpardoned sin, which makes death so dreadful, for not only does the king of terrors put a final end to all the pleasures of sin, but it conducts its subject unto certain judgment. But wherein is the Law of God ‘the strength of sin’? The Law is holy . . and just, and good’ (Rom. 7:12): how, then, can it be the strength of that which is corrupt, evil, and abominable?
Most assuredly the Law does not give the slightest encouragement to sin: rather does it sternly forbid it. The Law is not the essential but the accidental strength of sin, because of sin’s inherent depravity, as the pure rays of the sun result in the horrid steams and noxious stenches rising from a dunghill. As the presence of an enemy calls into exercise the malice which lies dormant in the heart, so the holy requirements of the Law presenting themselves before man’s corrupt heart stir it unto active opposition. Thereby the exceeding sinfulness of sin is the more fully demonstrated, for its potency to evil is drawn forth by any restraint being laid upon it—the more a thing be forbidden, the more it is desired. Though fire and water be opposite elements, that is not so evident while there is distance between them, but let them meet together and great is the spluttering and striving betwixt them. If the heart of man were pure, the Law would be acceptable unto it: but since it be depraved, there is fierce resentment against its spiritual precepts.
As the Law makes no provision for pardon, the natural effect of guilt is to widen the breach between the sinner and God. Sensible (as in some measure the most degraded are) of the Divine displeasure, he is prone to withdraw farther and farther from the Divine presence. Every augmentation of guilt is an augmentation of his estrangement:
the more the sinner sins, the ~vider becomes the gulf between himself and God. This it is which gives strength to sin. It provokes the malignity of the heart against the Law, against all holy order, against the Judge. It exasperates the spirit of rebellion to unwanted fierceness, and makes the sinner desperate in his sin, causing its subjects to become increasingly reckless, and, as they perceive the brevity of life, to plunge more eagerly into profligacy. As frosty weather causes the fire to burn more fiercely, so the Law renders man’s enmity against God more violent. So Saul of Tarsus found it in his experience, for when the Divine prohibition ‘thou shalt not covet’ was applied in power to his heart, he tells us that, ‘sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence’ (Rom. 7:7, 8).
Third, the Fall has resulted in man’s mind being enveloped in darkness. As physical blindness is one of the greatest natural calamities, spiritual blindness is much more so. It consists not of universal ignorance, but a total incapacity to take in a real knowledge of Divine things. As it is said of the Jews, ‘blindness in part is happened to Israel’ (Rom. 11:25). Men may become very learned in many things, and by exercising their minds upon the Scriptures they may acquire a considerable letter knowledge of its contents: but they are quite unable to obtain a vital and effectual knowledge thereof. ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor. 2:14), and spiritual perception he has none. This darkness which is upon the mind renders the natural man incapable of receiving the excellence of God, the perfection of His Law, the real nature of sin, or his dire need of a Saviour. Should the Lord draw near and ask him, ‘What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?’ his answer ought to be, ‘Lord, that I might receive my sight’ (Mark 10:5 1).
This darkness is upon the noblest part of man’s being, his soul; and upon the highest faculty of it, the mind, which performs the same office for it as the eye to the body. By means of our visive organ we cognize material objects, distinguish between them, recognize their beauty or repulsiveness. By the mind we think, reason, understand and are enabled to weigh and discern between the true and the false.
Since the mind occupies so high a place in the scale of our beings, and since it be the most active of our inward faculties, ever working, then what a fearful state the soul must be in for its very eye to be blind! It is ‘like a fiery, high-metalled horse whose eyes cannot see, furiously carrying his rider upon rocks, pits and dangerous precipices’ (John Flavell). Or, as the Son of God declared, ‘The light of the body is the eye: if theref3re thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!’ (Matt. 6:22, 23).
Much is said in the Scriptures about this terrible affliction. Men are represented as groping at noonday (Deut. 28:29), yea, ‘they meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope in the noonday as in the night’ (Job 5:14). ‘They know not, neither will they understand.’ And why? ‘They walk on in darkness’ (Psa. 82:5) It cannot be otherwise: alienated from Him who is light, they must be in total spiritual darkness. ‘The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble’ (Prov. 4:19)—insensible of the very things which are leading to everlasting woe. Moral depravity inevitably results in moral darkness. As a physically blind eye of the soul excludes all spiritual light, it renders the Scriptures profitless to them, for in this respect the case of the Gentiles i~ identical with that of the Jews: ‘But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament’ (2 Cor. 3:14). Consequently, the highest wisdom they count folly, and objects which are in themselves the most glorious and attractive are despised and rejected.
It is a great mistake to suppose that depravity is confined to the heart or to any one of the faculties which is more immediately conversant with the distinctions of right and wrong. As a radical disease extends its influence to all the functions of the body, so depravity extends to all the powers of the soul. Sin is as really blindness to the mind as it is hardness to the heart, and therefore has it departed from its original tendencies. Its actions, however intense, are only in the wrong direction. This it is which alone affords a satisfactory explanation of the mental aberrations of men and the immoral conceptions they have formed of Deity. As we attempt to contemplate the manifold forms of religious error, both ancient and modern, the various superstitions, the disgusting rites of worship, the monstrous and hideous symbols of the Godhead, the cruel flagellations and obscenities which prevail in heathen lands: when we consider all the abominations which have long passed and still pass under the sacred name of Divine worship, and ask how such delusions originated and have been propagated, it is not sufficient to trace them to sin in general: rather must they be attributed to a deranged mind. Only a debased and darkened understanding adequately accounts for the horrible lies which have taken the name of truth, and the fearful blasphemies which have been styled worship.
This moral darkness which is upon the mind appears in the speculations about Deity by philosophers and metaphysicians, for they are ever erroneous, defective and degrading, when not corrected by Divine revelation. All such speculations are necessarily vain when they attempt to deal with things which transcend the scope of our faculties—which undertake to carry knowledge beyond its first principles, and essay to comprehend the incomprehensible. The creature being dependent and finite can never hope to compass an absolute knowledge of anything. ‘Intelligence begins with principles that must be accepted and not explained: and in applying those principles to the phenomena of existence, apparent contradictions constantly emerge that require patience and further knowledge to resolve them. But the mind, anxious to know all and restless under doubts and uncertainty, is tempted to renounce the first principles of reason and to contradict the facts which it daily observes. It seeks consistency of thought, and rather than any gaps should be left unfilled it plunges everything into hopeless confusion. Instead of accepting the laws of intelligence and patiently following the light of reason, and submitting to ignorance where ignorance is the lot of his nature as limited and finite, and joyfully receiving the partial knowledge which is his earthly inheritance, man, under the impulse of curiosity, had rather make a world that he does understand than admit one which he cannot comprehend. When he cannot stretch himself to the infinite dimensions of truth, he contracts truth to his own little measure. This is what the Apostle means by vanity of mind’ (J. H. Thornwell).
The only way of escape for fallen man from such vanity of mind is for him to reject the serpent’s poison. ‘Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil,’ and submit unreservedly to Divine revelation, according to our Lord’s word in Matthew 9:25, ‘I thank Thee, 0 Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes’—to renounce all such self-acquired knowledge, forsake all our own erroneous conclusions and fancies, and take the place of a little child before Him. But that is just what the pride of the depraved creature refuses to do. Sin has not only counteracted the normal development of reason; it has so thoroughly deranged the mind that, as Christ declared, ‘men loved darkness rather than light’ (John 3:19). They are so infatuated with their delusions that they prefer error to the Truth. That which may be known of God is clearly manifested on every hand, but man refuses to see. But though they be carried away with the darkness of their corruptions, the light still shines all around them. As created, all men may and ought to know God; but, as fallen, practical atheism is their sad heritage.
But if the acutest intellects of men, in their fallen and degenerate condition, could not of themselves form any accurate or just speculative knowledge of God and His government, there is yet a more profound ignorance which requires to be noticed, namely that theoretical knowledge of God which there is in those countries that have been favoured with the Gospel. By the light of the Christian revelation many a humble peasant has been made familiar with truths of which Plato and Aristotle knew nothing. Thousands are notionally sound upon questions which perplexed and confounded the understandings of presumptuous sophists. They believe that God is Spirit: personal, eternal, and independent; that He made the heavens and the earth, and controls all His creatures and all their actions. They are persuaded that He is as infinitely good as He is infinitely great; yet despite this knowledge they glorify Him not as God. They lack that loving light which warms as well as convinces. They have no communion with Him: they neither love nor adore Him. In order to a spiritual, vital and transforming knowledge of God their dead hearts must be quickened, and their blind eyes opened, and in order to that there must be an atonement, redemption, reconciliation with God. The Cross is the only place where men find God, and the incarnate Son, the only One in whom God can be adequately known.
If man’s mind were not enveloped by darkness, he would not be deceived by Satan’s lies or allured by his baits. If man were not in total spiritual darkness, he would never cherish the delusion that the filthy rags of his own righteousness could render him acceptable to the Holy One. If he were not blind, he would perceive that his very prayers are an abomination unto the Lord (Prov. 15:8). Though this incapability of understanding heavenly things be common to all the unregenerate, it is more heightened in some than in others. As all are equally under the dominion of sin yet some forge themselves additional fetters of evil habits by drinking in iniquity like water, so many of the sons of men immerse themselves in greater darkness by the strong prejudices of their own contracting, through pride and self-will. Others are still further incapacitated to take in spiritual things, even theoretically, by a judicial act of God, giving them over wholly to follow the dictates of their own minds. ‘He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted’ (John 12:40, and cf. 2 Thess. 2:10-12).
Fourth, the Fall has issued in man’s becoming the bondslave of Satan. That is another mysterious but very real thing, about which we can know nothing except what is revealed thereon in Holy Writ: but its teaching leaves us in no doubt upon the fact. It reveals that men are, morally, the Devil’s children (Acts 13:10; 1 John 3:10), that they are his captives (2 Tim. 2:26), under his power (Acts 26:1; Col. 1:13), that his lusts they are determined to do (John 8:44). He is described as the strong man armed, who holds undisputed possession of the sinner’s soul, until a stronger than he dispossesses him (Luke 11:21, 22). It speaks of men being ‘oppressed of the devil’ (Acts 10:3 8), and declares, ‘The god of this world (the inspirer and director of its false religions) hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image (Revealer) of God, should shine unto them’ (2 Cor. 4:4). The heart of fallen man is the throne on which he reigns, and all the sons of Adam are naturally inclined to yield themselves slaves to him, The awful reality of his indwelling sin was authenticated beyond the possibility of doubt by the cases of demoniacal possession of Christ’s day.
Their corrupt nature gives Satan the greatest advantage against men, for they are as ready to comply as he is to tempt. No age or condition of life is exempted from his assaults and suiting his evil solicitations according to their varied temperaments and tempers they are easily overcome. The longer he rules over men, the more guilt they contract, and the more do they come under his dominion. To be his bondslave is a state of abject misery, for he purposes nothing but the eternal ruin of his victims, and every step they take in that direction furthers his evil designs and increases their wretchedness. He is as ready to laugh at and mock them for the pangs and pains which their folly brings upon them as he was to tempt and solicit their service. Yet he has no right to their subjection. Though God permits him to rule over the children of disobedience, He has given him no grant or warrant which renders it lawful for him to do so. Thus he is an usurper, the declared enemy of God, and though sinners are suffered by Him to yield themselves up to the Devil’s control, that is far from being by Divine approbation.
Ephesians 2:2, 3 contains the clearest and most concise description of this awful subject, and to it we now turn. ‘Wherein (a status and state of being dead in trespasses and sin) in times past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.’ The first thing we would observe about this verse is that the world and the prince of the power of the air are definitely linked together, for the dead in sin are said to ‘walk according to’ the one equally as the other—the only difference being that the second statement is amplified by the clauses which follow, wherein we are shown why they so walked. The identifying of the world with Satan is easily understood. Three times our Lord denominated him ‘the prince of this world,’ and 1 John 5:19 declares ‘the whole world lieth in wickedness.’ The world is distinguished from the Church of Christ—the children of God. The two opposing companies and the radical difference between them was intimated at the beginning, in the word of Jehovah unto the serpent, when He made mention of ‘thy seed’ and ‘her seed.’ Those two seeds were referred to by Christ in His parable of the parable of the Tares, and designated by Him, ‘the children of the kingdom’ and ‘the children of the wicked one’ (MatI. 13:3 8).
Our Lord also spoke of the ‘kingdom’ of Satan (Matt. 12:26), by which He referred not only to his power and dominion, but to his subjects and officers being an organized company—in opposition to the ‘kingdom of God’s dear Son’ (Col. 1:1, 3). Thus, by the world, ‘the world of the ungodly’ (2 Peter 2:5) is meant: not only the sum total of the children of the Devil, in contradiction from the children of God, but more especially the joining together of all the unregenerate, which greatly augments their strength and malignity.
‘As in coals, though each coal hath fire in it, yet lay all those coals together and the fire is strengthened: so there is an intensification from this union of all the parts, from the connecting of this world. The collection of all carnal men in one and the same principles, practices and ways, are meant by ‘the world’ ‘ (Goodwin). By its ‘course’ is connoted, first, its ‘age’ or time, each generation having a more or less distinct dress or character, but ever essentially the same ‘evil world’ (Gal. 1:4). Second, its mold or manner, its custom or way of life—its ‘spirit’ (1 Cor. 2:12) and ‘fashion’ (1 Cor. 7:31). The unregenerate walk according to the same maxims and morals, and do as the generality of their fellows do, because in each is the same depraved nature.
‘According to the prince of the power of the air.’ The world is what it is because it is under the dominion of Satan. The mass of the unregenerate are likened unto the sea (Isa. 57:20), for being bound by a common nature they all move together as the waters of the sea follow the tide. But as Goodwin said, ‘If the wind comes and blows upon the sea, how it rageth, how strong are the streams then! There is a breath, a spirit, the spirit of the power of the air, namely the Devil sendeth forth an influence whereby, as the wind that bloweth upon the trees which way it bloweth, so he bloweth and swayeth the hearts of the multitude one way . . . when all the coals lie together, they make a great fire, but if the bellows be used they make the fire more intense.’ Thus, the Holy Spirit has here given the double explanation of why the unregenerate follow the course which they do: as each one enters and grows up in the world, being a social creature, he naturally goes with the drove of his fellows, and being possessed of the same evil lusts he finds their ways agreeable to him. The world, then, is the exemplary cause according to which men shape their lives, but the Devil is the impelling cause.
Since the Fall this malignant spirit has entered into human nature in a manner somewhat analogous to that in which the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of believers. He has in intimate access to our faculties, and though he cannot, like God’s Spirit, work at the roots so as to change and transform their tendencies, yet he can ply them with representations and delusions without effectually incline them to fulfill his behests. He can cheat the understanding with appearances of truth, fascinate the fancy with pretences of beauty, and deceive the heart with semblances of good. By a whisper, a touch, a secret suggestion, he can give an impulse to our thoughts and turn them into channels which exactly subserve his evil designs. Men not only do what he desires, but he has a commanding power over them, as his being termed a prince plainly implies, and therefore are they said to be ‘taken captive . . . at his ~vill’ (2 Tim. 2:26), and when converted they are delivered from his power (Col. 1:13). Yet he does not work immediately in all hearts, as the Spirit in the regenerate, for he is not omnipresent, but employs a host of demons as his agents therein.
One man can influence another (only from without by external means), but Satan can also affect from within. He is able not only to take thoughts out of men’s minds (Luke 8:12), but to place thoughts in them, as we are told he ‘put into the heart of Judas’ to betray Christ (John 13:2), and he works thus indiscernibly as a spirit—as he sowed his tares secretly in the night. As men yield to and comply with the Devil’s insinuations, he gains increasing control over them, and God permits him to enter and indwell them, as Matthew 12:29 shows. So too, when Satan would move anyone unto some particularly awful sin, he takes possession of him, as we read that after Judas had consented to the vile insinuation which the Devil had put into his heart he ‘entered into’ him (Luke 22:3) in order to ensure the carrying out of his design by strengthening the traitor to do his will, for the word for ‘entered’ there is the same as in Mark 5:13 where the unclean spirits entered into the herd of swine, which brought about their destruction. He is able to ‘fill the heart’ (Acts 5:3), giving an additional impulse to evil as a person filled with wine is abnormally fired. But let it be pointed out, there is no record in Scripture of either the Devil or a demon ever taking possession of a regenerate person.
But though the Devil works thus in men, and works effectually, yet all their sins are their own, for the Spirit is careful to add ‘worketh in the children of disobedience.’ Man consents first, and then the Devil strengthens his resolution. That appears again in Peter’s reproaching of Ananias for yielding to temptation—’ Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Spirit.’ He does no violence either to the liberty or the faculties of men, disturbing neither the spontaneity of the understanding nor the freedom of the will. As the work of God’s Spirit in His elect is by no means inconsistent with their full responsibility and their entire moral agency, so the work of the Devil in the reprobate makes it none the less their work, and therefore the dupes of his craft are without excuse for their sins. Unlike the Holy Spirit, the Devil has no creative power. He can impart no new nature, but can only avail himself of what is already there for him to work upon. He avails himself of the constitution of man’s nature, especially of his depravity as a fallen being. He gives an impetus and direction to man’s free but evil tendencies. Rightly did Goodwin point out that ‘as no man doth sin because God decrees him to sin, therefore none can excuse himself with that: so no man can excuse himself with this, that Satan worketh in him.’
Here then, my reader, is the nature of human depravity as seen from the positive side. The Fall has brought man into subjection to the power of death, into hopeless bondage to sin, has completely enveloped his mind in darkness, and has issued in his being the bondslave of Satan. From that dreadful state he possesses not a particle of power to deliver himself or even to mitigate his wretchedness. In addition, it has filled him with enmity against God, but that aspect we reserve for our next chapter, when (D.V.) we shall consider the vileness of human depravity.