While endeavouring to present a complete picture of fallen man as he is depicted by the Divine pencil in the Scriptures, it is very difficult to avoid a measure of overlapping as we turn from one aspect or feature of the same to another, or to prevent a certain amount of repetition when devoting a separate portrayal of each. Yet, seeing that this is the method which the Holy Spirit has largely taken, an apology is scarcely required from those who seek to follow His plan. In the preceding chapters we have shown in a more or less general way the terrible havoc which sin has wrought in the human constitution; now we shall consider the same more specifically. Having presented the broad outline, it remains for us to fill in the details. In other words, our immediate task is to ponder and describe the several parts of human depravity, according as it has vitiated the several sections of our inner man. Though the soul, like the body, is a unit, it also has a number of distinct members or faculties, and none of them has been exempted from the debasing effects of man’s apostasy from his Maker.
This, we consider, was strikingly exemplified in the miracles of Christ. The various bodily disorders which the Divine Physician healed during His sojourn on earth were not only so many prefigurations of the marvels of grace that He performed in the spiritual realm in connection with the redeemed, but they were also many emblematical representations of the moral diseases which affect and afflict the soul of fallen man. The poor leper, covered with noisome sores, solemnly portrayed the horrible pollutions of the human heart. The man born blind, incapable of beholding the wonders and beauties of God’s external works, expressed the benighted state of the human mind, which, because of the darkness that is upon it, is unable to discover or receive the things of the Spirit, no matter how simply and plainly they be explained to him. The paralytic’s enervated limbs shadowed forth the impotency of the will Godwards, its being totally devoid of any power to turn us unto Christ. The woman lying sick of the fever, producing unnatural craving, delirium, etc., depicted the disordered state of our affections. The demon-possessed man, dwelling amid the tombs, incapable of being securely bound, crying and cutting himself, adumbrated the various activities of the conscience in the unregenerate.
Corruption has invaded every part of our nature, overspreading the whole of man’s complex being. As physical disorders spare no members of the body, so man’s very spirit has not escaped the ravages of depravity. Yet who is capable of comprehending the same in its awful breadth and depth, length and height? It is not simply the inferior powers of the soul which the plague of sin has seized, but the contagion has ascended into the higher regions of our persons, polluting the sublimest faculties. This is a part of God’s punishment. It is a great mistake to suppose that the Divine judgment on man’s defection is reserved for the next life. Mankind is heavily penalized in this world, both outwardly and inwardly, as they are subject to many adverse dispensations of providence therein. Outwardly, in their bodies, names, estates, relations and employments; finally, by physical death and dissolution. Inwardly, by blindness of mind, hardness of heart, turbulent passions, the gnawing of conscience. However little regarded, by reason of their stupidity and insensibility, yet the inward visitations of God’s curse are far more dreadful than the outward ones, and are regarded as such by those who truly fear the Lord and see things in His light.
1. Blindness of mind. The mind is that faculty of the soul by which objects and things are first cognized and apprehended. In distinguishing the understanding from it, the latter is that which weighs, discriminates and determines—judging between the concepts formed in the former, being the guide of the soul, the selector and rejecter of those notions the mind has received. Both alike are deranged by sin, for we are told that ‘their minds were blinded’ (2 Cor. 3:14), and we also read of ‘having the understanding darkened’ (Eph. 4:18). As a derelict from God, the Fall has completely shuttered the windows of man’s soul, yet he perceives it not; yea, emphatically denies it. Heathen philosophers and the schoolmen of medievalism both allowed that the affections, in the lower part of the soul, were somewhat defiled, but insisted that the intellectual faculty was pure, saying that reason still directed and advised us to the best things. When our Lord declared, ‘For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see, and that they which see might be made blind,’ some of the Pharisees who heard Him indignantly asked, ‘Are we blind also?’ (John 9:39, 40).
Now it is not strange that blind reason should think it sees, for while it judges everything else it is least capable of estimating itself because of its very nearness to itself. Though a man’s eye can see the deformity of his hands or feet, it cannot see the bloodshot that is in itself, unless it has a glass by which to discern the same. In like manner, even corrupt nature, by its own light, recognizes the disorder in the sensual part of man, yet it cannot discern the defilement that is in the spirit itself. The glass of God’s Word is required to discover that, and even that mirror is not sufficient—the light of Divine grace has to shine within, in order to expose and discover the imbecility of the
reasoning faculty. And hence it is that Holy Writ throws the main emphasis on the depravity of this highest part of man’s being. When the Apostle would show how impure are unbelievers, who nevertheless profess that they know God, he averred, ‘even their mind and conscience is defiled’ (Titus 1:15). They least of all suspected that those parts were tainted, especially since they were illumined with some rays of the knowledge of God. Thus, in opposition to this conceit, the superior faculties alone are mentioned, and they stressed with an ‘‘even.’
How weighty and full the testimony of Scripture is upon this solemn feature appears from the following. ‘When they knew God [traditionally], they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful: but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools’ (Rom. 1:21, 22)—the reference is to the Gentiles after the flood. One of the fearful curses executed upon Israel, because they hearkened not unto the voice of the Lord their God and refused to do His commandments, was ‘The LORD shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart and thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness’ (Deut. 28:28, 29). Of all mankind it is said, ‘There is none that understandeth…. the way of peace have they not known’ (Rom. 3:11, 17): so far from it that ‘there is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death’ (Prov. 14:12). ‘The world by wisdom knew not God’ (1 Cor. 1:21): despite all their schools, they were ignorant of Him. ‘Desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm’ (1 Tim. 1:7). ‘Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (2 Tim. 2:7).
The natural darkness which blinds them from those regular operations that are directed by their outward senses is twofold: either external or internal. When night falls, unless there be the aid of artificial light, they can no longer perform their work. If they be blind, then it is one perpetual night to them. Such too is spiritual darkness: objective and subjective—a darkness that is both on men and in men. The first consists in a lack of those means whereby alone they may be enlightened in the knowledge of God and heavenly things. What the sun is to the earth unto natural things, that is the Word and the preaching of it as to things spiritual (Psa. 19:1-4: cf. Rom. 10:10, 11). This darkness is upon all unto whom the Gospel is not declared or by whom it is despised and rejected. Now it is the mission and work of the Holy Spirit to take away this objective darkness, and until it be done none can see or enter the kingdom of God. This He does by sending the Gospel into a country, nation, or town. It does not obtain entrance there, nor is it restrained anywhere, by accident or by human effort: but it is dispensed according to the sovereign will of the Spirit of God. He it is who gifts, calls, and sends men forth to preach, determining the places where they shall minister, either by His secret impulses or by the operations of His providence (Acts 16:6-10).
But it is the subjective darkness upon the minds of the unregenerate, with the influences and consequences thereof, which is here more immediately to be considered. This is not a mere privative thing, but a positive, consisting not simply of ignorance, but of a foul disease, with a habitual evil disposition. ‘He is proud, knowing nothing; but sick about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth’ (1 Tim. 6:4, 5). Not only are their minds such as assent not to wholesome doctrine, but they are diseased and corrupt: ‘sick about questions’—longing for them as a diseased stomach does for any trash. This distemper of mind is also called an itch after fables (2 Tim. 4:3, 4). Still more solemnly, Scripture calls that contentious wisdom of which the learned of this world are so proud, ‘earthly, sensual, devilish’ (James 3:15): both the verse before and the one following show that all the envy, malice, lying and dissembling, though in both the affections and the will, is rooted in the understanding. Hence it is that God must give ‘repentance’ or a change of mind before there is an acknowledgment of the Truth and a recovery from the snare of the Devil (2 Tim. 2:25, 26).
This darkness of the understanding is the cause of that rebellion which is in the affections and will, for why do men seek so inordinately the pleasures of sin, but because their minds know not God, and are strangers to Him and can have no fellowship with Him?—For all friendship and fellowship is grounded upon knowledge. To have communion with God, the knowledge of Him is necessary, and accordingly the principal thing which God does when He gives admittance into the Covenant of Grace is to teach men to know Him (Jer. 31:33, 34): contrariwise, men are estranged from Him through ignorance (Eph. 4:17-19). The darkness of the mind is not only the root of all sin, but is the cause of most of the corruptions in men’s lives. Hence we find that Paul mentions ‘fleshly wisdom’ as the antithesis of the principle of grace (2 Cor. 1:12). For the same reason men are said to be ‘sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge’ (Jer. 4:22). That this is the cause of the greatest part of wickedness which is in the world is clear from Isaiah 48:10, ‘Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee.’ Corrupt reasonings and false judgments of things are the chief movers in all our sinning. Pride has its chief place in the mind, as Colossians 2:18 shows.
That this darkness is forceful and influential—yea, dynamic— appears from that expression in Colossians 1:13, ‘delivered us from the power of darkness’—the word signifying that which sways or bears rule. It fills the mind with enmity against God and all His ways, and turns the will in a contrary direction, so that, instead of the affections being set upon things above, the unregenerate ‘mind earthly things’ (Phil. 3:19). Such is its habitual inclination. It minds the things of the flesh (Rom. 8:5), setting itself to provide sensual objects for the gratification of the body. It fills the mind with strong prejudices against the spiritual things proposed in the Gospel. Those prejudices are called ‘strongholds’ and ‘imaginations [or ‘reasonings’], and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God’ (2 Cor. 10:4, 5), which are pulled down and cast down in the day of God’s power, when souls are brought into willing subjection to Him. The sins of the mind are of longest continuance, for when the body decays and its lusts wither, those of the mind are as vigorous and active in old age as in youth. As the understanding is the most excellent part of man, so its corruption is worse than that of the other faculties: ‘If. . . the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!’ (Matt. 6: 23).
Fearful indeed are the effects of this darkness. Its subjects are rendered incapable of discerning or receiving spiritual things, so that there is a total inability with respect unto God and the ways of pleasing Him. No matter how well endowed intellectually the unregenerate man may be, what the extent of his education and learning, how skilful in connection with natural things, in spiritual matters he is devoid of intelligence until he is renewed in the spirit of his mind. As a person who lacks the power of seeing is incapable of being impressed by the strongest rays of light reflected upon him, and cannot form any real ideas of the appearance of things, so the natural man, by reason of this blindness of mind, is unable to discern the nature of heavenly things. Said Christ to the Jews of His day, ‘If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes’ (Luke 19:42}—concealed from thy perception as effectually as things which are purposely hidden from prying eyes. Even though a man had the desire to discover them, he would search in vain for all eternity unless God was pleased to reveal them, as He did to Peter (Matt. 16:17).
The spiritual blindness which is upon the mind of the natural man not only disables him to make the first discovery of the things of God, but even when they are published and set before his eyes, as in the Word of Truth they plainly are, he cannot discern them. Whatever notions he may form of them, they are dissonant to their nature, and the thoughts he has of them are the very reverse of what in fact they are: the highest wisdom they regard as folly, and objects most glorious m themselves are despised and rejected. ‘Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish; for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you’ (Acts 13:41). The preceding verses show that Paul had clearly preached to them Christ and His Gospel, and then closed with a caution that they beware lest that came upon them which was spoken by the Prophet. Thus it is not the bare presentation of the Truth which will convince men. Though clearly propounded, it may still be obscure to them: ‘it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not’ (2 Cor. 4:3, 4). Their understandings need to be Divinely opened in order to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45)!
The subjects of this darkness are spiritually insensible and stupid. This it is which prevents them from making a true inspection of their hearts. They see only the outward man, and feel not the deadly wound within. There is a sea of corruption, but it is unperceived. The holiness, beauty and rectitude of their nature have departed, but they are quite unconcerned. They are miserable and poor, blind and naked, yet totally unaware of it. This it is which causes the unregenerate to go on in a course of rebellion against the Lord, and at the same time conclude that all things are well with them. Thus they live securely and happily. As the goodness of God melts them not, neither do His sorest judgments move them to amend their ways. So far from it, they are like unto that wicked king Ahaz, of whom it is recorded, ‘And in the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the LORD’ (2 Chron. 28:22)—how madly and defiantly did the masses conduct themselves throughout the battle of Britain! So now, while the peace of the whole world is so seriously menaced ‘LORD, when Thy hand is lifted up, they will not see’ (Isa. 26:11).
Space will allow us to mention only one other effect, and that is what Ephesians 4:17 terms ‘the vanity of their mind.’ Things in Scripture are said to be vain which are useless and fruitless: in Matthew 15:9, it signifies ‘to no purpose.’ Hence the idols of the heathen and the rites used in their worship are called vain things (Acts 15:15). In 1 Samuel 12:21, vain things are said to be those ‘which cannot profit nor deliver.’ It is also synonymous with folly, for in Proverbs 12:11, vain men are all one with ‘persons void of understanding.’ In Jeremiah 4:14, vain things are yoked with ‘wickedness,’ thus they are sinful ones—vain men and sons of Belial are synonymous (2 Chron. 13:7). This vanity of the mind induces the natural man to pursue shadows and miss the substance, to be engaged with figments instead of realities, to prefer lies to the truth. This it is which leads men to follow the fashions and revel in the pleasures of a vain world. This sinful vanity of mind is in all sorts of persons and ages, acting itself in foolish imaginations, whereby it makes provision for the flesh and its lusts. It appears in a loathness to think upon holy things, so that when under the preaching of the Word the mind wanders like a butterfly in the garden. It ‘feedeth on foolishness’ (Prov. 15:14), and has an itching curiosity about the affairs of others.
2. Hardness of heart. The heart is the center of our moral being, out of which flow the issues of life (Prov. 4:23; cf. Matt. 12:35). The nature of it is at once indicated by its being designated a stony heart’ (Ezek. 11:19). The figure is a very apt one. As a stone is nothing but a product of the earth, so it has the property of the earth—heaviness, a tendency to fall. Thus it is with the natural mind: men’s affections are wholly set upon the world, and though God made man upright with his head erect, yet the soul is bowed down to the ground. The physical curse pronounced upon the serpent is also fulfilled in his seed, for the things upon which they feed turn to ashes, so that dust is their meat (Isa. 65:25). Sin has so calloused man’s heart that, Godwards, it is loveless and lifeless, cold and insensible. That is one reason why the moral Law was written upon tables of stone: to represent emblematically the kind of hearts which men had, as is clearly implied by the contrast presented in 2 Corinthians 3:3—stupid, unyielding.
The heart of the unregenerate is also likened to ‘the rock’ (Jer. 23:29), and to an ‘adamant stone’ (Zech. 7:12), which is harder than a flint. The same thing is termed being ‘stout-hearted’ (Isa. 46:12), and in Isaiah 48:4, God says, ‘thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass.’ This hardness is often ascribed to the neck (‘stiffriecked’), being a figure of man’s obstinacy taken from refractory oxen which will not endure the yoke. This hardness evidences itself by a complete absence of spiritual sensibility, so that it is unmoved by God’s goodness, has no awe of His authority and majesty, and no fear of His anger and vengeance, a presentation of the joys of Heaven or the horrors of Hell makes no impression upon it. As the Prophet of old lamented, they ‘put far away the evil day’ (Amos 6:3), dismissing it from their thoughts as an unwelcome subject to dwell upon. They have no sense of guilt, no consciousness of having offended their Maker, no alarming realization of His wrath abiding on them, but are secure and at ease in their sins. So far from sin being a burden to them, it is their element and delight to enjoy its pleasures for a season.
That hardness of heart to which reference was made at the close of our last chapter is the perverseness and obstinacy of fallen man’s nature, which makes him resolve to continue in sin no matter what be the consequences thereof. It renders him unwilling to be rebuked for his folly, and makes him refuse to be reclaimed from it, whatever methods are used in order thereunto. The Prophet made mention of this in his day, for referring to those who had been forewarned by sore judgments, and were at that very time under the most solemn rebukes of Providence, God had to say of them, ‘They will not hearken unto Me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted’ (Ezek. 3:7). So too the Lord Jesus complained, ‘We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced: we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented’ (Matt. 11:17). The most pathetic entreaties and winsome expostulations will not move the unregenerate to close with what is absolutely necessary for their present peace and final felicity. ‘They are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear; which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely’ (Psa. 63:4, 5, and cf. Acts 8:57).
The hearts of the regenerate are ductile and pliable, easily bent to God’s will, but the hearts of the wicked are so wedded to their lusts as to be impervious to all appeal. There is such an unyielding disposition against heavenly things that they respond not to the most alarming threatenings and thunderings. They will neither be convinced by the most cogent arguments nor won by the most tempting inducements. They are so addicted to self-pleasing that they cannot be persuaded to take Christ’s yoke upon them. In Zechariah 7:11,12, it is said, ‘But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the Law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent.’ They are less susceptible to be wrought upon by the preacher to receive any impressions of holiness than granite is to be engraved by the tool of the artificer. They scorn to be controlled and refuse to be admonished. They are ‘a stubborn and rebellious generation’ (Psa. 78:8), being subject to neither the Law nor the Gospel. The doctrines of repentance, denying of self, walking with God, can find no entrance into their hearts.
3. Disordered affections. Some writers take in more and others less in the scope of the term ‘affections,’ and perhaps it is a moot point both theologically and psychologically whether the desire nature is to be included therein or to be considered separately. In the broadest meaning, the affections may be said to be the sensitive faculty of the soul. As the understanding is that power which discerns and judges things, so the affections allure and dispose the soul unto or against the objects contemplated. It is by the affections that the soul becomes pleased or displeased with what is cognized by the bodily senses or contemplated by the mind, and thus moved to approve or reject. As distinguished from both, the will is that faculty which executes the final decision of the mind or the strongest desire of the affections, carrying out the same into action. Since the affections pertain to the sensitive side of the soul, we are more conscious of their stirrings than we are of the actings of our minds or wills. In this chapter we shall employ the term in its widest latitude, including the desires, for what the appetites are to the body the affections are to the soul.
Goodwin likened the desire nature unto the stomach in the body. It is an empty void, fitted to receive from without, longing for a satisfying object. Its universal language is, ‘Who will show us any good?’ (Psa. 4:6). Now God Himself is man’s chief good, the only One who can afford him real, lasting and full satisfaction. At the beginning He created him in His own likeness; that as the needle touched by the landstone ever moves northward, so the soul being touched with the Divine image should carry the understanding, affections and will unto Himself. He also placed the soul in a material body, and that in this world, fitting each for the other, providing everything necessary for and suited to each part of man’s complex being. The desire nature carried the soul unto the creature, but only as a means of enjoying God in and by them. The wonders of God’s handiwork were meant to be admired, but chiefly as displaying His wisdom. Food was to be eaten and enjoyed, but in order to deepen gratitude unto the goodness of the Giver and to supply strength to serve Him. But alas, when man apostatized, his understanding, affections and will were divorced from God, and the exercise of them became directed only by self-love.
Originally the Lord sustained and directed the action of human affections unto Himself. Then He withheld that power, and left our first parents on their own creature footing, and in consequence their desires wandered after forbidden joys. They sought their happiness not in communion with their Maker, but in intercourse with the creature. Like their children ever since, they loved and served the creature more than the Creator. The result was disastrous to the last degree: they became separated from the Holy One. That was at once evidenced by their attempt to hide from Him—had their delight been in God as their chief good, the desire for concealment could not have possessed their minds. And as it was with Adam and Eve, so it has been with all their descendants. Many a proverb expresses that general truth. ‘The stream cannot rise higher than the fountain.’ ‘Men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles.’ ‘Like begets like.’ The parent stock of the human family must send forth scions of its own nature. ‘Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways’ (Job 21:14) is what the hearts and lives of all the unregenerate say unto the Almighty.
The natural center of unfallen man’s soul, both for its rest and delight, was the One who gave him being, and therefore did David say, ‘Return unto thy rest, 0 my soul’ (Psa. 116:7). But sin has caused men to ‘draw back’ from Him, and to ‘depart from the living God’ (Heb. 10:38; 3:12). God was not only to be the delightful portion of the one whom He had made in His image, but also the ultimate end of all his motions and actions, aiming to glorify and please Him in all things. But he forsook ‘the fountain of living waters’ (Jer. 2:1 3)—the infinite and perpetual spring of comfort and joy. And now the inclinations and lustings of man’s nature are wholly taken off from God, anything and everything being more agreeable to him than He who is the sum of all excellency: making the things of time and sense his chief good, and the pleasing of himself his supreme end. That is why their affections are termed ‘ungodly lusts’ (Jude 18)— they are all turned away from Him. They have no relish for His holiness, no desire for fellowship with Him, no wish to retain Him in their thoughts.
But what has just been pointed out (the aversion of our affections from God) is only the privative part: the positive is their conversion to other things. Thus it was that God charged Israel, ‘My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water’—betaking themselves to poor trifles which afford them no satisfaction. The creature is preferred before the Creator, for all the concern of the natural man is how to live at ease in the world, and not to honour and enjoy God. Thus do they observe ‘lying vanities’ and ‘forsake their own mercy’ (Jonah 2:8), for as to their emptiness they are vanities, and in regard to disappointing their expectations, ‘lying vanities.’ They are deceived by a vain show, and the outcome is vexation of spirit, because of a frustrating of their hopes. As the love of God shed abroad in the hearts of the redeemed seeks not its own (1 Cor. 13:5), so self-love does nothing else but that very thing: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain’ (Isa. 56:11).
Not only are the lusts of the unregenerate carried away from God to the creature, but they are so greedily, excessively. Thus we read of ‘inordinate affections’ (Col. 3:5), which signifies both immoderate and irregular, both a spirit of gluttony and a craving after things which are contrary to God: ‘lusting after evil things’ (1 Cor. 10:6). The former is the sin of intemperance: the latter having ‘pleasure in unrighteousness’ (2 Thess. 2:12). The body is esteemed above the soul, for all the efforts of the natural man are directed to making provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof, while his immortal spirit is little thought of and still less cared for. When providence smiles upon his labours, his language is, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years: take thine case, eat, drink, and be merry’ (Luke 12:19). Their thoughts rise not to a higher and future life. They are far more concerned with the clothing and adorning of the outward man than with the cultivation of a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price (1 Peter 3:4). Earth is preferred before Heaven, things of time before eternity. Though death and the grave may put an end to all they had here much sooner than they imagine, yet their hearts are so set upon those things as their happiness that they will not be diverted from them.
Thus it is that the affections, which at the beginning were the servants of reason, now occupy the throne. That which is the glory of human nature—elevating it above the beasts of the field—is turned hither and thither by the rude rabble of our passions. God placed in man an instinct of happiness, to find the same in Himself, but now it creeps in the dust and pours itself out to every vanity. The counsels and contrivances of the mind are engaged in the accomplishment of man’s carnal desires. Not only have his affections no relish for spiritual things, they are strongly prejudiced against them, for they run directly counter to the gratifying of his corrupt nature. His desires are set upon more wealth, more worldly honour and power, more fleshly merriment, and because the Gospel contains no promise of such things it is despised. Because it inculcates holiness, the mortifying of the flesh, separation from the world, resisting the Devil, the Gospel is most unwelcome to him. To turn the affections away from those material and temporal things which they have made their chief good, and to turn them unto unseen spiritual and eternal things, alienates the camal mind against the Gospel, for it offers nothing attractive to the natural man in the place of those idols on which his heart centers. To renounce his own righteousness and be dependent upon that of Another is equally distasteful to his pride.
Not only are the affections alienated from and opposed to the holy requirements of the Gospel, but equally so unto its mystery. That mystery is what the Scriptures term the hidden wisdom of God, and the natural man not only fails to admire and adore it, but regards it with contempt and contumacy. He looks upon all the parts of its declaration as empty and unintelligible notions. This prejudice has prevailed over the wise and learned of this world in all ages, and in none more effectual than in our evil day. The highest wisdom of God seems foolishness unto all who are puffed up by pride in their own intelligence, and what is foolishness unto them is despised and scorned. That which is addressed to faith rather than reason is unpalatable. To lean not unto their own understanding, but trust in the Lord with all their hearts, is a ‘hard saying’ to those considered of towering intellect. To set aside their own ideas, forsake their thoughts (Isa. 55:7) and become as ‘little children,’ and be told they shall in no wise enter the kingdom of Heaven unless they do so, is most abhorrent unto them. No small part of man’s depravity consists in its readiness to embrace those prejudices, to adhere perniciously unto them, with total lack of power to extricate themselves from them.
The disordered state of our affections is seen in the fact that the actions of the natural man are regulated far more by his senses than by his reason. His conduct consists principally in responding to the clamourings of his lusts rather than to the dictates of reason. The desires of children are swift to any corrupting diversion, but slow to any improving exercise: from the one they can scarcely be restrained, unto the other they have to be compelled. That the affections are turned away from God is made manifest every time His will crosses our desires. This disease appears too in the objects on which the several affections are placed. Instead of love being set upon God, it is centered on the world, and dotes upon idols. Instead of hatred being directed against sin, it is opposed to holiness. Instead of joy finding its delight in spiritual things, it wastes itself on those which soon pall. Instead of fear being actuated by displeasing the Lord, it dreads more the frowns of our fellows. If there be grief, it is for the thwarting of our pleasures and hopes, rather than because of our waywardness. If there be pity, it is exercised upon self, rather than upon the sufferings of others.
It now remains for us to point out that the very first stirring of our lusts is itself evil. The passions or lusts are those natural and unrestrained motions of the creature unto the advancement of its nature, by an inclination unto those objects which promote its good, and an aversion from those which are noxious. And thus they are to the soul what wings are to the bird and sails are to the ship. Desire is ever in pursuit of satisfaction, and if it is to be met must be regulated by right reason. But, alas, reason has been dethroned and man’s passions and inclinations are lawless, and therefore their earliest risings after forbidden objects essentially evil. This was, as Matthew 5 shows, denied by the rabbins, who restricted sin to an open and outward transgression. But our Lord declared that unwarrantable anger against another was incipient murder, and that to look upon a woman so as to lust after her was a breach of the seventh commandment, that impure thoughts and wanton imaginations were nothing less than adultery. Hence it is that Scripture speaks of ‘deceitful lusts’ (Eph. 4:22), ‘foolish and hurtful lusts’ (1 Tim. 6:9), ‘worldly lusts’ (Titus 2:12), ‘fleshly lusts, which war against the soul’ (1 Peter 2:11), ‘ungodly lusts’ (Jude 18).
The very first stirring of desire after anything evil, the slightest irregularity in the motions of the soul, is sin. This is clear from the universal command ‘Thou shalt not covet,’ or hanker after anything which God has prohibited. This irregular and evil longing is termed ‘concupiscence’ in Romans 7:8, ‘in which the Apostle included mental as well as sensual desire’ (Calvin). The Greek word is usually rendered ‘lust’: in 1 Thessalonians 4:5, it is found in an intensified form: ‘the lust of concupiscence.’ These lustings of the soul are its initial motions, often unsuspected by ourselves, which precede the consent of the mind, and are designated ‘evil concupiscence’ (Col. 3:5). They are the seeds from which spring our evil works, the original stirrings of our indwelling corruption. They are condemned by the Law of God, for the tenth commandment forbids the first outgoings of the affections after what belongs to another, so that the incipient longing, before the approbation of the mind be obtained, is sinful, and needs to be confessed unto God. Genesis 6:5 declares of fallen man that ‘every imagination of the thoughts of his heart’ is evil, for sins while in their embryonic stage defile the soul, being contrary to that purity which the holiness of God requires.
What has been pointed out above is repudiated by Roman Catholics, for while they allow that the lusts of the flesh are the matter of sin or that in which sin originates, they will not admit the same to be essentially evil. The Council of Trent denied that the original movement of the soul tending to evil is itself sinful, stating that it only becomes so when the same is consented or yielded to. In like manner, the majority of Arminians (who in so many of their beliefs are one with papists) confine sin to an act of the will. Now it is freely confessed by all sound Calvinists that the mind’s entertaining of the first evil desire is a further degree of sin, and that actual assenting thereto is yet more heinous; but they emphatically contend that the original impulse is also evil in the sight of God. If the original impulse be innocent (per se) how could its gratification be sinful? Motives and excitements do not undergo any change in their essential nature in consequence of their being humoured or encouraged. It cannot be wrong to heed innocent impulses. The Lord Jesus teaches us to judge the tree by its fruits—if the fruit be corrupt, so too is the tree which bears it.
In Romans 8:7, the term is actually rendered sin: ‘I had not known sin, but by the Law: for I had not known lust, except the Law had said, Thou shalt not covet’—-or ‘lust,’ for the Greek uses the same word. Here, then, sin and lust are used interchangeably: any inward nonconformity to the Law being sinful. Paul was made aware of that fact when the commandment was applied to him in power—as the sun shining on a dung-heap draws forth its stench. Men may deny that the very desire after forbidden objects is culpable, but Scripture affirms that even imaginations are evil—the buds of wickedness, for they are contrary to that rectitude of heart which the Law requires. Note how that terrible list of things which Christ enumerated as issuing from the heart of fallen man is headed with ‘evil thoughts’ (Matt. 15:19). We cannot conceive of any inclination or proneness unto sin in an absolutely holy being. Certainly there was none in the Lord Jesus: ‘the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me’ (John 14:30)—nothing that was capable of responding to his vile solicitations, no movement of His appetites or affections of which he could take advantage. Christ was inclined only unto what is good.
‘For when we were in the flesh [i.e. while Christians were in their unregenerate state], the motions of sins [literally, the affections of sin, or the beginnings of our passions], which were [aggravated] by the Law, did work in our members [the faculties of the soul as well as of the body] to bring forth fruit unto death’ (Rom. 7:5). Those ‘affections of sin’ are the filthy streams which issue from the polluted fountain of our hearts. They are the first stirrings of our fallen nature, which precede the overt acts of transgression. They are the unlawful movements of our lusts prior to the studied and deliberate thoughts of the mind after sin. ‘But sin [indwelling corruption], taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence’ or ‘evil lustings’ (Rom. 7:8). Note well that word ‘wrought in me’: there was a polluted disposition or evil propensity at work, distinct from and the spring of the deeds which it produced. Indwelling sin is a powerful principle, constantly exercising a bad influence, stimulating unholy affections, stirring unto avarice, enmity, malice, etc.
So important do we deem what was touched upon at the close of our last chapter, and so little is the same apprehended and understood today, that we are here adding a few words thereon. The popular idea which now prevails is that nothing is sinful save an open and outward transgression, but such a concept falls far short of the searching and humbling teaching of Holy Writ. It affirms that the source of all temptation lies within fallen man himself. It is the depravity of his own heart which induces him to listen to the Devil or be influenced by the profligacy of others. If this were not so, then no external solicitations unto wrongdoing would have any force, for there would be nothing within him for them to excite, nothing to which those solicitations correspond or over which they could exert any power. An evil example would be rejected with abhorrence if we were pure within. There must be an unsatisfied lust to which temptation from without appeals. Where there is no desire for food, a well-spread table allures not. If there be no love of acquisition, gold cannot attract the heart. In every instance the force of temptation lies in some propensity of our fallen nature.
Herein lies the uniqueness of the Bible; to wit, its exalted spirituality, insisting that any inward bias, the least gravitation of the soul from God and His will, is sinful and culpable, whether or not it be carried out into action. It reveals that the first stirring of sin itself is to draw away the soul from what it ought to be fixed upon, by an irregular craving for some foreign object which appears delightful. When our native corruptions are invited by something external which promises pleasure or profit, and the passions are attracted by the same, then temptation begins, and the heart is drawn out after it. Since fallen man is influenced most by his lusts, they sway both his mind and his will. So powerful are they that they rule his whole soul: hence it was that the Apostle said, ‘I see another law in my members’ (Rom. 7:23), for it is imperious, dominating the entire man. It is because their lusts are so violent that men are so mad upon sinning: ‘they weary themselves to commit iniquity’ (Jer. 9:5). James 1:14, 15, traces out the origin of all our sinning, and to it we now turn.
‘But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.’ Those words show that sin encroaches upon the spirit by degrees, and describe the several stages before it be consummated in the outward act. They reveal that the procreating cause of all sin lies in every man’s soul, namely his lusts: that he has within himself both the food and fuel of it. Rightly did Goodwin declare, ‘You can never come to see how deeply and how abominably corrupt creatures you are, until God opens your eyes to see your lusts.’ The old man is ‘corrupt according to the deceitful lusts’ (Eph. 4:22).
Lust is both the womb and the root of all wickedness which there is upon earth. Says the Apostle to God’s people, ‘having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust’ (2 Peter 1:4). The corruption’: that wasting and destroying blight which is upon all mankind. ‘Which is in the world’: like poison in the cup, like dry rotin wood, like a pestilence in the air—inherent, ineradicable. It taints every part of man’s being—physical, mental and moral; and all his relations of life, whether in the family, society. or the State.
‘Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust.’ When men are tempted they usually seek to cast the onus upon God, the Devil, or their fellows; whereas the blame rests entirely upon themselves. First, their affections are removed from what is good and they are incited unto wrongful conduct by their corrupt inclinations, being attracted to a bait which Satan or the world dangles before them. ‘Lust’ here signifies a yearning for or longing to obtain something, and it is so strong as to draw the soul after a forbidden object. The Greek word for ‘drawn away’ means forcibly impelled: the impetuous violence of the desire which covets some sensual or worldly thing demands gratification. This is nothing but a species of self-will, a hankering after what God has not bestowed, arising from discontent with our present condition or portion. Even though that longing be a fleeting and involuntary one, yea, against our best judgment, nevertheless it is sinful, and when allowed produces yet deeper guilt.
‘And enticed.’ The drawing away is by the irregularity and vehemence of the craving, the enticement is from the object contemplated. But that very allurement is something for which we are to blame. It is because we fail to resist, abominate and reject the first rising of unlawful desire, and instead entertain and encourage it, that the bait appears so attractive. The temptation promises pleasure or profit, which is ‘the deceitfulness of sin’ (Heb. 3:13) at work, which beguiles us. Then wickedness is sweet in our mouth, and we hide it under our tongue (Job 20:12). ‘Then when lust bath conceived’: anticipated delight is cherished, and in view thereof the mind fully consents. The sinful deed is now present in embryo, and the thoughts are engaged in contriving ways and means of gratification. ‘It bringeth forth sin’ by a decree of the will: what was previously contemplated is now actually perpetrated. Rightly did Manton say, ‘Sin knows no mother but our own heart.’ ‘And sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death’: it is paid its wages and made to reap what was sown, damnation being the ultimate outcome. Such is the progress of sin within us, and such its several degrees of enormity.
4. Corrupted conscience. If there be one faculty of man’s soul more than any other which may be thought to have retained the original image of God upon it, it is surely the conscience. Such a view has indeed been widely held. So decidedly were they of this opinion that not a few of the most renowned philosophers and moralists have contended that conscience is nothing less than the Divine voice itself speaking in the innermost chamber of our being. But without in any way minimizing the great importance and value of this internal monitor, either in its office or in its operations, it must be emphatically declared that such theorists err, that even this faculty has not escaped from the common ruin of our entire beings. This is evident from the plain teaching of God’s Word thereon. Scripture speaks of a ‘weak conscience’ (1 Cor. 8:12), of men ‘having their conscience seared with a hot iron’ (1 Tim. 4:2), and says that their ‘conscience is defiled’ (Titus 1:15), that they have ‘an evil conscience’ (Heb. 10:22). Demonstration thereof is made in what follows.
They who affirm that there is something essentially good in the natural man insist that his conscience is an enemy to evil and a friend to holiness. They point out and stress the fact that the conscience produces an inward conviction against wrongdoing, a strife in the heart over sin, with a reluctance to it. They call attention to Pharaoh’s acknowledgment of sin (Exo. 10:16), and that Darius was ‘sorely displeased with himself’ for his unjust act in condemning Daniel to be cast into the lions’ den (6:14). Some have even gone so far as to affirm that the opposition to greater and grosser crimes which is found at first in all men differs little or nothing from that conflict between the flesh and the spirit described in Romans 7:21-23. But such a sophistry is easily refuted. In the first place, while it be true that fallen man possesses a general notion of right and wrong, and is able in some instances to distinguish between good and evil, yet while he remains unregenerate that moral instinct never causes him to delight cordially in the former or really to abhor the latter; and in whatever measure he may approve of good or disapprove of evil, it is from no consideration for God therein.
Conscience is only able to work according to the light it has, and since the natural man cannot discern spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14), it is useless in respect to them. How feeble is its light! It is more like that of a glimmering candle than the rays of the sun—merely sufficient to make the darkness visible. Owing to the benighted condition of the understanding, the conscience is fearfully ignorant. When it does discover that which is inimical, it does so feebly and ineffectually. Instead of directing, it mostly confuses. How manifest is this in the case of the heathen! Conscience gives them a sense of guilt and then puts them upon practicing the most abominable and often inhuman rites. It has induced them to invent and propagate the most impious misrepresentations of Deity. As a salve to their conscience, they often make the very objects of their worship the precedents and patrons of their favourite vices. The fact is that conscience is so sadly defective that it is unable to perform its duty until God enlightens, awakens, and renews it.
The Doctrine of Human Depravity 169 Its operations are equally faulty. Not only is conscience defective in vision, but its voice is very weak. How strongly it ought to upbraid us for our shocking ingratitude unto our great Benefactor! How loudly it should inveigh against the stupid neglect of our spiritual interests and eternal welfare. Yet it does neither the one nor the other. Though it offers some checks upon outward and gross sins, it makes no resistance to the subtler and secret workings of indwelling corruption. If it prompts to the performance of duty, it ignores the most important and spiritual part of the same. It may be uneasy if we fail to spend the usual amount of time each day in private prayer, but it is little concerned about our reverence, humility, faith and fervour therein. Those in the Prophet’s day were guilty of offering unto God defective sacrifices, yet conscience never troubled them over the same (Mal. 1:7, 8). Conscience may be very scrupulous in carrying out the precepts of men or our personal predilections, and yet utterly neglect those things which the Lord has commanded: as the Pharisees would not eat food while their hands remained ceremonially unwashed, yet disregarded what God had enjoined (Mark 7:6-9).
Conscience is woefully partial: disregarding favourite sins and excusing those which most easily beset us. All such attempts to extenuate our faults are founded upon ignorance of God, of ourselves, of our duty; otherwise, conscience would bring in the verdict of guilty. Conscience often joins with our lusts to encourage a wicked deed. Saul’s told him that he ought not to offer sacrifice till Samuel came, yet to please the people and prevent them from deserting him he did so. And when that servant of God reproved him, the king sought to justify his offence by saying that the Philistines were gathered together against Israel, and that he dared not assail them before making supplication to God, and added: ‘I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering’ (1 Sam. 13:8-12). Conscience will strain to find some consideration which will appease itself and then approve of the evil act. Even when rebuking certain sins, it will find motives and discover inducements thereunto. Thus, when Herod was about to commit the dastardly murder of John the Baptist, which was against his convictions, his very conscience came to his aid, and urged him forward by impressing on him that he must not violate the oath which he had taken before others (Mark 6:26).
Conscience often ignores great sins while condoning lesser ones, as Saul was hard upon the Israelites for a breach of the ceremonial law (1 Sam. 14:33) but made no scruple of slaying eighty-five of the Lord’s priests. Conscience will even devise arguments which favour—yea, which warrant—the most outrageous acts, and thus it is not only a corrupt lawyer pleading an ill cause, but a corrupt judge which justifies the wicked. Thus those who clamoured for the crucifixion of Christ did so under the pretext of its being orderly and necessary: ‘We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God’ (John 19:7). Little wonder that the Lord says of men that they ‘call evil good, and good evil; . . . put darkness for light, and light for darkness’ (Isa. 5:20). Conscience never moves the natural man to perform duties out of gratitude and thankfulness to God. It never convicts him of the heavy guilt of Adam’s offence which is lying upon his soul, nor of lack of faith in Christ: suffering sinners to sleep in peace in the midst of their awful unbelief. But theirs is not a sound and solid peace, for there is no reason or ground for it: rather is it the false security of stupidity. Says God of them, ‘They consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness’ (Hosea 7:2).
Its accusations are ineffectual, for they produce no good fruit, yielding neither meekness, humility, nor genuine repentance, but rather a sensible dread of God as a harsh Judge or hatred of Him as an inexorable Enemy. Not only are its accusations ineffectual, but often they are quite erroneous. Because of the darkness which is upon the understanding, the moral perception of the natural man greatly errs. As Thomas Boston said of the corrupt conscience, ‘So it is often found like a mad and furious horse, which violently runs down himself, his rider, and all that come in his way.’ A fearful example of that appears in our Lord’s prediction in John 16:2, which received repeated fulfillment in the Acts: ‘They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think he doeth God service.’ In like manner Saul of Tarsus, after his conversion, acknowledged: ‘I verily thought within myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth’ (Acts 26:9). What a putting of ‘bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter’ were those cases! A most unreliable guide is the unrenewed conscience.
Even when the conscience of the unregenerate is awakened by the immediate hand of God and is smitten with deep and painful convictions of sin, so far from its moving the soul to seek the mercy of God through the Mediator, it fills him with shuddering and dismay. As Job 6:4, declares, when the arrows of the Almighty are within him, the poison thereof drinks up his spirit, and the terrors of God set themselves in array against him. Hitherto such a one had gone to great pains to stifle the accusations of his inward judge, and now he would fain do so, but cannot. Instead, conscience rages and roars, putting the whole man in a dreadful consternation, as he is terrified by a sense of the wrath of a holy God and is fearful of the fiery indignation which shall devour His adversaries. This fills him with such horror and despair that instead of turning to the Lord he endeavours to flee from Him. Thus it was in the case of Judas, who, when he was made to realize the awful gravity of his vile deed, went out and hanged himself. That the ragings of sin within the natural man cause him to turn from, rather than unto Christ, was demonstrated by the Pharisees in John 8:9, who, ‘being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one’!
S. Disabled will. We have left this until the last because the will is not the lord but the servant of the other faculties, executing the strongest conviction of the mind or the most imperious behest of our lusts, for there can be but one dominating influence in the will at one and the same time. The excellency of man’s will consisted, originally, in following the guidance of right reason and submitting to the influence of proper authority. But in Eden man’s will rejected the former, and rebelled against the latter, and in consequence of the Fall his will has ever since been under the control of an understanding which prefers darkness to light and of affections which crave evil rather than good. And thus it is that the fleeting pleasures of sense and the puny interests of time excite our wishes, while the lasting delights of godliness and the riches of immortality receive little or no attention. The will of the natural man is biased by his corruptions, for his inclinations gravitate in the opposite direction to his duty, and therefore he is in complete bondage to sin, impelled by his lusts. It is not merely that the unregenerate are unwilling to seek after holiness—they inveterately hate the same.
Since the will turned traitor to God and entered the service of Satan, it has been completely paralyzed unto good. Said the Saviour, ‘No man can come unto Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him’ (John 6:44). And why is it that he cannot come to Christ by his own natural powers? Because not only has he no inclination to do so, but the Saviour is an object that repels him: His yoke is unwelcome, His sceptre repulsive. In connection with spiritual things the condition of the will is like that of the woman in Luke 13:11—she ‘was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.’ If such be the case, then how can man be said to act voluntarily? Because he freely chooses the evil, and that because ‘the soul of the wicked desireth evil’ (Prov. 21:10), ever carrying out that desire except when prevented by the Divine government. Man is the slave of his corruptions, born like a wild ass’s colt: from earliest childhood he is averse to restraint. The will of man is uniformly rebellious Godward: when Providence thwarts his endeavours, instead of bowing in humble resignation, he frets with disquietude and acts like a wild bull in a net. Only the Son can make him ‘free’ (John 8:36), and there is ‘liberty’ only where His Spirit is (2 Cor. 3:17).
Here, then, are the ramifications of human depravity. The Fall has blinded man’s mind, hardened his heart, disordered his affections, corrupted his conscience, disabled his will, so that there is ‘no soundness’ in him (Isa. 1:6), ‘no good thing’ dwelling in his flesh (Rom. 7:18).