God finds nothing in man to turn His heart, but enough to turn his stomach.
Do you talk to others about our depraved nature and our desperate need for salvation in Jesus Christ? Do you say that you are no better than they are by nature; that we are all, apart from grace, sinners with a terrible record, which is a legal problem, as well as a bad heart, which is a moral problem? Do you talk to them about the dreadful character of sin; that sin is something that stems back to our tragic fall in Adam and affects every part of us, so dominating our mind, heart, will, and conscience that we are slaves to it? Do you describe sin as moral rebellion against God? Do you say that the wages of sin is death, now and for all eternity?
Form the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and – what is more – depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord alone. To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to Him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves… Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find Him.
Men are not sinners because they choose to sin; they choose to sin because they are sinners.
The roots of this depravity are quite evident in very young children. Babies may not show all the ugly outworkings of sin, but their selfishness is quite apparent. Any time of the day or night they will howl when their little egos are annoyed. Brothers and sisters have noticed how small children are self-seeking. When treats are being given, a “me first” attitude prevails. Small children want the chief attention. It is all self-serving. This all-demanding self-will matures into that of a grasping adult. Though clever devices will make the selfishness polite and genteel, all of life outside of Christ is for one thing – self!… Self is the idol to which all men naturally bow.
Any gospel preaching that relies upon an act of the human will for the conversion of sinners has missed the mark. Any sinner who supposes that his will has the strength to do any good accompanying salvation is greatly deluded and far from the kingdom. We are cast back upon the regenerating work of the Spirit of the living God to make the tree good. Unless God does something in the sinner, unless God creates a clean heart and renews a right spirit within man, there is no hope of a saving change.
Sin is not merely wrong acts and thoughts, but sinfulness as well, an inherent inner disposition inclining us to wrong acts and thoughts. We are not simply sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.
Who knows the extent to which we would give in to sin, were we to be given a guarantee of immunity from discovery and exposure?
This, then, is the sense in which people are totally depraved: we have all treated God in the most insulting way by registering again and again a vote of no confidence in His promises.
What irony that sinners consider the greatest problem they face in this world to be the problem of pain. The ultimate insult against God is that man thinks he has a problem of pain. Man, who deserves to be plunged into hell at this moment, and is indescribably fortunate that he is breathing normally, complains about unhappiness. Instead of falling on his knees in the profoundest possible gratitude that God holds back His wrath and infinite fury, the sinner shakes his fist in heaven’s face and complains against what he calls “pain.” When he receives his due, he will look back on his present condition as paradisiacal. What he now calls misery, he will then consider exquisite pleasure. The most severe torment anyone has ever known in this life will seem like heaven in comparison with one moment of the full fury of the divine Being.
So when we call pain a problem, we claim we do not deserve it. We are even prepared to scuttle God to maintain our own innocence. We will say that God is not able to do what He would like, or He would never permit persons such as ourselves to suffer. That puffs up our egos and soothes our griefs at the same time. “How could God do this to me?” is at once an admission of pain and a soporific for it. It reduces our personal grief by eradicating the deity. Drastic medicine, indeed, that only a human ego, run wild, could possibly imagine.
To cast God away for the temporary trinkets of this life, as if He were a secondhand piece of jewelry, is deeply dishonoring to the sovereign character of the Creator, who Himself alone can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts (Psm. 16). At the center of our sin is our nonchalant neglect of God, as if we were the creators and rulers of our own lives, doing with them as we please. In short, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Our failure to honor God is an intolerable situation for the Creator and Savior of mankind, who will not share the rightful glory of His sovereignty with anyone or anything else (Ex. 9:16).
Grace does not run in the blood, but corruption does. A sinner begets a sinner, but a saint does not beget a saint.
By his apostasy man lost his holiness, is wholly corrupt and under the dominion of dispositions and lusts which are directly contrary to God. The corruption of man’s being is so great and entire that he will never truly repent unless and until he is supernaturally renewed by the Holy Spirit.
The will of natural man is the worst part about him. The worst thing he has, the greatest enemy he has, is his own heart and will. It is the corrupt will of a man that keeps him under the power of his sins, and keeps him off the power of an ordinance that would procure his everlasting good. I speak it the rather to dash that dream of wicked men, when they do ill, and speak ill, yet (say they), “my heart is good.” No, truly, if thy life be naught, thy heart is worse. It is the worst thing thou hast about thee… The deceitfulness of the heart is above all; the masterfulness of the heart is beyond all that we can conceive. A man may discern a man’s life, “but the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” The will of man is uncontrollable, it will stand out against all reasons and arguments, and nothing can move the will except God work upon it.
Because of the fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the Gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is sinful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free, it is in bondage to his evil nature, therefore he will not – indeed he cannot – choose good over evil in the spiritual realm.
The biblical doctrine of depravity means that every part of the human person is tainted by sin. It does not mean that all humans are equally depraved; most do not go near the depths they could go. Nor does it mean that humans are not capable of any good (cf. Luke 11:13). Nor does it mean that there is no dignity in man, for there certainly is, as he is the imperfect bearer of the divine image (Genesis 1:27).
Fundamentally, sin is a matter of our hearts, for as fallen creatures our ruling desire is to remove God from His throne and to sit there instead.
The most damnable and pernicious heresy that has ever plagued the mind of man was the idea that somehow he could make himself good enough to deserve to live with an all-holy God.
Man…does not do evil against his will, under pressure, as though he were taken by the scruff of the neck and dragged into it, like a thief…being dragged off against his will to punishment; but he does it spontaneously and voluntarily. And this willingness or volition is something which he cannot in his own strength eliminate, restrain or alter.
Man does not become spiritually dead because he sins; he is spiritually dead because by nature he is sinful [Eph. 2:1].
The Bible is the most offensive book ever written. It damns the whole human race. No one escapes.
There is in man a mint always at work: his mind coining evil thoughts, his heart, evil desires and carnal emotion; and his memory is the closet and storehouse wherein they are kept.
I would not be the sport and prey of wild, vain, foolish, and worse imaginations: but this evil is present with me. My heart is like a highway, like a city without walls or gates: nothing so false, so frivolous, so absurd, so impossible, or so horrid, but it can obtain access, and that any time, in any place. Neither the study, the pulpit, nor even the Lord’s table exempt me from their intrusion.
All children, like their parents before them, are rooted in fallen Adam (see Rom. 5:12). The perfect, infallible portrait of every soul who has ever lived was painted by Paul in Romans 3:10-11: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” Sin is so rooted in us that every part of the human personality is tainted. This, of course, doesn’t mean that all people are as bad as they can be or that they don’t do good things (see Luke 11:13). But it does mean that apart from God’s grace and the God-ordained graces of human discipline, children will naturally gravitate to sin – quite apart from the tricks of the devil or their “corrupt” little friends (Kent and Barbara Hughes).
Truly it is evil to be full of faults, but it is a still greater evil to be full of them, and to be unwilling to recognize them.
I hold it to be a fact, that if all persons knew what each said of the other, there would not be four friends in the world.
If I do not believe in my heart these awful truths [how God saved me from hell] – believe them so that they are real in my feelings – then the blessed love of God in Christ will scarcely shine at all. The sweetness of the air of redemption will be hardly detectable. The infinite marvel of my new life will be commonplace. The wonder that to me, a child of hell, all things are given for an inheritance will not strike me speechless with trembling humility and lowly gratitude. The whole affair of salvation will seem ho-hum, and my entrance into paradise will seem as a matter of course. When the heart no longer feels the truth of hell, the gospel passes from good news to simply news. The intensity of joy is blunted and the heart-spring of love is dried up.
Christianity insists that everyone is a sinner through and through. Our minds, hearts, wills, and emotions are in rebellion against God. When it comes right down to it, the problem is not that there is only one way to God (through Christ). The real problem is that human beings will not follow God at all.
There are very few errors and false doctrines of which the beginning may not be traced up to unsound views about the corruption of human nature. Wrong views of the disease will always bring with them wrong views of the remedy. Wrong views of the corruption of human nature will always carry with them wrong views of the grand antidote and cure of that corruption.
Let us observe this. There are few things so little believed and realized as the corruption of human nature. Men imagine that if they saw a perfect person, they would love and admire him. They flatter themselves that it is the inconsistency of professing Christians which they dislike, and not their religion. They forget that when a really perfect man was on earth, in the person of the Son of God, He was hated and put to death. That single fact goes far to prove the truth of [Jonathan] Edwards’ remark – “unconverted men would kill God, if they could get at Him.”
According to the Bible, all humans are born in sin (Psm. 51:5) and enslaved to sin (Rom. 6:6). We have willfully rebelled against God and have fallen short of His righteous standard (Rom. 3:23). We are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1). Our best religious deeds are polluted in His sight (Isa. 64:6). In and of ourselves we are without any hope of heaven (Eph. 2:12). We deserve the wrath of God in hell (Rom. 2:5).
The fall left the human will intact insofar as we still have the faculty of choosing. Our minds have been darkened by sin and our desires bound by the wicked impulses. But we can still think, choose and act. Yet something terrible has happened to us. We have lost all desire for God. The thoughts and desires of our heart are only evil continuously. The freedom of our will is a curse. Because we can still choose according to our desires, we choose to sin and thus we become accountable to the judgment of God.
What is meant by the concept of total depravity is not that man is wicked as he could possibly be. Bad as we are, we can still conceive of ourselves doing worse things than we do. Rather, it means that sin has such a hold upon us in our natural state, that we never have a positive desire for Christ.
Man’s will is free to follow his inclinations, but fallen man’s inclinations are always and invariably away from God.
I might preach to you forever. I might borrow the eloquence of Demosthenes or of Cicero, but you will not come unto Christ. I might beg of you on my knees, with tears in my eyes, and show you the horrors of hell and the joys of heaven, the sufficiency of Christ, and your own lost condition, but you would none of you come unto Christ of yourselves unless the Spirit that rested on Christ should draw you. It is true of all men in their natural condition that they will not come unto Christ.
Objection is sometimes made to the doctrine of total depravity. If men turn away from God in anger, I can understand it. If men turn aside from God in justice, I can understand it. But when they so hate God that they will not even have his salvation, when they refuse pardon through the precious blood of Christ, when they will sooner be damned than reconciled to God, this shows that their heart is desperately wicked. The cross rejected is the clearest proof of the heart depraved.
We declare, upon Scriptural authority, that the human will is so desperately set on mischief, so depraved, and so inclined to everything that is evil, and so disinclined to everything that is good, that without the powerful, supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit, no human will ever be constrained towards Christ.
I will defy any man who has held a deep experience of his own odious depravity to believe any other doctrines but those which are commonly called Calvinism.
As the salt flavors every drop in the Atlantic, so does sin affect every atom of our nature. It is so sadly there, so abundantly there, that if you cannot detect it, you are deceived.
The treatment of our Lord Jesus Christ by men is the clearest proof of total depravity. Those must be stony hearts indeed which can laugh at a dying Savior and mock even his faith in God!
The question, then, is this: Does the Bible teach that people have the power and initiative within their own will to believe the gospel? The question is not, “Are people morally responsible for their actions?” The Bible declares that we are. We are responsible to God for every act of will and work that we perform. Neither is the question, “Do people have the opportunity to believe?” The Bible declares that we do. God has made Himself known to all people, either in nature, conscience, or the gospel, so that all are without excuse (Rom. 1:18-23; 2:14-16; Ac. 14:16-17). The question, rather, is this: Do people have a free and unfettered will by which they are able to believe? The Bible declares that they do not. The teaching of Scripture is that all people are born into this life corrupt in nature and therefore ill-disposed to the gospel and to the truth. This is the doctrine of total depravity.
The reason people do not come to Christ is not because they lack a will, or a mind, or feelings, or even lack opportunity and occasion. Their not coming to Christ is due to their moral and spiritual refusal to do so, a refusal in which they willingly and freely delight. If they cannot come it is not because God will not let them. It is because it is their nature not to want to come. In sum, their not coming is not because of a physical defect but because of a moral refusal.
According to this doctrine [of total depravity], man in his present condition since the fall is so polluted with a principle of evil that every aspect of his being and personality is affected by it. The term depravity refers to the moral disposition or inclination of fallen man’s nature toward evil and against good. This principle of sin and moral pollution is such that man is by nature opposed to what is true and righteous. The inclination of his heart, the delight of his soul, the orientation of his will is toward wickedness. Nothing compels him to sin. He sins because he loves it. He revels in it. He has no taste for God, but relishes evil and pursues it with voluntary zeal.
When I speak of total depravity I do not mean that all men are as depraved as they possibly can be, nor that the depravity of their heart will always manifest itself equally in all respects at all times. Total depravity simply means that the whole of the individual, his heart, soul, spirit, and will, is affected by and enslaved to sin, thereby rendering him odious in the sight of God. What this means in terms of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that if left to himself a person will invariably, inevitably, and without pause reject the truth. Total depravity means that no matter how “civil” or “compassionate” or “industrious” or “law-abiding” he might otherwise be in his dealings with other people, he is utterly and willfully indisposed to all that Christ is and says. Merely preaching to that person will profit nothing.
The average person in the world today, without faith and without God and without hope, is engaged in a desperate personal search throughout his lifetime. He does not really know where he has been. He does not really know what he is doing here and now. He does not know where he is going. The sad commentary is that he is doing it all on borrowed time and borrowed money and borrowed strength; and he already knows that in the end he will surely die! Man, made more like God than any other creature, has become less like God than any other creature. Created to reflect the glory of God, he has retreated sullenly into his cave; reflecting only his own sinfulness. Certainly it is a tragedy above all tragedies in this world that man, made with a soul to worship and praise and sing to God’s glory, now sulks silently in his cave.
It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God.
Even a child in the womb and coming from the womb is wayward and sinful. We often are taught that man becomes a sinner when he sins. The Bible teaches that man sins because he is a sinner. Your children are never morally neutral, not even from the womb.
Since all people have sinned in Adam and have come under the sentence of the curse and eternal death, God would have done no one an injustice if it had been His will to leave the entire human race in sin and under the curse, and to condemn them on account of their sin.
All people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.
“Sinner” is a present-tense description of everyone, including those who have put their faith in Christ. Of course, those who have called Jesus “Lord” are justified, meaning that they are no longer guilty. Also, they have been given the Spirit, which makes them slaves to Christ rather than to sin. But we all are sinners. Perfection awaits eternity.
Sin cannot dethrone God. That is what sin aims to do, but it misses its mark. Sin brings guilt to a man, but it does not bring him one ounce of sovereignty. God rules even when men imagine they are defying Him.