Home > Systematic Theology > Duty of Repentance: Man’s Present State: Depravity- Book Fourth- Chapter 3- Section 2

Duty of Repentance: Man’s Present State: Depravity- Book Fourth- Chapter 3- Section 2

Book Fourth

CHAPTER III.

SECTION II.–DEPRAVITY.

ALL MEN ARE BY NATURE TOTALLY DEPRAVED.[11]

The depravity which we have to lament in mankind, respects their principles of action as moral beings. As merely sentient beings, external objects produce on them the proper effects; and, as rational beings, they draw conclusions in science with correctness. The disease and debility which are the consequence of moral evil, may impair both sense and reason; but we cannot affirm of these powers that they are totally depraved. Moral depravity shows itself in outward acts of transgression; but, atrocious as these often are, it is chiefly in the heart that God beholds and hates it. “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”[12] In the heart it was that God saw the great wickedness of the earth. The heart is a metaphorical term, denoting those mental affections which are the principles or beginnings of action. Here depravity exists at the very fountain from which all human action flows.

The depravity of man is total. We do not mean by this that his conduct is as bad as it could be, or that no amiable affections have a place in his heart. The young man who addressed our Redeemer with most respectful inquiry how to attain eternal life, appears to have been unconverted, yet he possessed so amiable qualities that it is recorded, “Jesus, beholding him, loved him.”[13] The goodness of God is great, even to the unthankful and evil; and he has been pleased to implant natural affections in hearts which desire not to retain him in their knowledge, and so to balance the propensities, even where there is no holiness, that life and human society have many enjoyments. When our first parents permitted natural desire to prevail over the authority of God, human depravity began to flow, and what it was at the fountain-head, it has been in all the streams that have spread through the earth. Men seek good at their own choice, and walk in their own ways, regardless of the authority of God. The love of God is dethroned from the heart, and therefore the grand principle of morality is wanting, and no true morality exists. A total absence of that by which the actions should be controlled and directed, is total depravity. Hence the strong language of Scripture, already quoted, is properly descriptive of human nature in its fallen state; “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Human depravity is universal. In heathen nations, men did not delight to retain God in their knowledge, and their very religion became filled with abominable rites. In lands blessed with the light of revelation, men love darkness rather than light, and give melancholy proof that they have not the love of God in them. The rich and poor, the learned and the unlearned, the young and the old, all give evidence that, to serve and please God, is not their chief delight, their meat and their drink. A few, converted by divine grace, differ from the rest of mankind, and esteem it their pleasure and honor to obey God; but these very men testify that they are like other men. “Such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the mane of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”[14] “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.”[15]

Depravity is natural to man; it is born with him, and not acquired in the progress of life. It is not to be ascribed to evil habit, or evil example. Evil habits are formed by evil doing; and evil doing would not be, if there were no evil propensity. Evil example would not everywhere exist, if human nature were not everywhere corrupt; and the tendency to follow evil example would not be so common, and so much to be guarded against, if it were not natural to man. The Scriptures clearly teach this doctrine. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”[16] The psalmist did not mean to charge his mother with crime in these his humble confessions, but manifestly designs them to be an acknowledgment that his depravity was in-woven in his nature, and bore date from the very origin of his being. The Saviour taught, that which is born of the flesh, is flesh.[17] The term flesh, which is here opposed to spirit, signifies, as it does in other places, our depraved nature. It traces human depravity up to our very birth.

As every individual of our race is born of depraved parents, and brings depravity with him into the world, we are led to conceive of it as propagated from parent to child. This accords with the representations of Scripture; “Adam begat a son in his own likeness.”[18] It accords also with analogies to which we are familiar.

Plants and animals propagate their like; diseases are often hereditary, and peculiarities of temper and mind by which parents were distinguished, often appear in their children. In our proneness to find fault with God’s arrangements, we ask, why was the fallen nature of Adam propagated, rather than the original nature which he received from the hand of God.. But we might as well complain that the ascent from the state of sin to that of innocence, is not as easy as the descent was found to be. Virtue fits the creatures of God for society, and for its most beautiful exhibitions opportunity is presented in the social relations. All these give one creature an influence over another, according to the character of the relation between them. Even angels, who were created independent of each other, had an influence on each other, so that the chief apostate in the great rebellion led followers after him. When man was created, it appeared good, in the view of Infinite Wisdom, to institute closer social relations than subsisted among angels. From these resulted a more extend influence than was known in angelic ranks. Now, if Adam had transmitted his original nature, as created by God, the effect would have been the same as if the son had been immediately created by the divine hand, and the peculiarity designed to distinguish the human race would have been virtually abolished.

Another complaint which sometimes rises in our murmuring minds is, that pious men do not propagate their piety, but their natural depravity. We might as well complain that men of great scientific attainments do not transmit their knowledge to their children as a natural inheritance. This complaint would have even greater appearance of propriety, for their attainments are, in a sense, their own; but whatever of holiness is found in man, is not a natural endowment or attainment, but a special gift of divine grace.

When we have discovered that the propagation of depravity in the human race accords the analogies found in nature, our minds seem to obtain relief; but, in reality, the matter has not been explained. Nature is not some superior rule to which God was compelled to conform, but it is an institution of his own, and cannot be right in the whole, if its parts are not right. If the propagation of human depravity is not in itself right, all the analogies of nature could not make it so. The true benefit of tracing these analogies is, that we may perceive all the arrangements to be from the same divine mind, and may the more reverently bow our judgment to the decision of Infinite Wisdom, and hush our murmurs into the more profound silence.

Our natural inquisitiveness takes occasion from this subject to indulge in unprofitable speculations. As the depravity which is propagated belongs more properly to the soul than to the material frame, we ask whether the soul is propagated. Some have preferred to consider the soul as a production immediately proceeding from the creating power of God. They suppose this to be intended when the Scriptures say, that he formeth the spirit of man within him.[19] They regard the body as all that is propagated, and suppose the Creator to form a spirit within it, as he breathed the spirit of life into the inanimate body of Adam, when he became a living soul. They view propagation as belonging to the material part of our nature, and consider it impossible, in the nature of things, that this should generate an immaterial spirit. The latter argument, which is merely philosophical, has to struggle with the fact that all animals generate something more than mere matter, in the powers with which they are endowed, and which bear a strong resemblance, in many respects, to the mental endowments of man. The preceding argument, from Scripture, fails in this, that God is equally said to form the body of the child in the womb of the mother,[20] and yet we never regard that body as a production of immediate creation. It is true that the body of Adam was lifeless for a time; but it was not, as lifeless, that be begat a son in his likeness. We would not argue, from this case, that all life, whether in plants or animals, is a production of immediate creation, and not of propagation; and it does not appear that a more valid argument can be deduced from it, to prove the immediate creation of every human soul. After all, what does the question amount to? If the preservation of all things is strictly a perpetual creation, the distinction is wholly annihilated; for the soul is, at the first moment of its being, and at every subsequent moment throughout its whole existence, an immediate creation. But if this view be not admitted, it is still true that preservation is as dependent on the efficacious will of God, as creation. God willed that the soul of Adam should propagate a son, and that this son should, like the father, have both a soul and a body. The progeny came into being according to the will of God. This work differs from the former, in that it is not singular, but conforms to what we call a law of nature; but nature’s laws have no efficacy in themselves; and when we attribute the work to the efficacious will of God, it is a mere question of classification, whether we refer it to creation or Providence.

An objection to the doctrine of natural depravity is founded on the fact, that Jesus referred to little children, as examples for is disciples. This fact, however, will not authorize the inference, that little children are not depraved. The same teacher said to his disciples, “Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”[21] As something may exist, proper to be imitated in animals which have no moral character, and even in serpents, notwithstanding their venom, so, something for imitation could be pointed out in children, notwithstanding their depravity. Another objection is drawn from the statement of Scripture, concerning children that had not done either good or evil.[22] But the doctrine does not affirm that all have committed overt acts of transgression. It refers to the first spring of action in the heart; and a fountain may be corrupt, before it has sent forth streams, as truly as afterwards. No objection, worthy of consideration, can be drawn from Paul’s statement, that the children of the Corinthian Christians were holy;[23] for this manifestly relates to their fitness for familiar intercourse.

Vain it will be, to receive the doctrine of human depravity into our creed, if it is not received into our hearts. A thorough conviction of our total depravity is necessary to humble us before God, and drive us to the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness. No genuine Christian experience can exist, where this is not felt and operative.

[11] Gen. vi. 5; viii. 21; Ps. xiv. 2, 3; li. 5; Rom. i. 21–25; iii. 9–23; vi. 17, viii. 5, 6, 7, 8; Eph. ii. 1; 1 John v. 19.

[12] Gen. vi. 5.

[13] Mark x. 21.

[14] 1 Cor. vi. 11.

[15] Rom. vii. 18.

[16] Ps. li. 5

[17] John iii. 6.

[18] Gen. v. 3.

[19] Zech. xii. 1.

[20] Job xxxi. 15; Is. xliv. 2.

[21] Matt. x. 16.

[22] Rom. ix. 11.

[23] 1 Cor. vii. 14.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

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