Dr. Henry Waiters: Depraved Man
Special to the Salisbury Post
It should be clear to man’s understanding, that God used Joel Beeke to help fallen man know who he is, what he is, why he is, and the consequences for being who he is. Fallen man needs to know that although he is capable of doing some externally good acts. he cannot do anything truly good or pleasing in God’s sight (Rom.8:8) unless he is regenerated by the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-8).
From God’s standpoint. which is the only true standpoint, natural man is incapable of goodness in thought, word, or deed, and thus cannot contribute anything to his salvation. He is in total rebellion against God.
When we speak of total depravity, we are confessing our hell deserving demerit and corruption before God because of our original and actual sins. We can neither erase our demerit nor do anything to merit the saving favor of God.
To grasp the full implications of this truth. we must understand five things that lie at the heart of what Scripture presents total depravity to mean.
First. Total depravity and iniquity are one. Total depravity is the inevitable result of our sin. and sin is the inevitable result of our total depravity. You can’t understand what total depravity is if you don’t understand what sin is.
The Bible says, “Sin is the transgression of the Law” of God (1 John 3:4). Thus sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in our actions, attitude, or nature, either by doing or being what we should not do or be (sins of commission) or by not doing or not being what we should do or be (sins of omission).
Sin is unrighteousness, and all unrighteousness is anti-God. In essence sin is all that is in opposition to God. Sin defies God; violates His character, His Law, and His Covenant. Sin aims to dethrone God and strives to place someone or something else upon His rightful throne.
Every life, all life, has missed its target and is irreverent by nature. Every life has transgressed the lines of God’s prohibitions and engages in iniquity. Every life has disobeyed the voice of God, has rebelled against Him, and is prone to commit perversion and abomination. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way” (Isa.53:6), “All have sinned. and come short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23).
So then, total depravity means that we are lawbreakers at every turn. By nature, we never love God above all or our neighbors as ourselves. We are at “enmity against God” (Rom.8:7), living in wildly excited hostilitytoward Him., and we are “hateful, and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).
We are always sinning, for our motives are never altogether pure.
Second. Total depravity is primarily inward, an inwardness that stems from our profound and tragic fall in Adam. When we think of sin, we are prone to limit our thinking to outward actions such as murder, theft, cruelty, and anything else that is external and observable in human behavior. The Bible looks not simply at what is outward, touched, and heard; it goes into the depths of human life and says that sin and depravity exist there, too, in our thoughts, our ambitions, our decisions, our motives, and our aspirations. It is not so much that human actions or speech have missed the target; it is that the heart of man has missed the target.
The very heart of man is unbelieving, selfish, covetous, sensous, and always desiring equality with God. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life”(Prov.4:23).
We are all as we are because of Adam’s disobedience in Eden which affected us in two ways.
First, the guilt of his sin was imputed to us, so we are guilty sinners before God, as Paul tells us in (Rom.5:18): “By the offence of one man, judgment came upon all men to condemnation.”
Second, we inherited the pollution of his sin, so we are corrupt sinners before God, conceived and born in iniquity: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa. 51:5).
We are depraved in our inner beings through our fall in Adam, both in our state of guilt and in our condition of pollution. The best of our righteousness is as “filthy rags” before the Holy God (Isa.64:6). We are worse than we can imagine: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it” (Jer.17:9).
Calvin declares that no one knows even one percent of his sins.
We have two problems in God’s sight: we have a bad record and a bad heart. The second problem is by far the greater of the two. When we understand our inner depravity in scriptural terms (Rom.3: 9-20), we see that this condition, known by the theological term ‘original sin,” is a far greater burden than our actual sins, for all our actuctl sins flow from the fountainhead of our original sin and our bad heart. We sin because we are internally depraved, not because we are externally deprived.
Calvin says: “Every sin should convince us of the general truth of the corruption of our nature.”
When Paul recognized the depths of his depravity, he confessed that he was the “chief” sinner among mankind (1 Tim.1:15).
When John Bunyan saw just a little bit of his inner depravity, he said that he would trade his heart with anyone in all of England.
Luther summarizes our problem well: ‘’”Original sin is in us like our beard. We are shaved today and look clean; tomorrow our beard has grown again, nor does it cease growing while we remain on earth. In like manner original sin cannot be completely destroyed in us; it springs up in us as long as we live” (Rom.7:15-25).
Third. Total depravity means that sin is tragically inclusive, it dreadfully impacts every part of us. There is something terribly wrong not only with who we are inwardly, but with every aspect of our being.
No element of our personality is less affected by sin than any other. Our intellects, our consciences, our emotions, our ambitions, and our wills, which are the citadels of our souls, are all enslaved to sin by nature.
That’s why Jesus complained, “I would have gathered thy children and ye would not” (Matt.23:37).
Total depravity is not absolute depravity. It does not mean men are animals or devils, or that they are as depraved as they could be or will be. This world is not hell. Total depravity does not mean that an unbeliever is wholly evil in every thing he does, but rather that nothing he does is ever wholly good.
Man is not so far fallen that he has lost all awareness of God or conscience; by God’s common goodness, he is still capable of showing domestic affection, doing civic good, and performing his duties as a citizen. He is capable of great heroism, of great physical courage, and of great acts of self-denial.
Yet, he is a corrupt sinner in every aspect of his nature, and as such, he is utterly incapable of performing any spiritual good in the eyes of God.
Total depravity means that when God scrutinizes the human heart, affections, conscience, will, or any part of the body, He finds every part damaged and polluted by sin. Apart from saving grace, every part is alienated from God and actively pursuing sin.
If the Spirit teaches us this experientially, we will understand Jonathan Edwards’ confession: “When I look into my heart, and take a view of my wickedness, it looks like an abyss, infinitely deeper than hell.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote: “When a man truly sees himself, he knows that nobody can say anything about him that is too bad.”
Fourth. Total depravity spells inability. It means we are “sin-aholics’’ by nature. There is no thought, word, act, and no area of human life that is not affected by sin.
Paul says we are by nature slaves to sin: “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants or slaves ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness” (Rom. 6:16).
A slave was his masters property, he had no time, property, or wealth of his own. He was always his master’s property. So, Paul says, you were by nature the slaves of sin. Sin was your master.
Sin lorded itself over you. Sin was in control, and all the while giving you the impression that you were free and in charge of your own destiny.
Total depravity thus entails moral inability. In ourselves, we are unable to do anything about our condition. We are spiritually impotent by nature, unable and unwilling to save ourselves. We cannot appreciate the Christian faith and we are powerless to work toward our conviction and conversion.
We can do nothing but sin until He, the Holy Spirit, forms a New Will within us. No matter how much the natural man is urged by the law or the gospel to believe in Christ and turn from sin, he is not able, by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereto.
Charles Hodge says: “The rejection of the gospel is as clear a proof of moral depravity, as inability to see the light of the sun at noon is a proof of blindness.”
The natural man may want to be free of some sin and of the consequences of sin; he may even expend some effort in that direction. But he is too much a slave to it. He is not simply “going lost” or “dying,” he is lost and is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph.2:1 ).
Total depravity is active in us. It is not simply the absence of righteousness, but the presence of corruption. Our depravity is enormously creative and inventive, ever devising new ways of violating God’s Will. It is a growing cancer within us, a rampant, productive, energetic, and self-propagating entity. It is fire out of control, a living fierce, powerful force. The dreadful headlines of our daily newspapers, we are shown what our corrupt, active human nature is capable of, given the requisite conditions, if God leaves us to our selves.
Every unsaved soul is a “sin-aholic,” a slave to sin, until convicted and convinced of who you are, what you are, why you are, and the penalty for being what you you are — and then allowing the Holy Spirit that convicted you, to assist you in confession and repentance, uniting your spirit with that invisible Spiritual Body of which Christ is the head, baptising your spirit in that Spirit which is called the New Birth, then sealing you as a believer (2 Cor.1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30).
It is then you seek a visible Bible way representation of the invisible true Church that you were born into, to unite with to learn the five objectives of the true church.
You were a slave until God’s almighty power raised you from spiritual death, opened your blind eyes, unstopped your deaf ears, and broke the chains of depravity that enwrapped you. And, yet, until your last breath, you will battle against your addiction to sin, for we remain recovering sin-aholics to the end (Rom.7:24).
Finally, total depravity is a stark reminder of the final issue of sin: “the wages of sin is death’’ (Rom.6:23).
If you serve sin, you will receive the wages of sin. This is a moral universe. We live and move and have our being in God. Every breath of our lives is in His hands. Sow a seed of sin and you will reap the harvest of judg ment. Sow the wind of unbelief and you will reap the whirlwind of destruction. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb.9:27). Judgment is always approaching.
There is a moment when God sends in the bill, and we must render account. Scripture teaches the sinfulness of sin and depravity. It also declares that sin and depravity are departures from the general rule — abnormalities.
In the final analysis, they are beyond all reason. They cannot be depicted as too heinous and dastardly. They represent the height of spiritual stupidity and insanity.
The magnitude of our sin and depravity exhibits the magnitude of our need for God’s gospel way of salvation.
Dr. Waiters can be reached at 704-636-3369.
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