The Extent of Sin
Concerning the Extent of this vast moral disease of man called sin, let us beware that we make no mistake. The only safe ground is that which is laid for us in Scripture. ‘Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart’ is by nature ‘evil, and that continually.’—‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’ (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9). Sin is a disease which pervades and runs through every part of our moral constitution and every faculty of our minds. The understanding, the affections, the reasoning powers, the will, are all more or less infected. Even the conscience is so blinded that it cannot be depended on as a sure guide, and is as likely to lead men wrong as right, unless it is enlightened by the Holy Ghost. In short, ‘from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness’ about us (Isa. 1:6). The disease may be veiled under a thin covering of courtesy, politeness, good manners, and outward decorum; but it lies deep down in the constitution.
—J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 4–5.
Ryle is not writing here to explain or defend of the doctrine of Total Depravity, but this paragraph does provide a good description of that doctrine—that is, that “total” does not refer to the depth human depravity, but to it’s extent. Fallen humanity is not as wicked as could be, but sin “pervades and runs through every part of our moral constitution and every faculty of our minds.” As dirty hands pollute everything they touch, so all our thoughts and actions are to some degree tainted by sin. Ryle further writes,
I am convinced that the greatest proof of the extent and power of sin is the pertinacity with which it cleaves to man even after he is converted and has become the subject of the Holy Ghost’s operations. To use the language of the Ninth Article, ‘this infection of nature doth remain—yea, even in them that are regenerate.’ So deeply planted are the roots of human corruption, that even after we are born again, renewed, ‘washed, sanctified, justified.’ and made living members of Christ, these roots remain alive in the bottom of our hearts, and, like the leprosy in the walls of the house, we never get rid of them until the earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved. Sin, no doubt, in the believer’s heart, has no longer dominion. It is checked, controlled, mortified, and crucified by the expulsive power of the new principle of grace. The life of a believer is a life of victory, and not of failure. But the very struggles which go on within his bosom, the fight that he finds it needful to fight daily, the watchful jealousy which he is obliged to exercise over his inner man, the contest between the flesh and the spirit, the inward ‘groanings’ which no one knows but he who has experienced them—all, all testify to the same great truth, all show the enormous power and vitality of sin. Mighty indeed must that foe be who even when crucified is still alive! Happy is that believer who understands it, and while he rejoices in Christ Jesus has no confidence in the flesh; and while he says, ‘Thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory.’ never forgets to watch and pray lest he fall into temptation!
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