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Our Misery


Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.

—Psalm 51:5

The late Robert Schuller once spoke words to this effect: “If I preach about sin, people will leave here unhappy. Is that what the gospel is about?”* The English Puritan David Clarkson (1622–1686) would reply, “No, but that’s where it begins.”


The end of the ministry of the gospel is to bring sinners unto Christ. Their way to this end lies through the sense of their misery without Christ.

—David Clarkson, Of Original Sin, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:3.

In order to be saved, sinners—that is, every living human—must come to Christ. The only way to Christ is through a sense of need for forgiveness wrought by the knowledge of our sin—not merely that we have sinned, but that we are sinful by nature. In the text at the top of this page, from King David’s psalm of repentance, David acknowledges more than just the sin with which the prophet Nathan confronted him, but the fact that he was born this way. He does not need forgiveness alone, but deliverance from his very nature. This is the doctrine of original sin.

We are tainted with this sin from our birth, from our conception, while we are formed, while we are warmed in the womb, as the word is. Natural corruption is not contracted only by imitation, nor becomes it habitual by custom or repetition of acts, but it is rooted in the soul before the subject be capable either of imitation or acting. It is diffused through the soul as soon as the soul is united to the body. . . .

The prophet upbraids Israel with this, Isa. xlviii. 8, ‘And wast called a transgressor from the womb,’ and so may we all be called, though the expression be inclusively, not only from the time of our coming out of the womb, but from the time of our being formed in it.

This sin should be the ground of our humiliation. . . . because it is the foundation of our misery. Our misery consists in the depravedness of our natures, our obnoxiousness to the wrath of God, and our inability to free ourselves from either. But this is what has depraved our natures, or rather is the depravation of them; this makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God.

Ibid., 5.

And it gets worse: Not only are we born in this condition, but we are powerless to cure it.

Another part of this misery is your inability to free yourselves from this sin and wrath. This is evident from hence: those that are born in sins and trespasses are ‘dead in sins and trespasses,’ Eph. ii. 1. Till ye be born again, ye are dead. There must be a second birth, else there will be no spiritual life. Every one, since death entered into the world by this sin, is born dead; comes into the world, and so continues, destitute of spiritual life. And what more impotent than a dead man? You can no more repair the image of God in your souls, than a dead man can reunite his soul to his body; no more free yourselves from that antipathy to God, and inclination to wickedness, than a dead carcase can free itself from those worms and vermin that feed upon it; no more free yourselves from the wrath of God, than a dead man can raise himself out of the grave.

Into such a low condition has this corruption of nature sunk the sons of men, as nothing can raise them but an infinite power, an almighty arm.

Nay, so far are men, in this estate, from power to free themselves from this misery, as they are without sense of their misery. Tell them they are dead; it is a paradox. They will not believe the report of Christ; they will not hear, till a voice armed with an almighty power, such a voice as Lazarus heard, do awake them. Till then, they are without life, and so without sense. Here is the depth of misery: to be so miserable, and yet insensible of it. Yet thus low has this sin brought every sinner.

Nay, if they were sensible of their misery, and of their own inability to avoid it, yet can they not, yet will they not move towards him, who only can deliver them. They are without life, and so without motion. ‘No man comes to me except the Father draw him,’ John vi.

They lie dead, putrefying under this corruption, under the wrath of an incensed God, without motion or inclination toward him who is the resurrection and the life.

This is the condition into which this sin has brought you; and can there be a condition more miserable?

Is there not cause to be humbled for that which has brought you so low, which has made you so wretched? Should not this be the chief ground of your humiliation?

Ibid., 6–7.

This is the condition in which we are born. This is why Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3).

* I have been unable to find the original source and exact wording, but I am confident in the accuracy of this quotation. In any case, it is not difficult to prove Schuller’s contempt for the preaching of sin and repentance.

Posted 2017·08·16 by David Kjos
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Posted in: David Clarkson · Total Depravity · Works of David Clarkson

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