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Total Depravity

(51 posts)

Equally Unrighteous

Friday··2007·01·05 · 3 Comments
On January 2nd, Cal Thomas wrote this about the execution of Saddam Hussein: In a final blasphemy, Saddam Hussein, who spent most of his life as a murdering secularist, went to his justified death holding a Koran and offering his soul to God, if God would accept it. If God does, He will have to commute the sentences of Saddam’s mass murdering predecessors, including Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. (italics added) I have read enough of Thomas’s writing to know that he understands the Gospel better than that, so this is not intended as an attack on Cal Thomas. However, it is way past time to send this horrible cliché to the gallows. Saddam Hussein is not in hell today for being a mass-murderer. He has done no more to earn his eternal damnation than I have. Put another way, he deserves to spend eternity in heaven just as much as I do—which is to say, not at all. Saddam Hussein, brutal dictator, torturer, and mass-murderer, would be in hell today even if he had been a benevolent leader of his country. Being a “good man” or a “nice guy” would not have saved him. Only one man has been good enough, and that is Jesus Christ, the son of God. The rest of us—you, me, Saddam Hussein—have failed to measure up to God’s standard, which is no less than perfection. This failure has not taken place over time, as we have made “wrong choices” and sinned against God and our fellow man, either. From the moment of our conception in our mothers’ wombs, we are imperfect (Psalm 51:5). We are sinners, and as sinners, we deserve condemnation and eternal punishment in hell. What, then, is to be done? Should we try really hard to do good and earn our place in heaven? I certainly don’t want to discourage good behavior, but know this: you won’t get to heaven by being good (Romans 3:20). If Saddam Hussein had been your neighbor, if he had blown the snow out of your driveway, fed your dog while you were on vacation, and bought Girl Scout cookies from your daughter, he would be in hell today. If he had been a Peace Corpse volunteer who died of a disease contracted in a third-world country, he would be in hell today. If he had been an American President who went to war to overthrow a murderous tyrant in the Middle East, he would be in hell today. John 3:18 tells us, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Saddam Hussein is in hell for one reason only: his faith was not in Jesus Christ. It is that simple. And if your faith is not in Jesus Christ, it won’t matter how nice you are, how many good deeds you’ve done, or how much you’ve donated to charity. It won’t matter how faithfully you’ve attended church. It won’t matter if you’ve sung in the choir or taught Sunday School. It won’t even matter if you have been the pastor. If you believe you are in any way worthy of God’s mercy, if you are trusting in anything but the blood of Jesus Christ to atone for your sin, you are utterly without hope. You are on the road to hell, just as surely if you were a genocidal dictator. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a message of hope for good people. In the Gospel we do not see the good rewarded and the bad punished. The biblical Gospel is a message about and for bad people. It is the story of the Son of God who came to do what we could not: live perfectly, without sin (Hebrews 4:15). It is the story of the Lamb of God who came to be what we could not: the perfect sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 9). It is the story of the one true God, who credits the perfect righteousness of his son, Jesus Christ, to all who believe (Romans 4). Saddam Hussein is in hell today because he did not believe that, and for no other reason. It does not matter one iota how good I have been. If I do not believe in Jesus Christ, if I am not trusting in his righteousness for my salvation, I am lost and will spend eternity in hell. If God lets me into heaven because of my own goodness, then he truly will owe Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot—and Saddam Hussein—an apology.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance”

[The romance of David and Michal] pleased Saul. It pleased him because he had been able to bring pain to David once; now he may destroy him. The selfish tyrant cared nothing about the destruction of his daughter’s heart and life in the process. Saul again purposed to give a daughter to David as the means in inciting Philistines to kill him. He gave David a second opportunity to be his son-in-law. This time, as a dowry he asked proof of David’s having personally slain one hundred Philistines. He salivated at the anticipation that one heathen man of war would have the better of the son of Jesse. With what a dark countenance must he have greeted the news that David had quickly killed twice the number of foes requested! It is an irony of history and of the Scripture record that Saul’s is not the only heart so black with evil motive and deceit. David in this scene was done an enormous injustice. When David sat upon the throne, many years later, he used precisely the same devices to slay Uriah as were employed by Saul against himself. David could be a Saul toward a soldier loyal to his king. Where, through the good providence of God, Saul failed, David succeeded in the deed of murder. Little do we realize that the same seeds of wickedness, which in the hearts of other men, bring stabbing pain to us, lie within our own fallen nature. What a great business is to “Keep your heart with all vigilance”! (Prov 4:23). —Walter J. Chantry, David: Man of Prayer, Man of War (Banner of Truth, 2007), 45–46.

Name That Quotation

Friday··2008·01·25 · 6 Comments
Who said: But all the things that God would have us do are hard for us to do—remember that—and hence, he oftener commands us than endeavors to persuade. And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists. Googling, of course, is the act of dishonest men utterly lacking integrity (Numbers 32:23).
This passage from my morning reading was especially encouraging today. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. —Hebrews 4:14–16 What does this passage tell us? Does it tell us, as many of today’s popular preachers would, that we ought not feel unworthy? No, it does not. The first thing it says is that we have a high priest. Who needs a priest? It is precisely and only those who are unworthy to enter the Father’s presence who need a priest to intercede for them. And we have such a priest. A priest who lived as we live, suffered as we suffer, yet without sin, and made the perfect sacrifice for our sin, and now sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. Therefore, we can come boldly, casting all our anxiety on Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). And when we come before the throne, we will obtain mercy, which we desperately need, for we are guilty, and grace, without which we are utterly helpless. So come boldly, though your hands are not clean and your heart is not pure. Hold fast to your faith in Christ. Come, confessing your sin and seeking forgiveness. You are truly unworthy, but you have a high priest who intercedes for you. Come, obtain mercy. Receive grace. Come boldly.

Humble and Holy

On the benefits of awareness of sin: However uncomfortable it makes us feel, it is healthy for us to realize that our every moment is lived before the face of God. Knowing this will rescue us from the folly of thinking that sin can be cultivated unawares. We are all more tempted to sin when we think no one will ever know. Therefore, the knowledge that our every deed is recorded in heaven should preserve us from temptation and stiffen our resolve it live in obedience to God’s law. Knowledge of our sin has other benefits. It helps cultivate a tight humility. The apostle Paul’s spiritual progress was paralleled by an increasing awareness of his sin. In one of his earliest letters, he describes himself as the “the least of all apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9). A little later, he calls himself “the very least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8). By the end of his ministry, he says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). Our spiritual maturation will likewise progress as we see more clearly the true depth of our sin, the true holiness of God, and the great gulf between us—and thus also see the true greatness of His love for us that moved Him to give His Son to save sinners so infinitely below Him. This is why the humbles Christians are the happiest Christians, and why humble and happy Christians tend to be holy Christians, as well. All of these benefits stem from an awareness of our sin. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 135–136.

A Hopeless Task

Friday··2008·06·13 · 2 Comments
The monergist’s approach to evangelism is necessarily different from the synergist’s because the monergist knows that conversion is a result of the miracle of regeneration—and he knows he is unable to perform miracles. [U]nderstanding God’s sovereignty makes us dependent on Him because we see that it is only because of sovereign grace that the conversion of spiritually dead sinners is even possible. The Calvinist knows that unbelievers are not merely sick; they are “dead in . . . trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). We know that people are dead when they no longer respond to stimuli. We talk to them and they do not answer. We touch them and they do not move. This is the way people who are spiritually dead respond to God and his word. When the Bible is taught, they have no comprehension; when the gospel offer is made, they make no response. This presents a most depressing situation for an evangelist. Given man’s utter depravity, an evangelist cannot hope to lead anyone to faith in Christ by his own power. Paul states, “The natural person does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and He is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Note that Paul says not only the natural person “does not” accept the gospel but that he “is unable to.” Elsewhere, the apostle says “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Packer therefore writes: “Our approach to evangelism is not realistic until we have faced this shattering fact, and let it make it’s proper impact on us. . . . Regarded as a human enterprise, evangelism is a hopeless task.” —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 174–175.

Friday Freebee

Friday··2008·08·01 · 10 Comments
Watch this video of James White refuting Norman Geisler, especially if you are an Arminian (or one of those mythical “neither Calvinist nor Arminian” creatures). The first person to point out the glaring inconsistency—on Dr. White’s part, not Geisler’s—will receive a free copy of The Potter’s Freedom, compliments of the Thirsty Theologian.

Two Beautiful Words

Tuesday··2008·08·12 · 2 Comments
What are the most beautiful words you’ve ever heard? You might be thinking of several possibilities: the first time you heard the words “I love you” from your spouse; news that a seriously ill or injured loved one would recover, or some impending disaster had been averted; or any number of things that would be cause for great joy. I believe the most beautiful phrase ever spoken begins with, of all things, the word but. We don’t normally think of but as a prelude to good news. Maybe your boss has said, “You’re doing a good job, but . . .” What young man (except me, of course) hasn’t heard, “I like you, but . . .” from a young lady. What follows the but is seldom good. But is most often not a word we want to hear. But . . . Add one word to that but, and everything changes. That word (if you are a child of God) is God. Hunted by enemies: “David stayed in the wilderness in the strongholds, and remained in the hill country in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him into his hand.” (1 Samuel 23:14). Weak and faltering: “My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26). We are constantly in need of God’s intervention. We live in need of but God. Nowhere is this phrase displayed in more glorious beauty than in Ephesians 2:1–9: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. We were dead in sin; we lived in a worldly manner, led by Satan himself; and we kept company among others of our kind, satisfying our lusts, bringing upon ourselves the wrath of God . . . but God . . . loved us anyway, in spite of our wretched sinfulness, raised us to life, and, purely by grace, gave us the gift of saving faith, and has given us citizenship in his kingdom with Christ. For what purpose? That he might demonstrate the glory of his grace toward us in Christ. We were dead, but God . . .

Spots and Blemishes

R. C. Sproul, considering the separation between God and man that made a substitutionary atonement by a God-man necessary, draws three circles. The first represents the character of man. Imagine a circle that represents the character of mankind. Now imagine that if someone sins, a spot—a moral blemish of sorts—appears in the circle, marring the character of man. If another sin occurs, more blemishes appear in the circle. Well, if sin continues to multiply, eventually the entire circle will be filled with spots and blemishes. . . . Human character is clearly tainted by sin . . . The sinful pollution and corruption of fallen man is complete, rendering us totally corrupt. . . . To take it further, when the apostle Paul elaborates on this fallen human condition, he says, “There is none righteous, no, not one; . . . There is none who does good; no, not one” (Rom. 3:10b-12). That’s a radical statement. Paul is saying that man never, ever does a good deed, but that flies in the face of our experience. When we look around us, we see numerous people who are not Christians doing things that we would applaud for their virtue. . . . But how can there be these deeds of apparent goodness when the Bible says that no one does good? The reason for this problem is that when the Bible describes goodness or badness, it looks at it from two distinct perspectives. First, there is the measuring rod of the law, which evaluates the external performance of human beings. For example, if the law says you are not allowed to steal, and you go your whole life without stealing, we could say that you have a good record. You’ve kept the law externally. But in addition to the external measuring rod, there is also the consideration of the heart, the internal motivation for our behavior. We’re told that man judges by outward appearances, but God looks on the heart. From a biblical perspective, to do a good deed in the fullest sense requires not only that the deed conform outwardly to the standards of God’s law, but that it proceed from a heart that loves Him and wants to honor Him. You remember the great commandment: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’” (Matt. 22:37). Is there anyone reading this book who has loved God with all of his or her heart for the past five minutes? No. Nobody loves God with all of his heart, not to mention his soul or mind. . . . If we consider human performance from this perspective, we can see why the apostle would come to his apparently radical conclusion that there is no one who does good, that there’s no goodness in the full sense of the word found among mankind. Even our finest works have a taint of sin mixed in. I have never done an act of charity, of sacrifice, or of heroism that came from a heart, a soul, and a mind that loved God completely. —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 85, 87–89.

Why the God-man? (2)

Friday··2008·09·26 · 6 Comments
R. C. Sproul draws three circles illustrating the separation between God and man that made a substitutionary atonement by a God-man necessary. The first circle represented the character of man. Sproul continues: Imagine a second circle, just like the one we had for man, to represent the character of God. How many blemishes would we see in this circle? Absolutely none. We are totally depraved, but God is absolutely holy. In fact, He is too holy to even look at iniquity. He is perfectly just. Here, then, is the crux of the problem: how can an unjust person stand in the presence of God? Or, to put the question another way, how can an unjust person be made just, or justified? Can he start all over again? No. Once a person commits one sin, it is impossible for him ever to be perfect, because he’s lost his perfection with his initial sin. Can he pay the penalty for his sin? No—unless he wishes to spend an eternity in hell. Can God simply overlook the sin? No. If God did that, He would sacrifice His justice. Therefore, if man is to be made just, God’s justice must be satisfied. Someone must be able to pay te penalty for man’s sin. It must be a member of the offending party, the human race, but it must be one who has never fallen into the inescapable imperfection of sin. Given these requirements, no man could qualify. However, God Himself could. For this reason, God the Son came into the world and took on humanity. As the author of Hebrews says, “He had to be made like His brethren . . .” (Heb. 2:17a, emphasis added). —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 90–91.

A Biblical View of Grace

Grace is a word we hear often in the church, as well we ought. Sadly, it is a word that is not as commonly understood as spoken. J. I. Packer points out that many who speak the word have actually put their faith in something else. “What is it,” he asks, “that hinders so many who profess to believe in grace from really doing so?” The answer, he says, is that they have a basic misunderstanding of the relation between themselves and God. At the root of this is a failure to grasp “four crucial truths . . . which the doctrine of grace presupposes.” 1. The moral ill-desert of man. Modern men and women, conscious of their tremendous scientific achievements in recent years, naturally incline to a high opinion of themselves. They view material wealth as in any case more important than moral character, and in the moral realm they are resolutely kind to themselves, treating small virtues as compensating for great vices and refusing to take seriously the idea that, morally speaking, there is anything much wrong with them. . . . The thought of themselves as creatures fallen from God’s image, rebels against God’s rule, guilty and unclean in God’s sight, fit only for God’s condemnation, never enters their heads. 2. The retributive justice of God. The way of modern men and women is to turn a blind eye to all wrongdoing as long as they safely can. They tolerate it in others, feeling that there, but for the accident of circumstances, go they themselves. . . . The accepted maxim seems to be that as long as evil can be ignored, it should be; one should punish only as a last resort . . . In our pagan way, we take it for granted that God feels as we do. The idea that retribution might be the moral law of God’s world and an expression of his holy character seems to us quite fantastic. Those who uphold it find themselves accused of projecting onto God their own pathological impulses of rage and vindictiveness. Yet the Bible insists throughout that this world which God in his goodness has made is a moral world, one in which retribution is as basic a fact as breathing. . . . 3. The spiritual impotence of man. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People has been almost a modern Bible. A whole technique of business relations has been built up in recent years on the principle of putting the other person in a position where he cannot decently say no. This has confirmed modern men and women in the faith which has animated pagan religion ever since there was such a thing—namely, the belief that we can repair our own relationship with God by putting God in position where he cannot say no anymore. Ancient pagans thought to do this by multiplying gifts and sacrifices; modern pagans seek to do it by churchmanship and morality. . . . but the Bible position is as stated by Toplady: Not the labours of my hand Can fulfill Thy law’s demands. Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears for ever flow, All for sin could not atone —leading to the admission of one’s own helplessness and to the conclusion: Thou must save, and Thou alone. . . . 4. The sovereign freedom of God. Ancient paganism thought of each god as bound to his worshipers by bonds of self-interest, because he depended on their service and gifts for his welfare. Modern paganism has at the back of its mind a similar feeling that God is somehow obliged to love and help us, little though we deserve it. . . . But this feeling is not well founded. The God of the Bible does not depend on his human creatures for his well-being (see Ps 50:8–13; Acts 17:25), nor, now that we have sinned, is he bound to show us favor. We can only claim from him justice—and justice, for us, means certain condemnation. God does not owe it to anyone to stop justice taking its course. He is not obliged to pity and pardon; if he does so it is an act done, as we say, “of his own free will,” and nobody forces his hand. “It does not depend on man’s will or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Rom 9:16 NEB) Grace is free, in the sense of being self-originated and of proceeding from One who was free not to be gracious. Only when it is seen that what decides each individual’s destiny is whether or not God resolves to save him from his sins, and that this is a decision which God need not make in any single case, can one begin to grasp the biblical view of grace. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 128–132.

The Limits of Perspicuity

Monday··2011·12·05 · 1 Comments
When we speak of the perspicuity of Scripture, it is not without a vital qualification. Luther wrote, If you speak of internal perspicuity, the truth is that nobody who has not the Spirit of God sees a jot of what is in the Scriptures. All men have their hearts darkened, so that, even when they can discuss and quote all that is in Scripture, they do not understand or really know any of it. They do not believe in God, nor do they believe that they are God’s creatures, nor anything else—as Ps. 13 puts it, ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God’ (Ps. 14.1). The Spirit is needed for the understanding of all Scripture and every part of Scripture. —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell, 1957), 73–74.

Lord’s Day 14, 2012

When the Lord’s Day falls on April 1st: ‘The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.’ And this he does because he is a fool. Being a fool he speaks according to his nature; being a great fool he meddles with a great subject, and comes to a wild conclusion. The atheist is, morally as well as mentally, a fool, a fool in the heart as well as in the head; a fool in morals as well as in philosophy. With the denial of God as a starting point, we may well conclude that the fool’s progress is a rapid, riotous, raving, ruinous one. He who begins at impiety is ready for anything. ‘No God,’, being interpreted, means no law, no order, no restraint to lust, no limit to passion. Who but a fool would be of this mind? What a Bedlam, or rather what an Aceldama, would the world become if such lawless principles came to be universal! He who heartily entertains an irreligious spirit, and follows it out to its legitimate issues is a son of Belial, dangerous to the commonwealth, irrational, and despicable. Every natural man is, more or less a denier of God. Practical atheism is the religion of the race. ‘Corrupt are they.’ They are rotten. It is idle to compliment them as sincere doubters, and amiable thinkers—they are putrid. There is too much dainty dealing nowadays with atheism; it is not a harmless error, it is an offensive, putrid sin, and righteous men should look upon it in that light. All men being more or less atheistic in spirit, are also in that degree corrupt; their heart is foul, their moral nature is decayed. ‘And have done abominable iniquity.’ Bad principles soon lead to bad lives. One does not find virtue promoted by the example of your Voltaires and Tom Paines. Those who talk so abominably as to deny their Maker will act abominably when it serves their turn. It is the abounding denial and forgetfulness of God among men which is the source of the unrighteousness and crime which we see around us. If all men are not outwardly vicious it is to be accounted for by the power of other and better principles, but left to itself the ‘No God’ spirit so universal in mankind would produce nothing but the most loathsome actions. ‘There is none that doeth good.’ The one typical fool is reproduced in the whole race; without a single exception men have forgotten the right way. This accusation twice made in the Psalm, and repeated a third time by the inspired apostle Paul, is an indictment most solemn and sweeping, but he who makes it cannot err, he knows what is in man; neither will he lay more to man’s charge than he can prove. —Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David [Read the full commentary on Psalm 53 at the Spurgeon Archive].

Total Depravity and Knowing God

Richard Phillips asks, “What’s so great about [the doctrine of] Total Depravity?” The answer is in the fact that knowing ourselves is necessary to understanding God. Malcolm Muggeridge, the famous British journalist, had a life-changing experience that was very different from that of the prophet Isaiah. Yet in one important respect it was quite similar: they both came to a piercing awareness of their depraved spiritual condition. But whereas Isaiah learned to say “Woe is me!” in the face of God, Muggeridge learned it in the face of a leper woman. On assignment in India, Muggeridge went to a river for a swim. As he entered the water, his eyes fell on a woman bathing. He felt an impulse to go to her and seduce her, just as King David felt when he saw Bathsheba. Temptation storming his mind, he began swimming toward her. The words of his wedding vows came to his mind, but he responded by just going faster. The voice of allurement called out, “Stolen water is sweet” (Prov. 9:17), and he swam more furiously still. But when he pulled up near the woman and she turned, Muggeridge saw, “She was a leper. . . . This creature grinned at me, showing a toothless mask.” His first reaction was to despise her: “What a dirty lecherous woman!” he thought. But then it crashed in on him that it was not the woman who was lecherous; it was his own heart.’ This is precisely the teaching of the Bible about the moral and spiritual condition of men and women: our hearts are corrupt, our minds are depraved, and our desires are enslaved to the passions of sin. It was not by chance that Isaiah felt his depravity when confronted with God’s holy presence, any more than it was by chance that Muggeridge’s glimpse of his true condition led to his conversion to Christianity. One way to put this is that theology and anthropology are always linked. In order to understand the truth about yourself and other people, you have to see the truth about God—and vice versa. John Calvin made this point in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, commenting that one may begin a study of theology either with God or with man, since to know either correctly you must correctly know the other. —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 17–18.
I don’t know all of the history of the Calvinist TULIP. I don’t know if there is any reason why the doctrines of grace are presented in the order they are, other than to make a handy acrostic. But nevertheless, there is good doctrinal reason to put the T (Total Depravity) first. The issues that really matter are not the trivial facts of our lives but the essential truths of our nature and standing before God. In this respect, I am reminded of a picture that is printed in one of the best-selling church-growth books of recent years. The picture is labeled “Our Target,” and the man featured in it is designated “Saddleback Sam,” so named for the author’s church. Around the picture are things the author thinks are important for us to know about the target audience of our ministry. Included are such insights as “he is well-educated,” “he likes contemporary music,” “health and fitness are high priorities for him,” and “he prefers the casual and informal over the formal.” From this sociological perspective on people arises a sociological approach to ministry and, ultimately, to salvation. The apostle Paul also wanted us to know important truths about ourselves, though his interests were somewhat different from the above. His portrait of mankind is found in Romans 3:10–18. Assembling his portrait not from consumer surveys but from the Old Testament, Paul tells us about our moral and spiritual condition. It is not a pretty picture: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. . . . There is no fear of God before their eyes.” From such a biblical consideration of mankind arises a biblical and theological approach to ministry and salvation. It is the distinction of adherents to Reformed theology in general and to the doctrines of grace in particular that, following the Scriptures, we hold to the worst possible view of man—and therefore, we exercise the highest possible reliance on God’s grace. If the question is “How bad am I really?” we answer, “Much, much worse than you have dared to think.” It is against the backdrop of this terrible news about man in sin that we see the good news of the gospel as something far more wonderful than we have ever imagined. —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 19–20.

Defining Depravity

What does it mean to be “totally depraved”? The question of man’s depravity considers not the extent of his guilt before God, but the extent of his corruption in sin. The question is: am I totally depraved or only partly depraved? This is not to say there is nothing good about us. In fact, we need to emphasize that humankind was created good, bearing the image of God. The most depraved person you will ever meet enjoys the dignity of God’s original glorious creation of mankind. The doctrine of total depravity does not teach that men and women are “worthless”; as Francis Schaeffer passionately argued, “Though the Bible says men are lost, it does not say they are nothing.” Far from it: it is the priceless value of every human soul that defines the tragedy expressed by total depravity. Neither does total depravity mean that little children should never be called “good boy” or “good girl.” It is very possible for totally depraved sinners to do things that are in and of themselves good. So what is total depravity really about? Loraine Boettner explains: This doctrine of Total Inability, which declares that men are dead in sin, does not mean that all men are equally bad, nor that any man is as bad as he could be, nor that anyone is entirely destitute of virtue, nor that human will is evil in itself, nor that man’s spirit is inactive, and much less does it mean that the body is dead. What it does mean is that since the fall man rests under the curse of sin, that he is actuated by wrong principles, and that he is wholly unable to love God or to do anything meriting salvation. —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 20–21.

“He who is forgiven little, loves little”

Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36–50 This is why depravity needs to be the cornerstone of every gospel presentation: Without a quickened awareness of our depravity, we are Pharisees at best, though most of us are far worse. The best we can approach is a religious performance that brings glory to us and leaves us looking down on everybody else, just the way many Christians today look down on the rest of society, the Pharisee gazing down on the abortion doctor and the pervert. Jesus knew Pharisees well, and He didn’t like them. Far better to Him was the sinful woman who burst in at the home of a Pharisee named Simon and threw herself at Jesus’ feet. Jesus said to him: “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. . . . Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:44, 47). Awe and gratitude drive the true Christian life and draw us joyfully to God’s grace in Christ. It is from the pit of our lost condition that we gaze up toward a God so high and perfect in His holiness. But from that vantage point we come to see fully at least one of those four dimensions of the cross that Paul would long to have us know: its height. The cross of Christ then rises up to span the full and vast distance that marks how far short we are of the glory of God, and that cross becomes exceedingly precious in our eyes. —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 31–32.

Hymns of My Youth III: Beneath the Cross of Jesus

But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. —Galatians 6:14 426 Beneath the Cross of Jesus Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand, The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land; A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day. Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me; And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess, The wonders of redeeming love and my own worthlessness. I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place; I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face; Content to let the world go by, to know no gain or loss, My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross. —Favorite Hymns of Praise (Tabernacle Publishing Company, 1967).

Love of Darkness

There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. —John 1:10–13 Jesus came as the Light of the world. It is by this light that truth is revealed to all people. Yet that light is rejected, because the natural man loves darkness and hates light (John 3:19–21). And it is not only the irreligious and those who might be considered “bad” people who prefer darkness, but also those who are commonly considered “good.” John 1:10 tells us why irreligious people reject Christ: they are spiritually darkened and morally depraved. But John 1:11 shows why moral and religious people often reject Jesus. They want to keep his glory for themselves. They don’t want to trust and worship a Messiah; they want to be Messiahs; they want to be worshiped. Instead of humbling themselves before a Savior, the moral achievers want to be glorified for their own works. The irreligious love darkness because it provides a cover for their sin. But the religious unbeliever loves the darkness because it makes him seem so much better by comparison. In the dark, the light of a candle shines brightly. But when the full, blazing light of the sun rises up, candles are shown up as the dim lights that they are. The true light that is Jesus Christ came into the world to enlighten everyone. He exposes the dimness of every other supposed light and shows even the religious people’s need for a Savior. In the presence of Christ and his holy perfection, we are forced to humble ourselves and confess our wickedness. This is why the Jewish leaders hated Jesus. Sadly, many today would rather put away the Savior, even to their own ultimate destruction, just as Israel did, rather than put away their pride and humble themselves before Jesus. We should realize that the example of the Jews condemns us all. Far from thinking, “What terrible people they were,” we should realize that they were the most enlightened of all people. We are no better. Apart from God’s saving grace, we all reject Jesus rather than humble ourselves, confessing and forsaking our sin. The example of Israel merely shows the total depravity of the human heart and our total need for the saving grace of God to enable us to believe. —Richard D. Phillips, The Incarnation in the Gospels (P&R Publishing, 2008), 171–172.

Do we love that yoke?

Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!” —Psalm 2:1–3 We have, in these first three verses, a description of the hatred of human nature against the Christ of God. No better comment is needed upon it than the apostolic song in Acts iv. 27, 28: “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” The Psalm begins abruptly with an angry interrogation; and well it may: it is surely but little to be wondered at, that the sight of creatures in arms against their God should amaze the psalmist’s mind. We see the heathen raging, roaring like the sea, tossed to and fro with restless waves, as the ocean in a storm; and then we mark the people in their hearts imagining a vain thing against God. Where there is much rage there is generally some folly, and in this case there is an excess of it. Note, that the commotion is not caused by the people only, but their leaders foment the rebellion. “The kings of the earth set themselves.” In determined malice they arrayed themselves in opposition against God. It was not temporary rage, but deep-seated hate, for they set themselves resolutely to withstand the Prince of Peace. “And the rulers take counsel together.” They go about their warfare craftily, not with foolish haste, but deliberately. They use all the skill which art can give. Like Pharaoh, they cry, “Let us deal wisely with them.” O that men were half as careful in God’s service to serve him wisely, as his enemies are to attack his kingdom craftily. Sinners have their wits about them, and yet saints are dull. But what say they? what is the meaning of this commotion? “Let us break their bands asunder.” “Let us be free to commit all manner of abominations. Let us be our own gods. Let us rid ourselves of all restraint.” Gathering impudence by the traitorous proposition of rebellion, they add—“let us cast away;” as if it were an easy matter—“let us fling off ‘their cords from us.’” What! O ye kings, do ye think yourselves Samsons? and are the bands of Omnipotence but as green withs before you? Do you dream that you shall snap to pieces and destroy the mandates of God—the decrees of the Most High—as if they were but tow? and do ye say, “Let us cast away their cords from us?” Yes! There are monarchs who have spoken thus, and there are still rebels upon thrones. However mad the resolution to revolt from God, it is one in which man has persevered ever since his creation, and he continues in it to this very day. The glorious reign of Jesus in the latter day will not be consummated, until a terrible struggle has convulsed the nations. His coming will be as a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap, and the day thereof shall burn as an oven. Earth loves not her rightful monarch, but clings to the usurper’s sway: the terrible conflicts of the last days will illustrate both the world’s love of sin and Jehovah’s power to give the kingdom to his only Begotten. To a graceless neck the yoke of Christ is intolerable, but to the saved sinner it is easy and light. We may judge ourselves by this, do we love that yoke, or do we wish to cast it from us? —Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David (Passmore and Alabaster, 1883) [read entire commentary on Psalm 2 at].

To Err Is Human

I must be feeling a bit pedantic today (“Just today?” the Mrs. smugly quips). When this morning I read the old adage, “to err is human,” my immediate response was to object, and launch (silently, to the unrealized but very real relief of said Mrs.) into a corrective lecture. To err is not inherently human. To say it is is to impute errancy to God, as human beings were created in the image of God. Adam and Eve were created with the ability to not err, therefore, errancy is not a necessary quality of humanness. But then came the Fall. Adam and Eve chose to listen to Satan, though it was not inevitable (due solely to their humanity, that is) that they do so. Having made that choice—fallen—the image of God in them was forever damaged. Errancy, while not a quality of humanness, was now characteristic of fallen humanity. Why does this matter? Since all of humanity is fallen, isn’t it, for all intents and purposes, acceptable to say “to err is human?” It matters because “to err is human” is a shrug toward our sinful condition. “Oh well,” it says, “no big deal. Nobody is perfect.” “to err is human” says we’re not so bad, we just make mistakes. People who make mistakes don’t need to repent, they just need to learn their lessons, try I bit harder, do a little better. They certainly don’t need to be saved. What needs to be acknowledged is that to err is not human, as God created humanity. Errancy is corrupted humanness. It is the result of sin; sin has broken the imago Dei, and therefore, fellowship with God is broken. That, dear readers, can be fixed, but not before rejecting the status quo that is tacitly accepted by the ironically erroneous phrase, “to err is human.”

The Best Self-Image

In his book Saved from What? R. C. Sproul tells of a publisher to whom he submitted a manuscript for a childrens book who wanted all references to sin changed to “making poor choices.” “We don’t want to give children a poor self-image,” he explained. But that is a deadly error. Sproul writes, The best self-image we can ever have is one that is accurate and true. The Bible makes it clear that we have value as creatures made in the image of God. We affirm the sanctity of human life because every person is made in God’s image. But that image has been tarnished. It has been desecrated by sin. As long as we discount the severity of our sin, we sense no fear of God. We are content with our performance as it is, deluding ourselves into believing it is good enough to satisfy a holy God. —R. C. Sproul, Saved from What? (Crossway, 2002), 29–30.

Atheists’ Day, 2014

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good. —Psalm 14:1 Happy Atheists’ Day to one and all. The fool hath said. As the Hebrew word, nabal, signifies not only a fool, but also a perverse, vile, and contemptible person, it would not have been unsuitable to have translated it so in this place; yet I am content to follow the more generally received interpretation, which is, that all profane persons, who have cast off all fear of God and abandoned themselves to iniquity, are convicted of madness. David does not bring against his enemies the charge of common foolishness, but rather inveighs against the folly and insane hardihood of those whom the world accounts eminent for their wisdom. We commonly see that those who, in the estimation both of themselves and of others, highly excel in sagacity and wisdom, employ their cunning in laying snares, and exercise the ingenuity of their minds in despising and mocking God. It is therefore important for us, in the first place, to know, that however much the world applaud these crafty and scoffing characters, who allow themselves to indulge to any extent in wickedness, yet the Holy Spirit condemns them as being fools; for there is no stupidity more brutish than forgetfulness of God. We ought, however, at the same time, carefully to mark the evidence on which the Psalmist comes to the conclusion that they have cast off all sense of religion, and it is this: that they have overthrown all order, so that they no longer make any distinction between right and wrong, and have no regard for honesty, nor love of humanity. David, therefore, does not speak of the hidden affection of the heart of the wicked, except in so far as they discover themselves by their external actions. The import of his language is, How does it come to pass, that these men indulge themselves in their lusts so boldly and so outrageously, that they pay no regard to righteousness or equity; in short, that they madly rush into every kind of wickedness, if it is not because they have shaken off all sense of religion, and extinguished, as far as they can, all remembrance of God from their minds? When persons retain in their heart any sense of religion, they must necessarily have some modesty, and be in some measure restrained and prevented from entirely disregarding the dictates of their conscience. From this it follows, that when the ungodly allow themselves to follow their own inclinations, so obstinately and audaciously as they are here represented as doing, without any sense of shame, it is an evidence that they have cast off all fear of God. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Baker Books, 2009).

Lord’s Day 23, 2014

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” —Luke 23:34 Hymn LVII. Looking at the cross. John Newton (1725–1806) In evil long I took delight, Unaw’d by shame or fear; Till a new object struck my sight, And stopp’d my wild career. I saw one hanging on a tree, In agonies and blood; Who fix’d his languid eyes on me, As near his cross I stood. Sure, never till my latest breath, Can I forget that look; It seem’d to charge me with his death, Tho’ not a word he spoke. My conscience felt, and own’d the guilt, And plung’d me in despair; I saw my sins his blood had spilt, And help’d to nail him there. Alas! I knew not what I did, But now my tears are vain; Where shall my trembling soul be hid? For I the Lord have slain. A second look he gave, which said, “I freely all forgive; This blood is for thy ransom paid, I die, that thou may’st live.” Thus, while his death my sin displays, In all its blackest hue; (Such is the mystery of grace) It seals my pardon too. With pleasing grief and mournful joy, My spirit now is fill’d; That I should such a life destroy, Yet live by him I kill’d. —Olney Hymns. Book II: On Occasional Subjects. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

Meditate on Thy Corruptions

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. —1 Corinthians 11:26 Since the purpose of the Lord’s Table is to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes,” it behooves us to understand well why he died. Therefore we ought to Meditate on thy corruptions. As his love was the inward moving cause, so thy sins were the outward procuring cause, of his sufferings: ‘He was wounded for thy transgressions, he was bruised for thine iniquities; the chastisement of thy peace was upon him,’ Isa. liii. 5. When thou art at the sacrament, which fitly representeth Christ’s sufferings, consider with thyself, What was that which brought the blessed Saviour into such a bleeding condition? It was my sin; I was the Judas which betrayed him, the Jew which apprehended him, the Pilate that condemned him, and the Gentile which crucified him. My sins were the thorns which pierced his head, the nails which pierced his hands, and the spear which pierced his heart. It was I that put to death the Lord of life: he died for my sins; he was ‘made sin for me, who knew no sin; ‘his blood is my balm, his Golgotha is my Gilead. Oh, what a subject is here for meditation! He suffered in my stead, he bore my sins in his body on the tree, he took that loathsome purging physic for the diseases of my soul. When he was in the garden in his bloody agony, grovelling on the ground, there was no Judas, no Pilate, no Jew, no Gentile there, to cause that unnatural sweat, or to make his soul sorrowful unto death; but my pride, my unbelief, my hypocrisy, my atheism, my blasphemy, my unthankfulness, my carnalmindedness, they were there, and caused his inward bleeding sorrows, and outward bloody sufferings. Ah, what a heavy weight was my sin to cause such a bloody sweat in a frosty night! My dissimulation was the traitorous kiss, my ambition the thorny crown; my drinking iniquities like water made him drink gall and vinegar; my want of tears caused him to bleed; my forsaking my Maker made him to be forsaken of his Father. Because the members of my body were instruments of iniquity, therefore the members of his body were objects of such cruelty; because my soul was so unholy, therefore his soul was so exceeding heavy. O my soul, what hast thou done? —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:201–202

The Root Problem

The root problem of the seeker-sensitive, or user friendly, “church” is that they ignore the universal root problem. People’s felt needs are taken more seriously than the real but unfelt human deficiencies that are consistently highlighted in Scripture. Felt needs include issues like loneliness, fear of failure, feelings of inadequacy, codependency, a poor self-image, eating disorders, depres­sion, anger, resentment, and similar inward-focused inadequacies. The real problem—the root of all these other feelings—is human depravity, an issue that is carefully skirted (and sometimes in recent years overtly denied) in the teaching of the typical user-friendly church. —John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel (Crossway, 2010), 61.

Unhappy Birthday, Roe versus Wade

On this anniversary of the United States Supreme Court ruling on Roe versus Wade (January 22, 1973), I am reminded of this lament from George Swinnock: Good God! whither is man fallen, to be more cruel than a beast to the children of his own body! What slavery is it to serve Satan, and what liberty to serve thee! —The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:74.

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: What a Savior

Hallelujah! What a Savior! He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; Isaiah 53:3 “Man of Sorrows!” what a name For the Son of God, who came Ruined sinners to reclaim. Hallelujah! What a Savior! Bearing shame and scoffing rude, In my place condemned He stood— Sealed my pardon with His blood: Hallelujah! What a Savior! Guilty, vile, and helpless we, Spotless Lamb of God was He; Full atonement! can it be? Hallelujah! What a Savior! Lifted up was He to die, “It is finished!” was His cry; Now in Heav’n exalted high: Hallelujah! What a Savior! When He comes, our glorious King, All His ransomed home to bring, Then anew this song we’ll sing: Hallelujah! What a Savior! —The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Word Music).

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: Beneath the Cross

Beneath the Cross of Jesus But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother . . . John 19:25 Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand— The shadow of a mighty Rock Within a weary land; A home within the wilderness, A rest upon the way, From the burning of the noontide heat, And the burden of the day. Upon that cross of Jesus Mine eye at times can see The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me; And from my stricken heart with tears Two wonders I confess— The wonders of redeeming love And my own worthlessness. I take, O cross, thy shadow For my abiding place; I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face; Content to let the world go by, To know no gain nor loss, My sinful self my only shame, My glory all the cross. —The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Word Music).

Depravity Meets Regeneration

How helpless, guilty nature lies, Unconscious of its load, The heart unchanged can never rise To happiness with God. The will perverse, the passions blind In paths of ruin astray, Reason debased can never find The safe, the narrow way. Can ought beneath the power divine My stubborn will subdue? ’Tis Thine, Almighty Savior, Thine, To form my heart anew. Oh, change these wretched hearts of ours And give them life divine, Then shall our passions and our powers, Almighty Lord, be Thine. —Anne Steele*, in John MacArthur, Kingdom Living: Here and Now (Moody, 1980), 18–19. * Erroneously attributed to Isaac Watts in Kingdom Living: Here and Now.

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! —Ibid., 7.

A Remedy Revealed

Our disease is great, but the remedy is greater still. I ask my readers to observe what deep reasons we all have for humiliation and self-abasement. Let us sit down before the picture of sin displayed to us in the Bible, and consider what guilty, vile, corrupt creatures we all are in the sight of God. What need we all have of that entire change of heart called regeneration, new birth, or conversion! What a mass of infirmity and imperfection cleaves to the very best of us at our very best! What a solemn thought it is, that ‘without holiness no man shall see the Lord!’ (Heb. 12:14). What cause we have to cry with the publican, every night in our lives, when we think of our sins of omission as well as commission, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13). . . . On the other hand, I ask my readers to observe how deeply thankful we ought to be for the glorious Gospel of the grace of God. There is a remedy revealed for man’s need, as wide and broad and deep as man’s disease. We need not be afraid to look at sin, and study its nature, origin, power, extent, and vileness, if we only look at the same time at the Almighty medicine provided for us in the salvation that is in Jesus Christ. Though sin has abounded, grace has much more abounded. Yes: in the everlasting covenant of redemption, to which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are parties—in the Mediator of that covenant, Jesus Christ the righteous, perfect God and perfect Man in one Person—in the work that He did by dying for our sins and rising again for our justification—in the offices that He fills as our Priest, Substitute, Physician, Shepherd, and Advocate—in the precious blood He shed which can cleanse from all sin—in the everlasting righteousness that He brought in—in the perpetual intercession that He carries on as our Representative at God’s right hand—in His power to save to the uttermost the chief of sinners, His willingness to receive and pardon the vilest, His readiness to bear with the weakest—in the grace of the Holy Spirit which He plants in the hearts of all His people, renewing, sanctifying and causing old things to pass away and all things to become new—in all this—and oh, what a brief sketch it is!—in all this, I say, there is a full, perfect, and complete medicine for the hideous disease of sin. Awful and tremendous as the right view of sin undoubtedly is, no one need faint and despair if he will take a right view of Jesus Christ at the same time. No wonder that old Flavel ends many a chapter of his admirable ‘Fountain of Life’ with the touching words, ‘Blessed be God for Jesus Christ.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 10–12.

Press Towards It

Ryle’s description of holiness creates some high expectations. Lest we become discouraged, he adds, I do not say for a moment that holiness shuts out the presence of indwelling sin. No: far from it. It is the greatest misery of a holy man that he carries about with him a ‘body of death;’—that often when he would do good ‘evil is present with him’; that the old man is clogging all his movements, and, as it were, trying to draw him back at every step he takes. (Rom. 7:21). But it is the excellence of a holy man that he is not at peace with indwelling sin, as others are. He hates it, mourns over it, and longs to be free from its company. The work of sanctification within him is like the wall of Jerusalem—the building goes forward ‘even in troublous times.’ (Dan. 9:25). Neither do I say that holiness comes to ripeness and perfection all at once, or that these graces I have touched on must be found in full bloom and vigour before you can call a man holy. No: far from it. Sanctification is always a progressive work. Some men’s graces are in the blade, some in the ear, and some are like full corn in the ear. All must have a beginning. We must never despise ‘the day of small things.’ And sanctification in the very best is an imperfect work. The history of the brightest saints that ever lived will contain many a ‘but.’ and ‘howbeit,’ and ‘notwithstanding,’ before you reach the end. The gold will never be without some dross—the light will never shine without some clouds, until we reach the heavenly Jerusalem. The sun himself has spots upon his face. The holiest men have many a blemish and defect when weighed in the balance of the sanctuary. Their life is a continual warfare with sin, the world, and the devil; and sometimes you will see them not overcoming, but overcome. The flesh is ever lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and ‘in many things they offend all.’ (Gal. 5:17; James 3:2). But still, for all this, I am sure that to have such a character as I have faintly drawn, is the heart’s desire and prayer of all true Christians. They press towards it, if they do not reach it. They may not attain to it, but they always aim at it. It is what they strive and labour to be, if it is not what they are. —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 53–54.
When considering sanctification and holiness, it is easy to slip into a kind of legalistic moralism that awards merit to our works. In the following paragraph, Ryle puts that error in its place. Can holiness save us? Can holiness put away sin—cover iniquities—make satisfaction for transgressions—pay our debt to God? No: not a whit. God forbid that I should ever say so. Holiness can do none of these things. The brightest saints are all ‘unprofitable servants.’ Our purest works are no better than filthy rags, when tried by the light of God’s holy law. The white robe which Jesus offers, and faith puts on, must be our only righteousness—the name of Christ our only confidence—the Lamb’s book of life our only title to heaven. With all our holiness we are no better than sinners. Our best things are stained and tainted with imperfection. They are all more or less incomplete, wrong in the motive or defective in the performance. By the deeds of the law shall no child of Adam ever be justified. ‘By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast’ (Eph. 2:8, 9). —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 55. If all that is true, why bother? Why should we care about holiness if it earns us nothing, and will never be good enough, anyway? Ryle replies, Why does the Apostle say, ‘Without it no man shall see the Lord’? Let me set out in order a few reasons. (a) For one thing, we must be holy, because the voice of God in Scripture plainly commands it. The Lord Jesus says to His people, ‘Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 5:20). ‘Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48). Paul tells the Thessalonians, ‘This is the will of God, even your sanctification’ (1 Thess. 4:3). And Peter says, ‘As He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;’ because it is written, ‘Be ye holy, for I am holy’ (1 Peter 1:15, 16). . . . (b) We must be holy, because this is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world. Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again’ (2 Cor. 5:15). And to the Ephesians, ‘Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it’ (Eph. 5:25, 26). And to Titus, ‘He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works’ (Titus 2:14). In short, to talk of men being saved from the guilt of sin, without being at the same time saved from its dominion in their hearts, is to contradict the witness of all Scripture. Are believers said to be elect!—it is ‘through sanctification of the Spirit.’ Are they predestinated?—it is ‘to be conformed to the image of God’s Son.’ Are they chosen?—it is ‘that they may be holy.’ Are they called?—is it ‘with a holy calling.’ Are they afflicted?—it is that they may be ‘partakers of holiness.’ Jesus is a complete Saviour. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more—He breaks its power (1 Peter 1:2; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; Heb. 12:10). (c) We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . James warns us there is such a thing as a dead faith . . . (James 2:17). True saving faith is a very different kind of thing. True faith will always show itself by its fruits . . . (d) We must be holy, because this is the only proof that we love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. This is a point on which He has spoken most plainly, in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of John. ‘If ye love Me, keep my commandments.’—‘He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me.’—‘If a man love Me he will keep my words.’—‘Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you’ (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:14). . . . (e) We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we are true children of God. . . . The Lord Jesus says, ‘If ye were Abraham’s children ye would do the works of Abraham.’—‘If God were your Father ye would love Me’ (John 8:39, 42). . . . ‘As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they,’ and they only, ‘are the sons of God’ (Rom. 8:14). . . . ‘Say not,’ says Gurnall, ‘that thou hast royal blood in thy veins, and art born of God, except thou canst prove thy pedigree by daring to be holy.’ (f) We must be holy, because this is the most likely way to do good to others. . . . I believe there is far more harm done by unholy and inconsistent Christians than we are aware of. . . . ‘I cannot see the use of so much religion,’ said an irreligious tradesman not long ago; ‘I observe that some of my customers are always talking about the Gospel, and faith, and election, and the blessed promises, and so forth; and yet these very people think nothing of cheating me of pence and half-pence, when they have an opportunity. Now, if religious persons can do such things, I do not see what good there is in religion.’ . . . (g) We must be holy, because our present comfort depends much upon it. . . . ‘Hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.’—‘Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts’ (1 John 2:3; 3:19). —Ibid., 55–59.
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.

Far from Christ

You are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. —John 5:40 All humanity, by nature, is far from Christ. This is true even of his elect (Acts 2:39; Ephesians 2:11ff). We departed from our father’s house in Adam, and till the Lord convert us, we, as he, dwell in a far country, at a great distance from Christ, far from him in respect of knowledge, union, participation, converse. 1. In respect of knowledge. Far from knowing Christ savingly, effectually, experimentally; far from apprehending such excellency in him as to count all things dross and dung in comparison of him; such necessity of him as to part with sin, self, the world, and all for him; such all-sufficiency in him, as to be content with him in the want, in the loss of all; far from clear knowledge of Christ, as a poor prisoner, locked and bolted in a dark dungeon is far from seeing the light of the day, or as a man stark blind is far from seeing the light of the sun; so, and far more than so, is a natural man from seeing Christ; shut up in darkness, under the power of Satan, having the eyes of his mind blinded by the God of this world, that he cannot see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2. In respect of union. He is far from being united with Christ, from being one with him; wedded to sin, glued to the world, and unwilling to be separated, and so far from Christ, because there can be no contract betwixt Christ and the soul till there be a divorce betwixt the soul and sin, the soul and the world. No league with Christ till the covenant with hell and death, with sin and the world, be broken. Far from faith, which is the bond of this union, shut up under unbelief, and a gravestone laid upon the soul, which nothing can roll away but an almighty power; far from marriage-union with Christ, even as a child yet unborn is far from the hopes and comforts of a conjugal life and union; so far are men from Christ, who are yet in the state of nature, not regenerated, not born again. 3. In respect of participation. As far from union with the person of Christ, so far from partaking of the benefits of Christ; far from pardon, being yet under the sentence of condemnation; from adoption, being yet servants of sin, and slaves to Satan; from reconciliation, being enemies to Christ in their minds through wicked works; from sanctification, the old man keeping still possession with a strong hand, and the interest of the flesh and the world prevailing in the soul; from heaven, there is a great gulf betwixt him and heaven, a gulf deep and large, no passage possible by the act or power of nature. Far from enjoying any of the benefits of Christ’s purchase, as he that is in the Indies, without ship or boat, is far from enjoying any comforts or accommodations here with us. 4. In respect of converse. A stranger to Christ, far from communion with him; a stranger to his thoughts, Christ is not his meditation; his heart is not with him, his affections not on him, his inclinations not towards him, his desires not after him, his delight not in him, his designs not for him; he lives not to Christ, acts not for him, walks not with him; Christ is in heaven, and his heart is on the world. As far as heaven is from earth, so far is a natural man from Christ. —David Clarkson, Men by Nature Unwilling to Come to Christ, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:332–333.

Before Arminius

Although the Arminian Remonstrance took place in the seventeenth century, the controversy goes back much farther than that. None of the doctrines bearing the “Arminian” or “Calvinist” labels originated with Arminius or Calvin. Arminianism has its roots in Pelagianism, the system put forth by the fifth century monk Pelagius (360–418). Calvinism is simply a reiteration of Augustinianism, so named after Augustine (354–430), bishop of Hippo (in modern-day Algeria), who, against Pelagius, defended the biblical doctrines of original sin and monergistic soteriology. Pelagianism diverged much farther from orthodoxy than Arminianism. While an Arminian may be a Christian (as R. C. Sproul once said, “just barely”), a Pelagian cannot. Pelagius taught that everyone was born in the same state as Adam, able to keep the law perfectly and believe the gospel. Augustine said, No, man has inherited Adam’s sin. Consequently, his very nature is so corrupted that, without divine grace—bestowed upon those whom the Father has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world—he is neither able nor willing to believe. Enter John Cassian (360–435), a monk from Gaul (France), who concocted a middle way between Pelagianism and Augustinianism. Short of denying original sin as Pelagius had, Cassian taught that man, though corrupted by sin, retained the ability by the natural powers of his mind to take the first step towards conversion and, having taken that first step, would then gain the Spirit’s help in coming the rest of the way. This middle way was called Semi-Pelagianism, and “is not at all differing from . . . Arminianism.” Both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism were rejected by the Reformers. Like Augustine, the Reformers held to the doctrines of the sovereignty of God, the total depravity of man, and unconditional election. As Boettner shows, they stood together in their view of predestination: It was taught not only by Calvin, but by Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon (although Melanchthon later retreated toward the Semi-Pelagian position), by Bullinger, Bucer, and all of the outstanding leaders of the Reformation. While differing on some other points they agreed on this doctrine of Predestination and taught it with emphasis. Luther’s chief work, The Bondage of the Will, shows that he went into the doctrine as heartily as did Calvin himself. . . . Thus, it is evident that the five points of Calvinism, drawn up by the Synod of Dort in 1619, were by no means a new system of theology. On the contrary, as Dr. Wyllie asserts of the Synod, “It met at a great crisis and was called to review, re-examine and authenticate over again, in the second generation since the rise of the Reformation, that body of truth and system of doctrine which that great movement had published to the world.” —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 11–13.
As I’ve been writing on the five points as presented in The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, and referred to the TULIP acrostic/acronym, it occurs to me that I haven’t actually listed them. I suppose it’s safe to assume that most of my readers are familiar with them, but for those who aren’t, here is a brief summary (for longer explanations, click the links at the end of each): Total Depravity: When Adam fell, all mankind fell with him, and inherited his sin (Romans 5:12). This sin has so corrupted all men that, without regeneration by the Holy Spirit, we are unable to respond in faith to the gospel. The word “total” does not mean that we are as depraved as we could be. All people do not descend to the most extreme depths of evil (we are not all Hitler, Stalin, or abortion rights activists). “Total” means that sin has corrupted the totality of our beings—there is no part of us that is not touched by sin. In the Arminian versus Calvinist context, applying this truth to the notion of free will, we realize that though our will may be free, it is a corrupt, sinful will, “hostile toward God” (Romans 8:7). The late R. C. Sproul preferred to call it Radical Corruption. Unconditional Election: God has chosen a people for himself, not based on any quality they possess or any good they may do (Romans 9:11), but “according to the kind intention of His will” (Ephesians 1:5). Sproul preferred Sovereign Election. Limited Atonement: Christ died specifically to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Who are “his people”? See above. Because of the misleading nature of this term, Sproul preferred Definite Atonement. Irresistible Grace: Those who the Father has chosen will infallibly respond in faith to the gospel call (John 6:37). This is not intended to mean that the Holy Spirit forces people against their wills to come to Christ, but that, in regeneration, he changes their wills so that they come gladly. For this reason, Sproul preferred Effectual Grace. Perseverance of the Saints: All who are chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and regenerated by the Spirit will be infallibly kept in the faith (John 6:39–40). Again, because “perseverance” sounds like something we do (contra Philippians 2:13), Sproul made his own improvement: Preservation of the Saints. Thus far, you’ve only seen the doctrine and its history presented, with very little support. Stay tuned . . .

Total Depravity in Scripture

The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” —Genesis 2:16–17 This is really where the doctrine of Total Depravity is introduced, with his warning of the consequence of disobedience to God’s first command: spiritual death. But Adam did disobey. He did eat the forbidden fruit, he did die, and all mankind with him. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned . . . —Romans 5:12 Note well: The language here is not of spiritual sickness, but of death. This is our condition from birth (Psalm 51:5; 58:3). This is why the illustration of throwing a rope (the gospel) to a drowning man doesn’t work. We are not drowning, but already drowned. A dead man cannot grab a rope. We do not need to be rescued; we need to be reborn. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. —John 1:12–13 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” —John 3:5–6 This rebirth is in no way a result of our own effort. It is nothing less than a miracle. In the same passage, Jesus continued, Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. —John 3:7–8 We are born utterly without any hope in ourselves (Romans 8:7–8; 1 Corinthians 2:14), and would remain that way, if not for two beautiful words found in the following passage: “But God . . .” And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. —Ephesians 2:1–5, 8–9 This post is a brief summary of The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 21–27.

Life for the Dead

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” —John 6:48 58 The inquiry into the proper import of the term Life, as used by Christ, is in the highest degree important, in the present state of exegetical research. That it holds a primary place in Christ’s teaching, and belongs to the fundamental truths of Christianity, must be evident to all who have devoted any attention to the words of Christ or His apostles. . . . The doctrine of Jesus, as derived from this and cognate sayings, may be given in a few words, though the subject is too wide to be fully entered upon in the present discussion. He presupposes man as without life, in the high and proper sense of the term, nay, as alienated from the life of God. The language which Jesus holds on the subject of spiritual life takes for granted that we are involved in death; the term employed by Him to designate that separation from God which sin involves (John v. 24), and which is defined as the condition where men have not the love of God in them (John v. 42). This leaves the heart vacant for any sinful substitute. The fact that life is procured and imparted by the Lord, presupposes a condition of spiritual death. For, according to a canon, of easy and universal application, constantly applied by Augustin and Calvin in their interpretation of the divine word, whatever is freely provided and bestowed by God, is a something of which man is destitute, considered in himself. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 276–267.
But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. —Galatians 3:22 Without bad news, there is no good news. The word gospel is the Middle English version of an Old English term, godspel, meaning “glad tidings,” or “good news.” The Greek equivalent, evangelion, likewise means “good message.” The term evokes the idea of a welcome pronouncement or a happy declaration. So it is ironic that quite often the gospel is not gladly received by those who hear it. It is likewise ironic that when Paul begins his most thorough systematic presentation of the gospel message, he starts with a statement that is decidedly bad news: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom. 1:18). Paul then goes on for the equivalent of two full chapters, making the argument that the whole human race is fallen and wicked and hopelessly in bondage to sin. “As it is written: ’There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). Furthermore, “the wages of sin is death” (6:23). Obviously there’s a close connection between the two ironies. So many people spurn the good news because they can’t get past the starting point, which requires us to confess our sin. Sinners left to themselves are neither willing nor able to extricate themselves from the bondage of sin. Therefore instead, they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). They are objects of God’s wrath—because “knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, [they] not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (v. 32). . . . all false religions are systems of human achievement. Many are harsh and rigorous with standards that are barely (if at all) attainable. Others feature such a minimal standard of righteousness that only the very grossest of sins are deemed worthy of any reproof. In one way or another, most false religions “call evil good, and good evil; [they] put darkness for light, and light for darkness . . . bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20). They teach people to be “wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (v. 21). At the end of the day, all of them are works-based religions. The focus is on something the creature is supposed to do for God—or worse, for oneself. (Indeed, the most thoroughly evil religious systems are those that literally aim at the deification of the individual—thus echoing the false promise the serpent made to Eve in Genesis 3:4–5: “You will not surely die. . . . You will be like God.”) By contrast, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of divine accomplishment. It is an announcement that Christ has already triumphed over sin and death on behalf of hopeless sinners who lay hold of His redemption by faith alone. This is grace-based religion. The focus is on what God has already done for sinners. But to appreciate how such a message is good news, a person must know himself to be a wretched sinner, incapable of making an adequate atonement, and therefore powerless to earn any righteous merit of his own—much less obtain redemption for himself. The sinner must feel the weight of his guilt and know that God is a righteous Judge who will not sanction sin. Indeed, he or she must be prepared to confess that perfect justice demands the condemnation of guilty souls. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 23–25.

A Stumbling Block

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,  And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. —1 Corinthians 1:18—25 Paul to the “seeker-sensitive”: In recent years, many churches have based their entire ministry philosophy on the assumption that lots of unbelieving people are seeking God. These churches have refurbished their music, teaching, and public worship with the stated goal of being “seeker-sensitive.” In order to achieve that goal, church leaders rely on opinion surveys and an almost obsessive fixation with cultural trends in order to gauge the tastes and expectations of unbelievers. Then every feature of their corporate gatherings is carefully reworked, dumbed down, or purposely desanctified in order to make unbelievers feel comfortable. But people are not really seeking God if they are looking for a religious experience where the music, entertainment, and sermon topics are carefully vetted in order to appeal to popular preferences. That kind of “seeker” is just looking for a cloak of piety in a context where he or she will also get affirmation, self-gratification, and companionship with like-minded people. The gospel according to Paul points the opposite direction. Paul fully understood the felt needs and cultural expectations of his diverse audiences: “Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:22). But the apostle’s response was the polar opposite of “seeker-sensitivity”: “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness” (v. 23). The Greeks who craved a philosophical discourse on wisdom heard a message Paul knew would sound to them like foolishness; and the Jews who demanded a sign instead got “a stumbling stone and rock of offense” (Rom. 9:33). But both groups heard exactly the same message from Paul. Here again, we see that he knew only one gospel: “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 38–39.

The Taint of Sin

All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one. —Romans 3:12 This . . . allegation condemning the character of humanity is a sweeping, significant, grave condemnation: fallen people don’t do anything that is genuinely good. The human character, in its fallen state, is totally depraved. (That’s the common term theologians use to describe this aspect of biblical anthropology.) The point is not that people are as thoroughly evil as they could possibly be. Rather, it means that sin has infected every aspect of the human character—mind, will, passions, flesh, feelings, and motives. Nothing we do is completely free from the taint of sin. That includes our very best deeds of kindness or altruism. This is perhaps one of the most difficult of all biblical doctrines for people to receive. We naturally want to think of ourselves as fundamentally good, praiseworthy, upright, compassionate, generous, and noble. Furthermore, Scripture does recognize and describe some astonishing examples of human virtue, like the kindness of the good Samaritan, or the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter when she rescued and adopted the infant Moses. God graciously restrains the full expression of human depravity (Gen. 20:6; 31:7; 1 Sam. 25:26; 2 Thess. 2:7). The restraint of sin and the mitigation of sin’s consequences are expressions of common grace, the benevolent care God extends to all his creation. Quite simply, things are not as bad as they could be in this fallen world because “the Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:9). But again, Scripture also makes abundantly clear that even the best of our good works are not truly good enough to gain any merit with God. “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). Even the “good” things we do actually compound our guilt, because our motives are (at best) mixed with selfishness, hypocrisy, pride, a desire for the praise of others, or a host of other evil incentives. In order to portray ourselves or our works as “good,” we have to allow for all kinds of leeway in our definition of what is good—and that exercise in and of itself is a diabolical transgression. Much of contemporary culture goes to the extreme of “call[ing] evil good, and good evil.” They “put darkness for light, and light for darkness . . . bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isa. 5:20). But when we understand that God’s own absolute perfection is the only acceptable standard of good (Matt. 5:48), it’s easy to understand why Scripture says “no one does good, not even one.” This is the starting point of biblical anthropology: humanity is fallen. The human creature is totally depraved, fundamentally wicked—ignorant, rebellious, wayward, and in and of ourselves worthless. Our character is debauched and defined by our sinfulness. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 41–42.

Monergist Father: Irenaeus of Lyons

Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 130–200) was born in Smyrna, Asia Minor. He was a student of Polycarp, who studied under the apostle John. His writings demonstrate well an orthodox, biblical understanding of original sin and its effects: depravity and inability. Irenaeus acknowledged that Adam’s sin had brought about the devastation of the entire human race. Recognizing Adam’s role as the representative of all his descendants, Irenaeus asserted that when the first man sinned, all mankind transgressed with him. He writes: “Indeed we had offended [God] in the first Adam, when he did not perform His commandment. . . . We were debtors to none other but to Him whose commandment we had transgressed at the beginning.” This is to say, all human beings are guilty because of Adam’s fall. In this state of depravity, Irenaeus argued, all men are ignorant of God. Concerning man’s inherent inability to know God, he states: “Since it was impossible, without God, to come to a knowledge of God, He teaches men, through His Word, to know God. To those, therefore, who are ignorant of these matters, and on this account imagine that they have discovered another Father, justly does one say, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.’” No one can come to a saving knowledge of God apart from being taught by God Himself. Similarly, Irenaeus affirmed that all men give themselves to the world system and their carnal desires. He writes, “Man . . . shall be justly condemned, because, having been created a rational being, he lost the true rationality, and living irrationally, opposed the righteousness of God, giving himself over to every earthly spirit, and serving all lusts.” In short, the spirit of this evil age rules over the rebellious hearts of all unconverted men. Irenaeus held that the sin of Adam and Eve resulted in the spiritual, physical, and emotional death of all mankind. He says, “Eve . . . having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race.” The wages of sin is death, rendering man morally unable to please God. Neither does man have the spiritual capacity to come to Him. What can a dead man do? Nothing. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 97–98. Like many of the Fathers, Irenaeus was not without contradictions. Along with his orthodox statements on inability, he also made conflicting statements on free will. Lawson offers a likely explanation for these conflicting messages. He wrote of fallen man possessing a power to choose whether to obey or disobey God and expressed confidence in human ability and moral freedom. He writes, “But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect similar to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself his own cause that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff.” Similarly, he maintained that “it is in man’s power to disobey God and to forfeit what is good.” This inconsistency may have stemmed partly from the context in which Irenaeus lived and ministered. Like Justin Martyr, he was constantly embattled by Gnostic attacks. Gnosticism inaccurately “asserted that the Christian faith denied moral responsibility.” To counter this idea, the Apologists stressed man’s obligation. In so doing, they unfortunately weakened their position concerning man’s depravity, as well as God’s exclusive role in salvation. —Ibid., 98–99.

Monergist Father: Cyprian of Carthage

The monergism of Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (200–258): Cyprian affirmed the sovereignty of God over every aspect of life. He writes: “‘Thy will be done in heaven as it is on earth,’ not that God may do what He wishes, but that we may be able to do what God wishes. For who stands in the way of God’s doing what He wishes? . . .” Here Cyprian maintained that God is supreme over the will of man and Satan in all things. . . . Cyprian clearly taught the radical corruption of the human soul. Augustine observed that Cyprian confessed original sin. Calvin later repeated Cyprian’s words, “Let us glory in nothing, because nothing is ours,” then paraphrased Cyprian with these words: “If there is nothing good in us; if man, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, is wholly sin; if it is not even lawful to try how far the power of the will extends,—how can it be lawful to share the merit of a good work between God and man?” This is a summary of Cyprian’s position on radical depravity. . . . Cyprian also asserted the doctrine of sovereign election in the salvation of sinners. He declared that believers are “elected to hope, consecrated to faith, destined to salvation, sons of God, brethren of Christ, associates of the Holy Spirit, owing nothing any longer to the flesh.” Election, he maintained, is the root of every spiritual blessing. . . . Finally, Cyprian believed that a true believer can never be separated from Christ. His salvation is eternally secure. Cyprian writes, “Thus there is nothing that can separate the union between Christ and the Church, that is, the people who are established within the Church and who steadfastly and faithfully persevere in their beliefs: Christ and His Church must remain ever attached and joined to each other by indissoluble love.” Again, citing Romans 8:35, he writes: “As it is written: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trial or tribulation or persecution or hunger or nakedness or peril or sword? None of these can separate those who believe, none can prize away those who cling to His body and blood.” These are clear affirmations of the eternal security of believers. Cyprian taught that those who depart from the faith were never truly in Christ. He states: “For it is not possible for a man to perish unless it is plainly evident that perish he must, since the Lord says in His own Gospel: Every planting which My heavenly father has not planted will be rooted out. Accordingly, whoever has not been planted in the precepts and counsels of God the Father, will alone be able to depart from the Church. . . . But all the others, through the mercy of God the Father, the compassion of Christ our Lord and our own patience, will be reunited with us.” He adds: “Those who withdraw from Christ have only themselves to blame for their own destruction, whereas the Church, which believes in Christ and holds fast to the teachings it has learned, never departs from Him in any way. . . . They are the Church who remain in the house of the Lord.” Those who are truly born again cannot leave the fold permanently. —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 133–137.

Monergist Father: Augustine of Hippo (1)

The freedom of the will according to Augustine: Asserting the bondage of the human will, Augustine states that when Adam sinned, he and all his descendants became enslaved to sin: “For it was in the evil use of his free will that man destroyed himself and his will at the same time. For as a man who kills himself is still alive when he kills himself, but having killed himself is then no longer alive and cannot resuscitate himself after he has destroyed his own life—so also sin which arises from the action of the free will turns out to be victor over the will and the free will is destroyed.” The will of man became bound to sin, unable to please God. To this point, Sproul remarks: “After the fall, Augustine said the will, or the faculty, of choosing remained intact; that is, human beings are still free in the sense that they can choose what they want to choose. However, their choices are deeply influenced by the bondage of sin that holds them in a corrupt state.” In short, unregenerate human beings cannot choose not to sin. Augustine adds, “Free choice alone, if the way of truth is hidden, avails for nothing but sin.” Augustine aptly described the sinful state of fallen man when he wrote in his Confessions that he was entirely enslaved by sin—mind, emotion, and will. He says: “I was bound by the iron chain of my own will. The enemy held fast my will, and had made of it a chain, and had bound me tight with it. For out of the perverse will came lust, and the service of lust ended in habit, and habit, not resisted, became necessity. By these links, as it were, forged together—which is why I called it ‘a chain’—a hard bondage held me in slavery.” —Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 236.

All Equally Fallen

Perhaps many self-righteous persons amongst you, may flatter yourselves that you are not so wicked as either Zaccheus or Saul was and consequently there is a greater fitness for salvation in you than in them. But if you think thus, indeed you think more highly of yourselves than you ought to think. For by nature we are all alike, all equally fallen short of the glory of God, all equally dead in trespasses and sins and there needs the same almighty power to be exerted in converting any one of the most sober, good-natured, moral persons here present, as there was in converting the publican Zaccheus, or that notorious persecutor Saul. And was it possible for you to ascend into the highest heaven and to inquire of the spirits of just men made perfect, I am persuaded they would tell you this doctrine is from God. But we have a more sure word of prophecy, to which we do well to give heed, as unto a light shining in a dark place. My brethren, the word is near you. Search the scriptures. Beg of God to make you willing to be saved in this day of his power. For it is not flesh and blood but the Spirit of Jesus Christ, that alone can reveal these things unto you. —George Whitefield, “What Think Ye of Christ?” in Lee Gatiss (Ed.), The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 1:416. * “So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” —1 Peter 1:19–21
Every unprejudiced person might have seen from [Isaiah 52:13–53:13] that the Messiah, when he came, was not to be surrounded with pomp, but would come as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” to be “despised and rejected of men.” Yet, though the truth was written as with a sunbeam, and the Jewish people were pretty generally acquainted with their own Scriptures, so that they had the opportunity of knowing it, yet when the Messiah came unto his own, his own received him not, and though favoured with the clearest prophecies concerning him they rejected his claims, and cried, “Let him be crucified!” —Charles Spurgeon, cited in John MacArthur, The Gospel According to God (Crossway, 2018), 67. Why did the Jews reject their Messiah? The answer is found in the word “unprejudiced.” “Every unprejudiced person” who knew the words of Isaiah—that is, every Jew educated in the synagogue—should have known the Messiah would not be a political leader or military conqueror, but they were not unprejudiced. Neither are we, by birth (Psalm 51:5). Why did the Jews reject their Messiah? For the same reason we all do. By nature, we are predisposed to reject Jesus as Lord and Savior. We need a new nature before we can see him as our true Messiah. We must be born again (John 3:1–8).

Random Selections: Until He Be Born Again (William Tyndale)

This random selection (even page, final paragraph) is from A Pathway into the Holy Scripture by William Tyndale (c. 1494–c. 1536), translator of the first English Bible—for which he was burned at the stake. The fall of Adam hath made us heirs of the vengeance and wrath of God, and heirs of eternal damnation; and hath brought us into captivity and bondage under the devil. And the devil is our lord, and our ruler, our head, our governor, our prince, yea, and our god. And our will is locked and knit faster unto the will of the devil, than could an hundred thousand chains bind a man unto a post. Unto the devil’s will consent we with all our hearts, with all our minds, with all our might, power, strength, will and lusts; [so that the law and will of the devil is written in our hearts as well as in our members, and we run headlong after the devil with full zeal and the whole swing of all the power we have; as a stone cast up into the air cometh down naturally of its own self, with all the violence and swing of his own weight.] With what poison, deadly and venomous, hate hateth a man his enemy! With what great malice of mind, inwardly, do we slay and murder! With what violence and rage, yea, and with how fervent lust commit we [adultery], fornication and such like uncleanness! With what pleasure and delectation, inwardly, serveth a glutton his belly! With what diligence deceive we! How lustily seek we the things of this world! Whatsoever we do, think, or imagine, is abominable in the sight of God. [For we can refer nothing unto the honour of God; neither is his law or will written in our members or in our hearts: nor is there any more power in us to follow the will of God than there is in a stone to ascend upward of its own self.] And [besides that,] we are as it were asleep in so deep blindness, that we can neither see nor feel what misery, thralldom, and wretchedness we are in, till Moses come and wake us, and publish the law. When we hear the law truly preached, how we ought to love and honour God with all our strength and might, from the low bottom of our heart, [because he hath created us, and both heaven and earth for our sakes, and made us lord thereof;] and our neighbors (yea, our enemies) as ourselves, inwardly, from the ground of the heart . . . and how we ought to do whatsoever God biddeth, and abstain from whatsoever God forbiddeth, with all love and meekness, with a fervent and a burning lust from the center of the heart; then beginneth the conscience to rage against the law, and against God. No sea, be it ever so great a tempest, is so unquiet. For it is not possible for a natural man to consent to the law, that it should be good, or that God should be righteous which maketh the law; [inasmuch as it is contrary to his nature, and damneth him and all that he can do, and neither sheweth him where to fetch help, nor preacheth any mercy; but only setteth man at variance with God, (as witnesseth Paul, Rom. iv.) and provoketh him and stirreth him to rail on God, and to blaspheme him as a cruel tyrant. For it is not possible for a man, until he be born again, to think God is righteous to make him of so poison a nature, either for his own pleasure or for the sin of another man, or to give him a law that is impossible for him to do, or to consent to;] his wit, reason and will being so fast glued, yea, nailed and chained unto the will of the devil. Neither can any creature loose these bonds, save the blood of Christ [only]. —The Works of William Tyndale (Banner of Truth, 2010), 1:17–18.

Understanding God

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. . . . But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. —1 Corinthians 2:11, 14–15 Men understand each other because the can communicate to one another, and because they are flesh, and share commonalities in the flesh. Men cannot understand God even though he has communicated to them, because they share nothing in common with him. For what man knoweth? Two different things he intends to teach here: first, that the doctrine of the Gospel cannot be understood otherwise than by the testimony of the Holy Spirit; and secondly, that those who have a testimony of this nature from the Holy Spirit, have an assurance as firm and solid, as if they felt with their hands what they believe, for the Spirit is a faithful and indubitable witness. This he proves by a similitude drawn from our own spirit: for every one is conscious of his own thoughts, and on the other hand what lies hid in any man’s heart, is unknown to another. In the same way what is the counsel of God, and what his will, is hid from all mankind, for “who hath been his counselor?” (Rom. xi. 34.) It is, therefore, a secret recess, inaccessible to mankind; but, if the Spirit of God himself introduces us into it, or in other words, makes us acquainted with those things that are otherwise hid from our view, there will then be no more ground for hesitation, for nothing that is in God escapes the notice of the Spirit of God. This similitude, however, may seem to be not altogether very appropriate, for as the tongue bears an impress of the mind, mankind communicate their dispositions to each other, so that they become acquainted with each other’s thoughts. Why then may we not understand from the word of God what is his will? For while mankind by pretenses and falsehoods in many cases conceal their thoughts rather than discover them, this cannot happen with God, whose word is undoubted truth, and his genuine and lively image. We must, however, carefully observe how far Paul designed to extend this comparison. A man’s innermost thought, of which others are ignorant, is perceived by himself alone: if he afterwards makes it known to others, this does not hinder but that his spirit alone knows what is in him. For it may happen that he does not persuade: it may even happen that he does not properly express his own meaning; but even if he attains both objects, this statement is not at variance with the other—that his own spirit alone has the true knowledge of it. There is this difference, however, between God’s thoughts and those of men, that men mutually understand each other; but the word of God is a kind of hidden wisdom, the loftiness of which is not reached by the weakness of the human intellect. Thus the light shineth in darkness, (John i. 5,) aye and until the Spirit opens the eyes of the blind. The spirit of a man. Observe, that the spirit of a man is taken here for the soul, in which the intellectual faculty, as it is called, resides. For Paul would have expressed himself inaccurately if he had ascribed this knowledge to man’s intellect, or in other words, the faculty itself, and not to the soul, which is endued with the power of understanding. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:111–112. Only those who have been born again (John 3), in whom the Spirit of God dwells, can understand God and his Word. But the animal man. By the animal man he does not mean (as is commonly thought) the man that is given up to gross lusts, or, as they say, to his own sensuality, but any man that is endowed with nothing more than the faculties of nature. This appears from the corresponding term, for he draws a comparison between the animal man and the spiritual As the latter denotes the man whose understanding is regulated by the illumination of the Spirit of God, there can be no doubt that the former denotes the man that is left in a purely natural condition, as they speak. For the soul belongs to nature, but the Spirit is of supernatural communication. He returns to what he had previously touched upon, for his object is to remove a stumblingblock which might stand in the way of the weak—that there were so many that despised the gospel. He shows that we ought to make no account of a contempt of such a nature as proceeds from ignorance, and that it ought, consequently, to be no hindrance in the way of our going forward in the race of faith, unless perhaps we choose to shut our eyes upon the brightness of the sun, because it is not seen by the blind. It would, however, argue great ingratitude in any individual, when God bestows upon him a special favor, to reject it, on the ground of its not being common to all, whereas, on the contrary, its very rareness ought to enhance its value. For they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them. “The doctrine of the gospel,” says he, “is insipid in the view of all that are wise merely in the view of man. But whence comes this? It is from their own blindness. In what respect, then, does this detract from the majesty of the gospel?” In short, while ignorant persons depreciate the gospel, because they measure its value by the estimation in which it is held by men, Paul derives an argument from this for extolling more highly its dignity. For he teaches that the reason why it is contemned is that it is unknown, and that the reason why it is unknown is that it is too profound and sublime to be apprehended by the understanding of man. What a superior wisdom this is, which so far transcends all human understanding, that man cannot have so much as a taste of it! While, however, Paul here tacitly imputes it to the pride of the flesh, that mankind dare to condemn as foolish what they do not comprehend, he at the same time shows how great is the weakness or rather bluntness of the human understanding, when he declares it to be incapable of spiritual apprehension. For he teaches, that it is not owing simply to the obstinacy of the human will, but to the impotency, also, of the understanding, that man does not attain to the things of the Spirit. Had he said that men are not willing to be wise, that indeed would have been true, but he states farther that they are not able. Hence we infer, that faith is not in one’s own power, but is divinely conferred. Because they are spiritually discerned. That is, the Spirit of God, from whom the doctrine of the gospel comes, is its only true interpreter, to open it up to us. Hence in judging of it, men’s minds must of necessity be in blindness until they are enlightened by the Spirit of God. Hence infer, that all mankind are by nature destitute of the Spirit of God: otherwise the argument would be inconclusive. It is from the Spirit of God, it is true, that we have that feeble spark of reason which we all enjoy; but at present we are speaking of that special discovery of heavenly wisdom which God vouchsafes to his sons alone. Hence the more insufferable the ignorance of those who imagine that the gospel is offered to mankind in common in such a way that all indiscriminately are free to embrace salvation by faith. —Ibid., 1:115–117.

Miniature Gods

I believe in . . . the forgiveness of sins. Why is it that even Christians tend to view sin casually? It is because, says Albert Mohler, we tend to bring God down to our level. A deficient view of God naturally begets a deficient view of sin. Christians find themselves in a crisis of truth. A deficient grasp of the horror of sin empties the cross of Christ of its splendor. It is necessary, therefore, to understand the total and universal depravity of all mankind. Christians must go where David [Psalm 51:1–4] did. All must see their sin as God himself sees it. The failure to grasp the horror of sin rests in the miniature god Christians have fashioned in their own image. Christians are guilty of diminishing the holiness and grandeur of God’s incomparable glory. We cannot rightly understand the graveness of our offense if we do not behold the glory of the One we offended. Puritan preacher George Swinnock wrote, “If God be so incomparable, that there is none on earth, none in heaven comparable to him, it may inform us of the great venom and malignity of sin, because it is an injury to so great, so glorious, so incomparable a being.” Sin, therefore, must be measured in the depth of its offense against the splendor of the One it offended. If God be so infinitely glorious, more glorious than all the stars of the galaxies combined, then the weight of our sin against this God embodies evil of the highest order. Another Puritan, Jeremiah Burroughs, drew out this implication: So strike at God and you wish God would cease to be God. This is a horrible wickedness indeed. . . . What will you say to such a wickedness as this, that it should enter into the heart of any creature, “O that I might have my lust and, rather than I will part with my lust, I would rather God should cease to be God than that I would leave my lust.” Christian, your sin amounts to nothing less than a desire for God to cease being God. Your sin rebels as cosmic treason. Your sin against God beckons him to step off his throne that you might ascend its steps. Your sin wishes the Creator to relinquish his rightful rule and claim to glory and give way to your will. We fail to grasp the weight of sin because we fashioned a small god to worship rather than the splendid, infinite, supreme, excellent, beautiful, and eternal Creator. We have a shallow view of his glory. Swinnock concluded, How horrid then is sin, and . . . heinous a nature, when it offendeth and opposeth not kings, the highest of men, not angels, the highest of creatures, but God, the highest of beings; the incomparable God, to whom kings and angels, yea, the whole creation is less than nothing! We take the size of sin too low, and short, and wrong . . . but to take its full length and proportion, we must consider the wrong it doth to this great, this glorious, this incomparable God. If Christians are to glory in the riches of the forgiveness of sins, then they must first cast down the inglorious, unholy idols they have fashioned and called “god.” Christians must come and behold the terrifying and awesome glory of God in order to grasp the horror of sin. Failure to see God in all his glory necessarily leads to a diminished view of sin. An anemic view of sin will give way to a cheap gospel, a pointless cross, and a Messiah who need not to have shed his blood. —Albert Mohler, The Apostles’ Creed (Crossway, 2019), 173–175.


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