The Doctrine of Human Depravity 4 of 10
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Chapel Library
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“The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (Psa. 58:3). First, from the moment of birth every child is morally and spiritually cut off from the Lord—a lost sinner. “Estranged from God and all good: alienated from the Divine life, and its principles, powers, and blessings” (Matthew Henry). Adam lost not only the image of God, but His favour and fellowship too—being expelled from His presence: and each of his children was born outside Eden, born in a state of guilt. Second, in consequence thereof they are delinquents, perverts, from the beginning. Their very being is polluted, for evil is bred in the bone with them, their “nature” being inclined unto wickedness only: and if God leaves them unto themselves they will never return therefrom. Third, quickly do they supply evidence of their separation from God and the corruption of their hearts—as every godly parent perceives to his sorrow. While in the cradle itself they evince their opposition to truth, sincerity, integrity. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child” (Prov. 22:15): not “childishness” but “foolishness”—that positive propensity to evil, the entering into an ungodly course, the forming and following of bad habits: “bound in the heart”—held firmly there by chains invincible to human power.
But in all ages there have been those who sought to blunt the sharp edge of Psalm 58:3, by unwarrantably narrowing its scope, denying that it has a race-wide application: those who are determined at all costs to rid themselves of the unpalatable truth of the total depravity of all mankind. Pelagians and Socinians have insisted that that verse is speaking only of a particularly reprobate class, those who are flagrantly wayward from an early age. Rightly did John Owen point out: “It is to no purpose to say that he speaks of wicked men only: that is, such as are habitually and profligately so. For whatever any man may afterwards run into by a course of sin, all men are morally alike from the womb, and it is an aggravation of the wickedness of men that it begins so early and holds on in an uninterrupted course. Children are not able to speak from the womb, as soon as they be born. Yet here are they said to speak lies. It is therefore the perverse acting of depraved nature in infancy that is intended, for everything that is irregular, that answers not the law of our creation and rule of our obedience, is a lie.”
“And were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Eph. 2:3). That statement is, if possible, even more awful and solemn than Psalm 58:3. It signifies much more than that we are born into the world with a defiled constitution, for it is not simply “children of corruption,” but “of wrath”—obnoxious to God, criminals in His sight. Depravity of our natures is no mere misfortune: if it were, it would evoke pity, and not anger! The expression, “children of wrath” is a Hebraism, a very strong and emphatic one. In the margin of 1 Samuel 20:30, and 2 Samuel 12:5, we read of “the son of death,” that is, one unto whom death is due. In Matthew 13:15, Christ used the fearful term “the child of Hell”—one whose sure portion is Hell; while in John 17:12, He designated Judas “the son of perdition”—Divinely appointed thereto. Thus “children of wrath” connotes those who are deserving of wrath, heirs thereto, meet for it. They are born unto wrath, and under it, as their heritage. Not only defiled and corrupt creatures, but the objects of God’s judicial indignation. But why so? Because the sin of Adam is imputed unto them, and therefore they are regarded as guilty of having broken God’s Law.
Equally forcible and explicit are the words “by nature the children of wrath,” for it is in designed contrast with that which is artificially acquired. Many have insisted (contrary to the facts of common experience and observation) that children are corrupted by external contact with evil, that they acquire bad habits by imitation of others. We do not deny that environment has a measure of influence, yet if any baby could be placed in a perfect one and surrounded only by sinless beings it would soon be evident that he was corrupt. We are depraved not by a process of development, but by genesis. It is not “on account of nature,” but “by nature,” because of our nativity: it is innate, bred in us. As Goodwin solemnly pointed out, “They are children of wrath in the very womb, before they commit any actual sin.” The depraved nature itself is a penal evil, and that is because of our federal union with Adam, as partaking of his transgression. We are the children of wrath because our federal head fell under the wrath of God: “there would be no truth in the assertion of Paul that all are by nature the children of wrath if they had not been already under the curse before their birth” (Calvin).
But a greater than Calvin has informed us: “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth, it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:11-13). This goes back still farther: Esau was an object of God’s hatred before he was born. Obviously, a righteous God could not abominate one who is pure and innocent. But how could Esau be guilty prior to doing any good or evil? Because he shared Adam’s criminality, and for precisely the same reason all of us are by nature the children of wrath—obnoxious to Divine punishment—not only by virtue of our own personal transgressions, but first because of our constitution—it is coeval with our very being. We are members of a cursed head, branches of a condemned tree, streams of a polluted fountain—in a word, the guilt of Adam’s sin lies hard upon us. No other explanation is possible; since our guilt and liability unto punishment be not, in the first place, due to our personal sins, they must be because of Adam’s being imputed to us.
It is for the same reason that infants die naturally, for sin is not merely the occasion of physical dissolution, but the cause of it. Death is the wages of sin, the sentence of the broken law, the penal infliction of a righteous God. Had Adam never sinned, neither he nor any of his descendants would have become subject to death. Death is altogether unnatural and abnormal to man, as the longevity of the patriarchs evidenced. Had not the guilt of Adam’s offense been charged to his posterity, none would die in infancy. Yet it does not necessarily follow that any who expire in early childhood are eternally lost. That they are born into this world spiritually dead, alienated from the life of God, is clear; but whether they die eternally, or are saved by sovereign grace, is probably one of those secret things which belong unto the Lord. If they be saved, it must be because they are among the number elected by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and regenerated by the Spirit—without which none can enter Heaven; but concerning these things, Scripture appears to us to be silent. The Judge of all the earth will do right, and there we may submissively yet trustfully leave it. Parenthood is an unspeakably solemn matter!
In the opening verses of Ephesians 2, the Holy Spirit has described our fallen state. First, as being dead in trespasses and sins (v. 1): dead judicially, under sentence of the Law; dead experientially, without a spark of spiritual life. Second, the outward course of such is depicted (vv. 2, 3): as completely dominated by “the flesh,” or evil principle, inspired unto an ungodly walk by Satan, so that our every action is sinful. Third, the resultant punishment (v. 3): obnoxious to the Divine Judge, born in such a condition, and remaining so while in a state of nature. Until the sinner believes, “the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). Though the sentence be not yet executed, it is suspended over him. The word “abideth” here denotes perpetuity: as Augustine said, “It hath been upon him from his birth, and remains to this day upon him.” “The children of wrath, even as others”: this is the case of all of Adam’s descendants, and it is equally so. It is a common heritage: by nature no man is either better or worse than his fellows. The very fact that this awful visitation is universal can only be accounted for by our relation to the first man, as our covenant head and legal representative.
It would hardly be fair to conclude this chapter without taking some notice of those who attempt to dismiss all which has been pointed out above by dogmatically insisting that “Christ made atonement for original sin,” so that the guilt of our first father’s transgression rests not on his sons. But such an arbitrary assertion is manifestly contrary to those patent facts which confront us on every side. The judgment which God pronounced upon Adam and Eve is being as surely visited upon their children today as ever it was before the Son of God died upon the Cross. The curse upon the ground, the peculiar sufferings of females and all the pain of childbirth, the necessity to toil for our daily bread, the universal reign of death, including the demise of so many infants, are all just as evident and prevalent in the New Testament era as ever they were in the Old. But obviously such things could not be were the Arminian view sound, for if the guilt of original sin has been removed, the effects thereof could no longer continue. Such an affirmation is baseless, unconfirmed by a single clear statement in Scripture: though some do make a far-fetched attempt to substantiate it by appealing to John 1:29.
“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). We wonder how many of our readers can perceive anything in those words which strikes them as relevant to the point. Men must surely be hard put to it when they have to press such a verse into service in order to bolster up their theory. Our Lord’s forerunner was here presenting the Messiah unto the people in that sacrificial character which both type and prophecy had prepared them to look for Him, and not raising an abstruse question in theology, which is nowhere else mentioned in Scripture. Had those words occurred in one of Paul’s profound doctrinal discussions, we should be ready to look for a deeper meaning in them, though we would require something very specific in the context obliging us to define “the sin of the world” as the sin of Adam! John was the herald of a new dispensation: one which would be radically different in its scope from the previous one, and one which should be inaugurated by breaking down the “middle wall of partition.”
For two thousand years the grace of God had been restricted almost entirely unto a single nation; but now it was on the point of flowing out unto all. The Baptist was there announcing Christ as the Heaven-appointed sacrifice which was to expiate the sin not of believing Jews only, but of Gentiles also. Though “the world” be a general expression, it is not to be regarded as comprehending a universality of individuals, as synonymous with mankind. It is an indefinite expression, as “The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isa. 40:5) and “all flesh shall know that I the LORD am thy Saviour” (Isa. 49:26). “The sin of the whole world” signifies all the sins of all God’s people as a collective whole, as one great and heavy burden—just as in Isaiah 53:6, “the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” It was the entire penalty and punishment of sin which Christ took on Himself, and bore away from before the Divine Judge. As Hebrews 9:26, tells us, “But now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself,” and since that sacrifice was a vicarious one, it necessarily removed the guilt of all those in whose place it was made.
Not only is the theory we are here opposing without any scriptural evidence to support it, but it is refuted by very considerable evidence to the contrary. If attention be paid to the relations which Christ sustained to those in whose stead He obeyed and suffered, it at once appears that His work was no mere indefinite and general one, but with a particular and restricted design. He transacted as a Shepherd on behalf of His sheep (John 10:11, and contrast 10:26)—if He died also for the goats and the wolves, then there was no point in saying He laid down His life for the sheep. It was in the relation of a Husband He served (Eph. 5:25-27): there is singleness of affection, the exclusiveness of conjugal love! He sustained to His beneficiaries the relation of Head, there being a federal and legal unity between them (Heb. 2:11). The redemptive work of Christ was like His coat, “without seam,” one complete and indivisible whole, so that what He did for one He did for all—and not merely took away the guilt of original sin.
If it were true that Christ atoned for Adam’s offense, then it would necessarily follow that the government under which the human race is now placed is one which recognizes not the original curse. But such is far from being the case. From the Fall until now, all are born dead in sin, the objects of God’s displeasure. That is very evident from the teaching of Romans 3, where, in unequivocal language, the whole world is pronounced to be under condemnation, brought in “guilty before God” (vv. 10-19)—not merely a possible condemnation, but an actual one; not one which may be incurred, but which has been incurred already, and under which all are now living; and the only way of deliverance therefrom is by faith in Christ. Precisely the same representation is given in the New Testament of the condition of all when first visited by the Gospel. They are addressed as those who are sinners, lost, living beneath the curse of a broken law, for the dark background of the Gospel is that “the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18), and until the terms of that Gospel are met, men have no hope (Eph. 2:12).
The very scene into which we are born confronts us with innumerable evidences that the earth is under the curse of its Maker. “The frowning aspect of Providence which so often darkens our world and appalls our minds, receives the only adequate solution in the fact that the Fall has fearfully changed the relations of God and the creature. We are manifestly treated as criminals under guard. We are dealt with as guilty, faithless, suspected beings that cannot be trusted for a moment. Our earth has been turned into a prison, and sentinels are posted around us to awe, rebuke, and check us. Still, there are traces of our ancient grandeur; there is so much consideration shown to us as to justify the impression that those prisoners were once kings, and that this dungeon was once a palace. To one unacquainted with the history of our race, the dealings of Providence in regard to us must appear inexplicably mysterious. But the whole subject is covered with light when the doctrine of the Fall is understood. The gravest theological errors with respect alike to the character of God and the character of man have arisen from the monstrous hypothesis that our present is our primitive condition, that we are now what God originally made us” (J. Thornwell).
11. Its Transmission
In introducing this aspect of our subject we cannot do better than set before the reader what A. A. Hodge pointed out are “the self-evident moral principles which must ever be certainly presupposed in every inquiry into the dealings of God with His responsible creatures. (1) God cannot be the Author of sin. (2) We must not believe that He could consistently with His own perfections create a creature de novo (anew, originally) with a sinful nature. (3) The perfection of righteousness, not bare sovereignty, is the grand distinction of all God’s dealings. (4) It is a heathen notion that the ‘order of nature’ or ‘the nature of things’ or ‘natural law’ is a real agent independent of God, limiting His freedom or acting with Him as an independent concause in producing effects. (5) We cannot believe that God would inflict either moral or physical evil upon any creature whose natural rights had not been previously forfeited.
“State the two distinct questions thence arising, which, though frequently confused, it is essential to keep separate. First, How does an innate sinful nature originate in each human being at the commencement of his existence, so that the Maker of the man is not the cause of his sin? If this corruption of nature originated in Adam, how is it transmitted to us? Second, Why, on what ground of justice, does God inflict this terrible evil, the root ground of all other evils, at the very commencement of personal existence? What fair probation have infants born in sin enjoyed? When, and why, were their rights as new created beings forfeited? It is self-evident that these questions are distinct and should be treated as such. The first may possibly be answered on physical grounds. The second question, however, concerns the moral government of God and inquires concerning the justice of His dispensations. In the history of theology, of all ages and in all schools, very much confusion has resulted from the failure to emphasize and preserve prominent this distinction” (0utlines of Theology).
The “why” has been discussed by us at some length in preceding chapters: the guilt of Adam’s offence was imputed to all his posterity because he served as their covenant head and federal representative. Since they were legally one with him, the punishment passed upon him falls on them too, involving them in all the dire consequences of his crime. One of the most terrible of those consequences is the receiving of a sinful nature, which brings us to consider the “how” of the great human tragedy. We do not propose to make any attempt to enter into a philosophical or metaphysical inquiry as to how God can be the Creator and Maker of our beings (Job 31:15), the “Father of spirits” (Heb. 12:9), and yet not be the Author of the sin now inherent in our natures. Rather shall we confine ourselves to an examination of the bare facts which Scripture presents thereon. Nowhere in the Word is the pollution of fallen man ascribed unto the Holy One, rather is it uniformly attributed unto human propagation, that by natural generation a corrupt offspring is begotten and conceived by corrupt parents.
It was a Divinely instituted law of the original creation that like should produce like, as plainly appears in that word “whose seed is in itself” (Gen. 1:11, 12), and that oft-repeated expression “after his kind” (vv. 21, 24, 25), and that law has never been revoked—as the biology of every department of nature demonstrates. Hence it follows that since the whole human race sinned in its covenant head, and since every member of it receives its nature from him, when the fountain itself became polluted all the streams issuing therefrom were polluted too. A corrupt tree can bring forth nothing but corrupt fruit: since the root became unholy, its branches must also be unholy. All of Adam’s offspring do but perpetuate what began in him: from the first moment of their existence they become participants of his impurity. Though our immediate parents be the occasion of conveying a depraved nature unto their children, yet it is because that nature is derived originally from the first man. In other words, the present relation of sire and son is not that of cause and effect, but that of an instrument or channel, in transmitting the sinfulness of Adam and Eve.
In Genesis 5:3, we are told, “Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image.” That occurred after his fearful defection, and the statement is in designed and direct contrast with the declaration of verse 1: “In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him.” Adam communicated not to his descendants the pure nature which he had originally, by creation—but the polluted one which he acquired by the Fall. It is very striking to note the precise place where this statement is made in the sacred narrative: not at the beginning of Genesis 4 in connection with the begetting of Cain and Abel, but here as introducing a lengthy obituary list—showing that dying Adam could only beget mortals. The image of God included both holiness and immortality, but since Adam had lost them and become sinful and mortal, he could propagate none but those in his own fallen likeness, which had in it corruption and death (1 Cor. 15:49, 50, and cf. v. 22). The copy answered to the original. He could not beget in any other way than in his own image, for a clean thing will not issue from an unclean. A depraved parent could produce nothing but a depraved child.
Born in Adam’s fallen likeness, not only in substance but in qualities also, all of his posterity are but a continuous repetition of himself. Remarkably is this intimated in the opening verse of that Psalm which has for its theme the awful depravity of the human race. As J. Owen pointed out, “there is a peculiar distinguishing mark put upon this Psalm, in that it is found twice in the Book of Psalms. The fourteenth and fifty-third Psalms are the same, with the alteration of one or two expressions at most. And there is another mark put upon its deep importance in that the Apostle transcribed a great part of it in Romans 3. That Psalm opens with the statement, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” The careful reader will have noticed that the words “there is” have been supplied by the translators, and we consider unwarrantably so in this instance. The fool says not “in his head” there is no God, but rather “in his heart—no God” for me: I decline allegiance to Him. It is not intellectual unbelief denying the existence of Deity, but the enmity of a rebel who refuses to practically own or be in subjection to God.
“The fool hath said in his heart—no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works” (Psa. 14:1). Most significant and noticeable is that change of number in the pronouns, though for some strange reason it appears to have escaped the notice of the commentators—at any rate none whom we have consulted makes any reference thereto. As stated above, the verses which follow give a full description of the deplorable condition of all mankind, and that is prefaced with a statement about “the fool.” Nor is there the slightest difficulty in identifying him. Were we to ask our readers carefully to ponder and answer the question, Who is the fool of all fools? we believe they would unanimously reply, Adam, for none has ever acted so madly and wickedly as he. This is confirmed by the fact that the Hebrew word for fool in Psalm 14:1, and 53:1 is nowhere else prefaced by the definite article—some render it “The apostate.” Adam was the arch-fool: his heart had become not only devoid of wisdom, but filled with hatred against it. Such was now the father of our race, and what could his children be like? Our verse answers, “they are corrupt,” and prove themselves to be so by doing abominable works.
“Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa. 51:5). Such is the sad confession which every one of us makes. Born in the likeness of Adam as a fallen creature, all of his descendants are but replicas of himself, and since moral corruption be transmitted by him to them by a fixed constitution or law of heredity, then that corruption dates from the very beginning of their existence. Because by being Adam’s children they are depraved, it necessarily follows that they must be so as soon as they are his children. David was the son of a lawful and honourable marriage, yet from his parents he received Adam’s vitiated nature with all its evil dispositions. Note well that he was careful to intimate that it was not by Divine infusion, but by natural generation and human propagation. He mentioned it not to excuse his fearful fall, but to aggravate the same. “Had I duly considered this before, I should not have made so bold with the temptation, nor have ventured among the sparks with such tinder in my heart” (Matthew Henry). A realization that our being is horribly degenerated from its pristine purity and rectitude should make us thoroughly distrustful of self and cause us to walk most warily.
Because our very nature is contaminated, we enter the world a mass of potential wickedness, which is one reason why Job declared, “I have said to corruption, Thou art my father: to the worm, Thou art my mother, and my sister” (17:14). Hervey tells us the Hebrew word there for “worm” signifies a grub, which is bred by and feeds upon putrefaction. I commenced my existence with all sorts of impurity in my nature, with every cursed propensity to evil, with everything earthly, sensual, devilish in my mind. That depraved nature is the source of all our other miseries, the root from which proceed all evil actions. This solemn and sad fact is demonstrated by antithesis. Why was it necessary for Christ to be incarnated supernaturally, by the miracle of the Virgin birth? So that what was born of her should be “that holy thing” (Luke 1:35), which had not been the case if He had been begotten by natural generation from a man. Though this doctrine of original sin, of ante-natal defilement be purely a matter of Divine revelation, yet it explains what nothing else does, namely that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21)—in every instance, Christ alone excepted.
“The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent” (Psa. 58:3, 4). There are three indictments here made against fallen human nature. First, that from the beginning of his existence man is alienated from God, divorced from His favour, cut off from fellowship with Him. Second, that he evidences his deplorable state as soon as he enters this world, manifesting his sinfulness in the cradle. But, third, why is it that everyone turns to his own way, and the very first steps he takes are in that broad road which leads to destruction? Because his very being is poisoned and poisonous, malicious: at ill will with God and goodness, and his fellows—“hateful, and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). Our poison “is like the poison of a serpent.” The serpent does not acquire his venom, but is generated a poisonous creature. Poison, deadly poison, is its very nature from the outset, and when it bites it only acts out that with which it was born. Though its poison be hid, it is there lurking, ready for use as soon as the serpent be provoked.
“Antecedent to all trespasses and acts of sin, before any apprehension of good or evil has dawned upon our hearts, before any notion respecting God has been formed in our souls, before we have uttered a word or conceived a thought, sin—essential sin—is found to dwell within us. Bound up with our being, it enters into every sensation, lives in every thought, sways every faculty. If the senses, by means of which we communicate with the external world, had never acted—if our eye had never seen, and our ear had never heard; if our throat had never proved itself to be an open sepulchre, breathing forth corruption; if our tongue had never shown itself to be set on fire of Hell—still sin would have been the secret mistress of that world of thought and feeling which is found within us, and every hidden impulse there would have been enmity against God” (B. W. Newton). When therefore Scripture speaks of men as sinners, it refers not to their practice alone, but chiefly to their evil nature—a nature which is entailed by Adam and transmitted from parent to child in successive generations.
“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it from him” (Prov. 22:15). This foolishness is not merely intellectual ignorance, but a positive principle of evil, for in the book of Proverbs the “fool” is not the idiot, but the sinner. Deep-rooted is this corruption. It lies not on the surface, like some of the child’s habits, which may easily be corrected. That moral madness, as Matthew Henry pointed out, “is not only found there, but bound there; it is annexed to the heart.” It is rooted and riveted in him from the first breath he draws. This is the birthright of all Adam’s progeny. “A little innocent” is but the miscalled name of fondness and fancy. Said John Bunyan “I do confess it is my opinion that children come polluted with sin into the world, and that oft-times the sins of youth, especially while they are very young, are rather by virtue of indwelling sin than by examples that are set before them by others; not but they may learn to sin by example too, but example is not the root, but rather the temptation to sin.” The rod of correction (not of caprice or passion) is the means prescribed by God, and under His blessing it will prevent many an outburst of the flesh.
‘The rod and reproof give wisdom; but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame’ (Prov. 29:15). Discipline is the order of God’s government. Parents are His dispensers of it to their children. The child must be broken in, to “bear the yoke in his youth” (Lam. 3:27). Let reproof be tried first; and if it succeed, let the rod be spared (Prov. 17:10). If not, let it do its work” (C. Bridges). If parents fail to do their duty, sad will be the consequences—the “mother” only is mentioned as being brought to shame, because she is usually the most indulgent, and because she (normally) feels most keenly the affliction brought upon herself by her own neglect. But fathers, too, are disgraced. Eli gave reproof, but spared the rod (1 Sam. 2:22-25; 3:13), and paid dearly for his folly. What dishonor was brought upon David’s name and what poignant grief must have filled him because his perverted fondness brought his sons to their ruin—one palliated in the most aggravated sin (2 Sam. 14:28-33; 15:6; 18:33), another having been not even corrected by a word (1 Kings 1:5-9). As E. Hopkins said, “Take this for certain, that as many deserved stripes as you spare from your children, you do but lay up for your own backs.”
A child does not have to be taught to sin: remove all inhibitions and prohibitions and he will bring his parents to the grave in sorrow. If the child be humoured and no real efforts are made to counteract its evil propensities, it will assuredly grow more self-willed and intractable. How very far are the Scriptures from flattering us, my reader! A “transgressor from the womb” (Isa. 48:8) is one of the hereditary titles of everyone entering this world. We are transgressors by internal disposition before we are so in external acts. Because every parent is the channel of moral contagion to his offspring, they are by nature, “children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). Original sin is transmitted as leprosy is conveyed to the children of lepers (2 Kings 5:27). That is one reason why the corruption of nature is designated our “old man”: it is coeval with our beings. Our very “heart,” the center of our moral being, from which are “the issues (or “outgoings”) of life,” is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked from the first moment of its existence.
It is argued against what has been advanced above that if corruption be derived unto all men from their first parents, then all will be equally corrupt: and this is quite contrary to known fact, for we see some who are subject to no inordinate affections, respectable and law-abiding citizens. A number of answers may be given in reply to that objection, though all of them may be reduced into these two. First, though everything else being equal, such a conclusion is logical, yet even then it will not necessarily follow that all men will manifest the corruption in the same manner, nor even to the same extent. When we say “everything else being equal,” we include such things as the watchful care of pious parents, the discipline of a good education, the demands and effects of a refined environment, the positions and circumstances in which one and another may be placed; for while none of these things, nor all of them combined, can produce any change in a person’s nature, they are factors which exert an influence upon his outward conduct. Nevertheless, though one man may have less dissolute manners than another, yet his imaginations are not pure, and though his bodily lusts be under better control, he may yield more to the lusts of the mind. There are diversities in men’s lives, but original sin has the same defiling effects upon all hearts.
Second, though all men be made in the likeness of fallen Adam, God restrains—in different ways and in varying degrees, the outbreakings of the corruption which has been transmitted to them. Nowhere is the sovereignty of God more evident than in His disposing of the lot of one, and another: denying to some the opportunity to satisfy their evil desires, hedging up their way by poverty, ill-health, or putting them in isolated places; whereas others are given up to their hearts’ lusts and God so orders His providences that they fatten themselves as beasts for the slaughter. Some men’s callings draw out their sins more than do those of their fellows, so that they are subject to frequent and fierce temptations. Various dispositions are excited to action by the conditions in which they are placed: as Jacob was induced to impose upon his father by an unscrupulous mother, or as a sight of the spoils of Jericho stirred up the cupidity of Achan. It was for this reason that holy Agar was moved to pray, “Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny Thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain” (Prov. 30:8, 9).
12. Its Nature—Part 1
In our last chapter we showed how Scripture casts light upon the great moral problem of how an inherently corrupt nature originates in each child from the beginning of its existence without its Creator being the Author of sin. David declared, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa. 51:5). Carefully did he describe his depravity as innate and not created, as derived from his mother and not his Maker, that defilement is transmitted directly from Adam through the channel of human propagation. The same fact was expressed by our Lord when He said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6). In the Old Testament the word “flesh” is used as a general term for human nature or mankind: “let all flesh bless His holy name” (Psa. 145:21)—that is, all men; “all flesh is grass” (Isa. 40:6)—the life of every member of our race is frail and fickle. The term occurs in the New Testament in the same sense: “except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved” (Matt. 24:22); “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight” (Rom. 3:20)—i.e., by his own obedience no man can merit acceptance with God.
But since mankind be fallen and human nature is depraved, the term “flesh” becomes the expression of that fact, and every time it is used in Scripture in a moral sense has reference to the corruption of our entire beings, without any distinction between our visible and invisible parts—body and mind. This is evident from those passages where “the flesh” is contrasted with “the spirit” or the new nature: Romans 8:5, 6; 1 Corinthians 2:11; Galatians 5:17. When the Apostle declared, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18), he had reference to far more than his body with its appetites, namely his entire natural man, with all its faculties, powers and propensities: the whole was polluted, and therefore nothing good could issue from him until Divine grace was imparted. Again, when we find included in that incomplete list of the horrible “works of the flesh” supplied by Galatians 5 such things as “hatred, emulations, wrath, and envyings,” it is quite plain that the word takes in far more than the corporeal parts of our persons; the more so when we find that these works are set over against “the fruit of the spirit,” each portion of which consists of the exercise of some inward quality or grace.
Thus it is clear that when Christ declared “that which is born of the flesh is flesh,” He signified that that which is propagated by fallen man is depraved, that whatever comes into this world by ordinary generation is carnal and corrupt, causing the heart itself to be deceitful above all thing and desperately wicked. It is evident also from the immediate context (vv. 3-5), for what He affirmed in verse 6 was in order to demonstrate the absolute need of regeneration. Our Lord was there opposing the first birth to the new birth, and showing how imperative is the latter by the fact that we are radically tainted from the outset. All by nature are essentially evil, nothing but “flesh,” everything in us contrary to holiness. Our very nature is vitiated, and by no process of education or culture can it be refined and made fit for the kingdom of God. The faculties which men receive at birth have a carnal bias, an earthly trend, a disrelish of the heavenly and Divine, and are inclined only to selfish aims and groveling pursuits. In the most polished or religious society, equally with the vulgar and profane, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh” and can never be anything better. Prune and trim a corrupt tree as much as you will, it can never be made to yield good fruit. Every man must be born again before he can be acceptable to a holy God.
Coming more directly to our present subject, we shall now attempt to supply an answer to the still more difficult question, In what does the vitiation of man by the Fall consist, precisely what is the nature of human depravity? That is far more than a question of academic interest which concerns none but teachers of theology: it is one of deep doctrinal and practical importance, and which it behooves all of us, especially preachers, to be quite clear upon, for a mistake at this point is very liable to lead to the most erroneous conclusions and serious consequences. Such has indeed proved to be the case, for not a few who were sound and Orthodox in many other respects have answered this question in such a way as inevitably led them seriously to weaken, if not altogether to repudiate, the full responsibility of fallen man, and caused them to become hyper-Calvinists and Antinomians. We shall therefore endeavour most carefully to define and describe the present condition of the natural man, beginning with the negative side, under which will be a number of things in which human depravity does not consist.
First, the Fall does not result in the extinguishment of that spirit which was a part of man’s complex being when created by God: it did not either in the case of our first parents or in any of their descendants. It has, however, been argued from the Divine threat made to Adam, “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” that such was the case, that since Adam did not immediately die physically, he must have done so spiritually. That is certainly a fact, yet it requires to be interpreted by Scripture. It is quite wrong to suppose that because Adam’s body died not, his spirit did. It was not something in Adam which died, but Adam himself—in his relation to God. The same is true of his offspring: they are indeed “dead in trespasses and sins” toward God, from the beginning of their existence, but nothing within them is positively dead in the ordinary meaning of that word. In the scriptural sense of the term, “death” never signifies annihilation, but separation. At physical death the soul is not extinguished but separated from the body: and the spiritual death of Adam was not the extinction of any part of his being but the severance of his fellowship with a holy God.
The same is true of all his children. The exact force of the solemn statement that they are “dead in trespasses and sins” is Divinely defined for us as “being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph. 4:18). When Christ represented the Father as saying, “this My son was dead, and is alive again” (Luke 15:21), He most certainly did not mean that he had ceased to exist, but that while the prodigal remained “in the far country” he was cut off from Him, and that he had now returned to Him. The lake of fire into which the wicked shall be cast is designated “the second death” (Rev. 20:14), not in order to signify that they shall then cease to be, but because they are “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:9). That fallen man is possessed of a spirit is clear from “the Lord, which . . . formeth the spirit of man within him” (Zech. 12:1), from “what man knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of man which is in him” (1 Cor. 2:11), and from “the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7). Man was created a tripartite being, consisting of spirit and soul and body (1 Thess. 5:23), and no part thereof ceased to exist when he fell.
Second, the Fall did not issue in the loss of any man’s faculties. It did not divest man of reason, conscience, or moral taste—for that would have been to convert him into another species of being. As reason remained, he still had the power of distinguishing between truth and falsehood; conscience still enabled him to distinguish between what was right add wrong, between what was a duty and a crime; and moral taste capacitated him to perceive the contrasts in the sphere of the excellent and beautiful. It is most important that we should be quite clear at this point: the Fall has not touched the substance of the soul—that remains entire with all its original endowments of intellect, conscience and will. These are the characteristic elements of humanity, and to deprive him of them would be to unman man. They exist in the criminal as well as in the saint. They all have an essential unity in the unity of the human person: that is to say, they are co-ordinate faculties, though each has a sphere that is peculiar to itself. Collectively, they constitute the rational, moral, accountable being. It is not the mere possession of them which renders men evil or good, but the manner and motive of their exercise which makes their actions sinful or holy.
No, the Fall deprived man of no mental or moral faculty, but it took from him the power to use them aright. They were all brought under the malignant influence of sin, so that he was no longer capable of doing anything pleasing to God. Depravity is all-pervading, extending to the whole man. It was not, as different theorists have supposed, confined to one department of his being—to the will as contradistinguished from the understanding, or to the understanding as contradistinguished from the will. It was not restricted to the lower appetites, as contrasted with our higher principles of action—nor did it obtain in the heart alone, considered as the seat of the affections. On the contrary, it was a disease from which every organ has suffered. As found in the understanding, it consists of spiritual ignorance, blindness, darkness, folly. As found in the will, it is rebellion, perverseness, a spirit of disobedience. As found in the affections, it is hardness of heart, a total insensibility to and disrelish of spiritual and Divine things. The entrance of sin into the human constitution has nor only affected all the faculties, so as to produce a complete disqualification for any spiritual exercise in any form, but it has crippled and enervated them in their exercise within the sphere of truth and holiness. They were vitiated in respect to everything wearing the image of God: of goodness and excellence.
Third, the Fall has not resulted in the loss of man’s freedom of will, or his power of volition as a moral faculty. Admittedly this is a much harder point to treat of than either of the above: not because Scripture is ambiguous in its teaching, or even because it contains any seeming contradictions thereon, but because of the philosophical and metaphysical difficulties it raises in the minds of those who give careful thought thereto. Certain it is that the Fall did not reduce man to the condition of a stock or stone, or even into an irrational animal: he retained that rational power of volition which was a part of his original constitution, so that he was still able to choose spontaneously. Equally certain is it that man is not free to do as he pleases in any absolute sense, for then he would be a god, omnipotent. In his unfallen state Adam was made subservient to and dependent upon the Lord. So it is with his children: their wills are required to be fully subordinated to that of their Maker and Governor. Moreover, their freedom is strictly circumscribed by the supreme rule of Divine Providence, as it opens doors for or shuts doors against them.
As pointed out above, though each distinct faculty of the soul has a sphere that is peculiar to itself, yet are they co-ordinate, and therefore the will is not to be thought of as an independent, self-determining entity, standing apart from the other faculties and superior to them, capable of reversing the judgments of the mind or acting contrary to the desires of the heart—rather is the will influenced and determined by them. As G. S. Bishop most helpfully pointed out, “the true philosophy of moral action and its process is that of Genesis 3:6—‘And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (sense-perception, intelligence), and a tree to be desired (affections), she took and ate thereof (the will).’ ” Thus the freedom of the will is also limited by the bounds of human capabilities: it cannot, for example, go beyond the extent of knowledge possessed by the mind—it is impossible for me to cognize, love and choose any object I am totally unacquainted with. Thus it is the understanding, rather than the will, which is the dominant faculty and factor: hence, when Scripture delineates the condition of fallen men it attributes their alienation from God to “the ignorance that is in them” (Eph. 4:18), and makes regeneration to begin with “renewed in knowledge” (Col. 3:10).
The limitations of human freedom pointed out above pertain alike to man unfallen or fallen, but the entrance of sin into the human constitution has imposed much greater limitations. While it be true that man is as truly free now as Adam before his apostasy, yet he is not so morally free as he was. Fallen man is free in the sense that he is at liberty to act according to his own choice, without compulsion from without; yet, since his nature has been defiled and corrupted, he is no longer free unto that which is good and holy. Great care needs to be taken at this point, lest our definition of the freedom of fallen man clashes with such scriptures as Psalm 60:3, John 6:44, Romans 9:16, for he only wills now according to the desires and dictates of his evil heart. It has been well said that, “The will of the sinner is like to a manacled and fettered prisoner within a cell: his movements are hampered by his chains and circumscribed by the walls that confine him. He is indeed free to walk, but in a manner so constrained and within an area so bounded that his freedom is bondage”—bondage to sin.
Whether we understand by “the will,” simply the faculty of volition by which the soul chooses or refuses, or whether we regard the “will” as the faculty of volition together with all else within us which affects the choice—reason, imagination, longing—yet fallen man is quite free in exercising volition according to his prevailing disposition and desire at the moment. Internal freedom is here used in contrast with external restraint or compulsion, and where such be absent, then the individual is at liberty to decide according to his pleasure. Where the Arminian errs so seriously on this point is to confound power with “will,” insisting that the sinner is equally able to choose good as evil, for that is a repudiation of his total depravity or complete vassalage to evil. By the Fall man came under bondage to sin, and became the captive of the Devil: yet, even so, he first yields voluntarily to the enticements of his own lusts before he commits any act of sin, nor can Satan lead him into all wrongdoing without his own consent.
The natural man does as he pleases, but he pleases himself only in one direction—selfward and downward, never Godward and upward. As Romans 6:20 says of the saints while in their unregenerate state, “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.” In all his sinning man acts as a free agent, for he is forced neither by God nor Satan. When he breaks the law he does so by his own option, and not by coercion from another: in so doing he is freely acting out his own fallen nature. Thus it is a mistake to say that a bias of the mind or propensity of heart is destructive of his volition. Both must be self-moved in order for there to be responsibility and guilt, and both are self-moved. The murderer is not compelled to hate his victim. Though he cannot prevent his inward hatred by any mere exercise of will, yet he can refrain from the outward act of murder by his own volition, and therefore is he blameworthy when he fails to do so. These are indisputable facts of our own consciousness!
Fourth, the Fall has not resulted in any reduction, still less the destruction, of man’s responsibility. If all of the above be carefully pondered this should be quite evident. Human responsibility is the necessary corollary of Divine sovereignty. Since God be the Creator, since He is supreme Ruler over all, and since man be but a creature and a subject, there is no escape from his accountability unto his Maker and rightful Lord. If we be asked to define more distinctly—responsible for what?—we reply that man is obligated to answer unto the relationship which exists between him and his Creator: he occupies the place of creaturehood, subordination, utter dependency for every breath he draws, and therefore must he acknowledge God’s dominion, submit to His authority, and love Him with all his strength and heart. The discharge of human responsibility is simply the recognition of God’s rights and acting accordingly, a rendering to Him of His due. It is the practical acknowledgment of His ownership and government. We are justly required to be in constant subjection to His will, to employ in His service the faculties He has given us, to use the means He has appointed, to improve the opportunities and advantages He has vouchsafed us. Our whole duty is to glorify God.
From the above definition it should be crystal clear that the Fall did not, and could not to the slightest degree, cancel or impair human responsibility. The Fall did not change the fundamental relationship subsisting between the Creator and the creature. God is the Owner of sinful man as truly and as fully as He was of sinless man. God is still our sovereign, all we His subjects. Furthermore, as pointed out above, fallen man is still in possession of all those faculties which qualify for discharging his responsibility. Admittedly, the babe in arms and the poor idiot are not morally accountable for their actions, but, by parity of reason, those who have reached the age when they are capable of distinguishing between right and wrong are morally accountable for their deeds. Fallen man, though his understanding be spiritually darkened, is still possessed of rationality. Fallen man, though under the dominion of sin, has his power of volition, and is under binding obligation to make, every time, a right and good choice, to resist temptations and refrain from evil doing, as very human court of justice worthy of the name rightly insists.
Whatever difficulties may be theoretically involved by the fact that man’s nature is now totally depraved and that he is in bondage to sin, yet God has not lost His right to command because man has lost his power to obey. While the Fall has cast us out of God’s favour, it has not released us from His authority. It was not God who took from man his spiritual strength and deprived him of his ability to do that which is well pleasing in His sight. Man was originally endowed with power to meet the requirements of his Maker, and it was by his own madness and wickedness that he threw away his power. But as a human monarch does not forfeit his rights to allegiance from his subjects when they turn rebels, but rather maintains his prerogative by demanding that they cease their insurrection and return to their fealty: so has the King of kings an infinite right to demand that lawless rebels shall become loyal subjects. If God could justly require of us no more than we are able to render Him, it would follow that the more we enslave ourselves by evil habits, the less our liability—a palpable absurdity!
Not only is man’s responsibility insisted upon throughout the Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, but it is also asserted by man’s own conscience! Whatever quibbles the individual raises from depravity, and however he argues from his moral impotency that his deeds are not criminal, he repudiates such reasoning where his fellow sinners are concerned. When others wrong him, he neither denies their accountability, nor offers excuse for them. If he be cruelly slandered, robbed of his possessions or maltreated in his body, instead of saying of the culprit, “Poor fellow, he could not help himself: Adam is to blame,” he promptly applies to the police and seeks redress in the law courts. Moreover, when the sinner is quickened and awakened by the Holy Spirit, so far from complaining against God’s righteous demands, he freely owns himself as deserving to be eternally damned for his vile rebellion, acknowledges that he was fully responsible for the same, that he is “without excuse,” feels the burden of his guilt, and lies in the dust before God in sincere repentance.
13. Its Nature—Part 2
Under this aspect of our subject we are endeavouring to supply an answer to the questions: What is connoted by the term “total depravity”? Wherein lies the essential difference or differences between man as unfallen and fallen? Precisely what is the nature of that awful malady which now afflicts us? In the last chapter we dwelt upon what it does not consist of, showing that man has not ceased to be a complete and tripartite being, that he is in possession of that spirit which is a necessary part of his constitution; that the Fall has not resulted in the loss of any faculties of his soul; that he has not been deprived of the freedom of his will or power of volition; and that there has been no lessening of his responsibility as an accountable creature unto God. Turning now to what has resulted from the Fall, it will be found that there is here both a privative and a positive side, that there were certain good things of which we were deprived, and that there were other evil things which we derived. Only as both of these are taken into consideration can we obtain a full answer to our question.
First, by the Fall man lost the moral image of God. As briefly pointed out in the second chapter of this book, the “image of God” in which he was originally created refers to his moral nature. It was that which constituted him a spiritual being, and, as Calvin expressed it, “It includes all the excellencies in which the nature of man surpasses all the other species of animals.” More particularly what that “image” consisted of is intimated in Ephesians 4:24, and Colossians 3:10, where a detailed summary of the same is supplied, for our being “renewed” therein (at regeneration) clearly implies it to be the same Divine image in which man was made at the beginning. In those two passages it is described as consisting of “righteousness and true holiness” and the “knowledge of God.” Let us now enlarge a little upon each of those component parts.
By “righteousness” we are to understand, as everywhere in Scripture, conformity to the Divine Law. Before the Fall there was an entire harmony between the whole moral nature of man and all the requirements of that Law which is “holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12). This was very much more than a merely negative “innocence” or freedom from everything sinful, or even bias or tendency toward it, which is all that Socinians allow; namely something nobler, higher and more spiritual. There was perfect agreement and concord between the constitution of our first parents and the rule of conduct set before them, not only in their external actions, but also in the very springs of those actions, in the innermost parts of their beings—in their desires and motives, in all the tendencies and inclinations of their hearts and minds. As Ecclesiastes 7:29 declares, God “made man upright,” which refers not to carriage of his body, except so far as that shadowed forth his moral excellence. That righteousness was lost at the Fall, but is, in principle, restored at regeneration, when God writes His laws in our hearts and puts them in our minds—imparts to us a love for and relish of them, makes us willingly subject to their authority.
By “holiness” we are to understand chastity and undefilement of being. As righteousness was that which made Adam en rapport with the Divine Law, so holiness was that which rendered him meet for fellowship with his Maker. There was in him that spotless purity of nature which fitted him for communion with the Holy One, for “holiness” is not only a relationship, but moral quality too—not only a separation from all that is evil, but the endowment and possession of that which is good. Jehovah is “glorious in holiness” (Exo. 15:11), and therefore those with whom He converses must be personally suited to Himself—none but the pure in heart shall see God (Matt. 5:8). It is inconceivable that God would, by an immediate act, have created any other kind of rational and responsible being than one that was pure and perfect, the more so since he was to be the archetype of mankind. As Thornwell so aptly expressed it, “Holiness was the inheritance of his nature—the birthright of his being. It was the state in which all his faculties received their form. “That holiness was lost when man fell, but by regeneration and sanctification it is restored to the elect who are made “partakers of His holiness” (Heb. 12:10)—a principle of holiness being communicated to them at the new birth, which develops as they grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord.
By “knowledge” we are to understand the cognition of Grid Himself. As Adam’s holiness or purity of heart capacitated him to “see God” in the spiritual sense of the word, so also was he enabled thereto by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of him. As Goodwin pointed out, “Where holiness was, we may be sure the Spirit was too . . . the same Spirit (as in the regenerate) was in Adam’s heart to assist his graces and to cause them to flow and bring forth, and to move him to live according to those principles of life given to him” (Vol. 6, p. 54). It is clear from the nature of the case that since Adam was created in maturity of body he must have been created in maturity of mind, that there was then resident in him what we acquire only by slow experience. Adam was able to apprehend and appreciate God for what He is in Himself: he had a true and intuitive knowledge of the perfections of Deity, the heartfelt realization of their excellence. That knowledge of God was lost at the Fall, by Adam, and to his offspring, but it is restored to the elect at regeneration, when He shines “in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
Second, by the Fall man lost the life of God. The soul was not only made by God but for God: fitted to know, enjoy, and commune with Him—and its life is in Him. But evil necessarily severs from the Holy One, and then instead of being alive in God, the soul is dead in sin. Not that the soul has ceased to be, for Scripture distinguishes sharply between life and existence, as in “But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth” (1 Tim. 5:6). It is a moral or spiritual death, not of being, but of well-being. “He that hath the Son hath life: and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:12). To have the Son of God for my very own is to have everything that is really worth having: to be without Him, no matter what temporal things I may momentarily possess, is to be an utter pauper. “Life,” spiritual and eternal life, is a comprehensive expression to include all the blessedness which man is capable of enjoying here and hereafter. He that hath life is eternally saved, accepted in the Beloved, admitted into the Divine favour, made partaker of the Divine nature, is righteous and holy in the sight of God: he that is without “life” is destitute of all these things.
To be separated from God is necessarily to be deprived of everything which makes life worth living, for He is “the fountain of life” (Psa. 36:9), and therefore of light, of glory, of blessedness. No finite mind can conceive, still less can any human pen express, the fullness of those words “the fountain of life.” We can but compare other passages of Scripture which make known something of their meaning. As we do so, we learn that there is at least a threefold life which His people receive from God. First, His benign approbation: “in His favour is life” (Psa. 30:5). In Leviticus 1:4, it is tendered “accepted” and in Deuteronomy 30:16, “the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush.” But the verse which best enables us to understand its force is “0 Naphtali, satisfied with favour, and full with the blessing of the Lord” (Deut 33:23)—those who are favourably regarded by Him need nothing more, can desire nothing better. To have the “good will” of the triune Jehovah is life indeed, the acme of blessedness: contrariwise, to be out of His favour is to be dead unto all that is worth while.
Second, joy and blessedness of soul. “0 God, Thou art my God: early will I seek Thee . . . to see Thy power and Thy glory . . . because Thy lovingkindness is better than life” (Psa. 63:1-3). The life which His people receive from God is that which capacitates them to delight themselves in Him. Thus it was here. David had been rapt in adoration by the Divine attributes. It was the longing of his soul to have further communion with God, and this he was resolved to seek diligently, to have enlarged views of the Divine perfections and experiential discoveries of His excellence, as an anticipation of the felicity of Heaven. That he prized more than anything
else. The natural man values his life above all else. Not so the spiritual: to him God’s “lovingkindness” is better than all the comforts and luxuries of temporal life, better than the longest and most prosperous natural life. The lovingkindness of God is itself the present spiritual life of the saint, as it is also both an earnest and a foretaste of the life everlasting. It refreshes their hearts, strengthens their souls and sends them on their way rejoicing.
Thousands of his fellows are weary of life, but no Christian is ever weary of God’s lovingkindness. The latter is infinitely better than the “life” of a king or a millionaire, for it has no sorrow added to it, no inconvenience in it, no evils attendant upon it. Physical death will put a period to the earthly existence of the most privileged, but it will not to God’s lovingkindness, for that is from everlasting to everlasting. It is esteemed by the believer beyond everything else, for it is the spring from which every blessing proceeds. It was in God’s lovingkindness that the Covenant of Grace originated. It was His lovingkindness which gave Christ unto His people and them unto Him. It is by His lovingkindness they are drawn to Him (Jer. 31:3), given a saving knowledge of Him, brought to know personally the love which He bears to them. Without God’s lovingkindness life is but death. Well then may each believer exclaim, “Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise Thee”—I will revel in Thy perfections and exult in Thyself: I will seek to render somewhat of the homage which is Thy due.
Again, that life which His children receive from God consists not only in being the objects of His benign approbation, in the experiential enjoyment of His lovingkindness, but also in the reception of a principle of righteousness and holiness by which they are fitted to appreciate Him, and for want of which the unregenerate cannot enjoy Him, for they are “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18). It is clear, both from the immediate context and from the remainder of the verse, that the “life of God” there has a particular reference to holiness, for the contrary thereto appears in “that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind.” The contrast is further pointed in “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the light of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” The unconverted are wholly dominated by their depraved nature. Their minds are in a state of moral fatuity, engaged only with vain things: their understandings are devoid of spiritual intelligence, lacking any power to apprehend Truth or appreciate the beauties of virtue. Their souls are estranged from God, with an inveterate aversion from Him—their hearts are calloused, steeled against Him. Thus the corruption and depravity of the natural man are set over against the grace and holiness communicated at the new birth, here termed “the life of God.”
Third, by the Fall, man has lost his love for God. There are two cardinal affections that influence unto action: love and hatred. The one cannot be without the other, for that which is contrary to what is desired will be repellent—“Ye that love the LORD, hate evil” (Psa. 97:10). Of the perfect Man the Father said, “Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows” (Psa. 45:7). So of the triune Jehovah, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:13). It is the great work of grace in the redeemed to direct and fasten those affections upon their proper objects: when we put right our love and hatred, we prosper in the spiritual life. Fallen man differs from unfallen in this: they both have the same affections, but they are misplaced in fallen man, so that they now love what they should hate, and hate what they should love: their affections are like bodily members out of joint—as if the arms should hang down backward. To bestow their love and hatred aright is the very essence of true spirituality: to love all that is good and pure, to hate all that is evil and vile, for love moves us to seek union with and make our own, as hatred repels and makes us leave alone what is loathsome.
Now love was made for God, for He alone is its adequate and suited object: for all that is of Himself—His attributes, His Law, His ordinances, His dealings with us. But hatred was made for the serpent and sin. God is infinitely lovely in Himself, and if things are to be valued according to the greatness and excellence of them, then God supremely so, for every perfection centres and is found in its fullness in Him. To love Him above everything else is an act of homage due to Him, for who and what He is. There is everything in God to excite esteem, adoration and affection. Goodness is not an object of dread, but of attraction and delight. Now all that God required from Adam He freely furnished him with. Since he was created with perfect moral rectitude of heart and with a holy temper of mind, he was fully competent to love Him with all his being. He saw the Divine perfections shining forth. The heavens declared His glory, the firmament showed His handiwork, and His excellence was mirrored in everything around him. Thereby he realized what God deserved from him, and he was duly affected with His blessedness. His heart was filled with a sense of His ineffable beauty, and admiring and adoring thoughts of Him filled his mind, moving him to render unto Him that worship and submission to which He is infinitely entitled.
Love for God was what gave unity of action to all the faculties of Adam’s soul, for since it was the dominant principle in him, it rendered all the exercises of them as so many expressions of devotion to Him. Hence, when love of God died within him, his faculties not only lost their original unity and orderliness, but the power to use them aright. All his faculties came under an evil and hostile influence, and were debased in their action. The natural man is without a single spark of true affection for God: “But I know you,” said the omniscient Searcher of hearts to the religious Jews, “that ye have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42). Being without any love to God, all the outward acts of the natural man are worthless in His sight: “they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8), for they lack the root from which they must proceed in order for any fruit to be desirable unto Him. Love is that which animates the obedience which is agreeable to God: “If a man love Me, he will keep My words” (John 14:23). Love is the very life and substance of everything which is gratifying unto God.
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