Total Depravity: or a Total Inability to Spiritual Good

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?  I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins…”

Jer. 17:9-10

“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Gen. 6:5

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.  They are all gone out of the way…”

Rom. 3:10-12

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Subsection

Natural vs. Moral Inability

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Order of Contents

Statement of the Issue & Reasons
Articles
Early Church
Quotes
Contra Romanism

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Statement of the Issue & Reasons

Peter van Mastricht

Theoretical-Practical Theology  (RHB), vol. 3, bk. 4, ch. 2

section 25, pp. 462-63

“…the Reformed customarily distinguish on the one side a fourfold good with which a person can be occupied in his choice, namely: (1) natural good, walking, reasoning; (2) moral good, the exercise of some sort of civil virtue; (3) ecclesiastical good, to which sort belong the duties of external divine worship; and (4) a spiritual and saving good, which accompanies salvation (Heb. 6:9)…

With these things posited, they determine that…  In the state of grace, through regeneration he recovers the strength lost by sin for doing spiritual and saving good, yet with some sort of a surviving inclination to evil…

in the state of sin [being unconverted], to him is present some sort of strength toward natural, moral, and ecclesiastical good, but absolutely none for spiritual and saving good.”

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section 26, p. 463

“…not only was original righteousness taken away on account of the fall, but by the same stroke the entire nature of man was so morally corrupted as regards the intellect, the will, the affections, that by nature he is blind in respect to all spiritual truth, likewise incompetent for any spiritual good, and prone to all evil in respect to his will.

These are the chief reasons of the Reformed:

(1) Scripture declares that man is dead in sin (Eph. 2:1, 5; Matt. 8:22; 1 Tim. 5:6; Rom. 5:12), yet death pertains to nature.

(2) All of man’s faculties are said to be corrupted: a blind intellect (Eph. 4:18), which does not perceive the things that are of the Spirit, and considers them as foolishness (1 Cor. 2:14–15), a will averse to spiritual good, enmity toward God, which does not subject itself to the divine law, neither indeed can it (Rom. 8:7), an impure conscience (Titus 1:15), distorted affections (Gal. 5:24; Rom. 7:5), members (Rom. 6:19), the whole man entirely corrupted (Isa. 1:4, 6), the flesh, the fleshly man, the old man.

(3) We are said to be alienated from the life of God, that is, from the divine, spiritual, and heavenly life (Eph. 4:18), and destitute of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).

(4) We are all said to be under sin (Rom. 3:9ff.).

(5) There is made known in us a total powerlessness toward spiritual good (Jer. 13:23; 2 Cor. 3:5; Rom. 7:14–25).”

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Articles

1600’s

Davenant, John – ‘Free-Will is Not Granted to the Unregenerate for their Spiritual Good’  in The Determinations, or Resolutions of Certain Theological Questions, Publicly Discussed in the University of Cambridge  trans. Josiah Allport  (1634; 1846)  bound at the end of John Davenant, A Treatise on Justification, or the Disputatio de Justitia...  trans. Josiah Allport  (1631; London, 1846), vol. 2

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1800’s

Hodge, Charles

The Total Depravity of Man  1841  in Way of Life

15. ‘Inability’  23 pp.  in Systematic Theology, vol. 2, Part II, ‘Anthropology’, ch. 8, ‘Sin’, pp. 257-279

Atwater, Lyman – ‘The Power of Contrary Choice’  1840  in Princeton Theological Essays, pp. 250-264

Atwater was an old school presbyterian and professor at Princeton Seminary.  The first two pages are very helpful on distinguishing the point at hand.  Atwater delineates five senses of the power of contrary choice that are not in debate.  The 6th sense is that which Atwater hangs the issue.  Atwater defends the necessitarianism of Jonathan Edwards.

Alexander, Archibald – ‘The Inability of Sinners’  1831  in Princeton Theological Essays, pp. 265-284

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The Early Church

Ussher, James – ‘Of Free Will’ & ‘Of Merits’  †1656  being chs. 11 & 12 of Answer to a Jesuit with Tracts on Popery, pp. 445-505

In the context against Romanism, Ussher surveys the early Church’s teaching on the Will and the nature of the freedom and inability therein.

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Quotes

Augustine

“The will is free, but only to evil.”

“Man, by  making a bad use of his free will, lost both himself and it.”

“God requires of us what we cannot perform, in order that we may know what we ought to ask from Him.”

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Synod of Dort

The Canons of Dordt, Head 3/4, Article 2

“There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior.

But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him—so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society.  Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness.  In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God.”

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Peter van Mastricht

Bk. 3, ch. 9, section 39

“The image of God which we have spoken about neither completely perished through sin, nor completely survived from sin.  Therefore it remains in some measure (Gen. 9:6; James 3:9; 1 Cor. 11:7, where without doubt the topic is not the past state, but the current one).  It remains, I say, to the extent that it consists: (1) in the very nature of man, of the body and soul. (2) In the natural faculties of the soul, in the intellect and will.  (3) In certain gifts of the intellect and will, insofar as among the worst is still seen some use of reason, and also some propensity to good, even moral good (Rom. 1:19; 2:15; 1 Cor. 5:1).  Furthermore, (4) in at least some remnants of original dominion (Gen. 7:2). God willed all these bits of his own image to survive in us from the fall, first so that they may be witnesses of his own most undeserved goodness toward us…”

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ed. van Asselt, Bac, Velde, Reformed Thought on Freedom: the Concept of Free Choice in Early Modern Reformed Theology, 2010, p. 15

“Being faced with the choice between good and bad, only rightly willing was taken to be properly free [by the Reformed scholastics].  A will in bondage to sin was denied to be free, though it acted freely in its own choice to sin.”

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Contra Romanism

Peter van Mastricht

.Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 3, bk. 4, ch. 2

section 26, pp. 463-4

“It is asked, sixth, whether original sin consists only in the privation of original righteousness…  The papists certainly acknowledge an original righteousness, but one which was not natural to man, but a supernatural gift, like a certain golden bridle, conferred upon natural man to restrain the conflict between the flesh and the spirit.  So that they may obtain that the things natural to man, among which is free choice, have remained unwounded by the fall of our first parents, and likewise so that they may hold to this conflict between the flesh and the spirit, or the concupiscence of the flesh against the spirit, and thus that, such conflict notwithstanding, in this life man can be morally perfect, they state that original sin does not consist in anything but the privation of original righteousness, through which the spirit, in the conflict with the flesh, devoid of the assistance of original righteousness, contracted a languor through which it cannot as promptly and successfully repress the attacks of the flesh.

The opinion of the Reformed with their reasons.
The Reformed on the contrary, because they believe that original righteousness was natural, that is, owed to a morally intact nature, state that not only was original righteousness taken away on account of the fall, but by the same stroke the entire nature of man was so morally corrupted as regards the intellect, the will, the affections, that by nature he is blind in respect to all spiritual truth, likewise incompetent for any spiritual good, and prone to all evil in respect to his will.”

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section 27, pp. 465-6

“7. Is original corruption seated only in the lower part of our soul?…

The papists, especially the Jesuits, so that they might hold that the higher part of the soul, as they say, in which is the free choice, was unwounded by corruption, and also so that they might obtain that concupiscence is not sin, and accordingly, that notwithstanding concupiscence, a person can be perfect in this life, state that original corruption is only in the lower part of the soul, that is, in sensuality, in concupiscence, in the rebellion of the lower forces.

And of the Reformed with their reasons

The Reformed on the contrary refer original corruption not only to the lower faculties of the soul, but also to the higher faculties, and indeed more so to the higher than to the lower.

(1) the apostle expressly refers corruption to the mind in 1 Timothy 6:5, “the mind of corrupt men,” and in Colossians 2:18, “puffed up by the mind of his flesh.”

(2) Christ claims that evil thoughts, envy, and blasphemy are from the heart (Mark 7:21), without a doubt from the intellect and will. Moreover,

(3) Paul attributes to the flesh its own φρόνημα, wisdom (Rom. 8:7), and such a wisdom by which the natural man does not perceive those things which are of the Spirit, and indeed considers them as foolishness (1 Cor. 2:14), which undoubtedly pertains to the intellect, and does not subject himself to the divine law, which concerns the will. Let me add

(4) that the body, or the flesh and sensuality, does not drag the spirit along, but the spirit drags along the body, and accordingly corruption inheres rather in the spirit, or in the higher faculties, than in the flesh or lower faculties, as the papists say (Gen. 8:21).”

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“Life to the lost, to the dead, could come from no other source than the eternal life itself.”

“We bring…  not only our sins, but our sinfulness to Christ.”

John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan

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Related Pages

Regeneration