THE DOCTRINE OF "TOTAL DEPRAVITY"
(Lesson 10 on Bible Doctrines)
“The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if
there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all
together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Ps. 14:2,
“Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers,
children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked
the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the
whole head is sick, and whole heart faint.
From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it;
but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed,
neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” (Isaiah 1:4-6).
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one…For all have
sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10, 23).
DEFINITION OF “TOTAL
- Our English word
“depravity” is not found in the King James Bible, but the doctrine is taught
from Genesis through Revelation.
The word means perverted or crooked.
- “Depravity means
that man fails the test of pleasing God” (Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology).
- “By this we mean,
on the one hand, the lack of original righteousness or of holy affection toward
God, and on the other hand, the corruption of the moral nature, or bias toward
evil. That such depravity exists has been abundantly shown, both from Scripture
and from reason, in our consideration of the universality of sin” (Augustus H.
Strong, Systematic Theology).
TOTAL DEPRAVITY MUST BE MEASURED AGAINST
GOD’S HOLINESS (Job 42:5,6; Isa. 6:5).
- The Scriptural
doctrine of “total depravity” has suffered from many misconceptions. On one hand, most religionists
deny it by asserting that man is “good,” has the “spark of divinity” in him, and
other such nonsense.
- On the other hand,
Christians of the strong Calvinist persuasion have distorted it by insisting
that man is so “dead” in his sins and trespasses that he is unable to believe in Christ. Therefore, their doctrine of “total
inability” is not the same as the Scriptural doctrine of total depravity. According to these defenders of “God’s
sovereign grace,” man must be regenerated before he believes. But this is not taught in the
- Total depravity
does not mean that man is as bad as he can be. Rather, the doctrine of total depravity
says that man is as bad off as he can
- “The Scriptures
recognize the fact, which experience abundantly confirms, that men, to a greater
or less degree, are honest in dealings, kind in their feelings, and beneficent
in their conduct. Even the heathen, the Apostle teaches us, do by nature the
things of the law. They are more or
less under the dominion of conscience, which approves or disapproves their moral
conduct. All this is perfectly
consistent with the Scriptural doctrine of total depravity, which includes the
entire absence of holiness; the want of due apprehensions of the divine
perfections, and of our relation to God as our Creator, Preserver, Benefactor,
Governor, and Redeemer” (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology).
- “The doctrine of
depravity has to do, not with man’s estimation of man, but rather with God’s
estimation of man. We are the
heirs of generations of the teaching of evolution which sees man in an
ever-ascending spiral, rising higher and higher from the depth from which he has
sprung, until finally he will reach the stars. So widely accepted is that concept that
we have come somehow to feel that there is so much good in the worst of us that
man is not so bad off after all.
When we measure man by man, we can always find someone who is lower than
we are on the moral or ethical scale, and the comparison gives us a feeling of
self-satisfaction. But the
Scriptures do not measure men by man; they measure men by God who has created
them” (J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which
Become Sound Doctrine).
THE HUMAN RACE IS CONDEMNED WITHOUT
CHRIST (I JOHN 5:19)
- The doctrine of
total depravity has to do not so much with man’s conduct as with man’s
state. It has to do not so much
with man’s behaviour as with his condition (Rom. 3:9-23).
- “But the scripture
hath concluded all under sin” (Gal. 3:22). To be “under sin” refers to the
sinful nature all men have inherited. The principle of “the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25) and “the law of sin and
death” (Rom. 8:2) operates through all mankind and is especially evident in the
behaviour of the unregenerate.
- Man is not only
guilty of personal sins, and therefore under God’s judgment, but man has within
him a fallen, sinful nature that prompts and produces these personal sins (Gal.
- Unless man repents
of these sins and turns to Christ, he will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev.
Pastor James Barker