Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How "total" is our depravity?

God only knows the vileness of the human heart. There is a depth beneath, a hidden spring, into which we cannot pry. In that lower depth, there is a still deeper abyss of positive corruption which we need not wish to fathom.

God grant that we may know enough of this to humble us, and keep us ever low before him! Yet hold, Lord, lest we should yield to despair, and absolutely lie down to die under the black thought of our alienation from righteousness, our naturalization in sin, and the deplorable tendency of our heart to rebel more and more against thee, the faithful and true God! Show us not all our wretchedness. . .

I have often been startled when I have found in my heart the possibilities of iniquity of which I thought I never could have been the subject, in reveries by day or in dreams of the night. All at once, a blasphemy foul as hell has started up in the very middle of offering a prayer so earnest that my heart never knew more fervor. I have been staggered at myself.

When God has called us into the pulpit,—we thought, at one time, we never could be proud if God so honored us,—this has seemed to quicken our step in the black march of our depraved heart. Or, when a little cast down and troubled in spirit, we have wished to leave the world altogether, and have been like Jonah, trying to flee to Tarshish that we might not go to this great Nineveh at our Lord's bidding. Little did we reckon that there was such cowardice in our soul. We have thus found out another phase in our own nature.

Does any man imagine that his heart is not vile? If he be a professing Christian, I much suspect whether he ought not to renounce his profession; for, methinks, any enlightened man, who sincerely looks to himself, and whose experience leads him somewhat to lock within, will surely find, not mere foibles, but foulness that literally staggers him. I question the Christianity of that man who doubts whether there are, in his soul, the remains of such corruption as drown the ungodly in perdition; or whether, though a quickened child of God, he hath another law in his members, warring against the law of his mind.

What! hath he no such battle within that the things he would do he often doeth not, while the things that he would not do he often doeth? Hath he no need to be in constant prayer to God to deliver him from the evil in his heart that he may be more than a conqueror over it at last? I do assert, once more, and I think the experience of God's children beareth me out, that, when we shall be most advanced, and when we come, at last, to sit down in God's kingdom above, we shall find that we have not learnt all that there is to be learnt of the foulness of our nature, and the desperateness of our soul's disease.

"The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds and bruises, and putrefying sores." "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" "Cleanse thou me from secret faults." "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

Perhaps, if we knew more of this terrible evil, it might imperil our reason. Hardly could it be possible for us to bear the full discovery and live. Among the wise concealments of God, is that which hides from open view the depravity of our heart, and the corruption of our nature.

-C.H. Spurgeon
H/T: Pyromaniacs


Edward said...

Okay so Matt, let me lay things out so that I'm sure we understand one another here.

(Yes, I'm not "letting you off the hook so easily," but I know you'd do the same for me, and I appreciate that facet of your personality.)

Anyway, so here's how I think we're coming at it. In your estimation, when humanity falls, morally they can no longer either will or do that which is good. God then chooses certain people to have faith in Christ. This faith in Christ (which is itself divinely imparted) allows a person to enter a state of justification. In justification, a person is both declared morally righteous from the standpoint of the judgment(if not exactly made so in the instant) and becomes free to will and to perform acts which are morally good.

I believe that implicit in your opinion is the understanding that the essential problem of humanity is one of God's justice. In the fall, humanity comes under a kind of moral guilt (or at least an irresistible predisposition to moral guilt) and this guilt builds a wall of separation between God and man. If God, who is undeniably holy, is to live in fellowship with his creatures, they too must be holy, and it is not merely enough that they become purely good, a penalty must be paid for previously committed offenses. Therefore these creatures, unaided by Christ, cannot offer any meaningful restitution to expunge their guilt before God's justice.

The essential problem that you have with my rejection of total depravity is that it seems to open the door for a sort of "alternate route to salvation." If man is in any way free to pursue good, then he could theoretically continuously reject evil from his nativity, thus building an undeniable bridge to God by his own good works. God could not reject such a one as unjust, because (unless you believe also the Augistinian doctrine of original guilt) he would in fact not be unjust. By the power of the freedom of his own will, this person might dispense with the moral need for Christ.

I hope I have in fact portrayed your opinions and beliefs well. If I have portrayed them wrongly, I sincerely apologize and would request a fuller picture in your own words. I do want to hear you out on this matter (as on most matters).

Now in my take on it things are a little different. The essential problem that humanity has in the aftermath of the fall is not one of being guilty before God (though this is also a problem). The heart of the problem is the reality of death. While by God's grace human beings do not become totally morally distorted in the fall (they may will to do either good or evil), they are still bound by the penalty that God pronounced beforehand on Adam. Human beings enter existence under the penalty of death. And this death is not merely a coming physical eventuality, it is a present spiritual reality which prevents people from attaining the spiritual love for and oneness with God for which we were created.

Again, the problem is not one ultimately of morality, because at this stage in the game morality is a moot point. A person could theoretically only perform actions which were morally good and in line with God's intention for human actions, but still not have life in himself or relationship with God. Morality is good, but dead is still dead.

So you see that in my estimation, whether or not unregenerate human beings remain free to will and do things which are good is of no consequence: there is no way to work oneself to salvation in some way independent of relationship with God. Salvific life is not a matter of being simply declared good enough for heaven.

However, the residual freedom of the will does mean one thing: human beings both can and must work in conjunction with God in order to attain salvation. This does not mean that the work is not accomplished by God (first, dead man cannot bring himself to life, and second, a human cannot unilaterally be in relationship with God - such a thought is in fact completely irrational).

Fundamentally, I accept this view because it seems to me to be in line with the greater witness of Scripture. God continuously treats people as though they can accept or reject him (and his ways). If they cannot accept him without further grace, why treat them as though they have the choice?

Anyway, I have to go to bed, got a big day of temp work ahead of me tomorrow... :-(

Matt Perkins said...

wow man, thanks for all the work you put into that post! It was a good read and I think you articulated my thoughts pretty well. I'm off to class but I'll try to respond later. Hope the temp work was fun.