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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. M. Pendleton
From Christian Doctrines: A Compendium of Theology, 1878
Adam, though created holy, did not remain in that state, but by voluntary transgression fell therefrom, bringing ruin on himself and his posterity. His sinful nature is propagated by ordinary generation; and the propagation had an early beginning, for it is said of Adam that he "begat a son in his own likeness, after his image." (Gen. 5:3) This declaration is specially worthy of notice in view of the fact that "God created man in his own image." (Gen. 1:27)
Had Adam remained in his state of innocence, no doubt his children would have been born as he was created, namely, in the moral image of God. But he sinned, and humanity, becoming poisoned in its source, has only transmitted poisonous streams through all generations. Paul, assuming as true the universal corruption of human nature, refers to "the children of disobedience," and says, as we have seen, that himself and the members of the church of Ephesus had formerly a place among them: " Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others." (Eph. 2:3)
Children of wrath are children of sin, and if we are by nature children of wrath, we are by nature children of sin. Man's wretched condition as a sinner, and his con-sequent need of a Saviour, are also clearly taught in the following portion of Scripture:
"For we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; 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, they are together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God." (Rom. 3:9-19)
This is a very severe indictment of the human race, for it includes Jews and Gentiles, the two divisions of the race, and declares all guilty before God. Every mouth is stopped in view of the just sentence of condemnation pronounced by the law. This is what is usually called the moral law, the only law whose jurisdiction extends to "all the world." It is manifest that the foregoing scripture teaches man's condemnation and his depravity. He is condemned because he has transgressed the law of God, and the justice of the sentence of condemnation is not undeniable that his "mouth is stopped;" that is, he can give no reason why the sentence should not be executed.
As to man's depravity, it is clearly seen in his not seeking after God. He does not seek after God, because he does not love him; and not to love God is the essence of depravity. When the throat is declared to be an open sepulchre the repulsive corruption of the heart is indicated. An open sepulchre sends forth from a putrefying corpse the most offensive effluvia.
What, then, must be the state of man's heart when his throat, which gives vent to what is in his heart, is "an open sepulchre"? When the tongue uses deceit, it is because the heart is deceitful; when the poison of asps is under the lips, there is always poison in the heart; when the mouth is full of cursing and bitterness, the cursing and bitterness are first in the heart; and when the feet are swift to shed blood, it is the heart whose murderous impulses give swiftness to the movements of the feet.
The heart is the seat of depravity. What says Jesus the great Teacher?—"For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man." (Mark 7:21-23) What a corrupt, polluted thing the natural heart is! How imperative the necessity of a new heart if man is to be saved! Salvation must have an indispensable connection with a change of heart.
Now, to show that man needs a Saviour, it is only necessary to show that he cannot by anything he can do remove the obstacle out of the way of his salvation. These obstacles may be termed legal and moral. The former are embraced in condemnation, and the latter are comprehended in depravity. These topics require distinct and earnest discussion:
1. Condemnation. I use this term to denote man's just exposure to the curse of the divine law. The wrath of God abides on him. The curse of the law is a righteous curse, and the wrath of God is righteous wrath. This will be seen if we consider that "the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good." (Rom. 7:12) It must, then, be a transcript of the moral excellence of the divine character.
All that is meant by holiness, justice, and goodness belongs to the law, and it is therefore a perfect law. It is scarcely necessary to say that it has a penalty, for this is characteristic of all law. Divested of penalty, law would become mere advice, which might be taken or rejected at pleasure. If penalty belongs to law, the better the law, the severer should its penalty be. The reason is, the better the law, the stronger the motives to obedience and the greater the guilt of disobedience.
It follows, therefore, that the very perfection of God's law requires that there shall be embodied in its penalty a righteous severity, of which all our conceptions are probably very inadequate. If penalty as well as precept is a part of God's law, then both are "holy, and just, and good." That is, we are not at liberty to apply these epithets to the precept and withhold them from the penalty. They are as applicable to the one as to the other. If the "holy, and just, and good" precepts of the law are transgressed, the transgressor exposes himself to the "holy, and just, and good" penalty of the law. The penalty, being a righteous one, should be executed, unless something can be done to render its remission consistent with righteousness. Can man do this? If so, it must be accomplished by what he does or by what he suffers, or by a combination of doing and suffering.
As to doing, it is clear that nothing can be done by man in the way of atoning for his sins, unless he is able to do more than the divine law requires, so that the superfluous obedience of the present and the future may make up for the failures of the past. But is superfluous obedience a possible thing? Obviously not; for "the first and great commandment" of the law says, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength." (Mark 12:30) If all the strength that man possesses is to be expended in the love and service of God, it is manifest that he can do no more than this. All is all. His obedience must be continuous, filling up the measure of every moment.
If for the present moment and every future moment of his life his obedience is perfect, he only meets the obligations of duty—does nothing more; and what does Jesus say?—"So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do." (Luke 17:10) This passage at once and for ever explodes the idea of a sinner saving himself by his own merit. There can be no merit on the part of a sinful man, unless he can do more than his duty, which is impossible. Suppose man, however, to do all his duty from this hour to his dying hour, still the government of God holds him justly chargeable with all the sins of his past life.
What is to be done with them? What disposal is to be made of them? Man cannot dispose of them at all, for he can do nothing with them. He cannot change the past, nor can he bring God under obligation to change it. He is under the penalty of the divine law, and can do nothing that will so honor the law as to justify the remission of its penalty. Release from condemnation by man's works is plainly impossible. "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight." (Rom. 3:20)
What, then, is to be said of suffering? If man cannot save himself by doing, can he save himself by suffering? It is needless to speak of the sufferings of this world, for they are a very small part of the penalty of the law. Eternal death is the truly awful part of the penalty. “This we have seen in what was said of the fearful words, "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Gen. 2:17) The same truth is taught in Rom. 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
There can be no consistent interpretation of this passage which does not make the life and the death equal in duration, for the death is in direct contrast with the eternal life. Now, if the penalty of the law involves the eternal death of the sinner, and if eternal death involves eternal suffering, then it is clearly true that man by suffering cannot release himself from the condemnation which rests on him. The suffering will be commensurate with eternity, and we can form no idea of anything which outreaches eternity. How, then, can the suffering of a creature make it either proper or possible to remit the penalty of the law when the exhaustion of the penalty requires eternal suffering?
We may surely conclude that man, neither by doing nor suffering, can save himself from condemnation. If the doing by itself is insufficient, and if the suffering by itself is insufficient, it needs no argument to show that the doing and the suffering combined are insufficient. It follows that the legal obstacles in the way of man's salvation cannot be removed by man. He rests under the condemnation of the law, and there he must remain forever if there is for him no deliverance but self-deliverance. How sad is man's state! He is justly condemned, and utterly helpless in his condemnation. The thunders of the divine law roll over his head and strike terror to his soul, but he can do nothing to silence those thunders He must hear them forever, unless salvation shall come from a source outside of himself. This is the only ground of hope.
2. Depravity. It has been said that in depravity are comprehended the moral obstacles in the way of man's salvation. Man, in his natural state, is the enemy of God. I use the term in its widest sense, as embracing the whole human race. We have seen that, according to the inspired utterances of Paul, Jews and Gentiles were involved in the miseries of a common apostasy. His argument is that the Gentiles, though less favored than the Jews, had sufficient knowledge of God and of their relation to him to leave them without excuse for their idolatry.
More than this: their idolatry was not the cause, but the effect, of their depravity. For the sake of illustration, it may be said that depravity was the moral disease under which they were laboring, while idolatry was but a symptom of the disease. To the Jews, with their superior advantages, Jesus said, "Ye are of your father the devil," and "I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you." (John 8:44; 6:42) In all ages and in all climes the carnal mind has been "enmity against God."
Whether man is totally depraved has often been the subject of theological discussion. In discussing any question, the first thing to be done is to ascertain the precise meaning of the terms in which it is expressed. If by "total depravity " it is meant that man is as bad as he can be, the doctrine receives no human illustration; for the Bible represents wicked men as becoming "worse and worse." Nor can we suppose that fallen angels, and the chief of them, Satan himself, are as bad as they can be. They are, doubtless, in a state of progressive moral deterioration—growing worse and worse as in character they become less and less like God. "Total depravity" in this sense of the phrase has no exemplification on earth or in hell.
The correct meaning of "total depravity" is entire destitution of holiness. Man is totally depraved in the sense that there is in his heart no love to God. We see in many unregenerate persons an exhibition of amiable qualities and social virtues which renders them desirable neighbors and useful citizens, but there is in them no spark of holiness. The influence of many things that they say and do may be beneficial to society, and even to the world at large, but they do nothing with a view to the glory of God. They are not prompted by the high and holy motive which the Bible recognizes and approves. The reason is they do not love God, and therefore care not for his glory. Who can ask for a stronger argument to prove man's total depravity, than the fact that he is totally destitute of love to God, and, consequently, totally destitute of holiness?
The depravity of man shows itself everywhere on the face of the wide earth. In civilized and in savage climes—where intelligence triumphs and where ignorance reigns—where despotism forges its fetters and where all men are free—"from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same"—man is a depraved creature. He may leave the land of his birth, sail across the sea, and wander over foreign realms, but wherever he goes or wherever he stays he has within him a sinful and a corrupt heart.
Now, the question is as to the counteraction and the removal of this depravity, which has alienated man from God. Will man himself start some counteracting process? He does not wish his depravity counteracted. He will make no effort to remove his moral corruption, for he does not desire its removal. He is satisfied with the state of his heart, and lives according to its inclinations. He is the voluntary slave of sin, and is therefore pleased with the slavery. Here, too, we may see that if man could save himself from condemnation—a thing, as we have seen, impossible—he would, under the impulses of his depravity, sin again and fall once more into condemnation. In short, if he could remove the legal barriers out of the way of his salvation, the existence of moral barriers would render certain the creation of other legal barriers.
Such is the powerful dominion of depravity over the heart of man, that it can never be broken by influences originating within the heart itself. They must come from without if they come at all. Man, being not only a sinner, but in love with sin, does not wish to be holy. He cannot desire holiness while he takes pleasure in sin; and even if he had all the "ability" that has ever been claimed for him, it is morally certain that he would not exercise it.
It is as unreasonable as it is unscriptural to expect sinful creatures to act in opposition to the prevailing inclinations of their hearts. Hence I argue that man cannot remove the moral obstacles out of the way of his salvation. They are as incapable of removal by human agency as are the legal obstacles already considered. Truly, man is in a state of ruin, from which he is utterly powerless to save himself. Self-help is impossible. We know what self-ruin means, but we shall never know what self-salvation is.
In view of the considerations now presented, it is as clear - as the sun in heaven that man needs a Saviour.
This is his great need. All other necessities are trivial as compared with the necessity of salvation. Man needs a Saviour to do for him what he cannot do for himself He is in moral darkness, and needs spiritual illumination; he is in a condemned state, and needs justification; he is the captive of Satan, and needs deliverance; he has a depraved heart, and needs regeneration.
The heading of this article—"Man Needs a Saviour”— would only torment him before the time if there were no Saviour. Indeed, it would be the refinement of cruelty to remind man of his urgent, perishing need, without telling him how that need can be supplied. There is a Saviour. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." (I Tim. 1:15) It is my business to call attention to the person and work of the Lord Jesus, showing that he is the very Saviour that man needs, the "only-begotten Son," whom God gave "that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)