Total Depravity, also known as Radical Corruption. This is opposed to the partial depravity of Arminianism, which attempts to marry the doctrine of man having an inborn sin nature to the concept of him having a free will. Total depravity does not mean that every man is as bad as he can be; but instead it means that every facet of his heart and mind has become inherently corrupted by the fall, so much so that man is too sinful to ever want to repent of his sin and turn to God of his own accord. It also means that man’s will is not free but in bondage to sin; and so, if he is ever given over to more fully express the desires of his heart, this will only result in greater manifestations of his depravity and never in repentance from sin and humble faith in Christ. Therefore, not only is man’s will not free, but God is also at work to restrain it from plunging into the hidden depths of its corruption:
Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Psalm 53:1-5; 58:3-5; 110:3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Isaiah 64:6-7; Jeremiah 13:23; 17:9; Matthew 7:11; John 3:19-20; 6:44,65; 8:34,47; 10:26-27; Romans 1:18-32; 3:9-19; 6:17; 8:7-8; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:1,3,5; Philippians 2:13; 2 Peter 2:14.
The doctrine of total depravity is of tremendous importance. It is not as though any doctrine taught in the Word of God could be called trivial by anyone who fears the Lord, but there are doctrines which have greater weight than others, owing to the consequences of believing otherwise.
Free will: presupposed and imposed upon the Scriptures:
As noted above, the alternative doctrine of total depravity is the partial depravity of Arminianism, which is the teaching that man’s will is actually free, being neither restrained by nor from anything. The ultimate reason for the existence of this doctrine is not owing to a robust and honest study of the Scriptures. Rather, it exists so as to entertain a view of God which is more palatable to human reasoning; for if man is truly unable to choose to turn to God of His own accord, how can God who made man justly condemn him? The very same question is anticipated, asked, and then rebuked by the Apostle Paul, under divine inspiration:
“Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called…” (Romans 9:19-24)
This is the chief objection against the doctrine of total depravity. To our carnal minds it seems unfair, and incompatible with a just and loving God, to presciently create both people and circumstances wherein the people would inevitably inherit such a damning inability. If man cannot will to repent of sin and turn to God in faith, the wisdom of the flesh concludes that God must, therefore, be unrighteous. “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?” (Romans 9:14)
Other objections that are mistakenly seen to prove partial depravity or free will theology include quotations of Scriptures wherein sinners are commanded to repent and believe. The thought here is that any command given to man implies or proves his ability to obey what is commanded. This is a presumption, and it is very clearly denied by the Word of God. For instance, the Lord says:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Compare this with:
“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44)
According to Jesus Christ, no man has the ability to come to Him. He must be drawn, or as it is in the Greek, dragged. But note carefully that this “him” who is drawn, is the same “him” whom Christ will raise up at the last day. You will not be drawn but end up being cast down. This means that we must not entertain the argument that Christ draws every single man because they cannot come without help, but then with His help, they might or might not come to Christ of their own accord. That is merely an elaborate way of getting around what Jesus actually said. This drawing is not some ineffectual wooing which is subject to man’s volition, meekness, or wisdom. It is an effectual calling. It is literally a dragging. The same Greek word (ἑλκύω: helkuō) is used in James 2:6 and is there also translated as draw; and it would be an obvious case of eisegesis to say that it there means anything but an effectual bringing; and so it must be in John 6:44. Therefore, John 6:44 proves that men have a universal unwillingness to obey Matthew 11:28 (cf. John 3:19-20); and therefore it is true that God does indeed command of us things which we are unable to do. Seeing as how this cannot but seem unjust to the carnal mind, men have misinterpreted the Scriptures so as to form an understanding of God which is more palatable to them, rather than submitting to the wise and inspired command of Solomon:
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Total depravity proved by Scripture:
Now that some of the presumptions of free will theology have been shown false, we will move on to establish the truth of the doctrine of total depravity.
Most who claim to believe the Bible, whether synergistic or monergistic, would agree that man is inherently sinful. However, Pelagianism teaches a truly and completely free will in a manner distinct from that of the Arminian position. Arminianism teaches that man has been inherently corrupted by the fall, whereas Pelagianism completely rejects Scripture on this point of doctrine. But in either case, the Bible’s teaching on the subject is that man’s will is most wilfully in bondage to sin, and there is no desire whatsoever to be free of that bondage which they see as the freedom to do whatever they want. But that is exactly the point. Man has a will and he can choose. He can choose to do anything whatsoever that appeals to him. He is in no way restrained from choosing anything at all that he may desire. If he wants something, he may most freely assent unto it. So where does the Calvinist differ from the Arminian on this point?
As I have stated, Arminianism teaches that man has become inherently corrupted by the fall, inheriting an inborn sin nature from Adam’s transgression, which is what we learn in Romans 5:12-19. Calvinism completely affirms this statement also. Where we differ is that Calvinism acknowledges all of what Scripture teaches on man’s fallenness in Adam. We will now look at the doctrine of total depravity in Scripture, but first, we will consider again the definition which I gave in the first paragraph of this article, which reads:
“Total depravity does not mean that every man is as bad as he can be; but instead it means that every facet of his heart and mind has become inherently corrupted by the fall, so much so that man is too sinful to ever want to repent of his sin and turn to God of his own accord. It also means that man’s will is not free but in bondage to sin; and so, if he is ever given over to more fully express the desires of his heart, this will only result in greater manifestations of his depravity and never in repentance from sin and humble faith in Christ. Therefore, not only is man’s will not free, but God is also at work to restrain it from plunging into the hidden depths of its corruption.”
Concerning the points that every man is not as bad as he can be, and that his will is in bondage to sin, we see in Romans 1:24-32 that God is restraining the indwelling wickedness of man from its fullest expression. This is communicated to us in that God says concerning certain people that He “gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts” (v.24), and then what follows from this verse unto the end of the chapter is the inevitable result of God giving a man over to the lusts of his own heart; which is the relentless pursuit of vile affections, gross sexual immorality, and many other sins. Nowhere in this passage is repenting of sin or turning to God in faith mentioned or even hinted at. If man’s will was actually free then there would be no difference between those whom “God gave over to a reprobate mind” (v.28), and those whom He did not. Though man has a conscience, which is the work of the law written on his heart (Romans 2:15); and though he can and does take moral actions because of that conscience; yet man’s desires apart from that common grace of conscience are base and depraved; and insofar as God does not restrain men from this corruption, they will most definitely and wilfully plunge themselves into the uttermost depths of depravity without ever the slightest inclination to righteousness.
But what of a sinner’s ability to repent and turn to Christ in faith? Does the Word of God speak clearly to this one way or another? We have already looked at John 6:44 which shows man’s inability to come to Christ, but we will now turn our attention to some other Scriptures.
The true state of man’s will:
Jesus’ words in John 3:19-20 speak of man’s total depravity with abundant clarity:
“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”
The reason for man’s inability to come to Christ is that he is unwilling to do so and he loves sin. Man has an inability to be willing. This pronouncement of Christ is universal; a dogmatic statement which defines every person to whom He applies it. First of all, we will consider the extent of Christ’s application:
He says “men loved darkness” and “every one that doeth evil.” Both verses are speaking of the same people. The second phrase is particularly important. Whomever of the sons of Adam do evil, Christ’s words here define every single one of them without exception. Jesus said that “men loved darkness rather than light” and “every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light.” According to Genesis 6:5, 8:21, Psalm 53:1-5, 58:3-5, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Jeremiah 13:23, 17:9, Matthew 7:11, and Romans 3:9-19, every descendant from Adam (excepting Christ alone) does evil. In and of himself, man wills nothing whatsoever that is wholly righteous. It is only by the common grace of God that man does anything resembling righteousness.
These two verses, therefore, cannot be affirmed by anyone holding to free will theology, and they must be eisegeted by every single person who wills to keep believing in synergism. For we know from Scripture that Christ is the light (John 1:4-9; 8:12; Hebrews 1:3); and we know that whatever Jesus is saying, of whomsoever He is saying it, it is universally applicable and true of every single one of them. Therefore, it is true that every descendant from Adam (excepting Christ alone) hates the Lord Jesus and does not come to Him; “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light” (John 3:20).
The carnal mind:
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” (John 3:6-7)
The carnal mind is that with which we were all born. Whatever dispositions, proclivities, and inabilities Scripture says it is bound by, it is bound by. We will now look at some of these.
“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7-8)
Notice here, the carnal mind is enmity against God. Enmity is an active state of hostility, hatred, or ill will towards someone; and this is the unwavering disposition of the carnal mind against God. Moreover, the carnal mind “is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be;” and so, the Scriptures here teach us of a definite inability for the minds of men, and a damning one at that. And further still, we read here that man has yet another inability: “they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” How can a man repent and believe on Christ if he cannot please God? Luke 15:10 and Hebrews 11:6 make it clear that repentance and faith are pleasing to God. Man cannot please God, in and of himself. Therefore you should not marvel that Christ said unto you “ye must be born again.” For immediately following that declaration, Christ answered Nicodemus’ question, “How can a man be born when he is old?” (John 3:4), not by saying repent and believe, but with this monergistic statement:
“The wind bloweth where it listeth (wishes/pleases), and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
The wind blows wherever it wishes. In this manner is a man born again. The Spirit gives life to whomsoever He wishes, as in the vision of Ezekiel 37, and Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 4:6 and Ephesians 2:1,5. Which brings us to Romans 8:9, which immediately follows the two verses we have just considered:
“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.”
The reason why you must first be born again is that you were born in the flesh with the carnal mind. The flesh is enmity against God; it is not subject to His law, neither indeed can be; it is unable to please God; it hates the Lord Jesus and refuses to come to Him, loving sin rather than Him; and it also regards the Gospel as foolishness and will not receive it, nor can the flesh know it:
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)
If the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, how is it that so many say that man is perfectly capable of receiving the Gospel? Is the Gospel carnal, or spiritual? Is it not the most spiritual thing that we can know? But man, except he be quickened unto spiritual life, cannot even know such things according to this verse, proving yet another inability for the carnal mind. Again, the Lord Jesus’ words are pivotal:
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” (John 3:6-7)
Why this is important:
In this day and age, particularly in Europe and America, the great commission is being slighted and neglected by the overwhelming majority of those who call themselves Christians. Truth is fallen in the streets. Most professing believers who call themselves evangelists, or who reckon that they share the light of the Gospel, are so far off the mark. Sharing the Gospel (as Scripture defines such an undertaking) has been usurped by a great many things. Flash mobs telling everyone that Jesus loves them. Interpretive dance and drama. And soup-runs wherein the proclamation of the Gospel is discouraged, and those conducting them often proudly say how they do not “cram religion down people’s throats”, by which they really mean, they do not believe in the power of the Gospel to save anyone; and they reckon their own works to be of more value and power than “the power of God unto salvation”, which is an inspired declaration of what the Gospel is, given in Romans 1:16. There are also many who seem to be a little more traditional in that they hand out tracts, holds signs, converse with those who pass by, and sometimes preach aloud; but instead, their preaching, conversions, and tracts consist of a watered down gospel which never compels anyone to count the cost of following Christ, and says nothing of repenting of one’s sin, and would never dare to make anyone feel the least bit uncomfortable; requiring only that you ask Jesus into your heart, which is nowhere in Scripture or Church history used by any saint to draw any sinner unto salvation. Revelation 3:20 does concern Jesus knocking on the heart of one who has never believed, but rather it does concern a congregation who have grown cold, but who already profess the name of Christ. Many more things besides these unbiblical practices are usurping the preaching of the Gospel.
The reason for this is that most who call themselves Christians know nothing of the power of God to convert sinners, many of themselves being unconverted. And even of those who are converted, most of them have been taught the unscriptural notion of man’s free will. Therefore they believe that we need only twist man’s will through a few simple little hoops that really aren’t all that difficult; whereas truly coming to Christ (as we have seen throughout this article) is so profound and completely against the natural grain of man that he must first be quickened from the dead (Ephesians 2:1,5); He must be born again (John 3:3-8); and He must be created in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:10); three monergistic terms that simply are not respected by synergists. They are all the miraculous work of God which, by their very nature, can accommodate absolutely no assistance from sinners. A dead man cannot cooperate with his resuscitation; nor can a baby assist with his delivery; neither can one who has yet to be created assent unto being created. These are all monergistic miracles which, in the context of salvation, prove that Calvinism/monergism is correct: God alone, without cooperation or assistance from us, saves us, by His own will and power, and to His own glory.
The Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16), and “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). We were as the very dry bones lying dead in the valley in Ezekiel 37. The Word of God preached by a mere man echoed through that valley and failed to even so much as shake our dead bones. But when the wind, representing the Spirit of God, blew through the valley and over our dead bones, life was imparted unto them. And so, we were quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins, even through the preaching of a message which we considered to be foolishness.
“For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:21)
It is an utterly hopeless thing to preach to dead men, and yet this is the very thing which the Lord commands us to do. We are hoping for a living response from dead men. And if left to rest upon dead men, our hopes will be crushed. But our hope is not founded upon the meekness of will of any sinner to repent and believe. We do not look to any virtue in any sinner. Our hope is instead founded upon God and His power and sovereignty to open the hearts of those who hear the preaching of the Gospel, that they may attend unto those things spoken to them by preachers, as happened to Lydia in Acts 16:14. If anyone receives the Word of God as the Word of God, we owe thanks to God alone, for such is always the work of God; see 1 Thessalonians 2:13; cf. Philippians 1:29; 2:13.
My assertion that synergism and free will theology cause the cessation of Gospel preaching is not true in every case. For example, John Wesley boldly proclaimed the Gospel, and much more besides have done so, and many more continue to do so to this day. Many synergists do not dress up the Gospel to make it more palatable to sinners. But although it is not true in every case that synergism will cause the preaching of the Gospel to be replaced with flash mobs, interpretive dance, drama, preachless soup runs, and watered down easy believist carnality comforting foolishness; yet the theology of free will has lead to this point, and is chiefly responsible for the current state of affairs. For if you truly believe man to be as dead in sin as the Word of God teaches him to be, and if you truly believe that only God can save men by turning sinners to Himself, and if you truly believe that God has ordained the preaching of the Gospel (as defined by Scripture) as the only means to accomplish this salvation, and if you truly believe that all other methods of evangelism (which are notably absent from the great commission) are impotent follies, then you will see no other option but to preach the true Gospel, pray to God for His power to apply it, and glory in Him alone whenever any sinner repents.