The Total Depravity of Man by Charles Hodge

Section I. All men are sinners. The nature of man, since the fall, is depraved.

Since then the Scriptures are undoubtedly the word of God, with what reverence should we receive their divine instructions; with what assiduity and humility should we study them; with what confidence should we rely upon the truth of all their declarations; and with what readiness should we obey all their directions! We are specially concerned to learn what they teach with regard to the character of men, the way of salvation, and the rule of duty.

With respect to the first of these points, (the character of men) the Bible very clearly teaches that all men are sinners. The apostle Paul not only asserts this truth, but proves it at length, in reference both to those who live under the light of nature, and those who enjoy the light of revelation. The former, he says, are justly chargeable with impiety and immorality, because the perfections of the divine Being, his eternal power and godhead, have, from the creation, been manifested by the things which are made. Yet men have not acknowledged their creator. They neither worshiped him as God, nor were thankful for his mercies, but served the creature more than the creator. In thus departing from the fountain of all excellence, they departed from excellence itself. Their foolish hearts were darkened and their corruption manifests itself not only by degrading idolatry, but by the various forms of moral evil both in heart and life. These sins are committed against the law which is written on every man’s heart; so that they know that those who do such things are worthy of death, and are therefore without excuse even in their own consciousness.

With regard to those who enjoy a supernatural revelation of the character and requirements of God, the case is still more plain. Instead of rendering to this God the inward and outward homage which are his due, they neglect his service, and really prefer his creatures to himself. Instead of regulating their conduct by the perfect rule of duty contained in the Scriptures, they constantly dishonour God, by breaking that law. It is thus the apostle shows that all classes of men, when judged by the light they have severally enjoyed, are found guilty before God. This universality of guilt moreover, he says, is confirmed by the clear testimony of the Scriptures, which declare, There is none righteous, no not one. There is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God. They have all gone out of the way; they have altogether become unprofitable ; there is none that doeth good, no not one.

This language is not used by the Holy Spirit in reference to the men of any one age or country, but in reference to the human race. It is intended to describe the moral character of man. It is in this sense that it is quoted and applied by the apostle. And we accordingly find similar declarations in all parts of the Bible, in the New Testament, as well as in the Old, in the writings of one age, as well as in those of another. And there are no passages of an opposite character; there are none which represent the race as being what God requires, nor any which speak of any member of that race as being free from sin. On the contrary, it is expressly said, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8) In many things we all offend. (James 3:2) There is no man that sinneth not. (1 Kings 8:46) All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Hence the Scriptures proceed upon the assumption of the universal sinfulness of men. To speak, to act, to walk after the manner of men, is, in the language of the Bible, to speak or act wickedly. The world are the wicked. This present evil world, is the description of mankind, from whose character and deserved punishment, it is said to be the design of Christ’s death to redeem his people. (Gal. 1:4) The world cannot hate you, said our Saviour to those who refused to be his disciples, but me it hateth, because I testify of it that the works thereof are evil. (John 7:7) They are of the world, therefore they speak of the world and the world heareth them. (1 John 4:5) We are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. (1 John 5:19)

This however is not a doctrine taught in isolated passages. It is one of those fundamental truths which are taken for granted in almost every page of the Bible. The whole scheme of redemption supposes that man is a fallen being. Christ came to seek and to save the lost. He was announced as the Saviour of sinners. His advent and work have no meaning or value but upon the assumption that we are guilty, for he came to save his people from their sins; to die the just for the unjust; to bear our sins in his own body on the tree. Those who have no sin, need no Saviour; those who do not deserve death, need no Redeemer. As the doctrine of redemption pervades the Scripture, so does the doctrine of the universal sinfulness of men.

This doctrine is also assumed in all the Scriptural representations of what is necessary for admission into heaven. All men, everywhere, are commanded to repent. But repentance supposes sin. Every man must be born again, in order to see the kingdom of God; he must become a new creature; he must be renewed after the image of God. Being dead in trespasses and in sins, he must be quickened, or made partaker of a spiritual life. In short it is the uniform doctrine of the Bible, that all men need both pardon and sanctification in order to their admission to heaven. It therefore teaches that all men are sinners.

The Scriptures teach that the sinfulness of men is deep seated; or, consisting in a corruption of the heart, it manifests itself in innumerable forms in the actions of the life. All the imaginations of man’s heart are only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5) God says of the human heart that it is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. (Jer. 17:9) All men, by nature are the children of wrath. (Ephesians 2:3) And therefore the Psalmist says, Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5)

This corruption of our nature is the ground of the constant reference of every thing good in man to the Holy Spirit, and of everything evil, to his own nature. Hence in the language of the Bible, the natural man is a corrupt man; and the spiritual man alone is good. Hence too the constant opposition of the terms flesh and spirit; the former meaning our nature as it is apart from divine influence, and the latter the Holy Spirit, or its immediate effects. To be in the flesh, to walk after the flesh, to mind the things of the flesh, are all Scriptural expressions descriptive of the natural state of men. It is in this sense of the term that Paul says, In my flesh there dwelleth no good thing; (Romans 7:18) and that our Saviour said, That which is born of the flesh is flesh. (John 3:6)

This humbling doctrine is, moreover, involved in all the descriptions which the Bible gives of the nature of that moral change which is necessary to salvation. It is no mere outward reformation; it is no assiduous performance of external duties. It is a regeneration; a being born of the Spirit; a new creation; a passing from death unto life. A change never effected by the subject of it, but which has its source in God. Of no doctrine, therefore, is the Bible more full than of that which teaches that men are depraved and fallen beings, who have lost the image of God, and who must be created anew in Christ Jesus before they can see the kingdom of heaven.

These Scriptural representations respecting the universality of sin and the corruption of our nature, are abundantly confirmed by experience and observation. Men may differ as to the extent of their sinfulness, or as to the ill desert of their transgressions, but they cannot be insensible to the fact that they are sinners, or that they have sustained this character as long as they have had any self-knowledge. As far back as they can go in the history of their being, they find the testimony of conscience against them. As this consciousness of sin is universal, and as it exists as soon as we have any knowledge of ourselves, it proves that we are fallen beings; that we have lost the moral image of God with which our first parents were created. It is a fact, of which every human being is a witness, that our moral nature is such that instead of seeking our happiness in God and holiness, we prefer the creature to the creator. It would be just as unreasonable to assert that this was the original, proper state of man, as to say our reason was sound, if it universally, immediately and infallibly led us into wrong judgments upon subjects fairly within its competency.

The proof, that man is a depraved being, is as strong as that he is a rational, a social, or a moral being. He gives no signs of reason at his birth; but he invariably manifests his intellectual nature as soon as he becomes capable of appreciating the objects around him or of expressing the operations of his mind. No one supposes reason to be the result of education, or the effect of circumstances, merely because its operations cannot be detected from the first moment of existence. The uniformity of its manifestation under all circumstances, is regarded as sufficient proof that it is an attribute of our nature.

The same remark may be made respecting the social affections. No one of them is manifested from the beginning of our course in this world; yet the fact that men in all ages and under all circumstances, evince a disposition to live in society; that all parents love their children, that all people have more or less sympathy in the joys and sorrows of their fellow men, is proof that these affections are not acquired but original, that they belong to our nature and are characteristic of it.

In like manner the apostle reasons from the fact that all men perform moral acts and experience the approbation or disapprobation of conscience, that they have, by nature, and not from example, instruction, or any other external influence, but in virtue of their original moral constitution, a law written on their hearts, a sense of right and wrong – . But if the uniform occurrence of any moral acts is a proof of a moral nature, the uniform occurrence of wrong moral acts is a proof of a corrupt moral nature. If the universal manifestation of reason and of the social affections, proves man to be by nature a rational and social being, the universal manifestation of sinful affections proves him to be by nature a sinful being. When we say that any one is a bad man, we mean that the predominant character of his actions proves him to have bad principles or dispositions. And when we say that man’s nature is depraved we mean that it is a nature whose moral acts are wrong. And this uniformity of wrong moral action is as much a proof of a depraved nature, as the acts of a bad man are a proof of the predominance of evil dispositions in his heart. This is the uniform judgment of men, and is sanctioned by the word of God. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Therefore by their fruits shall ye know them. This illustration was used by our Saviour with the express design of teaching that the predominant character of the acts of men, is to be taken as a certain index of the state of the heart; and hence the uniform occurrence of sin in all men is a certain evidence of the corruption of their nature. Indeed there is no one act with regard to human nature, which consciousness and observation more fully establish than that it is depraved.

Excerpt from: The Way of Life, Charles Hodge, 1841

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