TULIP – The First Point: (T) Total Depravity of Man

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2012
Concerning Human Corruption, the Canons of Dordt declare: “Man was originally created in the image of God and was furnished with a true and salutary knowledge of his Creator and things spiritual; in his will and heart with righteousness; and in all his emotions with purity; indeed, the whole man was holy.”

TULIP – The First Point: (T) Total Depravity of Man

Taking the Canons of Dordt as the standard, each point will be discussed, but not in the order given there, since their first point of discussion is not Total Depravity; rather, it is Unconditional Election. We will therefore designate the section and article in the section from which the quotes are taken.

Concerning Human Corruption, the Canons declare: “Man was originally created in the image of God and was furnished with a true and salutary knowledge of his Creator and things spiritual; in his will and heart with righteousness; and in all his emotions with purity; indeed, the whole man was holy” (Section III-IV, Article 1). No Scripture texts are mentioned, nevertheless, this can be supported by Genesis 1:26-27. So far, so good. They continue, noting that man was rebellious against God and “at the devil’s instigation… (Adam) brought upon himself blindness, terrible darkness, futility, and distortion of judgment in his mind, perversity defiance, and hardness in his heart and will; and finally, impurity in all his emotions” (also from Article 1). In Article 2 it is simply stated that man brought forth the same corruption on all his descendants. Later, they quote Romans 5:12,16; 6:23 as support.

In Article 3 Total Inability is defined: “Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.”

By this statement the Canons are claiming that regeneration must be granted as a gift from God before the person is either willing or able to believe! This is expanded in Articles 12, 14: “And this is regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, and the making alive…. As a result, all those in whose hearts God works in this marvelous way are certainly, unfailingly and effectively reborn and do actually believe” (Article 12). So then, “faith is a gift from God, not that it is offered for man to choose, but that it is in actual fact bestowed on man, breathed and infused into him.” God “produces in man both the will to believe and the belief itself” (Article 14).

Article 16 is careful to state: “However, just as by the fall man did not cease to be man, endowed with intellect and will, and just as sin… did not abolish the nature of the human race but distorted and spiritually killed it, so also this divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones… but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and… bends it back.”

It is now time to reflect on these statements in the light of Scripture.

Scripture agrees that when Adam and Eve sinned they brought spiritual death upon the human race, “Wherefore as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12); “and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). But, Scripture does not say that the nature of the human race was distorted and spiritually killed! How can man “not cease to be man, endowed with intellect and will,” and yet have his nature distorted and killed? Adam and Eve did not lose any part of their image of God; that is, they did not cease to exist as whole persons; what they lost was their innocence, and what they “gained” was a fleshly nature, which is noted by the Apostle Paul, even as a Christian, “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man, But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members…. So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh, the law of sin” (Rom. 7:22-25).

Scripture agrees that the definition of regeneration is “a new creature” (Gal. 6:15), “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17), and a new birth “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). But Scripture nowhere states that you must be born again before you are able to believe! Indeed, the command to believe is given to the unsaved, not to those who are already born again. I invite your attention to the following quote:

In our day certain preachers assure us that a man must be regenerated before we may bid him believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; some degree of a work of grace in the heart, being, in their judgment, the only warrant to believe. This also is false. It takes away a gospel for sinners and offers us a gospel for saints. It is anything but a ministry of free grace.

If these words were taken from a clergyman concerned about the modern resurgence of strict Calvinism, we would not wonder. However, it may come as a surprise that they are part of an extended sermon, The Warrant of Faith, preached in England in 1863 by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, one of the champions of today’s Reformed Theology!

The question Spurgeon propounded was whether the unsaved man has a warrant for believing in Christ; his conclusion was, that since every sinner is commanded to believe, “surely the man could not be condemned for not doing what he would not have been warranted in doing.” This is exactly what Jesus said in John 3:18, “He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Indeed, how can God condemn man for not believing, if as some say, man does not have the ability to believe?

Referring to Christ’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:7 “ye must be born again” one writer remarked, “And thus we have the starting point of the gospel according to Jesus: salvation is impossible apart from divinely wrought regeneration” (John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), p. 44). Though it is not absolutely clear from this statement that the writer believes regeneration comes before belief, he does say, when commenting on John 9 where Christ healed and saved the blind man, “Spiritual sight is a gift from God that makes one willing and able to believe.” Consider also his comment on John 6:44: “God draws the sinner to Christ and also gives the ability to believe. Without that divinely generated faith, one cannot understand and approach the Savior.” (Ibid, p.173). These statements surely seem to be putting regeneration (the new birth) before the ability to believe.

Another author asks, “Does the natural man have the freedom to choose to do good, to choose Jesus Christ, to come to God? The answer is unequivocally, No!” (D. James Kennedy, Truths the Transform (Old Tappan, New Jersey, Fleming H. Revell Co., 1974) p. 26). In his sermon already mentioned, Spurgeon also said, “If I am to preach the faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved, when he is saved already, being regenerated. Brethren, the command to believe in Christ must be the sinner’s warrant.”

It is also necessary to show how other Scriptures are used in this discussion. The first is Ephesians 2:1 “And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.” Thus, the argument is, dead men cannot possibly respond until they are quickened.

Ephesians 2:1 is speaking to Christians and telling them what they were and what they became as a result of regeneration. It says nothing about the sequence, that is, whether regeneration came before belief, or as a result of believing. Further, the fact that man is dead in sins can simply mean that he is totally unable to merit salvation, not that he is unable to believe and receive salvation. This death is spiritual death, not physical, nor intellectual, nor emotional death, nor is it the death of man’s will. These things would necessitate a loss of part or all of the personality in man, and there is no Scripture which says this at all! Man still has all the elements of a real person; intellect, the ability to know; sensibility, the ability to feel; and will, the ability to make both positive and negative decisions. As already stated, Adam and Eve lost their innocence, and even as Genesis 3:6 states, Eve saw that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “was to be desired to make one wise.”

Thus, there was added to mankind this dimension in the intellectual realm; man now has a conscience, “the knowledge of good and evil.”

But someone will be sure to mention 1 Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural [unsaved] 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.” However, properly translated 1 Corinthians 2:14 conveys this: “But the natural [psuchikos, soulish, or unsaved] man does not welcome [dechetai] the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness [moria] unto him, and he is unable to know them by experience [gnonai] because they are spiritually discerned [anakrinetai, to judge along].” This verse reveals that the unsaved man does not want spiritual things, he is antagonistic to them, his concept of them being foolishness. He cannot experience them because he has not the Spirit of God. All this is true, but the verse says nothing about his ability to believe! All it says is that, in his unsaved state man does not welcome, cannot experience spiritual things!

In 2 Corinthians 4:4 a careful reading will show that two important words are often overlooked or misinterpreted: “In whom the god of this age hath blinded the minds of them who believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” This verse says that Satan has blinded the unsaved, lest they believe. Two things are revealed: Unsaved minds have the capability of seeing the truth when it is presented; otherwise why would Satan find it necessary to blind their minds? Second, the word lest indicates that the Gospel would definitely shine unto them if Satan’s blinding was removed.

Scripture shows that even some of the most sinful men have a full knowledge [epignosis] of God and still reject it. This word is used in Romans 1:27-28 concerning homosexuals: “And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust toward one another…. And even as they did not like to retain God in epignosis [full knowledge] God gave them over to a reprobate mind.”

Also, in Hebrews 10:26 “For if we sin willfully after we have received epignosis [full knowledge] of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” Finally, 2 Peter 2:20-21 tells us, “For, if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through epignosis [full knowledge] of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in it, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.” Yes, the unsaved can comprehend fully the Gospel, and still not welcome nor receive it!

There is certainly a necessary work on the part of God in removing the blinding of Satan, but it is always pre-regeneration work, and is never called regeneration. This will be discussed under Point 4, Irresistible Grace.

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