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ESSAYS ON THE TRUTHS AND ERRORS OF
Essay III. Orthodox View of Total Depravity. In speaking of the fall of man, we necessarily anticipated somewhat the doctrine of Total Depravity. Still, we must say something further on this doctrine, because it is so important in the church system: it is, indeed, at its foundation. Those who accept, in its strictness, the doctrine of Total Depravity, cannot avoid any point of the severest Calvinism. Schleiermacher has shown, in his “ Essay on Election, that this latter doctrine necessarily follows the doctrine of Total Depravity: for, if man is wholly depraved, he has no power to do any thing for his own conversion; therefore God must do it. And if some are converted, and not others, it must be because God chooses to convert some, and does not choose to convert others.
Let us look, then, at what Orthodoxy says of the extent of human depravity. In all the principal creeds, this is stated to be unlimited. Man's sin is total and entire. There is nothing good in him. The Westminster Confession and the Confession of the New-England Congrega
tional churches describe him as “dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body." Other creeds use similar language.
In considering this theory, we are struck at first by the circumstance, that the Bible gives it very little support. The Bible continually speaks of man as a sinner; but there are very few texts which can, without straining, be made to seem to teach that he is totally depraved. Let us examine a few of them.
FIRST PROOF-TEXT. A text often cited is Gen. vi. 5,- the reason given for. destroying the human race, in the time of Noah, by the Deluge:
“ And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” But this seems to be a description of the state of the world at that particular time, not of its character in all ages. It is not a description of man's natural condition, but of an extremely degenerate condition. If the state of the world here described was its natural state, it would rather be a reason for not having created the race at first; or, if it was a reason for destroying it, it would, at best, seem to be as strong as one against creating it again. If a man plants a tree in his garden, whose nature he knows is to produce a certain kind of fruit, it would seem bardly a good reason for cutting it down, that it produced that kind of fruit: certainly it would not be a good reason for cutting it down, and planting another of precisely the same kind in its place. The reason why the race of men was destroyed was, that it had degenerated. But there were some good even then ; for in the ninth verse we are told that “ Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generation, and walked with God.”
SECOND PROOF-TEXT. There is another passage, in the fourteenth Psalm, whi is quoted by Paul in Rom. iii. : “ There is none righteous no, not one: there is none that understandeth, none tha seeketh after God. They have all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good ; no, not one. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
This passage is relied on to prove total depravity. But we may reply, that,
1. This also is a degenerate condition, not a natural one. It was a condition into which men had fallen, not one in which they were born. "They have all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable.” It does not, therefore, apply to men universally, but to men in those particular times. It is
2. It was not true of all, even at that particular time. It was not true of David himself, that he did not seek after
before God”? I think he means to say, that, as this is said to Jews, it proves that Jews as well as Gentiles are very guilty. He is addressing the Jews, who boasted of their knowledge of the law. Chap. ii. : “Behold, thou art called a Jew,” &c.
THIRD PROOF-TEXT. Jer. xvii. 9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”
Supposing that we are to take this as an unlimited expression, and not as a strong declaration of the wickedness of the Jews, it still does not prove total depravity of the nature, but merely that of the affections of “the heart.” Man's nature has other things beside desire: it has conscience, reason, and will; and it does not follow that these are also depraved.
FOURTH PROOF-TEXT. Rom. viii. 7: “ The carnal mind is enmity against God.”
This does not prove that the mind of man, in his natural state, is enmity, but in its carnal state; that is, when subject to fleshly desires. Nearly the same phrase is used in the verse before; and is translated, “ To be carnally minded is death."
FIFTH PROOF-TEXT. Eph. ii. 3: “We were, by nature, children of wrath, even as others.”
“ Children of wrath” means exposed to God's displeasure on account of our sins. We are naturally so, out of Christ; for we have pardon by Christ.
“By nature" does not necessarily mean as human beings, or that our natural constitution makes us children of wrath. “Nature” means external position, origin, race. So (Gal. ii. 15), “ Jews by nature.” So, too (Rom. ii. 27), “ Uncircumcision, which is by nature.”