11 March, 2017

Argument: “Total depravity seems to be not true, and common grace seems to be true”



“When we look at the world around us, the doctrine of Total Depravity, as taught in the Reformed confessions, (i.e. that man since the Fall is corrupt in every faculty of his being, unable to do any good, and is inclined to all evil) does not seem to be true and ‘common grace’ (i.e. a gracious operation of the Spirit, restraining sin in society) seems to be true. We all know nice unbelievers. Not all men are actual rapists and murderers. Not all men behave like Adolf Hitler. There are people whom you know, who are unbelievers, to whom you would entrust your house, your car and even your children. Does not God indeed restrain them through ‘common grace,’ so they do not kill you and steal your possessions?”




Rev. Martyn McGeown

[Source: An Answer to Phil Johnson’s “Primer on Hyper-Calvinism”]

First, we do not judge doctrine by experience. That is a recipe for disaster. What does the Word of God say? “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” (Gen. 6:5).

Let these words sink in:

“the wickedness of man was great in the earth.”

“[The] imagination of the thoughts of his heart was … evil.”

every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was … evil.”

“every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil.”

“every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

The question is not, “Do you see and observe that?” but, “Do you believe that?”

Second, do you know the heart of your kind unbelieving neighbour? If you could look into the heart of your kind, unbelieving neighbour, as God can and does, what would you see? You would see that every imagination of the thoughts of your kind, unbelieving neighbour’s heart is only evil continually. And if we could display the imagination of the thoughts of your kind, unbelieving neighbour’s heart on a large screen for you to see, you would no longer think that he was good. If we could do that with the imagination of the thoughts of your heart, we would not think you are good either.

So perhaps we think that we find “good people.” God finds none (Ps. 14:2-3; Rom. 3:10-18).

The answer, then, is not to deny total depravity; it is not to find some remnant of good in man; it is not to teach that God counteracts the natural outbreak of evil in man’s heart by a generous dose of “common grace,” so that he is less evil than he could be. The answer is that sin develops in a human being, in society and in history. Sin develops in God’s providence, not under God’s “common grace,” and sin takes time to reach its full potential.

This teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism is that “we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness” (Q. 8). The teaching is not that we actually perform every conceivable form of wickedness. Evil is like a seed in us, which has the potential to grow, but not all wicked people develop in sin in the same way. Some men are more inclined to sexual sins than others: they might develop into pornographers, adulterers or even rapists. Some men are more inclined to greed than others: they might develop into thieves, robbers, fraudsters or simply live as misers. Every one of us has a sinful nature and every one of us is capable of every conceivable sin. And each of us is totally depraved by nature.

Moreover, not all men have the same opportunity to develop in sin, because the development of sin takes time. As sin develops in a man’s life and in society, that man or that society becomes ripe for judgment. For example, Adam and Eve were totally depraved as soon as they disobeyed God in the Garden, but Adam did not immediately break out into every conceivable form of wickedness. When God declared in Genesis 15:16, “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full,” He did not mean that the Amorites were not yet totally depraved—they were—but He meant that the Amorites had not fully developed their potential for wickedness.

Take Adolf Hitler as an example. When Hitler was six years old, he was as totally depraved as he was when he died at age fifty-six. But at age six, Hitler had neither the imagination, nor the opportunity, nor the power to mastermind the Holocaust. The same is true with society: everyone from Adam and Eve onward was totally depraved, but it took over 1,600 years before the whole world was filled with violence and had reached a point where it was ripe for destruction (Gen. 6:11-13). The same is happening in our day: our society is developing in sin, man is finding new ways to sin, which development will culminate in the man of sin, at which point sin will be fully ripe and God’s wrath will be filled up.

The development of sin, as all other things, is under the sovereign control of God. God wills that sin develop in the human race and that sin reach its full potential. God does not will this because He delights in sin—He hates sin!—but because God wills that sin be seen as the dreadfully wicked thing that it is, so that He can be glorified in saving sinners from it and so that He can be glorified in punishing it.

In addition, God does restrain man’s sin, but He does not restrain sin inwardly and graciously by His Holy Spirit. God does not restrain sin in such a way that man becomes less than totally depraved or even able to do good. God restrains sin through various means—He uses the law as a restraint; He uses a sense of fear, shame, self-preservation and other motives to restrain sin; He even uses sickness and death to restrain sinners. All of these restraints act like a muzzle on a rabid dog.

But that is not “common grace.”



More to come! (DV)

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