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Total Depravity

We now turn our attention in this third article to the first letter of TULIP the letter which represents the truth of Total Depravity.  Is it not unbelievable that our mother church, the Christian Reformed Church, could deny a truth as clearly scriptural and which is experienced by every child of God?  In 1924 that church gave birth to what is known as the Three Points.  Point 3 reads as follows:  “Relative to the third point which is concerned with the question of civil righteousness as performed by the unregenerate, synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confessions the unregenerate, though incapable of doing any saving good, can do civil good.  This is evident from the quotations from Scripture and from the Canons of Dordrecht, head 3, 4, article 4 and from the Netherlands Confession, Article 36, which teach that God without renewing the heart so influences man that he is able to perform civil good; while it also appears from the citations from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed Theology, that our Reformed Fathers from ancient times were of the same opinion.”

Let us understand the implication and thrust of this third point.  The question if not whether the unregenerate sinner can perform natural good.  We mean the following.  An unregenerate man can surely bake good, wholesome bread.  A sinner can be a very able and proficient farmer; can learn all about farming at an agricultural college.  There are surely wicked surgeons and dentists who do their work well.  This, however, is the thrust of this third point:  the unregenerate sinner can do what is good, in civil life, in the sight of God.  He can, in things earthy, do spiritual good.  He can do things in this civil life which meet with God’s approval.  It is not true of him that he always sins.  Fact is he does so much good that he often puts a child of God to shame.  He often “out-goods” the child of God.  This is the theory of Common Grace.

The Arminian, emphasizing the universal love of God and the general atonement of Christ, must, we should understand, deny total depravity and maintain that the sinner, without the renewing of the heart, can do good before God.  The Five Points of Calvinism, represented by TULIP, are inseparably connected and related to each other.  They either stand or fall together.  This is also true of the Five Points of the Remonstrant’s.  The Arminians, in 1610, drew up their own five points of doctrine.  This explains why we have five heads of the doctrine in our Canons, our fathers’ answer to the five points of the Remonstrant’s or Arminians.  We repeat:  The Arminians must deny the doctrine of Total Depravity.  If we believe in the universal love of God and in conditional predestination, then we must believe in universal atonement, that Christ dies for all men, head for head.  Then we must believe that God gives all men whom He desires to save, the opportunity to be saved.  Then we must believe in a general well-meaning offer of salvation.  However, if we believe this, then we must deny man’s total or absolute depravity.  It surely does not make sense to offer salvation to a dead sinner.  One may just as well go to a cemetery and offer life to the dead buried there.  We must command the sinner to repent.  But an offer of salvation implies a general love of God and a salvation dependent upon the will of the sinner. Ant it is simply folly to offer salvation to a dead sinner.  This explains why the Arminian must teach that the sinner is able to accept the offer of salvation.  So, he must deny the doctrine of absolute depravity.

Total or absolute depravity – is it scriptural?  It surely is!  We refer, first of all to Matt. 6: 17-18 and James 3:11-12.  Please look up these passages and others to which we will refer.  We understand that this corrupt tree surely refers to the natural, unregenerate man.  Notice that Jesus teaches here, not only that a corrupt tree does not bring forth good fruit, but that is cannot bring forth good fruit.  For a corrupt tree to bring forth good fruit is impossible.  And James tells us that same thing in the passage mentioned above.  He asks the question:  “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?”  And then he writes:  “Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries, either vine figs?  So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.”  Notice:  it is impossible for the fountain to send forth at the same time sweet water and bitter.  It is impossible for the fig tree to bear olive berries and for a vine to bear figs.  No fountain can yield both salt water and fresh.  It is either or.

I now refer to Matt. 7: 21-23.  The Common Grace theorists love to speak of the unregenerate sinner who performs much good in the sight of God, and that the Lord approves of these works.  Now notice what we read in these verses.  Would you not expect the Lord to speak approvingly of these people mentioned here?  Jesus here is surely not speaking of the scum and off scouring of society, but of the elite.  He is speaking here of those who have prophesied in Christ’s Name, who have cast out devils in His Name (the devils of drunkenness, debauchery and immorality) and who have done many wonderful works in His Name.  These are surely society’s elite who have done all within their power to make this world a better place in which we live.  These are the noble in society, the people to whom others look up, of whom they speak with respect.  These are surely the people who, according to the theory of Common Grace, perform much good in the middle of the world.  But what does Jesus say to them?  This: I never knew you.  And this implies that they never knew Him.  And notice, too, that He calls them workers of iniquity. Did they do good?  No! They only perform iniquity.  A very devastating passage as far as they are concerned who deny men’s total depravity and speak of his goodness before the Lord.

Another passage to which we now call attention is Romans 8: 6-8.  Read very carefully also this Word of God.  The carnally minded here is the natural man; man without God’s regenerating grace and the Holy Spirit.  Notice the following:  to be carnally minded is death; the natural man is dead.  Then, the carnal mind is enmity against God.  Paul does not simply say that the sinner hates God.  But he writes that the carnal mind, what we are of ourselves, is enmity against God.  That is his being.  And then he writes: “for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”  And he concludes:  “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”  Can you conceive of a more devastating scripture than this Word of God?  Is it, therefore, not amazing that a church, such as our mother’s church, can teach the very opposite, deny this Word of God, and teach that a sinner, without the renewing of the heart, is able to perform what is good in the sight of God?

Many more passages can be quoted.  Notice what we read in Eph. 2:1-5.  Here are apostle teaches us that we were dead in trespasses and sins, that we all had our conversation (walk) in the lusts of the mind, that we were by nature the children of wrath, even as others, that we were quickened when we were dead in sin.”  And we can also refer to Ps. 14:1-3 and Ps. 53:1-3.

Yes, many more passages can be quoted.  Read, too, what we read in Rom. 3:10-19 and Rom. 5: 12,17.  By one man sin entered the world and death by sin.  This also includes spiritual death.  We are dead, wholly devoid of all life.  Even the holiest Christian here has but the smallest principle of the new obedience.  John writes in the first of his epistles (1 John 1:18) that if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and truth is not in us.  If the holiest Christian has but the smallest principle of the new obedience, what can we say of that sinner who is without the regenerating grace and Spirit of God and of Christ Jesus?  What can we say?  Surely this:  he does not have even the smallest principle.

Is this truth important, this truth of our absolute depravity?  Indeed! It is important, first of all because it is the teaching of Holy Writ.  That means that it is important because it comes to us from the living God Himself.  And, secondly, it is also important for us from a personal, subjective point of view.  The righteous need not a physician.  He that is whole does not go to a doctor.  But, if we are conceived and born dead in sins and in trespasses, then we are hopelessly lost in ourselves and whatever we are as children of God we are by the grace of God alone.  Then all our salvation is from God alone, through Jesus Christ, His Son our Lord.  Then He is worthy of all praise and adoration to Him, then, be all the glory and praise, even forever.