Part II: Crystallization of the Theology
optimism which characterized the period immediately prior to
World War I, reflected in the writings of H. G. Wells and many
others, and which originated in the Age of Enlightenment when
Rousseau wrote imaginatively about the noble savages of North
America living without the encumbrance of debasing civilization,
has disappeared almost entirely. Man is no longer seen as perfectible.
Despair has overtaken the humanist idealism of those days, and
sin has come to be recognized as a depressing fact of life. The
depravity of man is no longer questioned except by a few blithe
spirits whose feet are in the clouds and whose dreams for society
are about as unrealistic as it is possible to imagine. Nevertheless
we still have among us a few ministers of the "Gospel"
who have high expectations for the supposed innate goodness of
man, but the children of this world are wiser in their own generation.
On the other hand, psychiatrists
like Karl Menninger tell us that man is sick and that the root
of his sickness is a basic depravity of human nature that has
to be reckoned with. T. H. Huxley, Darwin's great defender, was
wiser than those who followed him when he said:
It is the secret of the
superiority of the best theological teachers to the majority
of their opponents that they substantially recognize these realities.
. . . The doctrines of original sin, of the innate depravity
of man . . . appear to me to be vastly nearer the truth than
the literal, popular illusions that babies are all born good,
and that the example of a corrupt society is responsible for
their failure to remain so, that it is given to everybody to
reach the ethic ideal if he will only try . . . and other optimistic
Would that we
heard this today from the pulpit! Louis Berkhof speaks eloquently
on this issue: *
Sin is one of the saddest but
also one of the most common phenomena of human life. It is a
part of the common experience of mankind, and therefore forces
itself upon the attention of all those who do not deliberately
close their eyes to the realities of human life. Some may for
a time dream
* Berkhof, Louis, Systematic Theology,
Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1949 reprint , 4th revised
and enlarged edition, p.227.
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of the essential goodness of man and
speak indulgently of those separate words and actions that do
not measure up to the ethical standards of good society as mere
foibles and weaknesses, for which man is not responsible, and
which readily yield to corrective measures; but as time goes
on, and all measures of external reform fail, and the suppression
of one evil merely serves to release another, such persons are
They become conscious of the fact
that they have merely been fighting the symptoms of some deep-seated
malady, and that they are confronted not merely with the problem
of sins, that is, of separate sinful deeds, but with the much
greater and deeper problem of sin, of an evil that is inherent
in human nature. This is exactly what we are beginning to witness
at the present time.
only one kind of circumstance to bring this deeply rooted malady
in human nature to the surface. That circumstance is the acquisition
of power over others. Most men have very little power over others
which is absolute. We all have some power, but it is so circumscribed
and hedged about by social restraints of one kind or another
that very few have the opportunity to learn what would happen
to themselves if these restraints were removed. But recent history
has amply demonstrated what people are capable of in their treatment
of fellow men when they are given absolute power to do with them
what they will. People who seemed cultured, restrained, law-abiding,
and considerate of others have been converted into beasts to
the surprise of the civilized world ‹ and perhaps to their
own surprise, if the truth were known. The Nazi concentration
camps were often administered by people who spent their spare
time listening to classical music or surrounding themselves with
great works of art. But any disappointment they may have felt
in themselves seems to have been short-lived as they took increasing
delight in the infliction of pain and injury upon others. Dostoyevsky,
in his Brothers Karamazov, tells how at one period in
Russian history, girls whose social behaviour was considered
immoral in the extreme were punished by severe flogging. He points
out a curious fact the authorities had discovered, that when
young unmarried men were given the responsibility for inflicting
the punishment upon these outcasts of society, they almost always
ended up by marrying their victims. It is as though some deep-seated
satisfaction came to them in the fulfillment of their "duty,"
so deep-seated that it led to permanent attachment to their victim.
More recent history under Stalin in particular has shown that
if man's power over his fellows extends far enough to allow him
the privilege not merely of punishing severely but of utterly
destroying, then he will utterly destroy both them and himself
in the process. It is because we are externally restrained in
our self-expression that the power to do some good remains with
us, even as it did with Dostoyevsky's young men. Since then,
we have seen ample evidence that when there are no restraints,
human behaviour becomes altogether evil and degraded. Solzhenitsyn
observed this and wrote about it eloquently in his
description of the Russian
detention camps under Stalin. The cruelty of men seems to have
been directly proportional to their power.
Recent Russian history, and Nazi history
before that, abundantly justifies the statement made by Lord
John Acton in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887: "Power
tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." And
D. R. Davies in his masterful study of raw human nature under
the title Down Peacock's Feathers points out that in America
before the introduction of slavery, there were many high-minded
people who protested against it. But once it had become a fait
accompli these same people not infrequently became the most
inhumane among slave owners. Given power over their fellow men,
they discovered within themselves evil impulses of which they
had been previously unaware.
Perhaps one of the most profound
evidences of the sinlessness and incorruptibility of the Lord
Jesus Christ lies in the fact that although his power was absolute,
He remained absolutely uncorrupted by it. He had power over life
(He cursed the fig tree and it died ‹ Matthew 21:19), and
He had power over death (He called Lazarus forth from the grave
‹ John 11:43, 44). He had power to heal every conceivable
kind of sickness, and He had power over men who would have taken
Him and murdered Him because of their hatred: He merely walked
untouched through their midst (John 8:59). He had authority,
that "something" which seems to be essentially rooted
in the morality of man, which enabled Him to challenge the evil
institutions of his day (as when He cleansed the temple ‹
Mark 11:15‹18) and no man lifted a hand against Him. He had
power to forgive sins and He had power to condemn. He had moral,
physical, social, and intellectual authority over men, such as
has never been observed in any single individual before or since
that time. He towered above mankind, and still does. This is
not literary fiction: such a figure cannot be invented. Yet He
remained totally uncorrupted. The absolute power which elevated
Him to the very heights of heaven degrades fallen man to the
very depths of hell.
Herbert Butterfield, the Oxford
historian, adds his warning to those who attempt to understand
human history while ignoring the effects of the Fall. He says,
"What history does is to uncover man's universal sin."
And subsequently, "We create tragedy after tragedy for ourselves
by a lazy unexamined doctrine of man which is current amongst
us and which the study of history does not support." (1) He points out that it is
the restraints of culture that prevent human nature from showing
itself as it really is, or at least prevent some men from appearing
as bad as they really are. Other men are not so prevented, and
increasingly more and more people are showing their true colours
as the restraints of society break down. "In some cases,"
Butterfield writes, "human nature looks better than in others
because it can go through
1. Butterfield, Herbert, Christianity and
History, London, G. Bell & Sons, 1950, p.45, 46.
life without being subjected
to the same test." And he remarks by way of illustration
that if we had no rules of the road, a nasty side of human nature
would make its appearance among motorists more often than it
does at the moment. Human nature needs only opportunity to declare
itself for what it is.
is widely agreed that man is depraved. But how depraved? Totally,
or only very seriously? Was human nature merely injured by the
Fall, as Roman Catholic theologians would say, or completely
ruined, as the Reformers would say? Has this fatal injury been
communicated to every individual by inheritance, or does each
individual start with a clean sheet, as Pelagius argued, becoming
sinful only by example? Has human nature been severely corrupted
but not so severely that the grace of God cannot co-operate with
the spark of human goodness which has not quite died, as Arminians
believe? Or is man hopelessly, totally depraved, his nature so
corrupted through the Fall that the whole motivation of his life
is evil, being self-centered and rebellious against God? Is man
truly a total moral catastrophe?
Definition of Total
Is man then only sick but in a
humanly curable way; is he injured by the sad example of society
but capable of being good if given the opportunity; or is he
spiritually dead ‹ his nature utterly ruined, his will free
only to sin, his understanding darkened, and his heart a heart
Then what of all the evidence in
history of human kindness, restraint, mercy, self-sacrifice and
nobility? And what of human creativeness, of beauty in handiwork,
of truth in thought, of success in the harnessing of Nature?
Are all these illusory? What does "Total" Depravity
mean in this context? Isaiah 1:5 and 6 tells us, "The whole
head is sick, and the whole heart faint; from the sole of the
foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it." And
Jeremiah 17:9 warns us: "The heart is deceitful above all
things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" How sick
is man? How desperate is his situation? When Paul said, "There
is none that does good, no, not one" (Romans 3:12), was
he inspired to write the plain truth or was he merely reflecting
upon the appalling corruption of Roman society at its lowest
ebb under the frightful tyranny of Nero? In short, what precisely
did the Fall do to human nature? How deeply has man been wounded,
and how is the effect transmitted?
then, what did Calvin himself mean when he spoke of man's Total
Depravity? To begin with, he was dealing essentially with motivation
rather than with action. He never denied that men do good
Scripture supports him
in this. For example, the Lord Himself spoke of those who "being
evil, know how to give good gifts" (Matthew 7:11). There
is nothing incompatible between Calvin's conception of the Total
Depravity of man and man's performance of deeds which, by the
most rigid standards of judgment, would have to be characterized
as good. The ability of man to do good deeds in no way challenges
his basic depravity. For what is corrupt in human nature is motivation,
the inability of man to be good. But what do we mean when
we speak of man being able to do good but not being able to be
Henri Fabre once spoke of animal
instinct as inspired wisdom. This is a beautiful thought
and worthy of reflection. In Nature one observes this inspired
wisdom in animals at every level in the scale of complexity.
Man alone seems to be without instinct.
Yet unregenerate man is not without
inspired wisdom; we simply have not recognized it for
what it is. In spite of the Fall he has tremendous creative capacities,
and these capacities are usually most successfully demonstrated
when his work springs from something akin to inspiration. A great
deal of creative activity is simply a form of ingenuity, but
there is a creative activity observed most clearly in artistic
effort of all kinds which appears to arise as the result of inspiration.
No one knows where this inspiration comes from. Those who are
inspired in the creation of music, or art, or literature, or
architecture, or in any other field of human endeavour whether
it is strictly practical in objective or purely ornamental, have
acknowledged the part played by the strange and little understood
phenomenon of inspiration. Such inspiration is often described
and experienced as a form of tyranny. It seems to spring from
some source other than the will itself, for the will becomes
When we add to these circumstances
the confusing fact that some of the most creative individuals
have also been some of the most wicked, immoral, selfish, cruel,
and egocentric individuals known to history, we are not only
baffled by the nature of this inspiration but by its choice of
victims. It could even be said as a general rule, to which there
are nevertheless many exceptions, that the more inspired a man's
work is the less inspiring that man is apt to be.
We have to ask, then, Whence comes
this inspiration? We know from Scripture that it may come directly
from God, though this does not guarantee that it always does.
For example, in Exodus 31:2‹11 and 35:30‹35 we are told
that a certain man named Bezaleel was an inspired craftsman appointed
by God to oversee the beautification of the Tabernacle whose
furnishings were to reflect the perfection of God's handiwork.
Naturally, we assume he was a godly man. But history shows that
many ungodly men have created things which in their way contributed
to the glory of God, like the architects and stonemasons of many
of the cathedrals whose wages were
paid out of money received
in exchange for indulgences to sin with impunity. Furthermore,
some of the most beautiful artifacts in the world (such as ancient
Egyptian jewelry) and some of the most beautiful buildings in
the world (such as the Taj Mahal) owed nothing to Christian inspiration.
I think it would be true to say that the poetry of people like
Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett, Percy Shelley, William Shakespeare,
and hundreds of others who, while not anti-Christian, seem personally
to have been largely indifferent to the Lord's claim upon their
lives, was nevertheless inspired in this sense.
It may well be that the inspiration
which produces such masterpieces of man's creative ability is
part and parcel of the Common Grace of God by which the special
aptitudes of men are appointed to ameliorate human life and to
give pleasure and satisfaction in a world cursed by sin. And
within the orbit of this Common Grace would surely also have
to be counted the inspired hunches and guesses and ventures in
faith which have led men throughout the ages to dedicate their
lives to fruitful research towards alleviating human suffering.
Thus have been produced new preventatives that have slowly eliminated,
or show great promise of doing so, some of man's most terrible
scourges in the form of communicable diseases like smallpox.
And we would have to add the inspiration which has produced many
great humanitarian reform movements. All of these, I suggest,
invite us to equate this kind of inspiration with Common Grace,
for many of the moving spirits in these ventures feel, inspired.
That this capacity for inspired
activity in man should all too frequently be turned to frightful
ends is not surprising. If this is a capacity divinely ordered
for man at his creation and surviving the Fall, it can obviously
be used by Satan, whose design is to counteract the Common Grace
of God. The stimulation in both cases is supernatural. And there
is this that can also be said of both kinds of inspiration: Satan
does not always find his most effective servants among wicked
men as we might suppose, nor God his most effective servants
among the saints. It is sad, but true. There seems to be no apparent
connection between the character of the individual and the degree
and object of his inspiration. As with Election to Salvation,
God's choice is solely according to his good pleasure.
God has often displayed his Common
Grace without regard to the stature of the chosen vessel. Some
of the most notably successful and sought-after evangelists,
conference speakers, and Christian leaders, have been personally
the most proud, unforgiving, self-centred individuals imaginable.
It is sometimes better not to know too well those from whom one
receives the greatest help and inspiration along the way. What
a man can do under God's inspiration and what he can be under
his own, are very different things.
Now the fact that animals are so
beautifully equipped for the ordering of
their lives by the inspired
wisdom of which Fabre wrote so eloquently suggests that Common
Grace may apply in our world on a far larger scale than we have
recognized. In their "interpersonal" relationships
animals show a wonderful constraint which is only now being sufficiently
acknowledged. The authenticated stories of animal co-operation
in the wild are legion, and they include insects, fishes, birds,
and of course the higher animals. One possible exception, curiously
enough, may be the whole order of snakes which seem to lack even
a semblance of maternal spirit, a fact which make the snake a
peculiarly appropriate symbol of Satan. The apparent cruelty
of animals, of which Darwin made so much, is increasingly being
viewed in a rather different light as we discover more about
the pain reflexes of the preyed upon and the killing instincts
of the predators. Where we do find wanton destruction by predators,
it can almost always be shown to be the result of man's interference
upsetting the behaviour of either the prey or the predator. As
Professor Ronald Good of England has been saying for some years,
Nature is not a battlefield with all the combatants red in tooth
and claw but an ordered and beautifully harmonious co-operative
society whose behaviour ultimately tends towards the benefit
of every member.
Man by contrast seems alien to
this whole co-operative scheme of things. His instincts, if he
has any at all beyond swallowing, are fundamentally suicidal
in nature. No other creature is persistently so destructive of
his own well-being. The Roman author Cicero said, "Man is
a disaster." He is not so much diseased, as himself the
disease. But for the Common Grace of God man's life would be
unbearable and his suicidal tendencies would probably lead to
the total destruction of the human race. Operating through the
merits of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, this Common
Grace truly constitutes Him the Saviour of the "world."
Apart from man, the rest of the
natural order operates as an expression of the Kingdom of God.
The laws of Nature are his laws, "written in" as they
are written once again into the heart of every man who newly
becomes a member of that Kingdom (Hebrews 8:10). Animals are
obedient to the law of God as appointed for them and by their
obedience live out their lives under divine protection. It must
be for this reason that Satan and his emissaries have to ask
permission of the Lord to invade this Kingdom where animals are
concerned, as the demons did before entering the swine on that
Gadarean mountainside in Matthew 8:31.
God rules these creatures from
within, but He also overrules them when necessary, and so they
are always obedient to his will. Thus He stops the mouths of
lions (Hebrews 11:33), and exceptionally orders the behaviour
of other animals wherever necessary as in the case of the tribute
money needed by the disciples on one occasion (Matthew 17:27).
It is just such a belief in this obedience of the animal world
to the divine will that prompted a medieval traveller who had
taken refuge in a cave during a storm only to find himself
face-to-face with a deadly
snake, to address this creature with the words, "If thou
hast leave to strike me, I do not say thee nay."
And we have one extraordinary record
of just such an occasion in 1 Kings 13:24‹28 where both a
lion and an ass unite in serving the Lord's purposes in a very
special circumstance. The story is worth recording. A certain
prophet who had obediently fulfilled the Lord's mission was later
tempted, on the strength of his success, to disobey the Lord's
further express command that he must go straight home without
tarrying. Unfortunately he allowed himself to be detained on
the way with the result that when he resumed his journey again
to go home, riding his ass, he was attacked by a lion and killed.
As the text says cryptically:
A lion met him by the way, and
slew him and his carcass was cast in the way, and the ass stood
by it, the lion also stood by the carcass.
And, behold, men passed by, and
saw the carcass cast in the way, and the lion standing by the
carcass: and they came and told it in the city where the old
And when the prophet that brought
him back from the way heard thereof he said; It is the man of
God, who was disobedient unto the word of the Lord therefore
the Lord hath delivered him unto the lion, which hath torn him,
and slain him, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake
And he spake to his sons, saying,
Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him.
And he went and found his carcass
cast in the way, and the ass and the lion standing by the carcass:
the lion had not eaten the carcass, nor torn the ass.
in the last verse how carefully the Word of God explains the
circumstance that the lion did not attack the ass nor did the
ass flee from the lion, both creatures being divinely inspired
to behave contrary to their inborn nature. These two witnesses
stood obediently by, as a rebuke to the disobedience on the part
of the now dead prophet: "In the mouth of two . . . witnesses
it shall be established" (Matthew 18:16).
When God is about to bring judgment
upon a city, He has respect to such lower creatures just as He
has respect to those of humankind who have not yet reached the
age of moral accountability. Thereby He acknowledges that both
animals and children alike are still part of his Kingdom (Jonah
4:11 and Mark 10:14). Satan's emissaries are permitted to possess
only those who are not members of God's Kingdom (Luke 22:3),
but not those who like Peter are his children (Luke 22:31, 32).
To re-enter the Kingdom of God
a man must be reborn (John 3:3) and adopted back into it (Galatians
4:5, 6). Then, and only then, is something akin to the God-given
instincts which guide animals implanted in the soul of the believer
as a like form of inspired wisdom. And thus is exhibited the
Grace of God. But meanwhile his Common Grace generates
in the world that which is beautiful and which contributes to
man's well-being both in animal and human behaviour. This Common
Grace is perhaps little more then the expression of God's great
goodness towards all his creatures, a great goodness which would
quickly turn this blessed vale of tears back into the Paradise
it was intended to be if (and when) his dominion is wholly restored
as it one day will be.
And is it any more anomalous that
God should Himself inspire even the wickedest of men to create
things of great beauty according to his own plan and as an expression
of his Common Grace, than that He should reach down to even the
chiefest of sinners and redeem them and turn them into saints
as an expression of his Special Grace?
Thus the statement that the Common
Grace of God results in some measure of goodness in human society
is not intended to demonstrate that man is basically good, but
only that by divine restraint of evil the way is left open for
men to do better than they otherwise would. Common Grace is a
reflection of the benevolent sovereignty of God whereby He maintains
in fallen man his ability to do good, while Special Grace is
a reflection of the same sovereignty whereby He creates in man
the ability to be good. Common Grace acts generally in the world;
Special Grace is at work only in the elect. The acts of men and
the motives of men must be considered separately, for they are
clearly separable. As Kuyper said, in view of man's Total Depravity,
"the world goes better than expected," and in view
of the fact of its redemption, "the Church goes worse than
expected." This is certainly true, for if man is totally
depraved, the world is a remarkably good place to live in. But
why does the Church fail so badly?
Why does the community of the redeemed
fail so badly? This is an important question for a proper understanding
of what God does with his people. We are accustomed to thinking
that the first thing He undertakes to do with us is to eliminate,
or at least to restrain, the evil that is in our nature, what
is sometimes referred to as the bad "old man."
We suppose that He will leave the good "old man"
and perhaps make use of it. But if this good is basically evil
in its motivation, it is no more worthy to be encouraged than
the bad. If the whole of human motivation in the natural
man is evil whether it finds expression in good deeds or bad,
it cannot find any favour in the sight of God, who is of purer
eyes than to countenance evil in any form, even under the guise
of good works. Consequently when God begins a new creation in
the redeemed individual He also begins to remove all the evil
and the good that is rooted in the old nature. The natural goodness
of man is not the promise of a new life but the remnant of a
dying Adam. By the providence of God, man's natural capacities
can be used for the general welfare of society but only on a
horizontal and temporal plane ‹ in their vertical and moral
context the same actions must be viewed as sinful. Thus they
allowed in the unredeemed
but they cannot be allowed in the redeemed. Consequently the
world may seem to do better on a horizontal plane than does the
Church of God, which must operate on a different principle.
It should be recognized that a
distinction must be made, in speaking about the natural goodness
of man, between those endowments which enable a man to contribute
to society by the work of his hands or the creativeness of his
mind, and what he can contribute to the moral fabric of society;
that is to say, what he can contribute on a social level as opposed
to what he can contribute on a spiritual level. It is in the
latter that the child of God must normally expect to make a unique
contribution, and it is towards this contribution that the specific
work of redemption is by the Special Grace of God uniquely directed.
This is why God's chief concern with his people has to do with
motivation. And in order to correct this in our fallen state,
it is often necessary to sacrifice, at least for a time, some
of our natural endowments which might otherwise seem to have
such promise. Thus it is not merely the bad old nature which
must be changed but the good old nature as well, for the whole
natural man is depraved in his being though still remarkably
capable in his creative endowment. This is what Total Depravity
really means: not total inability but total spiritual inability.
It often happens that a man who
has a certain natural ability and is filled with high ideals
and is known for his good works, will, when he is converted,
become for a season a far less admirable and effective individual.
The good old man is slowly undermined because it is good only
in an accidental way. This form of natural goodness has to be
replaced by a supernatural goodness. It is the work of Special
Grace to convert natural goodness, which is counterfeit in the
sight of God, into supernatural goodness that is genuine because
the motivation has been freed from the bondage of sin, and brought
into conformity to the will of God (Romans 6:18). In a real sense,
all goodness in the natural man is simple self-indulgence.
Common Grace deals with man's doings;
Special Grace concerns his being. It is quite possible in the
Judgment for a man to claim truthfully, "Lord, Lord, in
your name have I done many wonderful works" (Matthew 7:22).
The claim is not unjustified because it has reference only to
deeds themselves and nothing more. The Judge can say with equal
truth, "Depart from Me, you that work iniquity" (verse
23), for a deed, no matter how good it is in itself, is really
a work of iniquity when the motivation behind it is wrong. Article
XIII of the Thirty-Nine Articles states this very carefully:
Works done before the grace
of Christ, and the inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant
to God for as much as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ,
neither do they make men meet to receive grace . . . yea rather,
in that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them
to be done, we doubt not but that they have the nature of sin.
It sounds extraordinary that good deeds which accrue
to the benefit of society as a whole should nevertheless partake
of the nature of sin; yet in the light of what has been said
above, there is no doubt that they do. It is not the deeds but
motives that count, and herein is man altogether sinful.
A man may therefore be full of good works and outwardly have
the appearance of a beautiful marble building, spotlessly clean.
Yet the building itself may be only a sepulchre painted white
on the outside (Matthew 23:27), while inside is a rotting spiritual
corpse. This is a saddening truth. The spiritual depravity of
man is total. The totality has reference to his motive, not to
How has this disparity between
the good that man can do and the evil that man can be come about?
Judging by the good that man can do, we must assume that he was
formed with enormous potential for creativity in art, literature,
music, technology, and so forth; but he has been fatally corrupted
in his nature. His mind can serve him well enough (in mathematics,
for example) for the discernment of truth as perfectly as God
can know such truth; but his heart is self-deceived and self-deceiving
and utterly incapable of genuine purity of motive.
us to the problem of the constitution of man, and the question
of whether he is a composite of all kinds of elements ‹ physical,
spiritual, intellectual, and so on ‹ or of only two, a physical
and a spiritual. We know whence comes his physical body. It is
derived ultimately from the body of Adam and Eve who had poisoned
themselves into a state of mortality by eating the forbidden
fruit. But what is the origin of man's soul, or his spirit, of
that part of his being which is non-material? And is this spiritual
component itself single or cornposite?
It has traditionally been the view
of believers throughout the Christian era that man is a dichotomy,
a creature composed of body and spirit. This was a view held
by the early Church Fathers for the most part, and the view held
by Augustine and consequently by the Reformers and by Roman Catholic
theologians, both of whom drew much of their inspiration from
Augustine in this. The view that man is a trichotomy composed
of body, soul, and spirit is comparatively recent, and is largely
inspired by Greek philosophy. Only two passages of Scripture
seem in any way to demand the trichotomy view. The balance of
Scripture, particularly in the New Testament, forms in general
a harmonious picture of man as being constituted of body and
spirit, each of which he has, uniting to form a soul which
he is. In the following discussion, the view of man as
a dichotomy is assumed to be the correct one.
The origin of man's soul has presented
far greater problems than has the origin of his body. It is clear
enough that if man derives his body by natural generation there
is no problem in understanding how it has come about that
his body is defective
in so many ways. This kind of inheritance is familiar. The question
is, How does his spirit or his soul come to be corrupted also?
There are essentially two views
on this matter. (The concept of pre-existence, which was favoured
by Origen and a few other early Church Fathers, never gained
wide acceptance and is today rejected by Protestant and Roman
Catholic theologians alike.) One view holds that we derive our
soul from our parents by some kind of process of division and
recombination even as we derive our body from them. This view
is referred to as Traducianism. It is favoured by Arminians generally,
and officially by the Lutherans as a body. It is believed that
it accounts most effectively for the inheritance of a fallen
nature. One of the most common arguments in favoir of it is the
fact that in the account of the formation of Eve out of Adam
there is no mention made of the creation of her soul. However
it is of interest to note that when Adam was presented with Eve,
he exclaimed "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of
my flesh" (Genesis 2:23), omitting any reference to the
derivation of her spirit from himself. A further objection which
is raised against Traducianism is that it makes the soul divisible.
The souls of the mother and the father are in some way fragmented
and the fragments combined to form the soul of their child. It
is also difficult to account for the fact that Jesus Christ did
not share the corruption of our nature even though He was born
of a human mother.
The other view is that God creates
a new spirit or soul for each individual. This view of direct
creation assumes that the soul is perfect as it comes from the
hand of God but is in some way corrupted by its introduction
into the body which carries the defect of fallen Adam. This view
is termed Creationism. The only serious challenge to it seems
to be the argument that God supposedly ceased creating after
the six days' work (Genesis 2:2, 3). But in the light of 2 Corinthians
5:17 this cannot be true, since every regenerate child of God
is here said to be "a new creation."
Now whether the soul is thus acquired
by inheritance or by direct creation, the problem of its present
corruptedness remains an issue of debate. Precisely how man becomes
a sinner as he matures is not clear. The light of Scripture on
this matter is capable of more than one interpretation. That
all men do become sinners is unquestionable, both Scripture and
personal experience bearing abundant testimony to the fact. But
how this universal process of deterioration is initiated in the
individual soul is still an open question, and when this process
begins remains equally uncertain.
It seems likely that we cannot
do much more than reach an approximation as to how and when this
physical corruption which we inherit is transmuted into a spiritual
one also. For Scripture is not entirely clear. The transmission
of inheritable corruption from generation to generation through
some genetic mechanism no longer presents the kind of problems
that it did to the Reformers. The difficulty which remains to
be elucidated is
how a physical corruption
can damage the spirit of man, which is a direct creation of God.
It is the old problem of the interaction between body and spirit,
or as Descartes spoke of it, between matter and mind.
We have certain facts regarding
the Fall of man which are reasonably assured if we assume that
the story of Eden is truly historical. By eating a forbidden
fruit Adam and Eve introduced into their bodies some mortogenic
factor, perhaps in the nature of a poison, which destroyed their
original created perfection and the physical immortality which
characterized it. And this was brought about in such a way that
physical death became the lot of mankind so universally as now
to be termed "natural." But it was not natural
at first. By their disobedience, Adam and Eve did not merely
shorten their lives, but introduced death as an entirely
new experience. As Romans 5:12 says, "By one man sin entered
into the world and by sin death" ‹ and death passed
upon all men.
We know that all men have inherited this
disease, not only because all men die but also because all men become
sinners. As F. W. Farrar noted, volumes have been written upon the precise
meaning of Paul's statement, "for all have sinned." A substantial
number of modern authorities would interpret the Greek at this point to
mean "in view of the fact that all men have sinned." Another
group of scholars would interpret these same words to mean "upon
which account all men have sinned." Whichever is the correct rendering
of the crucial words eph' ho, ()
the universality of sinfulness is a clear demonstration of the universality
of the disease.
It is therefore apparent that there
is some causal connection between this inherited mortogenic factor
resident in the body and man's corrupted spirit. The factor itself
is passed from generation to generation. It was not identified
by the early Church Fathers as something in the nature of a poison,
but it was recognized as having real physical existence. Terming
it Original Sin, Augustine said it is derived from faulty condition
of human seed. (On Marriage and Concupiscence, Book II,
chapter 20 in Antir-Pelagian Writings) Five hundred years later
Peter Lombard concluded that the male seed is the chief offender,
it being stained in the act of procreation by concupiscence ‹
which he assumed to be something evil.
(2) Calvin (Institutes, II.i.5)
indicated his belief that the corrupting factor is essentially
physical by saying, "We are not corrupted by acquired wickedness
but do bring an innate corruptness from the very womb. .
. . All of us, descending from an impure seed, come into the
world tainted with the contagion of sin." Luther was even
more specific, stating his belief that the "paternal sperm"
conveys the corruption from generation to generation. Franz V.
Reinhard (1753‹1812) in his System of Christian Morals
explained the Fall as a kind of poisoning and hereditary
sin as the inheritance of a poisoned constitution. The Roman
Catholic Church at the Council of Trent (1545‹1563)
2. Peter Lombard
MORE DOCUMENTATION ‹ LOMBARD, REINHARD, ETC.
sought to state its
position on this issue by declaring that the corruption which
passes from generation to generation is not in itself a moral
defect but rather something which inclines to moral defect, a
"fuel of sin" which was technically termed fomes
Whatever the nature of this contagion,
it was foreign to man as originally created, it was introduced
in Eden, and it is inherited by every natural born child of Adam.
Its effect is to mortalize man's body and corrupt man's spirit.
It is capable of transmission from body to body by the mere fact
of procreation, and from body to spirit as the individual matures.
Man inevitably returns to the dust and he unfailingly becomes
a sinner if he lives to maturity. In Original Sin we therefore
have a case of an acquired character which has been inherited.
Physiologically this no longer presents the serious problem that
it might have presented a few years ago. For we now know that
certain types of acquired characters can indeed be transmitted
by inheritance, not via the nuclear genes, however, but by what
are called plasmagenes, certain bodies resident in the cytoplasm
rather than in the nucleoplasm, which, by a process of dauermodifications,
can be permanently modified by factors outside the cell wall
in such a way that the daughter cells which arise with each division
are changed even in the absence of the factor which caused the
modification in the parent cells. Today we not only have much
evidence that such a mechanism exists but we have a fairly clear
idea of how it operates.*
Man's first act of disobedience
introduced not only physical death to himself and his descendants
but also spiritual death so that all men naturally born of Adam's
seed have since that time turned the innocence of infancy into
the sinfulness of adolescence and manhood as they matured. Somehow
the defect of the body becomes the ruination of the spirit, even
though that spirit is perfect when first created and implanted
by God in the body.
is, How does the body corrupt the spirit? Does Scripture actually
encourage belief that such an interaction, such a transmission
of contagion from body to spirit, really occurs? It all depends
upon how we interpret the use of the term flesh in the New Testament.
Does the word normally mean actual flesh and only occasionally
mean carnal desire, or does the word normally mean carnal desire
in the physiological sense and only occasionally mean the actual
body tissue, tangible, physical in the corporeal sense?
We do not need to ask the how of
such a mechanism unless we are first satisfied that this is what
Scripture says actually does happen. If we once establish this,
then we can perhaps usefully ask what the nature of the mechanism
is; and although at the moment there is no clear picture here,
3.Addis, William and Thomas Arnold, A Catholic Dictionary,
London, Virtue & Co., revised with additions by T. B. Scannell,
1928 (?) , under Concupiscence, p.214.
* See on this, Arthur Custance, Seed
of the Woman, Hamilton, Doorway Publications, 1980.
do begin to discern
some of the somato-psychic (body-psyche) mechanisms behind the
interactions that we experience in daily life. This new area
of inquiry may shed light for us on a very ancient problem that
puzzled Augustine, as it has puzzled all who have sought to elucidate
the matter since his time. It was this aspect of the problem
‹ the interaction between body and Spirit ‹ that led
inevitably to the debate between the Traducianists and the Creationists,
a debate to which Augustine contributed only his own uncertainty.
If Traducianism is true, the spirit derives its impurity by a
kind of spiritual procreation process in which the fallen nature
of Adam and Eve is directly transmitted to every descendant.
If Creationism is true, then the spirit begins its personal existence
pure, and is corrupted by the body. We have already considered
some of the difficulties of Traducianism: the divisibility of
the soul and the problem of the perfection of the soul of Jesus
Christ. But Creationism presents us with a difficulty of its
own, the fatal interaction between body and spirit, between "flesh"
That such an interaction does occur
is intimated in Romans 8:3, where Paul speaks of what the law
could not do, in that it was "weak" (asthenei:
ineffective, without sufficient force) on account of the flesh.
This, he says, is why the law is so impotent in regulating conduct.
It is not that the spirit is unwilling but rather that the flesh
is "weak" (asthenes: Matthew 26:41). The law
sets the standard which every individual is called upon to meet.
But why does a child with a pure created spirit not meet it?
Because the law of itself is impotent in the face of the contrary
urgings of the body. Because the eager desire of the flesh must
have its own way. In the innocence of childhood, how else could
we suppose temptation to come at first except through some appetite
of the body?
How early, then,
does the fatal contagion perform its deadly spiritual function?
It is difficult to establish this from Scripture. Some of the
Reformers clearly viewed even prenatal life as sinful and morally
corrupt, even if only by imputation. In Isaiah 48:8, for example,
they read the words "from the womb" as meaning from
within the womb. But it is not required of the Hebrew
that from should be read as within. "From
the womb" is a common enough expression meaning only "from
the very beginning"; and it need not signify more than it
would if we were to say of someone, "He was always
a happy child."
We have seen how some of the Confessions
viewed the matter and we observed that in regard to human sinfulness
they considered the neonate not merely as corrupted in nature
and as already guilty, but even as actually sinful. Perhaps the
earliest possible time marker in the Old Testament is to be found
in the regulations regarding circumcision, which was to be performed
on the eighth day. It is possible that this indicates the arrival
of some kind of moral accountability ‹ though that seems
rather unlikely. It is
more likely that the
timing is important for physiological reasons since it happens
to be an almost ideal time for such an operation. It avoids potential
excess loss of blood due to insufficient development of the anticoagulating
mechanism on the one hand, and on the other hand it avoids too
gross an assault on the infant nervous system because the operation
is performed before that system has matured and become too highly
sensitive. We do know that when David's first son by Bathsheba
died on the seventh day it had not yet been circumcised, yet
David by implication was quite certain that he would meet his
child again in heaven. In 2 Samuel 12:23 he said, "I shall
go to him, but he shall not return to me." At the age of
seven days a child therefore, though uncircumcised ("unbaptized"?),
may be assumed to be fit for heaven.
In Deuteronomy 1:39 there is an
indication that those children who had not yet learned the difference
between good and evil were in a state of innocence and would
inherit the Promised Land, though their parents who had halted
at the entrance through unbelief would not do so. Presumably
this would include children at least up to a year old.
In Matthew 19:14 children are said
by the Lord to be "the stuff of heaven." We do not
know how old these children were, but while Matthew says only
that He laid his hands upon them, Mark (10:16) tells us that
He actually took them up in his arms. This may indicate something
about their size and age. If these children were two or three
years old, they were evidently still "of such" as is
the Kingdom of heaven.
Jonah 4:11 tells us that God respected
the repentance of the people of Nineveh and spared their city
for a season. But He also took into account the many children
in it who, we are told, had not yet learned to discern the right
hand from the left. These children were, of course, strangers
to the covenant of Israel and in no sense children of believers.
Yet apparently they were accounted worthy of sparing.
Genesis 8:21, with some precision,
tells that "the imagination of the heart of man is evil
from his youth." But how old is a youth? Beyond childhood
surely! Yet we do not know where the line of demarcation between
childhood and youth is to be drawn, though if we are guided by
the time at which a Jewish boy traditionally becomes a man we
have reason to believe that the line of demarcation from youth
to manhood is somewhere in the early teens.
There is a transitional period
in here, and about all we can say on the basis of what is written
in Scripture is that the time at which a child first discovers
there is a difference between right and wrong seems to mark the
age of accountability. When the time comes to make an actual
choice between the two, a previous age of innocence becomes an
age of virtue if the choice is made correctly, but an age of
culpability if the choice is wrongly made. This may not, of course,
actually occur at the same time of life for
each individual. Samuel
was an obedient and godly child ‹ yet just how obedient we
cannot be sure, for when the Lord called him by name he did not
respond as Eli had instructed him to do. In 1 Samuel 3:9 the
aging High Priest advised him to answer, "Speak, Lord, for
your servant hears." But in verse 10 we observe that Samuel
said only, "Speak, for your servant hears." And in
verse 7 we are told why: "Samuel did not yet know the Lord
nor had his word yet been revealed to him." This observation
seems about the clearest possible indication that he had not
been converted up till then. Admittedly the Old Testament does
not give us a clear picture of the steps that led to conversion
in those days, nor precisely what such a conversion meant in
the life of the individual. For while Saul was given a new heart
and turned into another man, and anointed with the Holy Spirit
(1 Samuel 10:6, 9), he seems clearly to have departed from the
faith shortly afterwards (1 Samuel 16:14).
We are therefore somewhat in the
dark except in so far as we have two brackets, the first being
David's uncircumcised seven-day-old son who was clearly innocent,
and secondly, the statement in Genesis 8:21 which tells us that
man is corrupted by sin from his youth. Somewhere between the
two, the process of corruption is initiated and the spirit becomes
dead towards God, Yet I do not think we need to assume that the
stage of innocence passes in one stroke into a stage of guilt.
There may well be an interim during which the child resists temptation
for a while, passing from innocence into virtue of a sort. But
it is probably a brief interlude and for many children may not
exist as an interlude at all. So many grow up in an environment
of selfishness and violence. Samuel was perhaps especially sheltered
‹ and there must still be "Samuels" among us, though
sadly their destiny is to mature as we all do. It is only a matter
of time before all flesh corrupts its way and every man falls
short of the perfect righteousness which God requires. The corruption
of the spirit by the body, the "spotting" of the garment
by the flesh (Jude 23), comes about inexorably with the passage
of time as we mature.
But does the word flesh
really mean the physical tissue of the body or only some kind of psychological
impulse that, though it operates through the body, originates in the soul?
A study of this word flesh (
sarx) is revealing because it does not bear out the meaning which
is often attached to it by those who habitually conceive of man as a spirit
who happens incidentally to inhabit a body, rather than (as Scripture
sees him) as a body/spirit entity.
pg.17 of 23
To begin with, there are many passages
in which only the physical sense of the word can be intended.
"The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." (John
1:14) is unequivocal ‹ and because of the nature of its context
is a powerful witness. Another such reference is John 6:51, 52,
53, 54, 55,
56, and 63, where the
Lord hammers home to the Pharisees that He really means his body,
for his sacrifice was to be a physical as well as a spiritual
one. It was in his body that He bore our sins on the cross (1
Peter 2:24). In Acts 2:26 it is clearly the physical body that
rests in hope of the resurrection, and in verse 31 it is his
physical body that did not see corruption.
In Romans 9:3 Paul speaks of physical
relationship to his Jewish brethren as a thing of the flesh,
and in verse 8 those born of the flesh are natural kin, as also
in Romans 11:14. In 1 Corinthians 5:5, where the reference is
to a grossly disobedient brother in the Lord whose presence is
an offense to the Body of Christ, "the destruction of the
flesh" clearly means the putting to death of the body, as
many similar passages indicate. In 1 Corinthians 15:39 all flesh
is rightly said not to be the same kind of flesh. The meaning
is only that fish, fowl, and other animal foods differ in texture,
taste, and value. In short, flesh is equivalent to meat. Paul
suffered from some as yet unidentified bodily ailment which left
him physically depleted, his real trial being an actual disease
of some sort (Galatians 4:14). He spoke of this as being "a
thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7).
In such recurrent phrases as "flesh
and blood" (Matthew 16:17; 1 Corinthians 15:50; Ephesians
6:12) and "flesh and bones" (Luke 24:39) the reference
is clearly to the body, which demonstrates that when Scripture
means physical tissue it is not limited to the use of the word
body (soma). Such a compound phrase as "the
body of his flesh" (Colossians 1:22) is a Hebraism translated
into Greek and means simply "his fleshly body." This
is a common circumlocution in Hebrew, as when David speaks of
"the mountain of his holiness" (so the original Hebrew
of Psalm 48:1), meaning simply "his holy mountain."
Similarly Paul speaks of the "body of this death" (Romans
7:24), meaning "this mortal body" whence arose so many
of his trials, for, physically speaking, he was a frail man (2
To "live in the flesh"
(Philippians 1:22) meant, for Paul, to remain in the body, though
he desired rather to leave it and go to be with the Lord. To
see his friends face to face was to meet them "in the flesh,"
personally, physiologically (Colossians 2:1), while to be absent
in the flesh meant only to be physically absent.
In 1 Timothy 3:16 God is described
as manifest in the flesh, that is to say, He was physically incarnate,
to be seen and heard ‹ indeed, to be handled (1 John 1:1).
These were "the days of his flesh" (Hebrews 5:7), of
his embodiment. When John wrote that a test of true spiritual
understanding is frank acknowledgment of the fact that Messiah
has indeed appeared in the flesh, he is talking about the incarnation
and he sees no reason not to use the term flesh where
the word body might have been more appropriate (1 John
When Peter says, "All flesh
is grass" (1 Peter 1:24), he is speaking of living tissue,
not of some psychological impulse; and his simple observation
expresses a profound
physiological truth, for in the final analysis, if the word grass
is allowed to stand for any type of plant life, all flesh is
Now depending exactly on how the
count is made, the word flesh is to be found approximately
120 times in the New Testament. Of these, only eleven cases seem
to be clearly used metaphorically, while another five may also
be so used though they are equivocal. But at the most, sixteen
cases can be pointed to which do not seem to be synonymous for
"the body." The balance, 104 out of 120, are almost
certainly to be taken literally. Even allowing for some differences
of opinion in matters of this sort where personal bias may affect
the outcome, it is clear the view held in some circles that the
word flesh has primarily a psychological connotation rather
than a physical one is not supported by the evidence of the majority
of cases in the text.
Charles Hodge, in presenting the
case for Creationism, refers to a classic "proof text"
which is found in Hebrews 12:9, where it is said that we have
derived our flesh by descent from our fathers and have received
our spirit directly from the Father in heaven. He notes the obvious
antithesis here between body and spirit, and between the source
of each, and he adds: "This is in accordance with the familiar
use of the word flesh, where it is contrasted, either
expressly or by implication, with the soul." (4) He then lists some of the
passages to which reference has been already made above, where
the word flesh is used in a literal sense, and observes:
"In all these, and in a multitude of similar passages, flesh
means body and 'fathers of our flesh' means fathers of our bodies.'"
When Paul therefore speaks of "the
works of the flesh" (Galatians 5:19), he is really only
saying that the symptoms of the disease which afflicts our bodies
are these unhappy expressions of our fallen nature. So also when
he speaks of "the sins of the flesh" (Colossians 2:11),
and "the lusts of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16). He is
not really using the word flesh in some symbolic sense.
These symptoms of a fallen nature are rooted in this body of
death from which we, like Paul, desire so earnestly to be delivered
(Romans 7:24). * For he discovered, as we all do, that in us,
that is, in our bodies, dwelleth no good thing (Romans 7:18).
It may seem that
we are viewing the body as inherently evil, as something we might
be better without. It is inherently diseased, corrupt, defective;
but we could not do without it, for God has constituted man as
4. Charles A. Hodge, Systematic Theology,
Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1973 reprint, vol. II, p.71; being
Part II, Anthropology, chapter 3, section 3 on creationism.
* When Paul speaks of the conflict within, he speaks of it as
a conflict between the intentions of his mind and the demands
of his body, the "members of his body" being the source
of his defeats. For this reason he cries out "O wretched
man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?"
The phrase "this body of death" is a familiar Hebraism,
such as is to be observed in a different context but in the same
form in Psalm 47:8 and 48:1.
of body and spirit,
more like a centaur of classical antiquity than simply a rider
on a horse. Paul says rightly that we do not want to be disembodied,
but re-embodied with a perfect body as was originally planned
for our spirit to animate. "For in this [body] we groan,
earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our new house [new
body] which is from heaven. . . . For we that are in this tabernacle
do groan, being burdened [by its defectiveness]: not that we
would be unclothed [disembodied] but clothed upon in order that
mortality might be swallowed up of life" (2 Corinthians
5:2-4). And in verse 5 he adds significantly: "He that has
wrought [made] us for the self-same thing is God."
So we have perhaps a clue here to the etiology
of our problem, how the body interacts with the spirit to communicate
its own defectiveness to something which comes perfect from the hand of
God. Our body inherits a disease. In due course this disease, acting from
within, infects the created spirit by imposing upon it temptations to
disobedience to which it ultimately yields. Some yield very early in life;
some a little later. But all yield in the end, save He who did not have
this disease within his flesh; for though He also was tempted, his temptations
always came to Him from outside. If we are right in applying the word
sin to the disease itself, then it would clearly be more correct
to translate Hebrews 4:15: "[He] was in all points tempted like as
we are, yet apart from sin." The Greek word choris ()
translated "without" in most versions is elsewhere frequently
rendered "apart from." There is no doubt that this is the more
correct rendering as most lexicons bear out. And indeed some modern translations
have observed this fact (Young's Literal Translation, Rotherham's
The Emphassized Bible and Williams TITLES),
though a great many have not done so.
Smith and Goodspeed have rendered the phrase
"without committing any sin," but it is almost certain that
if this had been the intention of the author he would not have employed
this construction at all. This kind of sinlessness is unequivocally intended
in John 8:7, where we find the words "Let him that is without sin,"
etc., represented in the original by the single Greek word anamartetos
That is not what Hebrews 4:15 is telling us. What we are being told
here is that when the Lord Jesus was tempted there was nothing in Him
which would provide a foothold for Satan to weaken his defenses. He said,
"The prince of this world comes and has nothing in Me" (John
14:30). Both the First and the Last Adam were alike in this that the first
temptation came to them entirely from outside. Unlike ourselves, their
bodies were not corrupted in such a way as to pressure the spirit towards
evil, in the sense that our bodies do. The Lord's hunger in the desert
was not in any way a corrupted appetite. "In Him is no sin"
(1 John 3:5), no disease.
We know now that there are strange
and formerly unrecognized interactions between the chemistry
of the body and the behaviour of the spirit. If
the chemistry of the
body has been deranged, it is obvious that the spirit must suffer
some damage also. We know that this chemistry is deranged in
some types of people whose spirit is disturbed. There is growing
evidence in certain forms of depression that the lithium level
is responsible. We also know from personal experience that spiritual
depression is characteristic of physical fatigue, a fact which
should have been apparent enough in the light of the disciples'
sleepiness at the time of the Lord's special need (Mark 14:37).
But we also recognize today that coronary insufficiency (a purely
physical defect) can cause a similar depression that may be quite
profound and seems to be unmanageable unless the physical root
cause is corrected somewhat.
Aberrant forms of behaviour are
known to arise from certain environmental contaminations such
as lead in the air, and from dietary deficiencies (lack of salt
for example), and from unwanted chemicals ingested or inhaled,
or even admitted percutaneously from salves or lotions or dressings
of one kind or another. This is a whole new area of modern research
and even the present findings should give us cause to rethink
the theological problems involved in the relationship between
Original Sin and our individual response to it.
The reverse reaction is also true.
An outflow of spiritual energy can leave the body physically
depressed. Ministers often face Monday morning with physical
energies severely depleted. Elijah won a tremendous spiritual
victory on Mount Carmel, only to find himself so exhausted that
the proper divinely appointed therapy was purely physical in
nature: sleep and food, sleep and food (1 Kings 19:4-8). Searching
within his own soul Elijah mistakenly saw himself as spiritually
depleted, and despaired for the spiritual welfare not only of
himself but of his people (verse 4). But God knew better where
the trouble really lay. Some of us have not yet learned to apply
this truth in our own lives. It is obvious that there is a continuous
interaction between body and spirit and between spirit and body,
and all too frequently it is to the detriment of the spirit.
It is not too difficult to see how a diseased body could infect
a spirit which, though perfect at first, is so closely engaged
in its processes and so intimately dependent upon its operation.
that we each inherit from Adam by natural generation the corruption
of his body, and by imputation the guilt of his sin by
which that corruption was introduced. Pelagius, his contemporary,
entirely rejected this view. Each individual starts, he held,
as a perfect being free from defect of spirit or body, as Adam
was when first created. It is by active sin, imitating as it
were Adam's history, that each man becomes a sinner and subject
to death. It ought therefore to be possible by the right environment
and correct training, education, and example, for a man to grow
Calvin and the Reformers followed
Augustine and held that man inherits
a defective body and
assumes by imputation the guilt of Adam's sin. Between the two,
man's nature is wholly corrupted from the very beginning of his
individual existence and is under just condemnation. Arminians
have held a view midway between the Augustinian and the Pelagian
views. We indeed inherit Adam's corrupted nature, but not his
guilt. Infants are therefore innocent by nature, whether baptized
or not, until they become guilty when they commit actual sins.
That they inherit their souls from their parents does not make
them guilty, though it does inevitably lead to guilt when voluntary
expression is given to the inherent fallen nature by yielding
to temptation. Thus Original Sin is transmitted and in due time
erupts into sinful action which results in actual guilt. No child
needs to be taught to sin.
Midway in time between Augustine
and the Reformers (and Arminius, of course) we have Peter Lombard
and his contemporaries at the school of St. Victor (Hugo and
Abelard among them) attempting to formulate a more precise doctrine.
Peter himself was not so sure about the inheritance of guilt,
but he concluded that we certainly inherit the injury itself,
and with this injury we inherit the inevitable penalty of becoming
Infant baptism was predicated by
Augustine on the presumption of inherited guilt. By baptism in
the name of Jesus Christ this inherent guilt is removed and a
kind of righteousness (perhaps innocence would be a more
appropriate word) replaces the imputed guilt of Original Sin
until the time of accountability is reached. Baptism does not
remove the corruption itself, but does cover the inherited guilt.
Although Lutherans believe that the soul is derived from the
parents by a process akin to spiritual generation, they believe
that the corruption that is inherited is strictly physical. According
to Luther the propagation of sin is exclusively physical. Augustine
held a somewhat similar view, though he inclined towards Creationism
in the matter of the origin of the soul. Nevertheless he believed
that the corruption of human nature was propagated by "bad
seed." But he does not seem to have been able to crystallize
his own thinking completely. Perhaps the problem he had as a
creationist was to account for the corruption of a pure spirit
created by God merely by its introduction into an impure body
procreated by the parents. How did the flesh corrupt the spirit?
Peter Lombard struggled with
this problem and concluded that the male seed is somehow stained:
in the act of procreation by concupiscence ("eager desire")
which he, like Augustine, assumed to be something evil. Yet in
Scripture concupiscence is not necessarily evil. In Luke 22:15
it is applied to the Lord's eager desire to share a certain Passover
with the disciples. In 1 Peter 1:12 it is used of the angels'
eager desire to understand the purposes of God in the matter
of man's salvation. In Hebrews 6:11 it refers to the genuine
concern that the Lord's people may have for one another's spiritual
welfare. Peter Lombard presumably shared a rather widespread
feeling that the act of procreation had something inherently
sinful about it.
In whatever way the factor is inherited, the factor
itself is by Calvin and in Scripture frequently designated by
the word SIN (in the singular). This sin is the root of all physical
evil (sickness and death) and all spiritual evil. It is a disease,
transmissible from body to body by procreation, and in the individual
from body to spirit ‹ where the symptoms appear as SINS.
These sins are not merely like boils that erupt at the surface
as a deeper infection runs its course. They are willed expressions
of a corrupt nature for which the individual is not merely pitied
as a sick man but held responsible as a guilty one. The disease
itself cannot be treated or cured by being forgiven or punished,
but must be healed. The symptoms which are expressions of it
must be either punished, or forgiven on the grounds of penalty
borne by someone else. To ignore these symptoms is not only to
encourage their expression but to conceal the disease, and this
has been habitually man's unfruitful method of dealing with the
ills of human society. But in order to prevent the total corruption
of the individual from becoming the total corruption of society
itself, God has exercised the Common Grace of restraint. And
part of this restraint has been the creation of the true Church,
that body of the redeemed who are placed in the world not to
redeem it by saving all men but to preserve it from total corruption
by acting as a light to dispel the darkness and as salt to preserve
against its total self-destruction.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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This, then, is the background
of the concept of the Total Depravity of man, how it may have
come about, how the roots of it are transmitted from generation
to generation in every natural born individual, and what it has
meant in human history. It is a depravity of the most profound
kind because it has made human behaviour fundamentally suicidal,
and it is Total Depravity because in every individual naturally
born the motivation of all behaviour has been poisoned
at the source. While the individual may, by the restraining Common
Grace of God, be kept from actions which might otherwise be more
evil, only the transforming experience of spiritual rebirth,
amounting to a re-creation of the image of God in the heart of
the individual, can fundamentally change this motivation and
consciously bring it into conformity with the will of God.