/ Andrew Kerr

How bad is bad? Reflections on Pervasive Depravity!

Just a quick blog on Genesis 6.5 – part of the passage I’m hoping to preach on tomorrow.

The text will be a familiar one to most. It describes the state of affairs of the whole graceless, godless, race, before the Noahic Deluge. It points, in the starkest, most dramatic, terms, to the universal corruption of every aspect of mankind:

“And Yahweh saw that the evil of mankind was great on the earth – and every purpose of the deliberations of his heart was only evil all the day long” (My translation).

Doctrine

A number of aspects of this doctrine of all-pervading depravity of humanity emerge from a quick review of this verse:

  1. This is the comprehensive corruption of the human race in the estimation of all-knowing, all-seeing, Yahweh, the Covenant God and Creator, weighed by the standards of His righteous, holy, Law – we need not doubt that it is just, true, accurate and fair. Gloomy it may be but godly it is also. Depravity is a trustworthy, accurate, divine assessment.
  2. The pervasive pollution of mankind does not just extend to the outward act but also the inward thought: sinfulness of man reaches to motives, circumstances, mitigations, aggravations, desires, attitudes which are all considered and weighed by God.
  3. The spread of sin extends to the dominating faculty, here described as ‘his heart’. The heart to Hebrews is the center of the human personality: it directs, controls, governs and influences every aspect of behavior, emotion, action and thought. The conclusion is inescapable that mankind, in his natural, graceless, state, left or abandoned to himself, is totally rotten to the core.
  4. This moral malaise includes every faculty of the personality, mind, heart and will: this is signaled by the phrase ‘every purpose of the deliberations of his heart was only evil’. It is hard to imagine a more inclusive statement.
  5. The total wantonness on the part of human beings is highlighted by the fact that there is nothing good at all, at any point in time, to say about God’s fallen image, given over by Him, to its native state, considered for itself: this Moses teaches is ‘only evil all the day long.’
  6. This sinfulness of the race, that affects the entire whole, is a doctrine to be received by faith and believed without a shadow of a doubt.
  7. Only God truly knows the depths of the depravity of the heart. Actions on the surface may be done which look acceptable and good, but, that in the heart, spring from error, pride or sinful intentions.

Provisional Conclusion

In answer to the question posed by the title ‘how bad is bad?’ the answer must be ‘far worse than we think and as bad as we can conceive!’

Correctives

However, we must also then state clearly what this doctrine does not teach.

  1. By pervasive pollution we do not mean that man, in his native state, is as bad in every aspect and facet of his personality as he possibly can be, but simply that every part of his personality, and every action which flows from his heart, is in some way tainted, contaminated, and damaged by sin – this may occur to a greater or lesser degree at different times and in different places. All he does is evil, all he says is evil, all he thinks is evil, but not as evil as it could possibly be in every respect.
  2. By total depravity we do not mean that the human race considered as a whole is devoid of common grace. Were common grace removed, indeed, the break would come off, and evil would get worse – given the right circumstance and opportunity, there is no telling how far any individual, people group, or collection of allied nations, might stoop. That the German nation, including the educated classes (doctors, teachers, nurses) as a whole went along with Hitler, by-and-large, is proof of that. As it is, God, in various ways, does put the brakes on the sin of society – culture, government, law, conscience and authority structures of various sorts serve to keep sin in check under God.
  3. We would be wrong, therefore, to overestimate the evil present in the world (as if there was no good at all), or to overestimate the good in the world (as if people were actually not so bad as the bible says they are): it is only God who knows the depths of the depravity of the heart.

Application

There are a number of applications that flow from this doctrine of radical, racial, wickedness. I will mention a number of things that have occurred to me today.

Pagans

This is an evaluation which applies to every unbeliever outside of Christ. Where it not for common grace, there is not telling what the unregenerate might do.

Christians

This is an evaluation which applies to all aspects of the Christian in his former unregenerate state and in the actings and desires of the flesh. The apostle Paul hit the nail on the head when he said “I know that nothing good dwells in me – that is my flesh.”

Humility

This means that if there is anything good in the Christian it should never be a source of pride or boasting as if it came from us – it also means that there is a terrible capacity, even in the Christian, when not walking according to the Spirit, to sink into a backslidden abyss of evil. How we need to pray for grace to sustain us. In your mercy, Lord, “Deliver us from evil.”

Grace

It also means that, as v8 suggests, the only way out for the race, is the Gospel of free grace, in Jesus Christ. We need common grace! We need prevenient grace! We need justifying grace! We need sanctifying grace! We need persevering grace! We need grace to live! We need grace to serve! We need grace to speak! We need grace to stand! We need grace to die! Depend not at all on self but rely fully on the LORD! Thank your Heavenly Father, for all the purchased grace, that flows from Christ’s bloody Cross.

Knowledge

We should not place ultimate confidence in, but view with a healthy degree of skepticism, ‘the assured results of research’: while we thank God for common grace by which great technological and scientific advance takes place, the reason and logic of man is finally flawed – collaborative efforts help to minimize margins of error in engineering and aviation (for which I’m extremely thankful); yet when it comes to matters of legislation, morality, scientism, historicism or theology, and God removes the break of light and grace, abortion is liberalized, marriage is perverted, macro-evolution is dogmatized, billions of years are introduced, and error, falsehood and idolatry abounds.

Self-Appraisal

We should have a high-index of suspicion when it comes to our own assessment of our own self, goodness, motives and conduct, particularly in relationships to others and in situations of conflict. If ‘the heart is desperately wicked’ and ‘who can know it?’ we must prayerfully test ourselves before the bar of Scripture, and be willing to submit the judgment of wiser brothers. Often we remonstrate our innocence when the fault is actually with us. We all have our blind-spots for which we need to make allowances.

Brothers

We should not be surprised when Christians do bad things, or be shocked at the wickedness of some of the things they do. This is not at all to excuse evil in church. The last thing we should do is modify or adjust our standards. The Gospel raises the bar and calls us to holiness. Yet if we know ourselves, and what happens when flesh takes hold, it will help us be merciful and of use to restoring sinners. We should be slow to condemn and ready to forgive. It is easy to be judgmental and ‘holier than thou’ when we compare ourselves with others, instead of the Lord Himself.

Nations

While we should pray for our leaders to advance the cause of Christ, as this is an express command, we should not expect too much from the governments of the world, or the courts in the land (don’t be surprised when they start making laws that persecute the church, rule in favor of evil marriages, allow manipulation of the unborn embryo, or exalt human rights above the truth). The rulers of the earth are capable of protecting Paul for a time in order to testify to Caesar. They are also capable and culpable, as Pilate was, of crucifying Christ, even though he knew it to be utterly unjust. We need to be both optimistic for Christ rules the nations for the sake of the Church, but also realistic, for we live in a fallen world.

Evangelism

The final application I want to make is about how to grow the church: if mankind, in his natural state, is really as bad as the text indicated, wordless witness or social justice, is finally useless to convert: what is required is regeneration of the whole man – in order to be saved, and have his theology straightened out, and be made willing to yield to Christ, he needs a totally new heart, mind and will. This, the bible teaches us, is an act of divine fait. The God who commanded creation into existence and uttered ‘let there be light’, is also the God who must also speak by the regenerating Word. God, of course, may work, in any way He pleases. Yet what the Bible reveals is that he ordains saving means. Faith comes by hearing. Hearing by the Word. Those dead in depravity need to hear the Gospel. It is thus God powerfully speaks to regenerate the heart. His people need to pray for the preaching of the truth. The only hope for the race is the truth.

Conclusion

I trust that this will help make us a little bit more wary of self, allows us to adjust our expectations of unbelievers, and not get to gloomy about other Christians. If it heals a few broken relationships, or allows us to get a different perspective on others behavior, it should spur us to pray for our brothers, and all preachers of the Gospel. May it also inculcate a deep humility and dependence upon means of grace, for all the help God gives for deliverance of the church.