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Moral Depravity

*Define the term depravity.

*Show the distinction between physical and moral depravity.

*The definition of physical depravity.

*The definition of moral depravity.

*The physical and moral depravity of man.

After the beginning of moral agency and before regeneration, mankind’s moral depravity is universal.
During the time between the beginning of moral agency and regeneration, the depravity of mankind is universal.
What accounts for the universal moral depravity of unregenerate moral agents?

Define the term depravity.

The word comes from a Latin word de and pravus. Pravus means “crooked.”  The prefix de is intensive. The complete word depravo means “very crooked.”  It does not really imply constitutional crookedness but the sense of having become crooked.  The term does not imply original structural corruption but that which has departed from right or straight more with the feeling of deterioration or fall from a former state of moral or physical perfection.  It always means a departure from a state of original integrity.  It means departure from conformity to the laws of being for the one who is the subject of depravity.  We don’t call a person depraved who still conforms to the laws of his being, physical and moral, only to the one that has departed from those laws, whether they are physical or moral.

Show the distinction between physical and moral depravity.

Physical depravity really means a departure from the laws of health where healthy organic action is not sustained.  It could mean body or mind but it has nothing to do with depravity of free moral action.  When physical depravity is associated with the mind, often there is a link with something in the body that is diseased, lapsed, fallen, or in a degenerate state which has an effect upon the mind.  Physical depravity refers to the actual substance of the body and not to the actions of the will and as such has no moral character.  Moral depravity can have a hand in causing physical depravity as we will see later, but on the face it has no actual moral character in and of itself.  The reason for this is that physical issues are voluntary for the most part, especially when it comes to disease and other physical sicknesses.  This means that they are not necessarily sin, though sin may cause physical problems.

When we speak of moral depravity, on the other hand, we are speaking of the depravity of the free will, not as a faculty of the soul, but in relation to its free action.  Moral depravity is the violation of moral law.  It is a depravity of choice, a choice which is at odds with moral law and moral right.  Moral depravity is synonymous with sin or selfishness.  Moral depravity is a violation of moral law; it has moral character.

The definition of physical depravity.
It is an organized substance. Any biological organism can become depraved.  Depravity is a possible state for any biological organism.
The mind can be depraved in a physical sense.  As easily as the body can become physically depraved by disease, just so the mind can become depraved in the same way, caused by biological problems.  When a person’s mind is damaged physically no one can expect them to act normally.  Some people have injuries that affect their minds and others are born with physical deficiencies that cause the mind to function in an abnormal way.  The nerves and five senses can be damaged in the same way so that the normal cravings of appetite or other functions of the sense of feeling do not work properly.  An example of moral depravity that affects physical depravity is a person that has been on drugs and it causes them to lose certain physical senses like the sense of touch, hearing, smell, taste, or even normal emotions that other people have.  A person may engage in so much immoral pornography that their normal sexual senses become deadened to what a virtuous person would be in a marriage relationship.  This is another example of physical depravity being affected by moral depravity.  The human body and mind are certainly physically depraved and susceptible to disease and decay but this has no moral consequences since it has nothing to do with moral character since it is involuntary, physical.

The definition of moral depravity.
Moral depravity has nothing to do with substance or biological organisms.  Moral law does not dictate over involuntary states of the mind and body.
Moral depravity is not any involuntary act or state of mind; it could not be a violation of moral law unless there were wrong ultimate intentions.  Moral law legislates over free and intelligent choice.
Moral depravity has nothing to do with acts of the will from the unintelligent.  Mentally challenged people do not have the ability to understand moral choices in many cases.  Moral agency implies moral obligation which implies moral agency which further implies intelligence or knowledge of moral relations.  It is the development of the idea of duty and knowledge of what that duty is.  Simply put, a person cannot do wrong when they don’t have the ability to comprehend mentally that they are doing wrong, or right for that matter.
When moral law is violated it is moral depravity.  As we have seen previously, moral law only requires love, only love, to both God and man.  This love is good willing, choice of an end, a good end; it is choice of the highest well-being of God and of the universe.  Mentally challenged persons can love god and the universe.  They may have physical depravity but many times their spirit and conscience is quite acute.  Moral depravity is sin, which is a violation of moral law.  Sinful choice is a willful choice of self indulgence or self-gratification in defiance of the law of love.  It does not care to know God for selfish reasons.  Self is definitely its end.
Moral depravity has nothing to do with any attribute of nature or constitution; it is not a fallen state of nature; it is not physical, it is moral depravity, depravity of choice.
It has nothing to do with the original and essential parts of the body or mind or of any involuntary action of mind or body.
Moral depravity has nothing to do with anything that causes a wrong choice because moral law is good-willing only.  Nothing besides acts of the will can constitute either a violation or obedience of moral law.  Outward actions and involuntary thoughts and feelings could be said to possess a certain moral character because they are produced by the will.  But in the strictest sense, only choice or intention is what makes up moral character.  We have said that sin does not, if we define it properly, consist in wicked actions or in the choice of sin and misery as the ultimate end and for its own sake.  Rather, sin consists in selfishness, or self-gratification as the final end.  The strictest definition that we can give of moral depravity is strictly only selfish ultimate intention from which many other things evolve.  We don’t define sin as a sinful nature with constitutional sinfulness.  If we did that then sin would be involuntary.  A dog barks and wags his tale as part of his nature.  He could not meow like a cat even if he tried.  He would not try because it is not his nature.  If sin were part of our nature it would not be a choice and we would not be guilty of breaking the moral law and God would be charging us with something that we can’t avoid doing.  Claiming that sin is part of a sinful nature is saying that sin is involuntary and there is no choice involved in committing sin.  Rather, sin is a spirit of self-seeking; it is a voluntary and entire consecration to gratification of self; it is selfish ultimate intention; it is the choice of the wrong end of life; sin is moral depravity because it is a violation of moral law.  Sin is the refusal of a moral being to consecrate the whole being to the highest well-being of God and of the universe and obedience to moral law, while all the while consecrating the life to gratification of self instead.  When a person has selfish intentions they are committed to a selfish state and they make efforts to secure self-gratification as the ultimate end of their lives.  These efforts are part of the outward life of a selfish man.  Moral depravity is not a sinful nature but a sinful voluntary state of the heart.  This is why the Bible says that we are to believe in the heart to be saved.  Until we change our ultimate intentions we don’t believe with the heart.  Moral depravity is a sinfully committed state of the will to self-indulgence.  It is not a sinful nature but a sinful heart, a sinful ultimate aim, a sinful ultimate intention.  The Greek word, amartia, which is rendered sin in the English Bible, means to miss the mark.  Sin is the wrong aim or intention.  It is aiming at or intending self-gratification as the ultimate and supreme end of life rather than aiming as the moral law requires, at the highest good of universal being, knowing God as the end of life.  Moral depravity is best defined in the verse:1 Corinthians 2:14 “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  The unsaved are without the Holy Spirit which is available to all who ask so no one can say that a natural man has a nature that cannot be changed because he can easily be changed by being born again which as we said above, gives us a new heart.  Normally when someone describes the “sin nature,” it is not a nature that is unable to be changed, but what the Bible describes here as the “natural man.”

The physical and moral depravity of man.
No living person has perfect health in the whole world even though some come close. Mankind has become more and more impaired from thousands of years of sinful practices that have passed physical defects down to generations to follow so that intemperance has definitely caused shortness of human life, a physiological fact.  Man is physically depraved.
Because the body is physically depraved and the mind depends upon the body for all its senses and function, a body which is more or less physically depraved or diseased, it follows that the mind will also be physically depraved in its manifestations.  Appetites, passions, and tendencies of life have been indulged and the conscience has been seared by selfishness. Selfishness is the choice to gratify desires and feelings which produce the types of activities and wickedness that we see on a daily basis.  We see drunks, gluttons, gamblers, sexual abusers, and many other types of depravities from people that cannot control the appetite for self-gratification.  The whole mind and body is depraved.
Moral depravity is a fact of human experience and is clearly seen throughout history.  No living person would doubt that man is morally depraved.  The Bible declares this in many places.  It is such a widely known fact that were anyone to call it into question they would be thought mentally deranged.  This is one of the most notorious facts in history.  Human depravity has been around since human existence.  The first boy in the world killed his brother.  Moral depravity was in the first family.  Every human being knows this to be a true fact, it is an a priori truth.

After the beginning of moral agency and before regeneration, mankind’s moral depravity is universal.

While there may be some that get saved the very first time that they realize that they are sinners, yet every living person is, from the time that they know they are sinners to the time that they become regenerated or saved, morally depraved.  Their total mind set before the Holy Spirit comes in is totally and only for self-gratification.  Let’s look at what the Bible says:

In some places it says that the wicked possess a common wicked heart or character.

“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.”  (Genesis 6:5)  “This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.”  (Ecclesiastes 9:3)  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”  (Jeremiah 17:9)  “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”  (Romans 8:7)

The Bible declares it a universal necessity that men be regenerated, saved.

“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  (John 3:3)

It states that there is a universal moral depravity of all unsaved men.

“What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”   (Romans 3:9-20)
The history of the world proves moral depravity; it is a shameless chronicle of human wickedness.
There has never been a human being since the fall of Adam and Eve that was not selfish, obeying his feelings rather than the conscience of his spirit while he lived to please himself.  This is the universal observation of all men.
Let me appeal to all who are unsaved and know that they do not know God.  You know in your heart of hearts that you live for selfishness, you please yourselves and you cannot consciously deny that this is the true state of your heart.

During the time between the beginning of moral agency and regeneration, the depravity of mankind is universal.

What is it exactly that causes men to be morally depraved?  What is it that causes them to have not even a mixture of goodness or virtue so that they never in any degree or instance exercise true love to God and to man? Yet this depravity appears the moment a person understands moral agency and continues until regeneration.  We do not say that they may not make an outward show at times or have serious inward feelings at other times.   A morally depraved individual may even perform and experience many of the same things as a Christian but the problem is that too many make outward actions into virtue.  The truth is that true benevolence is the entire consecration of the heart and life to God and to the good of being so that before a person is saved, regenerated, he cannot be in this state for even one moment or he would be changed.

When we finally realize that salvation consists in the consecration of the entire heart to God and to the good of being, then we can see that the unregenerate are not in this state at all.  Many philosophers will admit that the unsaved do some things that are virtuous but they don’t realize that true virtue is only in the heart, the seat of ultimate intentions.  What most speak of when they say the unsaved show virtue is only actions that appear virtuous on the outside but those actions do not show the true state of the heart and the ultimate intention.

Some philosophers of the past, Henry Tappan as an example, affirm that a sinner can have a selfish ultimate intention but have virtuous volitions may be put forth causing right actions.  The question is this:  is the action really virtuous if the ultimate intention is really selfish after all?   We know that no one can be totally sold out to God and to self at the same time, it is just impossible.  A Christian may have some actions that are in the flesh but his ultimate intention remains fixed.  A sinner may do some things which seem virtuous, but the heart is still sinful.  The difference is the heart.  Both have opposite ultimate ends in view.
The mind cannot will without an end and since all choice is about the end in view, the end or the means to the end cannot be chosen without the particular end in view.  So the difference is that the virtuous person may “fall seven times but rise up again” and yet the sinner may make a show of virtue but in the end, “the dog returns to his own vomit.”  The ultimate choice of the heart will always win out.
The heart has an ultimate end in view at all times, one chosen as the ruling ultimate choice so that until another ultimate end is chosen, no one can say that a momentary flash of virtue proves that a sinner is regenerated or visa versa. So it follows that as long as a sinner remains unrepentant and selfish it is impossible for him to put forth holy volitions or actions since the root is still that of selfish ends.  The only way that the sinner can truly change is to change their heart to an end that seeks to glorify God and put others first.  This is why sinners are considered unregenerate and totally depraved and that the Bible calls upon them to repent and change their heart, even to make themselves a new heart because they can never do anything that is acceptable to God while they continue to exercise a heart filled with wicked self-gratification as their ultimate end.  Take a look back at the attributes of selfishness and you will see what the true moral attribute was in all of these examples, selfishness:

Selfishness cannot and will not co-exist with virtue or benevolence.

No actions that exist while the heart is selfish, no matter how virtuous they seem, are truly anything more than selfishness at the core.

Selfishness shows no love to God but, in fact, is just the opposite in desiring nothing more than entire opposition to the will of God.

Selfishness is the mortal enemy of God as shown in the crime of crucifying Jesus Christ on the cross.

Selfishness is supreme opposition to God.

Every selfish person is as wicked as the light that he has which has prompted him to turn to God and yet he has refused, choosing rather to keep self-interests as his ultimate end in life.  The person may be a church member and even a preacher in the pulpit but still the outward life is only an act while the inward life is one of self-gratification.  Why do we hear of so many ministers that are being exposed for secret lives of gross sins?  So many times the righteous act that people put on is really only a selfish desire to appear holy on the outside while the heart is still totally selfish and wicked.  The bottom line is that no matter what the outward actions of a man may be, it is the heart that God sees and it is the heart that reveals the ultimate intention.  Selfishness, no matter what the virtuous acts may falsely show, is still a heart of self-gratification, even when it comes to performing religious acts and practices.  Sadly enough many religious people do their religious charade only as a selfish way of gaining gratification and it has nothing at all to do with knowing God or of desiring the best for all the universe.  It is a sham!  It is total depravity!

What accounts for the universal moral depravity of unregenerate moral agents?

Here we will take a completely different road than that which Charles Finney took because there are things which he did not discuss, namely the spirit of a man, that form some of the conclusions that we come to in this area of discussion.  The question is asked, what forms the position that a man is in before regeneration and it can only be explained in a quite different way than even was explained by Charles Finney.

When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden and they had communication with God, they had a spirit that was alive, it knew God.  The temptation came and Adam and Eve sinned which made their spirit die.  This is not to say that they could not know God again, but it meant that sin had corrupted the ability of man to communicate with God.  They did not change their human nature in a physical way as Charles Finney readily admits.  They were forced out of the Garden which meant that they could no longer speak face to face with God.  Jesus would need to come and make atonement for sin before God could deal directly with sinners except through a priest as we see throughout the whole Old Testament of the Bible.  When Jesus died and ascended to Heaven with the blood of the testament which he sprinkled on the heavenly mercy seat, He opened the way for sinners to commune directly with God without going through a priest as we see in the book of Hebrews in the Bible.

When a person comes to Christ in repentance and faith, coming to know God and making the best end and scope of life God and others, they make their spirit alive again because Jesus comes into the life and lives in our mortal body.  The whole point of all these discussions is that moral law is to know God.  When a person is born into the world they do not know God, they only know what we call self-preservation which if taken to extreme becomes self-gratification.  It is only when they are confronted with a choice to know God or to remain in their selfish condition that we can say that a person makes the same choice that Adam and Eve made.  That has nothing to do with human nature or sinful nature.  Sin is defined as to miss the mark of the end and scope of life, which is God.  So if a person is born into the world and does things that are part of physical depravity because they are human beings and early on learn to gratify self, it does not follow that rejecting God’s offer of salvation and coming to know God is part of human nature.  There is no one in all of creation that is unable to know God because they are hindered by their own nature in some way.

The truth is that sin is not really sin until God has touched a person’s life and they have knowingly rejected his love.  That is when moral depravity begins in the first place.  The Bible says that “to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”  We have already discussed this in detail in previous chapters.  The point that Finney and I have been making in the writing of this book is that people make excuses for their sin by saying that it is part of their nature.  If that were true we could argue that homosexuals are right in saying that they were born with desires to love the same sex.  God calls this an abomination.  As such it could not be human nature, it is a choice, an evil one at that.

When it comes to sin and human nature, human beings seek to gratify self in ways that are not sinful at times.  To eat because a person is hungry is not sin, but it is gratifying self in a way, fulfilling an appetite.  There are other appetites that are also part of human nature but they are not sinful unless they are done for a basic love of self and in opposition to all that is revealed from God.  The point is that no one has any reason to refuse God in any way.  There is no constitutional appetite that makes a person hate the love of God and hate his fellow man.  There is nothing that is part of human nature that is so powerful that it would prevent a person from experiencing the love of Christ.

The best explanation of what some think of as being human nature is that all who are born into the world are born with a nature of self preservation which is not necessarily sinful.  A child left to himself will try to do that which is natural and it takes teaching from parents to cause them to do what is right.  A dog will protect himself and seek for food and even desire to mate as part of a dog’s nature. That is not sin.  Humans are no different.  It is not sin to do that which is natural.  It is when a child is taught to do right and then they make a decision to disobey that they are beginning to do what is called sin.  Then they develop a habit of disobedience which grows and grows to a point that they are knowingly sinning against God.  That is when they know they are morally depraved.

For those that claim men are born with the nature of a sinner take a look at Adam and Eve in the Bible.  Could we take the position that they had the nature of a sinner since they had a desire for food and the temptation came to them to disobey God and then they chose to disobey God because self-gratification was more important to them than obeying and knowing god?  No, they had no more of a sinful nature than anyone else in the world does.  We all have the same nature and opportunities that Adam and Eve had.  Watchman Nee in his book “The Normal Christian Life” and also in “The Spiritual Man” speaks of the oneness of human life.  In that he sites a war that occurred in China between two very powerful families.  The question is asked, if the one family had been eliminated back in history then where would we be.  The answer is that we would all be dead (speaking of his own family who were Chinese.)  The reason is that the lives of those in later generations are tied up in the lives of those that come before because of the oneness of human life.  The Bible also talks about how the sins of the father are passed down to the children of the third and fourth generation.  It all comes back to the oneness of human life and the fact that what Adam did exposed the fact that becoming holy or sinful is a choice for all of us just as it was for Adam and Eve.

We are not born sinners because our parents were sinners any more than we are born Christians because our parents are Christians or Islamic because our parents are Islamic or any other religion.  It does, however, occur that children learn from their parents and they do what they are taught.  They learn habits that are a part of their culture.  We see children on T.V. sitting in Islamic schools praying and cursing Israel because they are taught to do so.  No one can say that it is part of their human nature to curse Jews, it is something that is learned by association with those around them.  It is the same with the sinful nature that some claim is part of human life.  It does not exist.  Every person has a right to make choices and the choice that sends them to hell is ultimately the choice to disobey God just as Adam and Eve did.  We don’t go to hell because of Adam’s sin, we go there because of our rejection of Jesus Christ.  All the other sins that we commit as part of self-gratification mean nothing unless they are done in purposeful opposition to God and to knowledge that we have in our spirit.  The Bible correctly says it this way:  “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  (John 3:6)

The argument really comes from those who teach constitutional depravity.  They are Calvinists.  They hold to the doctrine of TULIP.  It may be explained in this way:

Total Depravity – man has the nature of a sinner and he cannot do good or make right choices.

Unconditional Election – God chooses who he wants to be saved and man can do nothing.

Limited Atonement – Jesus died only for the elect that God has chosen not for the whole world.

Irresistible Grace – When God chooses the elect to be saved they cannot resist God’s decree.

Perseverance of Saints – Once chosen by God they cannot be lost, wicked or not.

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