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 The Principles of Theology - Article 9

by W.H.Griffith Thomas


<< The Extent of Original Sin

Part 3. The Result of Original Sin

“Whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit.”

The first effect of inborn sinfulness is stated negatively in the form of deprivation (privatio); “man is very far gone from original righteousness.” The Latin equivalent is particularly noteworthy; quam longissime; that is, “as far as possible,” meaning thereby as far as he can, consistent with essential human nature. This is in entire harmony with the Scripture record of man’s condition (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 7:18; 8:7). It is at this point that we may understand the meaning of St. Paul’s words: “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). It seems impossible to limit this statement to the result of voluntary action, it must apply to something far deeper. The word “dead” when used metaphorically in the moral realm refers, of course, to moral inability, not moral insensibility. It means that man has been so thoroughly deprived of moral and spiritual power that he is incapable of doing the will of God.

“The doctrine of spiritual inability, as consequent upon the corruption of man’s nature by sin, remains and will always remain to represent the great truth that there is one thing which man cannot do alone. He cannot bring his state into harmony with his nature.” [1]

Then the positive aspect of inborn sinfulness is stated in the Article: “Is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit.” This is more than deprivation, for it implies the actual existence of an evil principle (depravatio). There is a constant conflict of flesh and spirit with an unholy dominance of the former. It is also noteworthy that this is said to be so “always.” It is in entire harmony with this doctrinal statement that the devotional language of our Prayer Book has such phrases as, “There is no health in us”; “From whom all holy desires … do proceed”; “We have no power of ourselves to help ourselves”; “Can do no good thing without Thee.” It is important to notice that in the Eastern Church the main emphasis was upon the aspect of deprivation (privatio), while in the West the emphasis was invariably upon the depravity (depravatio).

This necessitates a careful consideration of the phrases “total depravity” and “total corruption,” because there is not a little confusion in regard to them. It is a case where usage fixes the meaning, because “total depravity” is not to be regarded as identical with “total corruption.” The distinction between the two has well been stated, that “total depravity” means the condition of the nature in which the will refuses to obey the conscience in everything, while “total corruption” is the condition in which the will refuses to obey the conscience in anything and chooses evil in everything. It expresses the extent, not the degree of man’s corruption. Thus, “total depravity” does not mean the absolute loss of every vestige of good, but that evil has affected every part of the nature and that nothing has remained untouched. The illustration has been used of a watch which may be of gold, and yet because it does not keep time it is of no use as a watch, notwithstanding the fact that it is made of gold. Or a cup of water with a few drops of poison is poisonous throughout, but not as poisonous as it could be. In like manner, “total depravity” does not for a moment mean that man has lost every vestige and trace of the Divine image in which he was made (Gen. 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7; Jas. 3:9). But it does mean that sin has so affected his nature that he cannot do anything that is good without the grace of God. [2]

So that it is altogether inadequate to speak of sin as merely human deprivation of God. The Biblical idea is much greater and deeper, involving separation from God though the separation is not the sin itself, but one of its consequences. Sin is defiance, revolt, and implies a deliberate, voluntary breaking away from the Divine will and a violation of the Divine order. “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Thus, sin at its deepest is the rejection of God and disobedience to His will. This involves a distortion of man’s life, nature, and relationship with God, involving inability to do good and responsibility for what is evil. Sin is, therefore, much more than something merely negative and privative. Just as pain is a positive experience and not the mere absence of pleasure, so sin is both negative as the refusal to will what is good, and positive as implying the attitude of the will towards unrighteousness.

This view of sin is in harmony with universal experience. It is a fact to be accounted for. Man was created innocent, with no imperfection or flaw in the material, and it was God’s purpose that he should develop from an innocent into a virtuous and perfect man. Modern science, not being concerned with moral realities, is unable to recognise anything abnormal in human development, and speaks only of the process of evolution, but the Bible and the Christian Church assume a very definite interruption of the process of development. Man’s self-will has been exercised in opposition to the will of his Creator, and this constitutes the Fall, the marring of God’s creative work and the thwarting of His Divine purpose. No one can say that the evolution of the human race has been normal in the moral sphere, for while on every other hand the universe indicates the presence of order and harmony, in human life there is just the opposite of disorder, lawlessness, and discord. It is, therefore, impossible to avoid connecting human sin today with the sin of our progenitors, for otherwise God would be made the author of evil. There is nothing more certain in the realm of physical science than the order of nature, and yet there is nothing more certain in the realm of morals than the presence of disobedience to law. Everything, therefore, in the Bible, in history, and experience testifies to the fact that man is not one who is merely imperfect and gradually making progress towards a state to which he has not yet attained, but that he has fallen from a primeval condition of innocence by reason of his self-will.


>> Part 4. The Condemnation of Original Sin (to be added)


[1] Denney, Studies in Theology, p. 85:
“It is a mistake, in all probability, in discussing this subject, to enter into metaphysical considerations at all; the question of man’s inability to any spiritual good accompanying salvation is a question as to matter of fact, and is to be answered ultimately by an appeal to experience. When a man has been discovered, who has been able, without Christ, to reconcile himself to God, and to obtain dominion over the world and over sin, then the doctrine of inability, or of the bondage due to sin, may be denied; then, but not till then” (Denney, ut supra, p. 85).
[2] “What it means is not that every individual is as bad as he can be, a statement so transparently absurd that it should hardly have been attributed to any one, but that the depravity which sin has produced in human nature extends to the whole of it. There is no part of man’s nature which is unaffected by it. Man’s nature is all of a piece, and that which affects it at all affects it altogether. When the conscience is violated by disobedience to the will of God, the moral understanding is darkened, and the will is enfeebled. We are not constructed in water-tight compartments, one of which might be ruined while the others remain intact; what touches us for harm, with a corrupting, depraving touch, at a single point, has effects throughout our nature none the less real that they may be for a time beneath consciousness.” (Denney, ut supra, p. 83).




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Article 9

>> Introduction

>> The Meaning of Original Sin

>> The Extent of Original Sin

>> The Result of Original Sin

>> The Condemnation of Original Sin

>> The Permanence of Original Sin

Content of The Principles

>> Index

>> Preface by J I Packer

>> Introduction

>> 1 - Trinity

>> 2 - Christ

>> 3 - Descent into Hell

>> 4 - Resurrection

>> 5 - Holy Spirit

>> 6 - Holy Scripture

>> 7 - The Old Testament

>> 8 - The Three Creeds

>> 9 - Of Original or Birth Sin

>> 10 - Of Free Will

>> 11 - Of the Justifcation of Man




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