Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
~ Jeremiah 13:23
O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
~ Matthew 12:34
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
~ Romans 8:7-8
It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.
~ John 6:45
The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.
~ Jeremiah 31:3
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
~ Ephesians 2:1
And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest.
~ Ezekiel 37:3
Human Inability, by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The following contains an excerpt from his sermon.
No man can come to Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him.
~ John 6:44
“Coming to Christ” is a very common phrase in Holy Scripture. It is used to express those acts of the soul wherein leaving at once our self-righteousness and our sins, we fly unto the Lord Jesus Christ and receive His righteousness to be our covering and His blood to be our atonement. Coming to Christ, then, embraces in it repentance, self-negation and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It sums within itself all those things which are the necessary attendants of these great states of heart, such as the belief of the truth, earnestness of prayer to God, the submission of the soul to the precepts of God’s Gospel and all those things which accompany the dawn of salvation in the soul.
Coming to Christ is just the one essential thing for a sinner’s salvation. He that comes not to Christ, do what he may, or think what he may, is yet in “the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity.” Coming to Christ is the very first effect of regeneration. No sooner is the soul quickened than it at once discovers its lost estate, is horrified thereat, looks out for a refuge and believing Christ to be a suitable one, flies to Him and reposes in Him.
Where there is not this coming to Christ, it is certain that there is as yet no quickening–where there is no quickening, the soul is dead in trespasses and sins–and being dead it cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven. We have before us now an announcement very startling, some say very obnoxious. Coming to Christ, though described by some people as being the very easiest thing in all the world, is in our text declared to be a thing utterly and entirely impossible to any man, unless the Father shall draw him to Christ.
It shall be our business, then, to enlarge upon this declaration. We doubt not that it will always be offensive to carnal nature, but nevertheless, the offending of human nature is sometimes the first step towards bringing it to bow itself before God. And if this is the effect of a painful process, we can forget the pain and rejoice in the glorious consequences.
I shall endeavor this morning, first of all, to notice man’s inability, wherein it consists. Secondly, the Father’s drawings–what these are and how they are exerted upon the soul. And then I shall conclude by noticing a sweet consolation which may be derived from this seemingly barren and terrible text.
First, then, MAN’S INABILITY. The text says, “No man can come to Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him.” Wherein does this inability lie?
First, it does not lie in any physical defect. If in coming to Christ, moving the body or walking with the feet should be of any assistance, certainly man has all physical power to come to Christ in that sense. I remember to have heard a very foolish Antinomian declare that he did not believe any man had the power to walk to the house of God unless the Father drew him. Now the man was plainly foolish, because he must have seen that as long as a man was alive and had legs, it was as easy for him to walk to the house of God as to the house of Satan.
If coming to Christ includes the utterance of a prayer, man has no physical defect in that respect. If he is not dumb, he can say a prayer as easily as he can utter blasphemy. It is as easy for a man to sing one of the songs of Zion as to sing a profane and libidinous song. There is no lack of physical power in coming to Christ that can be wanted with regard to the bodily strength man most assuredly has. And any part of salvation which consists in that is totally and entirely in the power of man without any assistance from the Spirit of God.
Nor, again, does this inability lie in any mental lack. I can believe this Bible to be true just as easily as I can believe any other book to be true. So far as believing on Christ is an act of the mind, I am just as able to believe on Christ as I am able to believe on anybody else. Let his statement be but true, it is idle to tell me I cannot believe it. I can believe the the mind–it is as capable of appreciating as a mere mental act the guilt of sin, as it is of appreciating the guilt of assassination. It is just as possible for me to exercise the mental idea of seeking God, as it is to exercise the thought of ambition.
I have all the mental strength and power that can possibly be needed, so far as mental power is needed in salvation at all. No, there is not any man so ignorant that he can plead a lack of intellect as an excuse for rejecting the Gospel. The defect, then, does not lie either in the body, or, what we are bound to call, speaking theologically, the mind. It is not any lack or deficiency there, although it is the vitiation of the mind, the corruption or the ruin of it, which, after all, is the very essence of man’s inability.
Permit me to show you wherein this inability of man really does lie. It lies deep in his nature. Through the Fall and through our own sin, the nature of man has become so debased, depraved and corrupt, that it is impossible for him to come to Christ without the assistance of God the Holy Spirit. Now, in trying to exhibit how the nature of man thus renders him unable to come to Christ, you must allow me just to take this figure. You see a sheep–how willingly it feeds upon the herbage. You never knew a sheep to seek after carrion, it could not live on lion’s food.
Now bring me a wolf and you ask me whether a wolf cannot eat grass, whether it cannot be just as docile and as domesticated as the sheep. I answer, no, because its nature is contrary to it. You say, “Well, it has ears and legs. Can it not hear the shepherd’s voice and follow him wherever he leads it?” I answer, certainly. There is no physical cause why it cannot do so, but its nature forbids it–and therefore I say it cannot do so. Can it not be tamed? Cannot its ferocity be removed?
Probably it may so far be subdued that it may become apparently tame, but there will always be a marked distinction between it and the sheep, because there is a distinction in nature. Now, the reason why man cannot come to Christ is not because he cannot come, so far as his body or his mere power of mind is concerned. Man cannot come to Christ because his nature is so corrupt that he has neither the will nor the power to come to Christ unless drawn by the Spirit.
But let me give you a better illustration. You see a mother with her babe in her arms. You put a knife into her hand and tell her to stab that babe in the heart. She replies and very truthfully, “I cannot.” Now, so far as her bodily power is concerned, she can, if she pleases. There is the knife and there is the child. The child cannot resist and she has quite sufficient strength in her hand immediately to stab it. But she is quite correct when she says she cannot do it. As a mere act of the mind, it is quite possible she might think of such a thing as killing the child and yet she says she cannot think of such a thing. And she does not say falsely, for her nature as a mother forbids her doing a thing from which her soul revolts.
Simply because she is that child’s parent she feels she cannot kill it. It is even so with a sinner. Coming to Christ is so obnoxious to human nature that although, so far as physical and mental forces are concerned, (and these have but a very narrow sphere in salvation), men could come if they would–it is strictly correct to say that they cannot and will not unless the Father who has sent Christ does draw them. Let us enter a little more deeply into the subject and try to show you wherein this inability of man consists, in its more minute particulars.
First it lies in the obstinacy of the human will. “Oh,” says the Arminian, “men may be saved if they will.” We reply, “My dear Sir, we all believe that. But it is just the if they will that is the difficulty. We assert that no man will come to Christ unless he is drawn. No, we do not assert it, but Christ Himself declares it–‘You will not come unto Me that you might have life.’ And as long as that ‘you will not come’ stands on record in Holy Scripture, Christ shall not be brought to believe in any doctrine of the freedom of the human will.”
It is strange how people, when talking about free will, talk of things which they do not at all understand. “Now” says one, “I believe men can be saved if they will.” My dear Sir, that is not the question at all. The question is, are men ever found naturally willing to submit to the humbling terms of the Gospel of Christ? We declare, upon Scriptural authority, that the human will is so desperately set on mischief, so depraved and so inclined to everything that is evil–so disinclined to everything that is good–that without the powerful, supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit, no human will will ever be constrained towards Christ.
You reply that men sometimes are willing, without the help of the Holy Spirit. I answer–did you ever meet with any person who was? Scores and hundreds, no, thousands of Christians have I conversed with, of different opinions, young and old–but it has never been my lot to meet with one who could affirm that he came to Christ of himself without being drawn. The universal confession of all true Believers is this–“I know that unless Jesus Christ had sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God, I would to this very hour have been wandering far from Him–at a distance from Him–and loving that distance well.” With common consent, all Believers affirm the truth that men will not come to Christ till the Father who has sent Christ does draw them.
Again, not only is the will obstinate, but the understanding is darkened. Of that we have abundant Scriptural proof. I am not now making mere assertions, but stating doctrines authoritatively taught in the Holy Scriptures and known in the conscience of every Christian man–that the understanding of man is so dark that he cannot by any means understand the things of God until his understanding has been opened. Man is by nature blind within. The Cross of Christ, so laden with glories and glittering with attractions, never attracts him, because he is blind and cannot see its beauties. Talk to him of the wonders of the creation. Show to him the many-colored arch that spans the sky. Let him behold the glories of a landscape–he is well able to see all these things.
But talk to him of the wonders of the Covenant of Grace, speak to him of the security of the Believer in Christ, tell him of the beauties of the Person of the Redeemer, he is quite deaf to all your description. You are as one that plays a goodly tune, it is true. But he regards not, he is deaf, he has no comprehension. Or, to return to the verse which we so specially marked in our reading, “The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned,” and inasmuch as he is a natural man, it is not in his power to discern the things of God. “Well,” says one, “I think I have arrived at a very tolerable judgment in matters of theology. I think I understand almost every point.”
True, that you may do in the letter of it. But in the spirit of it, in the true reception thereof into the soul and in the actual understanding of it, it is impossible for you to have attained–unless you have been drawn by the Spirit. For as long as that Scripture stands true–that carnal men cannot receive spiritual things–it must be true that you have not received them, unless you have been renewed and made a spiritual man in Christ Jesus. The will, then and the understanding, are two great doors, both blocked up against our coming to Christ. And until these are opened by the sweet influences of the Divine Spirit, they must be forever closed to anything like coming to Christ.
Again, the affections, which constitute a very great part of man, are depraved. Man, as he is, before he receives the grace of God, loves anything and everything above spiritual things. If you want proof of this, look around you. There needs no monument to the depravity of the human affections. Cast your eyes everywhere–there is not a street, nor a house, no, nor a heart, which does not bear upon it sad evidence of this dreadful truth. Why is it that men are not found on the Sabbath-Day universally flocking to the house of God? Why are we not more constantly found reading our Bibles? How is it that prayer is a duty almost universally neglected? Why is it that Christ Jesus is so little loved? Why are even His professed followers so cold in their affections to Him?
From where arise these things? Assuredly, dear Brethren, we can trace them to no other source than this–the corruption and vitiation of the affections. We love that which we ought to hate and we hate that which we ought to love. It is but human nature, fallen human nature–that man should love this present life better than the life to come. It is but the effect of the Fall that man should love sin better than righteousness and the ways of this world better than the ways of God. And again, we repeat it–until these affections are renewed and turned into a fresh channel by the gracious drawings of the Father, it is not possible for any man to love the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet once more–conscience, too, has been overpowered by the Fall. I believe there is no more egregious mistake made by divines than when they tell people that conscience is the vicegerent of God within the soul and that it is one of those powers which retains its ancient dignity and stands erect amidst the fall of its compeers. My Brethren, when man fell in the garden, manhood fell entirely. There was not one single pillar in the temple of manhood that stood erect. It is true, conscience was not destroyed. The pillar was not shattered. It fell, and it fell in one piece, and here it lies alone–the mightiest remnant of God’s once perfect work in man.
But that conscience is fallen, I am sure. Look at men. Who among them is the possessor of a “good conscience toward God,” but the regenerated man? Do you imagine that if men’s consciences always spoke loudly and clearly to them, they would live in the daily commission of acts which are as opposed to the right as darkness to light? No, Beloved–conscience can tell me that I am a sinner, but conscience cannot make me feel that I am one. Conscience may tell me that such-and-such a thing is wrong, but how wrong it is, conscience itself does not know.
Did any man’s conscience, unenlightened by the Spirit, ever tell him that his sins deserved damnation? Or if conscience did do that, did it ever lead any man to feel an abhorrence of sin as sin? In fact, did conscience ever bring a man to such a self-renunciation that he did totally abhor himself and all his works and come to Christ? No, conscience, although it is not dead, is ruined. Its power is impaired, it has not that clearness of eye and that strength of hand and that thunder of voice which it had before the Fall. It has ceased, to a great degree, to exert its supremacy in the town of Mansoul. Then, Beloved, it becomes necessary for this very reason, because conscience is depraved, that the Holy Spirit should step in to show us our need of a Savior and draw us to the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Still,” says one, “as far as you have so far gone, it appears to me that you consider that the reason why men do not come to Christ is that they will not, rather than they cannot.” True, most true. I believe the greatest reason of man’s inability is the obstinacy of his will. That once overcome, I think the great stone is rolled away from the sepulcher and the hardest part of the battle is already won. But allow me to go a little further. My text does not say, “No man will come,” but it says, “No man can come.” Now, many interpreters believe that the can here is but a strong expression conveying no more meaning than the word will. I feel assured that this is not correct.
There is in man not only unwillingness to be saved, but there is a spiritual powerlessness to come to Christ. And this I will prove to every Christian at any rate. Beloved, I speak to you who have already been quickened by Divine Grace. Does not your experience teach you that there are times when you have a will to serve God and yet have not the power? Have you not sometimes been obliged to say that you have wished to believe but you have had to pray, “Lord, help my unbelief”? Because, although willing enough to receive God’s Testimony, your own carnal nature was too strong for you and you felt you needed supernatural help.
Are you able to go into your room at any hour you choose and to fall upon your knees and say, “Now, it is my will that I should be very earnest in prayer and that I should draw near unto God”? I ask, do you find your power equal to your will? You could say, even at the bar of God Himself, that you are sure you are not mistaken in your willingness. You are willing to be wrapped up in devotion. It is your will that your soul should not wander from a pure contemplation of the Lord Jesus Christ, but you find that you cannot do that, even when you are willing, without the help of the Spirit.
Now, if the quickened child of God finds a spiritual inability, how much more the sinner who is dead in trespasses and sin? If even the advanced Christian, after thirty or forty years, finds himself sometimes willing and yet powerless–if such is his experience–does it not seem more than likely that the poor sinner who has not yet believed should find a need of strength as well as a want of will?
But, again, there is another argument. If the sinner has strength to come to Christ, I should like to know how we are to understand those continual descriptions of the sinner’s state which we meet with in God’s Holy Word? Now, a sinner is said to be dead in trespasses and sins. Will you affirm that death implies nothing more than the absence of a will? Surely a corpse is quite as unable as unwilling. Or again, do not all men see that there is a distinction between will and power? Might not that corpse be sufficiently quickened to get a will and yet be so powerless that it could not lift as much as its hand or foot? Have we ever seen cases in which persons have been just sufficiently re-animated to give evidence of life–and have yet been so near death that they could not have performed the slightest action?
Is there not a clear difference between the giving of the will and the giving of power? It is quite certain, however, that where the will is given, the power will follow. Make a man willing and he shall be made powerful, for when God gives the will, He does not tantalize man by giving him to wish for that which he is unable to do. Nevertheless He makes such a division between the will and the power, that it shall be seen that both things are quite distinct gifts of the Lord God.
Then I must ask one more question. If that were all that were needed to make a man willing, do you not at once degrade the Holy Spirit? Are we not in the habit of giving all the glory of salvation wrought in us to God the Spirit? But now, if all that God the Spirit does for me is to make me willing to do these things for myself, am I not in a great measure a sharer with the Holy Spirit in the glory? And may I not boldly stand up and say, “It is true the Spirit gave me the will to do it, but still I did it myself and therein will I glory. For if I did these things myself without assistance from on high, I will not cast my crown at His feet. It is my own crown, I earned it and I will keep it.”
Inasmuch as the Holy Spirit is evermore in Scripture set forth as the Person who works in us to will and to do of His own good pleasure, we hold it to be a legitimate inference that He must do something more for us than the mere making of us willing. Therefore there must be another thing besides want of will in a sinner–there must be absolute and actual want of power.
Now, before I leave this statement, let me address myself to you for a moment. I am often charged with preaching doctrines that may do a great deal of hurt. Well, I shall not deny the charge, for I am not careful to answer in this matter. I have my witnesses here present to prove that the things which I have preached have done a great deal of hurt, but they have not done hurt either to morality or to God’s Church. The hurt has been on the side of Satan. There are not ones or twos but many hundreds who this morning rejoice that they have been brought near to God. From having been profane Sabbath-breakers, drunkards, or worldly persons, they have been brought to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ. And if this is any hurt, may God of His infinite mercy send us a thousand times as much.
But further, what Truth is there in the world which will not hurt a man who chooses to make hurt of it? You who preach general redemption are very fond of proclaiming the great truth of God’s mercy to the last moment. But how dare you preach that? Many people make hurt of it by putting off the day of grace and thinking that the last hour may do as well as the first. Why, if we ever preached anything which man could misuse, and abuse, we must hold our tongues forever. Still says one, “Well then, if I cannot save myself, and cannot come to Christ, I must sit still and do nothing.”
If men do say so, on their own heads shall be their doom. We have very plainly told you that there are many things you can do. To be found continually in the house of God is in your power. To study the Word of God with diligence is in your power. To renounce your outward sin, to forsake the vices in which you indulge, to make your life honest, sober, and righteous is in your power. For this you need no help from the Holy Spirit. All this you can do yourself. But to come to Christ truly is not in your power until you are renewed by the Holy Spirit. But mark you, your want of power is no excuse, seeing that you have no desire to come and are living in willful rebellion against God. Your want of power lies mainly in the obstinacy of your nature.
Suppose a liar says that it is not in his power to speak the truth, that he has been a liar so long that he cannot leave it off. Is that an excuse for him? Suppose a man who has long indulged in lust should tell you that he finds his lusts have so girt about him like a great iron net that he cannot get rid of them. Would you take that as an excuse? Truly it is none at all. If a drunkard has become so foully a drunkard that he finds it impossible to pass a public bar without stepping in, do you therefore excuse him? No, because his inability to reform lies in his nature–which he has no desire to restrain or conquer.
The thing that is done and the thing that causes the thing that is done–being both from the root of sin–are two evils which cannot excuse each other. It is because you have learned to do evil that you cannot now learn to do well, and instead, therefore, of letting you sit down to excuse yourselves–let me put a thunderbolt beneath the seat of your sloth–that you may be startled by it and aroused.
Remember, that to sit still is to be damned to all eternity. Oh, that God the Holy Spirit might make use of this truth in a very different manner. Before I have done I trust I shall be enabled to show you how it is that this truth, which apparently condemns men and shuts them out, is, after all, the great truth which has been blessed to the conversion of men.