Human Depravity

But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward. Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground; Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.
~ Jeremiah 7:23-24, Job 5:6-7

Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness. Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
~ Job 14:1, Ecclesiastes 5:17, Ephesians 2:3

And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them. And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
~ Mark 4:11-12, 2 Corinthians 3:13-18, 2 Corinthians 4:3, John 3:19

On the Holy Spirit (Pneumatologia), by John Owen. 1674. This is an excerpt from his work.

Search the Scriptures…
~ John 5.39

Ἐκ τῶν θείων γραφᾶν θεολογοῦμεν, καὶ θέλωσιν οἱ ἐχθροὶ, καὶ μή. Out of the written word of God come Divine teachings, though His enemies may not wish it. — Chrysostom.

Book III. Chapter III. Corruption or depravation of the mind by sin.

There is a twofold state of men with respect to God, which comprehends all individuals in the world; for all men are either unregenerate or regenerate. There being both an affirmation and a negation concerning the state of regeneration in the Scripture, one or the other may be used concerning every capable subject; thus every man living is either regenerate, or he is not. And I suppose there is a general consent of Christians in this.

Again, it is evident in the Scripture, and we have proved it along the way, that all men are born in an unregenerate condition. This is so positively declared by our Savior that there is no rising up against it, John3.3-8. Now, regeneration is the deliverance of men (or the means of it) from that state and condition in which they are born, or are by nature. Therefore we cannot discover what regeneration consists of, without a declaration of that state which regeneration delivers us from. And we will first insist on this at large, giving an account of the state of lapsed nature under a loss of the original grace of God. And I will handle these things practically, for the edification of all sorts of believers, not in the scholastic way and method, which will yet be done elsewhere.

In the declaration of the state of corrupted nature after the fall, and before its reparation by the grace of Jesus Christ — that is, by the effectual operation of the Holy Spirit — the Scripture principally insists on three things:3

1. The corruption and depravation of the mind — which it calls darkness and blindness, with the consequents of vanity, ignorance, and folly.

2. The depravation of the will and affections — which it expresses several ways, such as by weakness or impotency, and stubbornness or obstinacy.

3. By the general name of death — which is extended to the condition of the whole soul.

1 An international Synod held in Dordrecht (Dordt) Netherlands (1618-1619), to settle a controversy initiated by the rise of Arminianism. In its conclusions, the Synod refuted the five points of the Arminian Remonstrance Articles (1610). The refutations became known as the five points of Calvinism, or the Doctrines of Grace.
2 Joh 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again (regenerate), he cannot see the kingdom of God (unregenerate).” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, (regenerate) he cannot enter the kingdom of God (unregenerate), that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (regenerate). “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
3 “Dico veterem Nativitatem atque adeo omnes vires naturæ, quæ naturali propagatione transfunduntur in sobolem in scriptura damnari; maledictam cordis nostri imaginationem, rationem, os, manus, pedes peccato et tenebris involuta in nobis omnia.” — Johan. Ferus in Evang. Joh. cap. i. v. 23. “Fide perdita, spe relicta, intelligentia obcæcata, voluntate captiva, homo quo in se reparetur non invenit.” — De Vocat. Gent. lib. vii. cap. 3. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh (unregenerate),

And these have various effects and consequences, as will appear in our explanation of them. All men by nature — not enlightened, not renewed in their minds by the saving and effectual operation of the Holy Spirit — are in a state of darkness and blindness with respect to God and spiritual things, along with the way of pleasing him and living to him. However wise, knowing, learned, and skilful men may be in other things, in spiritual things they are dark, blind, and ignorant unless they are renewed in the spirit of their minds by the Holy Ghost. This is a matter which the world cannot endure to hear about, and is ready to break into a fight upon its mention. They think it is only an artifice which some weak men have invented to reflect on and condemn those who are wiser than themselves. On a similar occasion, the Pharisees asked a question of our Savior with pride and scorn, “Are we blind also?” John 9.40. But he lets them know that their presumption of light and knowledge would only serve to aggravate their sin and condemnation, verse 41.1 Thus he had plainly told them that notwithstanding all their boasting, “they had neither heard the voice of God at any time, nor seen his shape,” Joh 5.37.

Some at present talk much about the power of the intellectual faculties of our souls, as though they were neither debased, corrupted, impaired, nor depraved. All that disadvantage which has befallen our nature by the entrance of sin, they say, is only in “the disorder of the affections and the inferior sensitive parts of the soul, which are apt to tumultuate and rebel against that pure untainted light which is in the mind!” And thus they speak of the mind without respect to its renovation by the Holy Spirit; for if they include that also, they are most notoriously confused triflers in their discourses. Indeed, some of them write as if they had never once deigned to consult the Scriptures, and others have plainly gone over into the tents of the Pelagians. But, setting aside their modern artifices of confident boasting, contemptuous reproaches, and scurrilous railings, it is not a difficult undertaking to demonstrate the depravity of the minds of men by nature. Consequently, their minds are impotent to discern spiritual things in a spiritual manner,2 without a saving, effectual work of the Holy Spirit in their renovation – such that the proudest and most petulant of them will not be 3 able to answer this with anything solid. We plead for nothing in this but the known doctrine of the ancient catholic church, declared in the writings of the most learned fathers, and determinations of councils against the Pelagians, whose errors and heresies are again revived among us by a crew of Socinianised Arminians.

To this end, we may first consider the testimonies given in the Scripture to the assertion as laid down in general:

Mat 4.16; “The people which sat in darkness saw a great light; and to those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has sprung up.”

What kind of darkness this was in particular will be declared afterward. For the present, it corresponds to what is proposed — that before the illumination given to them by the preaching of the gospel, the people mentioned “sat in darkness,” or lived under its power. And the light by which they were relieved was such that the darkness under which they were detained was of the same
1 Joh 9:41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.
2 “Si quis per naturæ vigorem evangelizanti predicationi nos consentire posse confirmet absque illuminatione Spiritus Sancti;
hæretico fallitur spiritu.” — Conc. Arausic. ii. can. 7.
3 This is Owen’s sarcasm at its finest: those asserting such nonsense obviously have a depraved mind; thus they are incapable of
giving a reasoned response, seeing that their own minds need a regenerating work of the Spirit.

kind1. And in the same sense, when Christ preached the gospel, “the light shined in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it,” John 1.5 — it gave no place to the light of the truth declared by him, so that it might be received in the souls of men. The commission which he gave to Paul the apostle, when he sent him to preach the gospel was, “To open the eyes of men, and to turn them from darkness to light,” Acts 26.18; — not to a light within them; for internal light is the eye or seeing of the soul.

Rather, the darkness consisted in their blindness, in not having their eyes open: “To open their eyes, and turn them from darkness.” Eph 5.8, “You were sometimes darkness, but now are you light in the Lord.” What the change is — the alteration made in the minds of men — as intended in this expression, will be made apparent afterward; but none can doubt that a great change is proposed. Col 1.13, “Who has delivered us from the power of darkness;” also 1Pet 2.9, “Who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.” And the darkness ascribed in these testimonies to persons in an unregenerate condition, Paul compares to what was at the beginning, before the creation of light: Gen 1.2, “Darkness was upon the face of the deep.” There was no creature that had a visual faculty; subjectively, there was darkness in all; and there was no light to see by, but all was objectively wrapped in darkness. In this state of things, God created light by an almighty act of his power: Gen 1.3, “God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” And it is not otherwise in this new creation: “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, shines in the hearts of men, to give them the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ,” 2Cor 4.6. Spiritual darkness is in and upon all men, until God, by an almighty and effectual work of the Spirit, shines into them, or creates light in them. And this darkness is that “light” which some boast is within themselves and others!

To clarify this matter, we must consider first, the nature of this spiritual darkness — what it is, and what it consists in; and then, secondly, we must show its efficacy and power in and on the minds of men, and how they are corrupted by it.

First, The term “darkness” in this case is metaphorical, and borrowed from that which is natural. What natural darkness is, and what it consists in, all men know. If they do not know it by its cause and reason, they know it by its effects. They know it is what hinders men from all regular operations which are to be guided by the outward senses. And darkness is twofold:

1. It is when men do not have light to see by, or when the usual light — the only external medium for discovering distant objects — is taken from them. So it was with the Egyptians during the three days’ darkness that was on their land. They could not see for lack of light; their visual faculty continued for them, yet having “no light,” they “did not see one another, nor did anyone arise from his place,” Exo 10.23: for God, probably to augment the terror of his judgment, restrained the efficacy of artificial light, as well as restraining natural light.

2. There is darkness when men are blind, either born so or made so: Psa 69.23, “Let their eyes be darkened, that they do not see.” So the angels struck the Sodomites with blindness, Gen 19.11; and Paul struck the sorcerer blind, Acts 13.11. Though the sun shines, it is all one perpetual night to those who are blind.
1 That is, it was a darkness of the mind; and so the Spirit enlightens the mind.

Corresponding to this, spiritual darkness may be assigned to two heads; for there is an objective darkness, a darkness that is on men; and a subjective darkness, a darkness that is in them. The first consists in the lack of those means by which alone they may be enlightened in the knowledge of God and spiritual things. This is intended in Mat 4.16. This means is the word of God, and the preaching of it. Hence it is called a “light,” Psa 119.105,1 and it is said to “enlighten,” Psa 19.8,2, or to be “a light shining in a dark place,” 2Pet 1.19. And it is so termed, because it is the outward means of communicating the light of the knowledge of God to the minds of men. What the sun is to the world as to natural things, the word and preaching are to men as to spiritual things. Hence what is said about the sun in the firmament, as to enlightening the world, Psa 19.1-4,4 our apostle applies to the gospel and preaching it, Rom 10.15, 18. 5

And this darkness is upon many in the world, even all those to whom the gospel is not declared, or by whom it is not received, where it is or has been so. Some, I know, have entertained a vain imagination about a saving revelation of the knowledge of God by the works of creation and providence, that is objected6 to the rational faculties of the minds of men. It is not my purpose here to divert to confuting that fancy. If it were so, it would be easy to demonstrate that there is no saving revelation of the knowledge of God to sinners, except as he is reconciling the world to himself in Christ; and he is not made known in that, except by the word of reconciliation committed to those who dispense the gospel. Therefore, whatever knowledge of God may be attained by the means mentioned, as he is the God of nature ruling over men, and requiring obedience from them according to the covenant and law of their creation, the knowledge of him as a God in Christ, pardoning sin and saving sinners, is attainable only by the gospel. But I have proved and confirmed this elsewhere.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit to remove and take away this darkness; and until this is done, no man can see the kingdom of God, or enter into it. And he does this by sending the word of the gospel into any nation, country, place, or city, as he pleases. The gospel does not gain ground in any place, nor is it restrained from any place or people, by accident or by the endeavours of men.

Rather, it is sent and disposed of according to the sovereign will and pleasure of the Spirit of God. He gifts, calls, and sends men to the work of preaching it, Act 13.2, 4; and he disposes them to the places where they will declare it, either by express revelation, as of old, Act 16.6-10, or else he guides them by the secret operations of his providence. Thus the dispensation of the “light of the gospel,” as to various times, places, and persons, depends on his sovereign pleasure, Psa 147.19- 20. This is why, even though we are to take care and pray much about continuing the dispensation
1 Psa 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.
2 Psa 19:8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
3 2 Pet 1:19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until
the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts;
4 Psa 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
5 Rom 10:15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” Rom 10:18 But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: “Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.”
6 In the sense of “placed before,” “presented.” — Ed.
7 See treatise, “Communion with God,” and his “Vindication” of it in reply to Dr. Sherlock, vol ii. — Ed. applies to the gospel and preaching it, Rom 10.15, 18, this elsewhere. And it is so termed, because it is the outward.

of the gospel in one place, and its propagation in others, yet we need not be overly concerned about it. The Holy Ghost has taken this work and care on himself, and will carry it on according to the counsel of God, and his purposes concerning the kingdom of Jesus Christ in this world. To this extent, the dispensation of the gospel is only a causa sine quâ non 1 of the regeneration of men; granting regeneration depends solely on the will of the Spirit of God.

It is subjective darkness which is a more direct and immediate consideration in this matter. Its nature, what it regards, and its influence on the minds of men, must be declared before we can rightly apprehend the work of the Holy Spirit in the removal of darkness by regeneration.

This is what the Scripture expresses as the natural depravation and corruption of the minds of men with respect to spiritual things, and the duty that we owe to God according to the tenor of the covenant.