Man is Evil

But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
~ Matthew 9:12

Have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak: O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed.
~ Psalm 6:2

I said, LORD, be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.
~ Psalm 41:4

For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
~ Luke 19:10

I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
~ Luke 5:32

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
~ Jeremiah 17:9

The Nature of Mankind, A Very Evil, Depraved and Pernicious Propensity, by Jonathan Edwards. The following contains in excerpt from his work, “The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin, Defended”.

Part One

Wherein Are Considered some Evidences of Original Sin from Facts and Events, as Found by Observation and Experience, together with Representations and Testimonies of Holy Scripture, and the Confession and Assertions of Opposers.

Chapter One

The evidence of original sin from what appears in fact of the sinfulness of mankind.

Section 3. That propensity which has been proved to be in the nature of all mankind, must be a very evil, depraved and pernicious propensity; making it manifest that the soul of man, as it is by nature, is in a corrupt, fallen and ruined state: which is the other part of the consequence, drawn from the proposition laid down in the first section.

The question to be considered, in order to determine whether man’s nature is not depraved and ruined, is not whether he is not inclined to perform as many good deeds as bad ones, but, which of these two he preponderates to, in the frame of his heart, and state of his nature, a state of innocence and righteousness, and favor with God; or a state of sin, guiltiness and abhorrence in the sight of God. Persevering sinless righteousness, or else the guilt of sin, is the alternative, on the decision of which depends (as is confessed) according to the nature and truth of things, as they are in themselves, and according to the rule of right and perfect justice, man’s being approved and accepted of his Maker, and eternally blessed as good; or his being rejected, thrown away and cursed as bad. And therefore the determination of the tendency of man’s heart and nature with respect to these terms, is that which is to be looked at, in order to determine whether his nature is good or evil, pure or corrupt, sound or ruined. If such be man’s nature, and state of his heart, that he has an infallibly effectual propensity to the latter of those terms; then it is wholly impertinent, to talk of the innocent and kind actions, even of criminals themselves, surpassing their crimes in numbers; and of the prevailing innocence, good nature, industry, felicity and cheerfulness of the greater part of mankind. Let never so many thousands, or millions of acts of honesty, good nature, etc. be supposed; yet, by the supposition, there is an unfailing propensity to such moral evil, as in its dreadful consequences infinitely outweighs all effects or consequences of any supposed good. Surely that tendency, which, in effect, is an infallible tendency to eternal destruction, is an infinitely dreadful and pernicious tendency: and that nature and frame of mind, which implies such a tendency, must be an infinitely dreadful and pernicious frame of mind. It would be much more absurd, to suppose that such a state of nature is good, or not bad, under a notion of men’s doing more honest and kind things, than evil ones; than to say, the state of that ship is good, to cross the Atlantick Ocean in, that is such as cannot hold together through the voyage, but will infallibly founder and sink by the way; under a notion that it may probably go great part of the way before it sinks, or that it will proceed and sail above water more hours than it will be sinking: or to pronounce that road a good road to go to such a place, the greater part of which is plain and safe, though some parts of it are dangerous, and certainly fatal to them that travel in it; or to call that a good propensity, which is an inflexible inclination to travel in such a way.

A propensity to that sin which brings God’s eternal wrath and curse (which has been proved to belong to the nature of man) is not evil, only as it is calamitous and sorrowful, ending in great natural evil; but it is odious too, and detestable; as, by the supposition, it tends to that moral evil, by which the subject becomes odious in the sight of God, and liable, as such, to be condemned, and utterly rejected and cursed by him. This also makes it evident, that the state which it has been proved mankind are in, is a corrupt state in a moral sense, that it is inconsistent with the fulfillment of the law of God, which is the rule of moral rectitude and goodness. That tendency, which is opposite to that which the moral law requires and insists upon, and prone to that which the moral law utterly forbids, and eternally condemns the subject for, is doubtless a corrupt tendency, in a moral sense.

So that this depravity is both odious, and also pernicious, fatal and destructive, in the highest sense, as inevitably tending to that which implies man’s eternal ruin; it shews, that man, as he is by nature, is in a deplorable and undone state, in the highest sense. And this proves that men don’t come into the world perfectly innocent in the sight of God, and without any just exposedness to his displeasure. For the being by nature in a lost and ruined state, in the highest sense, is not consistent with being by nature in a state of favor with God.

But if any should still insist on a notion of men’s good deeds exceeding their bad ones, and that seeing the good that is in men more than countervails the evil, they can’t be properly denominated evil; all persons and things being most properly denominated from that which prevails, and has the ascendent in them: I would say further, that I presume it will be allowed, that if there is in man’s nature a tendency to guilt and ill-desert, in a vast over-balance to virtue and merit; or a propensity to that sin, the evil and demerit of which is so great, that the value and merit that is in him, or in all the virtuous acts that ever he performs, are as nothing to it; then truly the nature of man may be said to be corrupt and evil.

That this is the true case, may be demonstrated by what is evident of the infinite heinousness of sin against God, from the nature of things. The heinousness of this must rise in some proportion to the obligation we are under to regard the Divine Being; and that must be in some proportion to his worthiness of regard; which doubtless is infinitely beyond the worthiness of any of our fellow creatures. But the merit of our respect or obedience to God is not infinite. The merit of respect to any being don’t increase, but is rather diminished in proportion to the obligations we are under in strict justice to pay him that respect. There is no great merit in paying a debt we owe, and by the highest possible obligations in strict justice are obliged to pay; but there is great demerit in refusing to pay it. That on such accounts as these there is an infinite demerit in all sin against God, which must therefore immensely outweigh all the merit which can be supposed to be in our virtue, I think, is capable of full demonstration; and that the futility of the objections, which some have made against the argument, might most plainly be demonstrated. But I shall omit a particular consideration of the evidence of this matter from the nature of things, as I study brevity, and lest any should cry out, “Metaphysics!” as the manner of some is, when any argument is handled, against any tenet they are fond of, with a close and exact consideration of the nature of things. And this is not so necessary in the present case, inasmuch as the point asserted, namely, that he who commits any one sin, has guilt and ill-desert which is so great, that the value and merit of all the good which it is possible he should do in his whole life, is as nothing to it; I say, this point is not only evident by metaphysics, but is plainly demonstrated by what has been shewn to be fact, with respect to God’s own constitutions and dispensations towards mankind: as particularly by this, that whatever acts of virtue and obedience a man performs, yet if he trespasses in one point, is guilty of any the least sin, he, according to the law of God, and so according to the exact truth of things and the proper demerit of sin, is exposed to be wholly cast out of favor with God, and subjected to his curse, to be utterly and eternally destroyed. This has been proved; and shewn to be the doctrine which Dr. Taylor abundantly teaches. But how can it be agreeable to the nature of things, and exactly consonant to everlasting truth and righteousness, thus to deal with a creature for the least sinful act, though he should perform ever so many thousands of honest and virtuous acts, to countervail the evil of that sin? Or how can it be agreeable to the exact truth and real demerit of things, thus wholly to cast off the deficient creature, without any regard to the merit of all his good deeds, unless that be in truth the case, that the value and merit of all those good actions bear no proportion to the heinousness of the least sin? If it were not so, one would think, that however the offending person might have some proper punishment, yet seeing there is so much virtue to lay in the balance against the guilt, it would be agreeable to the nature of things, that he should find some favor, and not be altogether rejected, and made the subject of perfect and eternal destruction; and thus no account at all be made of all his virtue, so much as to procure him the least relief or hope. How can such a constitution represent sin in its proper colors and according to its true nature and desert (as Dr. Taylor says it does) unless this be its true nature, that it is so bad, that even in the least instance it perfectly swallows up all the value of the sinner’s supposed good deeds, let ’em be ever so many? So that this matter is not left to our metaphysics or philosophy; the great Lawgiver and infallible Judge of the universe has clearly decided it, in the revelation he has made of what is agreeable to exact truth, justice and the nature of things, in his revealed law or rule of righteousness.

He that in any respect or degree is a transgressor of God’s law, is a wicked man, yea, wholly wicked in the eye of the law; all his goodness being esteemed nothing, having no account made of it, when taken together with his wickedness. And therefore, without any regard to his righteousness, he is, by the sentence of the law, and so by the voice of truth and justice to be treated as worthy to be rejected, abhorred and cursed forever; and must be so, unless grace interposes, to cover his transgression. But men are really, in themselves, what they are in the eye of the law, and by the voice of strict equity and justice; however they may be looked upon, and treated by infinite and unmerited mercy.

So that, on the whole, it appears, all mankind have an infallibly effectual propensity to that moral evil, which infinitely outweighs the value of all the good that can be in them; and have such a disposition of heart, that the certain consequence of it is, their being, in the eye of perfect truth and righteousness, wicked men. And I leave all to judge, whether such a disposition be not in the eye of truth a depraved disposition.

Agreeable to these things, the Scripture represents all mankind, not only as having guilt, but immense guilt, which they can have no merit or worthiness to countervail. Such is the representation we have in Matt. 18:21, to the end. There, on Peter’s inquiring how often his brother should trespass against him and he forgive him, whether until seven times? Christ replies, “I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven”; apparently meaning, that he should esteem no number of offenses too many, and no degree of injury it is possible our neighbor should be guilty of towards us, too great to be forgiven. For which this reason is given in the parable there following, that if ever we obtain forgiveness and favor with God, he must pardon that guilt and injury towards his majesty, which is immensely greater than the greatest injuries that ever men are guilty of, one towards another, yea, than the sum of all their injuries put together; let ’em be ever so many, and ever so great: so that the latter would be put as an hundred pence to ten thousand talents: which immense debt we owe to God, and have nothing to pay; which implies that we have no merit, to countervail any part of our guilt. And this must be because, if all that may be called virtue in us, be compared with our ill-desert, it is in the sight of God as nothing to it. The parable is not to represent Peter’s case in particular, but that of all who then were, or ever should be Christ’s disciples. It appears by the conclusion of the discourse; “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do … if ye, from your hearts, forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”

Therefore how absurd must it be for Christians to object, against the depravity of man’s nature, a greater number of innocent and kind actions, than of crimes; and to talk of a prevailing innocency, good nature, industry, and cheerfulness of the greater part of mankind? Infinitely more absurd, than it would be to insist, that the domestic of a prince was not a bad servant, because though sometimes he contemned and affronted his master to a great degree, yet he did not spit in his master’s face so often as he performed acts of service; or, than it would be to affirm, that his spouse was a good wife to him, because, although she committed adultery, and that with the slaves and scoundrels sometimes, yet she did not do this so often as she did the duties of a wife. These notions would be absurd, because the crimes are too heinous to be atoned for, by many honest actions of the servant or spouse of the prince; there being a vast disproportion between the merit of the one, and the ill-desert of the other: but in no measure so great, nay infinitely less than that between the demerit of our offenses against God and the value of our acts of obedience.

Thus I have gone through with my first argument; having shewn the evidence of the truth of the proposition I laid down at first, and proved its consequence. But there are many other things, that manifest a very corrupt tendency or disposition in man’s nature in his present state, which I shall take notice of in the following sections.

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