Man’s Nature

And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any,
~ Luke 8:43

Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.
~ Luke 7:7

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

So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
~ Luke 12:21

For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
~ Romans 10:3

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.
~ Mark 4:12

Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
~ Revelation 3:17-18

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;
~ 2 Corinthians 3:5

For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
~ Galatians 6:3

The Corruption of Man’s Nature, Shown In Extreme Degrees of His Folly and Stupidity in Matters of Religion, by Jonathan Edwards. The following contains an excerpt from his work, “The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended”.

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

Section VI.

The corruption of man’s nature appears by its tendency, in its present state, to an extreme degree of folly and stupidity in the matters of religion.

It appears, that man’s nature is greatly depraved, by an apparent proneness to an exceeding stupidity and sottishness in those things wherein his duty and main interest are chiefly concerned.

I shall instance in two things; viz. men’s proneness to idolatry and so general and great a disregard of eternal things, as appears in them that live under the light of the gospel.

‘Tis manifest, that man’s nature in its present state is attended with a great propensity to forsake the acknowledgment and worship of the true God, and to fall into the most stupid idolatry. This has been sufficiently proved by known fact, on abundant trial: inasmuch as the world of mankind in general (excepting one small people, miraculously delivered and preserved) through all nations, in all parts of the world, ages after ages, continued without the knowledge and worship of the true God, and overwhelmed in gross idolatry, without the least appearance or prospect of its recovering itself from so great blindness, or returning from its brutish principles and customs, till delivered by divine grace.

In order to the most just arguing from fact, concerning the tendency of man’s nature, as that is in itself, it should be inquired what the event has been, where nature has been left to itself, to operate according to its own tendency, with least opposition made to it by anything supernatural; rather than in exempt places, where the infinite power and grace of God have interposed, and extraordinary means have been used to stem the current, and bring men to true religion and virtue. As to the means by which God’s people of old, in the line of Abraham, were delivered and preserved from idolatry, they were miraculous, and of mere grace: notwithstanding which, they were often relapsing into the notions and ways of the heathen: and when they had backslidden, never were recovered, but by divine gracious interposition. And as to the means by which many Gentile nations have been delivered, since the days of the gospel, they are such as have been wholly owing to most wonderful, miraculous and infinite grace. God was under no obligation to bestow on the heathen world greater advantages than they had in the ages of their gross darkness; as appears by the fact, that God actually did not, for so long a time, bestow greater advantages.

Dr. Taylor himself observes (Key, p. 1), “That in about 400 years after the flood, the generality of mankind were fallen into idolatry.” And thus it was everywhere through the world, excepting among that people that was saved, and preserved by a constant series of miracles, through a variety of countries, nations and climates, great enough, and through successive changes, revolutions and ages, numerous enough, to be a sufficient trial of what mankind are prone to; if there be any such thing as a sufficient trial.

That men should forsake the true God for idols, is an evidence of the most astonishing folly and stupidity, by God’s own testimony. (Jer. 2:12–13), “Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be ye horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord: for my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and have hewed out to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” And that mankind in general did thus, so soon after the flood, was from the evil propensity of their hearts, and because they did not like to retain God in their knowledge; as is evident by Rom. 1:28. And the universality of the effect shews that the cause was universal, and not anything belonging to the particular circumstances of one, or only some nations or ages, but something belonging to that nature that is common to all nations, and that remains the same through all ages. And what other cause could this great effect possibly arise from, but a depraved disposition, natural to all mankind? It could not arise from want of a sufficient capacity or means of knowledge. This is in effect confessed on all hands. Dr. Turnbull (Christian Philosophy, p. 21) says as follows: “The existence of one infinitely powerful, wise and good mind, the author, creator, upholder and governour of all things, is a truth that lies plain and obvious to all that will but think.” And (Ibid., p. 245), “Moral knowledge, which is the most important of all knowledge, may easily be acquired by all men.” And again (Ibid., p. 292), “Every man by himself, if he would duly employ his mind, in the contemplation of the works of God about him, or in the examination of his own frame, … might make very great progress in the knowledge of the wisdom and goodness of God. This all men, generally speaking, might do, with very little assistance; for they have all sufficient abilities for thus employing their minds, and have all sufficient time for it.” Mr. Locke says (Hum. Und. Bk. IV, ch. 4, p. 242, ed. 11), “Our own existence, and the sensible parts of the universe, offer the proofs of a deity so clearly and cogently to our thoughts, that I deem it impossible for a considerate man to withstand them. For I judge it as certain and clear a truth, as can anywhere be delivered, that the invisible things of God are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead.” And Dr. Taylor himself (in p. 78) says, “The light given to all ages and nations of the world, is sufficient for the knowledge and practice of their duty.” And in pp. 111, 112, [after] citing those words of the Apostle (Rom. 2:14, 15), says, “This clearly supposes that the Gentiles, who were then in the world, might have done the things contained in the law by nature, or their natural power.” And in one of the next sentences, he says, “The Apostle in Rom. 1:19, 20, 21, affirms that the Gentiles had light sufficient to have seen God’s eternal power and godhead, in the works of creation; and that the reason why they did not glorify him as God, was because they became vain in their imaginations, and had darkened their foolish heart; so that they were without excuse.” And in his paraphrase on those verses in the first of Romans he speaks of the “very heathens, that were without a written revelation, as having that clear and evident discovery of God’s being and perfections, that they are inexcusable in not glorifying him, suitably to his excellent nature, and as the author of their being and enjoyments.” And in p. 422, he says, “God affords every man sufficient light to know his duty.” If all ages and nations of the world have sufficient light for the knowledge of God, and their duty to him, then even such nations and ages, in which the most brutish ignorance and barbarity prevailed, had sufficient light, if they had had but a disposition to improve it; and then much more those of the heathen, which were more knowing and polished, and in ages wherein arts and learning had made greatest advances. But even in such nations and ages, there was no advance made towards true religion; as Dr. Winder observes (His. of Knowl. vol. 2, p. 336) in the following words:

“The pagan religion degenerated into greater absurdity, the further it proceeded, and it prevailed in all its height of absurdity when the pagan nations were polished to the height. Though they set out with the talents of reason, and had solid foundations of information to build upon, it in fact proved, that with all their strengthened faculties, and growing powers of reason, the edifice of religion rose in the most absurd deformities and disproportions, and gradually went on in the most irrational disproportioned, incongruous systems, of which the most easy dictates of reason would have demonstrated the absurdity. They were contrary to all just calculations in moral mathematics.” He observes, “That their grossest abominations first began in Egypt, where was an ostentation of the greatest progress in learning and science: and they never renounced clearly any of their abominations, or openly returned to the worship of the one true God, the Creator of all things, and to the original, genuine sentiments of the highest, and most venerable antiquity. The pagan religion continued in this deep state of corruption to the last. The pagan philosophers, and inquisitive men, made great improvements in many sciences, and even in morality itself; yet the inveterate absurdities of pagan idolatry remained without remedy. Every temple smoked with incense to the sun and moon, & other inanimate, material luminaries, and earthly elements, to Jupiter, Juno, Mars and Venus, &c., the patrons and examples of almost every vice. Hecatombs bled on the altars of a thousand gods, as mad superstition inspired. And this was not the disgrace of our ignorant, untaught northern countries only; but even at Athens itself, the infamy reigned, and circulated through all Greece: and finally prevailed, amidst all their learning and politeness, under the Ptolemys in Egypt, and the Caesars in Rome. Now if the knowledge of the pagan world, in religion, proceeded no further than this; if they retained all their deities, even the most absurd of them all, their deified beasts, and deified men, even to the last breath of pagan power; we may justly ascribe the great improvements in the world on the subject of religion, to divine revelation; either vouchsafed in the beginning, when this knowledge was competently clear and copious; or at the death of paganism, when this light shone forth in its consummate lustre, at the coming of Christ.”

Dr. Taylor often speaks of the idolatry of the heathen world, as great wickedness, in which they were wholly inexcusable: and yet often speaks of their case as remedy-less, as being dead in sin, and unable to recover themselves. And if so, and yet, according to his own doctrine, every age, and every nation, and every man, had sufficient light afforded, to know God, and to know and do their whole duty to him; then their inability to deliver themselves must be a moral inability, consisting in a desperate depravity, and most evil disposition of heart.

And if there had not been sufficient trial of the propensity of the hearts of mankind, through all those ages that passed from Abraham to Christ, the trial has been continued down to this day, in all those vast regions of the face of the earth, that have remained without any effects of the light of the gospel; and the dismal effect continues everywhere unvaried. How was it with that multitude of nations inhabiting South and North America? What appearance was there, when the Europeans first came hither, of their being recovered, or recovering, in any degree from the grossest ignorance, delusions, and most stupid paganism? And how is it at this day, in those parts of Africa and Asia, into which the light of the gospel has not penetrated?

This strong and universally prevalent disposition of mankind to idolatry, of which there has been such great trial, and so notorious and vast proof, in fact, is a most glaring evidence of the exceeding depravity of the human nature; as ’tis a propensity, in the utmost degree, contrary to the highest end, the main business and chief happiness of mankind, consisting in the knowledge, service and enjoyment of the living God, the Creator and Governor of the world; in the highest degree contrary to that for which mainly God gave mankind more understanding than the beasts of the earth, and made them wiser than the fowls of heaven: which was, that they might be capable of the knowledge of God; and in the highest degree contrary to the first and greatest commandment of the moral law, that we should have no other gods before Jehovah, and that we should love and adore him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The Scriptures are abundant in representing the idolatry of the heathen world as their exceeding wickedness, and their most brutish stupidity. They that worship and trust in idols, are said themselves to be like the lifeless statues they worship, like mere senseless stocks and stones (Ps. 115:4–8, and 135:15–18).

A second instance of the natural stupidity of the minds of mankind, that I shall observe, is that great disregard of their own eternal interest; which appears so remarkably, so generally, among them that live under the gospel.

As Mr. Locke observes (Hum. Und. vol. 1 [Bk. 2], p. 207), “Were the will determined by the views of good, as it appears in contemplation, greater or less to the understanding, it could never get loose from the infinite eternal joys of heaven, once proposed, and considered as possible: the eternal condition of a future state infinitely outweighing the expectation of riches or honor, or any other worldly pleasure, which we can propose to ourselves; though we should grant these the more probable to be obtained.” Again (pp. 228, 229), “He that will not be so far a rational creature, as to reflect seriously upon infinite happiness and misery, must needs condemn himself, as not making that use of his understanding he should. The rewards and punishments of another life, which the Almighty has established, as the enforcements of his laws, are of weight enough to determine the choice, against whatsoever pleasure or pain this life can show. When the eternal state is considered but in its bare possibility, which nobody can make any doubt of, he that will allow exquisite and endless happiness to be but the possible consequences of a good life here, and the contrary state the possible reward of a bad one, must own himself to judge very much amiss, if he does not conclude that a virtuous life, with the certain expectation of everlasting bliss, which may come, is to be preferred to a vicious one, with the fear of that dreadful state of misery, which ’tis very possible may overtake the guilty, or at least the terrible uncertain hope of annihilation. This is so evidently so; though the virtuous life here had nothing but pain, and the vicious continual pleasure; which yet is for the most part quite otherwise, and wicked men have not much the odds to brag of, even in their present possession; nay, all things rightly considered, have I think even the worst part here. But when infinite happiness is put in one scale, against infinite misery in the other; if the worst that comes to the pious man, if he mistakes, be the best that the wicked man can attain to, if he be in the right; who can, without madness, run the venture: Who in his wits would choose to come within a possibility of infinite misery? Which if he miss, there is yet nothing to be got by that hazard: whereas, on the other side, the sober man ventures nothing, against infinite happiness to be got, if his expectations come to pass.”

That disposition of mind which is a propensity to act contrary to reason, is a depraved disposition. ‘Tis not because the faculty of reason, which God has given to mankind, is not sufficient fully to discover to ’em that forty, sixty, or an hundred years, is as nothing in comparison of eternity, infinitely less than a second of time to an hundred years, that the greatest wordly prosperity and pleasure is not treated with most perfect disregard, in all cases where there is any degree of competition of earthly things, with salvation from exquisite eternal misery, and the enjoyment of everlasting glory and felicity; as certainly it would be, if men acted according to reason. But is it a matter of doubt or controversy, whether men in general don’t shew a strong disposition to act far otherwise, from their infancy, till death is in a sensible approach? In things that concern men’s temporal interest, they easily discern the difference between things of a long and short continuance. ‘Tis no hard matter to convince men of the difference between a being admitted to the accommodations, and entertainments of a convenient, beautiful, well-furnished habitation, and to partake of the provisions and produce of a plentiful estate, for a day or a night; and having all given to them and settled upon them as their own, to possess as long as they live, and to be theirs, and their heirs’ forever: there would be no need of men’s preaching sermons, and spending their strength and life to convince men of the difference. Men know how to adjust things in their dealings and contracts one with another, according to the length of time in which anything agreed for is to be used or enjoyed. In temporal affairs, men are sensible that it concerns ’em to provide for future time, as well as for the present. Thus common prudence teaches ’em to take care in summer to lay up for winter; yea, to provide a fund, and get a solid estate, whence they may be supplied for a long time to come. And not only so, but they are willing and forward to spend and be spent, to provide that which will stand their children in stead, after they are dead; though it be quite uncertain, who shall use and enjoy what they lay up, after they have left the world; and if their children should have the comfort of it, as they desire, they will not partake with them in that comfort, or have any more a portion in anything under the sun. In things which relate to men’s temporal interest, they seem very sensible of the uncertainty of life, especially of the lives of others; and to make answerable provision for the security of their worldly interest, that no considerable part of it may rest only on so uncertain a foundation, as the life of a neighbor or friend. Common discretion leads men to take good care, that their outward possessions be well secured, by a good and firm title. In worldly concerns, men are discerning of their opportunities, and careful to improve ’em before they are passed. The husbandman is careful to plow his ground, and sow his seed, in the proper season; otherwise he knows he can’t expect a crop: and when the harvest is come, he will not sleep away the time; for he knows, if he does so, the crop will soon be lost. How careful and eagle-eyed is the merchant to observe and improve his opportunities and advantages, to enrich himself? How apt are men to be alarmed at the appearance of danger to their worldly estate, or anything that remarkably threatens great loss or damage to their outward interest? And how will they bestir themselves in such a case, if possible to avoid the threatened calamity? In things purely secular, and not of a moral or spiritual nature, men easily receive conviction by past experience, when anything, on repeated trial, proves unprofitable or prejudicial; and are ready to take warning by what they have found themselves, and also by the experience of their neighbors and forefathers.

But if we consider how men generally conduct themselves in things on which their well-being does infinitely more depend, how vast is the diversity? In these things, how cold, lifeless and dilatory? With what difficulty are a few of multitudes excited to any tolerable degree of care and diligence, by the innumerable means used with men to make ’em wise for themselves? And when some vigilance and activity is excited, how apt is it to die away, like a mere force against a natural tendency? What need of a constant repetition of admonitions and counsels, to keep the heart from falling asleep? How many objections are made? And how are difficulties magnified? And how soon is the mind discouraged? How many arguments, and often renewed, and variously and elaborately enforced, do men stand in need of, to convince ’em of things that are self-evident? As that things which are eternal, are infinitely more important than things temporal, and the like. And after all, how very few convinced effectually, or in such a manner as to induce to a practical preference of eternal things? How senseless are men of the necessity of improving their time to provide for futurity, as to their spiritual interest, and their welfare in another world? Though it be an endless futurity, and though it be their own personal, infinitely important good, after they are dead, that is to be cared for, and not the good of their children, which they shall have no share in. Though men are so sensible of the uncertainty of their neighbors’ lives, when any considerable part of their estates depends on the continuance of them; how stupidly senseless do they seem to be of the uncertainty of their own lives, when their preservation from immensely great, remedy-less and endless misery, is risked by a present delay, through a dependence on future opportunity? What a dreadful venture will men carelessly and boldly run, and repeat and multiply, with regard to their eternal salvation, who are very careful to have everything in a deed or bond firm, and without a flaw? How negligent are they of their special advantages and opportunities for their soul’s good? How hardly awakened by the most evident and imminent dangers, threatening eternal destruction, yea, though put in mind of ’em, and much pains taken to point them forth, shew them plainly, and fully to represent them, if possible to engage their attention to ’em? How are they like the horse, that boldly rushes into the battle? How hardly are men convinced by their own frequent and abundant experience, of the unsatisfactory nature of earthly things, and the instability of their own hearts in their good frames and intentions? And how hardly convinced by their own observation, and the experience of all past generations, of the uncertainty of life and its enjoyments? (Ps. 49:11, etc.), “Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue forever…. Nevertheless, man being in honor, abideth not; he is like the beasts that perish. This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Like sheep are they laid in the grave.”

In these things, men that are prudent for their temporal interest, act as if they were bereft of reason: “They have eyes, and see not; ears, and hear not; neither do they understand: They are like the horse and mule, that have no understanding” (Mark 8:18, Ps. 32:9). (Jer. 8:7), “The stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow, observe the time of their coming: but my people know not the judgment of the Lord.”

These things are often mentioned in Scripture, as evidences of extreme folly and stupidity, wherein men act as great enemies to themselves, as though they loved their own ruin (Prov. 8:36), laying wait for their own blood (Prov. 1:18). And how can these things be accounted for, but by supposing a most wretched depravity of nature? Why otherwise should not men be as wise for themselves in spiritual and eternal things, as in temporal? All Christians will confess, that man’s faculty of reason was given him chiefly to enable him to understand the former, wherein his main interest, and true happiness consists. This faculty would therefore undoubtedly be every way as fit for the understanding of them, as the latter, if not depraved. The reason why these are understood and not the other, is not that such things as have been mentioned, belonging to men’s spiritual and eternal interest, are more obscure and abstruse in their own nature. For instance, the difference between long and short, the need of providing for futurity, the importance of improving proper opportunities, and of having good security, and a sure foundation, in affairs wherein our interest is greatly concerned, etc., these things are as plain in themselves in religious matters, as in other matters. And we have far greater means to assist us to be wise for ourselves in eternal, than in temporal things. We have the abundant instruction of perfect and infinite wisdom itself, to lead and conduct us in the paths of righteousness, so that we may not err. And the reasons of things are most clearly, variously and abundantly set before us in the word of God; which is adapted to the faculties of mankind, tending greatly to enlighten and convince the mind: whereas, we have no such excellent and perfect rules to instruct and direct us in things pertaining to our temporal interest, nor anything to be compared to it.

If any should say, ’tis true, if men gave full credit to what they are told concerning eternal things, and these appeared to ’em as real and certain things, it would be an evidence of a sort of madness in them, that they shew no greater regard to ’em in practice: but there is reason to think, this is not the case; the things of another world, being unseen things, appear to men as things of a very doubtful nature, and attended with great uncertainty. In answer, I would observe, agreeable to what has been cited from Mr. Locke, though eternal things were considered in their bare possibility, if men acted rationally, they would infinitely outweigh all temporal things in their influence on their hearts. And I would also observe, that the supposing eternal things not to be fully believed, at least by them who enjoy the light of the gospel, does not weaken, but rather strengthen the argument for the depravity of nature. For the eternal world being what God had chiefly in view in the creation of men, and the things of this world being made to be wholly subordinate to other, man’s state here being only a state of probation, preparation and progression, with respect to the future state, and so eternal things being in effect men’s all, their whole concern: to understand and know which it chiefly was, that they had understanding given ’em; and it concerning them infinitely more to know the truth of eternal things than any other, as all that are not infidels will own; therefore, we may undoubtedly conclude, that if men have not respect to ’em as real and certain things, it cannot be for want of sufficient evidence of their truth, to induce ’em so to regard them; especially as to them that live under that light, which God has appointed as the most proper exhibition of the nature and evidence of these things: but it must be from a dreadful stupidity of mind, occasioning a sottish insensibility of their truth and importance, when manifested by the clearest evidence.