Yea, in heart ye work wickedness; ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth. The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear;
~ Psalm 58:2-4
Yea, thou heardest not; yea, thou knewest not; yea, from that time that thine ear was not opened: for I knew that thou wouldest deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb.
~ Isaiah 48:8
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
~ Psalm 51:5
What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?
~ Job 15:14
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.
~ Ephesians 2:3
For the LORD had said of them, They shall surely die in the wilderness. And there was not left a man of them, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
~ Numbers 26:65, Hebrews 10:28
Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
~ Romans 5:14
And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing.
~ Luke 9:11
Greater Part of Mankind, In All Ages, Have Been Wicked Men, 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 7. That man’s nature is corrupt, appears, in that vastly the greater part of Mankind, in all ages, have been wicked men.
The depravity of man’s nature appears, not only in its propensity to sin in some degree, which renders a man an evil or wicked man in the eye of the law, and strict justice, as was before shewn; but it is so corrupt, that its depravity, either shews that men are, or tends to make them to be, of such an evil character, as shall denominate them wicked men, according to the tenor of the Covenant of Grace.
This may be argued from several things which have been already observed: as from a tendency to continual sin; a tendency to much greater degree of sin than righteousness, and from the general extreme stupidity of mankind. But yet the present state of man’s nature, as implying, or tending to a wicked character, may be worthy to be more particularly considered, and directly proved. And in general, this appears, in that there have been so very few in the world, from age to age, ever since the world has stood, that have been of any other character.
‘Tis abundantly evident in Scripture, and is what I suppose none that call themselves Christians will deny, that the whole world is divided into good and bad, and that all mankind at the day of judgment will either be approved as righteous, or condemned as wicked; either glorified, as children of the kingdom, or cast into a furnace of fire, as children of the wicked one.
I need not stand to shew what things belong to the character of such as shall hereafter be accepted as righteous, according to the word of God. It may be sufficient for my present purpose, to observe what Dr. Taylor himself speaks of as belonging essentially to the character of such. In p. 203 he says, “This is infallibly the character of true Christians, and what is essential to such, that they have really mortified the flesh, with its lusts; They are dead to sin, and live no longer therein; the old man is crucified, and the body of sin destroyed: they yield themselves to God, as those that are alive from the dead, and their members as instruments of righteousness to God, and as servants of righteousness to holiness.” There is more to the like purpose in the two next pages. In p. 228 he says, “Whatsoever is evil and corrupt in us, we ought to condemn; not so, as it shall still remain in us, that we may always be condemning it, but that we may speedily reform, and be effectually delivered from it; otherwise certainly we do not come up to the character of the true disciples of Christ.”
In p. 248 he says, “Unless God’s favor be preferred before all other enjoyments whatsoever, unless there be a delight in the worship of God, and in converse with him, unless every appetite be brought into subjection to reason and truth, and unless there be a kind and benevolent disposition towards our fellow-creatures, how can the mind be fit to dwell with God, in his house and family, to do him service in his kingdom, and to promote the happiness of any part of his creation?” And in his Key, no. 255, p. 145, etc. shewing there, what it is to be a true Christian, he says, among other things, “That he is one who has such a sense and persuasion of the love of God in Christ, that he devotes his life to the honor and service of God, in hope of eternal glory. And that to the character of a true Christian, it is absolutely necessary, that he diligently study the things that are freely given him of God, viz. his election, regeneration, &c. that he may gain a just knowledge of those inestimable privileges, may taste that the Lord is gracious, and rejoice in the gospel-salvation, as his greatest happiness and glory…. ‘Tis necessary, that he work these blessings on his heart, till they become a vital principle, producing in him the love of God, engaging him to all cheerful obedience to his will, giving him a proper dignity and elevation of soul, raising him above the best and worst of this world, carrying his heart into heaven, and fixing his affections and regards upon his everlasting inheritance, and the crown of glory laid up for him there…. Thus he is armed against all the temptations and trials, resulting from any pleasure or pain, hopes or fears, gain or loss, in the present world. None of these things move him, from a faithful discharge of any part of his duty, or from a firm attachment to truth and righteousness: neither counts he his very life dear to him, that he may do the will of God, and finish his course with joy, in a sense of the love of God and Christ. He maintains daily communion with God, by reading and meditating on his Word. In a sense of his own infirmity, and the readiness of the divine favor to succour him, he daily addresses the throne of grace, for the renewal of spiritual strength; and in assurance of obtaining it, through one mediator Christ Jesus, enlightened and directed by the heavenly doctrine of the gospel, &c.”
Now I leave it to be judged by everyone that has any degree of impartiality, whether there be not sufficient grounds to think, from what appears everywhere, that it is but a very small part indeed, of the many myriads and millions which overspread this globe, who are of a character that in any wise answers these descriptions. However, Dr. Taylor insists, that all nations, and every man on the face of the earth, have light and means sufficient to do the whole will of God, even they that live in the grossest darkness of paganism.
Dr. Taylor in answer to arguments of this kind, very impertinently from time to time objects that we are no judges of the viciousness of men’s character, nor are able to decide in what degree they are virtuous or vicious. As though we could have no good grounds to judge, that anything, appertaining to the qualities or properties of the mind, which is invisible, is general or prevailing among a multitude or collective body, unless we can determine how it is with each individual. I think, I have sufficient reason, from what I know and have heard of the American Indians, to judge, that there are not many good philosophers among them; though the thoughts of their hearts, and the ideas and knowledge they have in their minds, are
things invisible; and though I have never seen so much as the thousandth part of the Indians; and with respect to most of them, should not be able to pronounce peremptorily, concerning any one, that he was not very knowing in the nature of things, if all should singly pass before me. And Dr. Taylor himself seems to be sensible of the falseness of his own conclusions, that he so often urges against others; if we may judge by his practice, and the liberties he takes, in judging of a multitude himself. He, it seems, is sensible that a man may have good grounds to judge, that wickedness of character is general in a collective body; because he openly does it himself (Key, p. 147). After declaring the things which belong to the character of a true Christian, he judges of the generality of Christians, that they have cast off these things, that they are a people that do err in their hearts, and have not known God’s ways. (On) p. 259, he judges, that the generality of Christians are the most wicked of all mankind—when he thinks it will throw some disgrace on the opinion of such as he opposes. The like we have from time to time in other places, as p. 168, p. 258, Key p. 182.
But if men are not sufficient judges, whether there are few of the world of mankind but what are wicked, yet doubtless God is sufficient, and his judgment, often declared in his Word, determines the matter. (Matt. 7:13, 14), “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat; because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth to life, and few there be that find it.” ‘Tis manifest, that here Christ is not only describing the state of things, as it was at that day, and don’t mention the comparative smallness of the number of them that are saved, as a consequence of the peculiar perverseness of that people, and of that generation; but as a consequence of the general circumstances of the way to life, and the way to destruction, the broadness of the one, and narrowness of the other. In the straitness of the gate, etc. I suppose none will deny, that Christ has respect to the strictness of those rules, which he had insisted on in the preceding sermon, and which render the way to life very difficult to mankind. But certainly these amiable rules would not be difficult, were they not contrary to the natural inclinations of men’s hearts; and they would not be contrary to those inclinations, were these not depraved. Consequently the wideness of the gate, and broadness of the way that leads to destruction, in consequence of which many go in thereat, must imply the agreeableness of this way to men’s natural inclinations. The like reason is given by Christ, why few are saved. (Luke 13:23, 24), “Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few (that be) saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” That there are generally but few good men in the world, even among them that have those most distinguishing and glorious advantages for it, which they are favored with that live under the gospel, is evident by that saying of our Lord, from time to time in his mouth, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). And if there are but few among these, how few, how very few indeed, must persons of this character be, compared with the whole world of mankind? The exceeding smallness of the number of true saints, compared with the whole world, appears by the representations often made of them as distinguished from the world; in which they are spoken of as called and chosen out of the world; redeemed from the earth, redeemed from among men; as being those that are of God, while the whole world lieth in wickedness, and the like. And if we look into the Old Testament, we shall find the same testimony given. (Prov. 20:6), “Most men will proclaim every man his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” By a faithful man, as the phrase is used in Scripture, is intended much the same as a sincere, upright or truly good man; as in Ps. 12:1 and 31:23 and 101:6 and other places. Again (Eccles. 7:25–29), “I applied mine heart to know and to search, and to find out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness: and I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares, etc. … Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account, which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all these have I not found. Lo, this only have I found, that God (hath) made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” Solomon here signifies, that when he set himself diligently to find out the account or proportion of true wisdom or thorough uprightness among men, the result was, that he found it to be but as one to a thousand, etc. Dr. Taylor on this place (p. 184), says, “The wise man in the context is inquiring into the corruption and depravity of mankind, of the men and women that lived in his time.” As though what he said represented nothing of the state of things in the world in general, but only in his time. But does Dr. Taylor or anybody else suppose this only to be the design of that book, to represent the vanity and evil of the world in that time, and to shew that all was vanity and vexation of spirit in Solomon’s day? (Which day truly we have reason to think, was a day of the greatest smiles of heaven on that nation, that ever had been on any nation from the foundation of the world.) Not only does the subject and argument of the whole book shew it to be otherwise; but also the declared design of the book in the first chapter; where the world is represented as very much the same, as to the vanity and evil it is full of, from age to age, making little or no progress, after all its revolutions and restless motions, labors and pursuits, like the sea, that has all the rivers constantly emptying themselves into it, from age to age, and yet is never the fuller. As to that place (Prov. 20:6), “A faithful man who can find?” there is no more reason to suppose, that the wise man has respect only to his time, in these words, than in those immediately preceding, “Counsel in the heart of a man is like deep waters; but a man of understanding will draw it out.” Or in the words next following, “The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.” Or in any other proverb in the whole book. And if it were so, that Solomon in these things meant only to describe his own times, it would not at all weaken the argument. For if we observe the history of the Old Testament, there is reason to think there never was any time from Joshua to the captivity, wherein wickedness was more restrained, and virtue and religion more encouraged and promoted, than in David’s and Solomon’s times. And if there was so little true piety in that nation that was the only people of God under heaven, even in their very best times, what may we suppose concerning the world in general, take one time with another?
Notwithstanding what some authors advance concerning the prevalence of virtue, honesty, good neighborhood, cheerfulness, etc. in the world, Solomon, whom we may justly esteem as wise and just an observer of human nature, and the state of the world of mankind, as most in these days (besides, Christians ought to remember that he wrote by divine inspiration) judged the world to be so full of wickedness, that it was better never to be born, than to be born to live only in such a world. (Eccles. 4 at the beginning), “So I returned and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun; and behold, the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter: and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore, I praised the dead, which were already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been; who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.” Surely it will not be said, that Solomon has only respect to his times here too, when he speaks of the oppressions of them that were in power; since he himself, and others appointed by him, and wholly under his control, were the men that were in power, in that land, and in almost all neighboring countries.
The same inspired writer says (Eccles. 9:3), “The heart of the sons of men is full of evil; and madness is in their heart while they live; and after that they go to the dead.” If these general expressions are to be understood only of some, and those the lesser part, when in general, truth, honesty, good-nature, etc. govern the world, why are such general expressions from time to time used? Why don’t this wise and noble, and great-souled prince express himself in a more generous and benevolent strain as well as more agreeable to truth, and say, “Wisdom is in the hearts of the sons of men while they live, etc.”—instead of leaving in his writings so many sly, ill-natured suggestions, which pour such contempt on the human nature, and tend so much to excite mutual jealousy and malevolence, to taint the minds of mankind through all generations after him?
If we consider the various successive parts and periods of the duration of the world, it will, if possible, be yet more evident, that vastly the greater part of mankind have in all ages been of a wicked character. The short accounts we have of Adam and his family are such as lead us to suppose, that far the greater part of his posterity, in his lifetime, yea, in the former part of his life, were wicked. It appears, that his eldest son, Cain, was a very wicked man, who slew his righteous brother Abel. And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years before Seth was born: and by that time, we may suppose, his posterity began to be considerably numerous: when he was born his mother “called his name Seth: for God, said she, hath appointed me another seed, instead of Abel.” Which naturally suggests this to our thoughts; that of all her seed now existing, none were of any such note for religion and virtue, as that their parents could have any great comfort in them, or expectation from ’em on that account. And by the brief history we have, it looks as if (however there might be some intervals of a revival of religion, yet) in the general, mankind grew more and more corrupt till the flood. ‘Tis signified, that when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, wickedness prevailed exceedingly (Gen. 6, at the beginning). And that before God appeared to Noah, to command him to build the ark, 120 years before the flood, the world had long continued obstinate in great and general wickedness, and the disease was become inveterate. The expression we have in the 3(d), 5(th), and 6(th) verses of that chapter suggest as much: “And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man…. And God saw, that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was evil, only evil continually; and it repented the Lord, that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” And by that time “all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth” (v. 12). And as Dr. Taylor himself observes (p. 122), “Mankind were universally debauched into lust, sensuality, rapine and injustice.”
And with respect to the period after the flood, to the calling of Abraham; Dr. Taylor says, as has been already observed, that in about 400 years after the flood, the generality of mankind were fallen into idolatry. Which was before the passing away of one generation; or before all they were dead, that came out of the ark. And it can’t be thought, the world jumped into that so general and extreme degree of corruption, all at once; but that they had been gradually growing more and more corrupt; though it is true, it must be by very swift degrees (however soon we may suppose they began) —to get to that pass in one age.
And as to the period from the calling of Abraham to the coming of Christ, Dr. Taylor justly observes as follows (Key p. 190), “If we reckon from the call of Abraham to the coming of Christ, the Jewish dispensation continued one thousand nine hundred and twenty-one years: during which period, the other families and nations of the earth, not only lay out of God’s peculiar kingdom, but also lived in idolatry, great ignorance, and wickedness.” And with regard to that one only exempt family or nation of the Israelites, ’tis evident that wickedness was the generally prevailing character among them, from age to age. If we consider how it was with Jacob’s family, the behavior of Reuben with his father’s concubine, the behavior of Judah with Tamar, the conduct of Jacob’s sons in general (though Simeon and Levi were leading) towards the Shechemites, the behavior of Joseph’s ten brethren in their cruel treatment of him; we can’t think, that the character of true piety belonged to many of them, according to Dr. Taylor’s own notion of such a character; though it be true, they might afterwards repent. And with respect to the time the children of Israel were in Egypt; the Scripture, speaking of them in general, or as a collective body, often represents them as complying with the abominable idolatries of the country. And as to that generation which went out of Egypt, and wandered in the wilderness; they are abundantly represented as extremely and almost universally wicked, perverse, and children of divine wrath. And after Joshua’s death, the Scripture is very express, that wickedness was the prevailing character in the nation, from age to age. So it was till Samuel’s time. (1 Sam. 8:7, 8), “They have rejected me, that I should not reign over them; according to all their works which they have done, since the day that I brought them out of Egypt, unto this day.” Yea, so it was till Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s time. (Jer. 32:30, 31), “For the children of Israel, and the children of Judah, have only done evil before me from their youth: for the children of Israel have only provoked me to anger with the work of their hands, saith the Lord: for this city hath been to me (as) a provocation of mine anger, and of my fury, from the day they built it, even unto this day” (cf. ch. 5:21 and 23, and ch. 7:25, 26, 27). So Ezek. 2:3, 4. “I sent thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation, that hath rebelled against me, they and their fathers have transgressed against me even unto this very day: for they are impudent children, and stiff-hearted.” And it appears by the discourse of Stephen (Acts 7) that this was generally the case with that nation, from their first rise, even to the days of the apostles. After his summary rehearsal of the instances of their perverseness from the very time of their selling Joseph into Egypt, he concludes (vv. 51, 52, 53), “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost. As your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of that just one; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.”
Thus it appears, that wickedness was the generally prevailing character in all the nations of mankind, till Christ came. And so also it appears to have been since his coming, to this day. So in the age of the apostles: though then, among those that were converted to Christianity, were great numbers of persons eminent for piety; yet this was not the case with the greater part of the world, or the greater part of any one nation in it. There was a great number of persons of a truly pious character in the latter part of the apostolic age, when multitudes of converts had been made, and Christianity was as yet in its primitive purity. But what says the apostle John of the church of God at that time, as compared with the rest of the world? (1 John 5:19), “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.” And after Christianity came to prevail, to that degree that Christians had the upper hand in nations and civil communities, still the greater part of mankind remained in their old heathen state; which Dr. Taylor speaks of as a state of great ignorance and wickedness. And besides, this is noted in all ecclesiastical history, that as the Christians gained in power and secular advantages, true piety declined, and corruption and wickedness prevailed among them. And as to the state of the Christian world, since Christianity began to be established by human laws, wickedness for the most part has greatly prevailed; as is very notorious, and is implied in what Dr. Taylor himself says: he, in giving an account how the doctrine of original sin came to prevail among Christians, says (p. 443) “That the Christian religion was very early and grievously corrupted, by dreaming, ignorant, superstitious monks.” In p. 259 he says, “The generality of Christians have embraced this persuasion concerning original sin; and the consequence has been, that the generality of Christians have been the most wicked, lewd, bloody and treacherous of all mankind.”
Thus, a view of the several successive periods of the past duration of the world, from the beginning to this day, shews, that wickedness has ever been exceeding prevalent, and has had vastly the superiority in the world. And Dr. Taylor himself in effect owns, that it has been so ever since Adam first turned into the way of transgression. (p. 168), “It is certain,” says he, “the moral circumstances of mankind, since the time Adam first turned into the way of transgression, have been very different from a state of innocence. So far as we can judge from history, or what we know at present, the greatest part of mankind, have been, and still are very corrupt; though not equally so in every age and place.” And lower in the same page, he speaks of “Adam’s posterity, as having sunk themselves into the most lamentable degrees of ignorance, superstition, idolatry, injustice, debauchery, etc.”
These things clearly determine the point, concerning the tendency of man’s nature to wickedness; if we may be allowed to proceed according to such rules and methods of reasoning, as are universally made use of, and never denied, or doubted to be good and sure, in experimental philosophy; or may reason from experience and facts, in that manner which common sense leads all mankind to in other cases. If experience and trial will evince anything at all concerning the natural disposition of the hearts of mankind, one would think the experience of so many ages as have elapsed since the beginning of the world, and the trial as it were made by hundreds of different nations together, for so long a time, should be sufficient to convince all, that wickedness is agreeable to the nature of mankind in its present state.
Here, to strengthen the argument, if there were any need of it, I might observe some further evidences than those which have been already mentioned, not only of the extent and generality of the prevalence of wickedness in the world, but of the height to which it has risen, and the degree in which it has reigned. Among innumerable things which shew this, I shall now only observe this, viz. the degree in which mankind have from age to age been hurtful one to another. Many kinds of brute animals are esteemed very noxious and destructive, many of ’em very fierce, voracious, and many very poisonous, and the destroying of ’em has always been looked upon as a public benefit: but have not mankind been a thousand times as hurtful and destructive as any one of them, yea, as all the noyous beasts, birds, fishes and reptiles in the earth, air and water, put together, at least, of all kinds of animals that are visible? And no creature can be found anywhere so destructive of its own kind, as mankind are. All others for the most part are harmless and peaceable, with regard to their own species. Where one wolf is destroyed by another wolf, one viper by another, probably a thousand of mankind are destroyed by those of their own species. Well therefore might our blessed Lord say, when sending forth his disciples into the world (Matt. 10:16, 17), “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves … but beware of men.” As much to say, I send you forth as sheep among wolves, but why do I say, wolves? I send you forth into the wide world of men, that are far more hurtful and pernicious, and that you had much more need to beware of than wolves.
It would be strange indeed, that this should be the state of the world of mankind, the chief of the lower creation, distinguished above all by reason, to that end that they might be capable of religion, which summarily consists in love, if men, as they come into the world, are in their nature innocent and harmless, undepraved and perfectly free from all evil propensities.