And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
~ Luke 5:31-32
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
~ Luke 15:4-7
It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
~ Luke 15:32
I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.
~ Ezekiel 34:16
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
~ Matthew 1:21
Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
~ 1 Timothy 1:13-16
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
~ Romans 5:6
Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
~ Hebrews 7:25
The Nature of Man’s Impotence, by A. W. Pink. The following contains an excerpt from Chapter Three of his work, “The Doctrine of Man’s Impotence”.
Chapter 3 – Nature
The doctrine we are now considering is a most solemn and forbidding one. Certainly it is one which could never have been invented by man, for it is far too humbling and distasteful. It is one which is most offensive to human pride, and at complete variance with the modem idea of the progress of the human race. Nevertheless, if we accept the Scriptures as a divine revelation, we have no choice but to uncomplainingly receive this truth. The ruined and helpless state of the sinner is fully attested by the Bible. There fallen man is represented as so utterly carnal and sold under sin as to be not only “without strength” (Rom. 5:6) but lacking the least inclination to move toward God. Very dark indeed is this side of the truth, but its supplement is the glory of God in rich grace, for it furnishes a real but necessary background to the blessed contents of the gospel.
Clear Teaching of Scripture
The Scriptures plainly teach that man is a fallen being, that he is lost (Luke 19:10), that he cannot recover himself from his ruin, that despite the fact of an all-sufficient Saviour presented to him, he cannot come to Him until he is moved upon by the Spirit of God. Thus it is quite evident that if a sinner is saved, he owes his salvation entirely to the free grace and effectual power of God, and not to any good in or from or by himself. “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but thy name give glory, for thy mercy” (Ps. 115:1) is the unqualified acknowledgment of all the redeemed. Scripture speaks in no uncertain language on this point. If one man differs from another on this all-important matter of being saved, then it is God who has made him to differ (1 Cor. 4:7) and not himself.
Nor is the sinner’s salvation to be in any way attributed to either pliability of heart or diligence in the use of means. “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy” (Rom. 9:16, 18). The context of John 6:44 indicates that our Lord was thus accounting for the enmity of the murmuring Jews: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” By those words Christ intimated that, considering what fallen human nature is, the conduct of His enemies is not to be wondered at; that they acted in no other way than will all other men when left to themselves; that His own disciples would never have obeyed and followed Him had not a gracious divine influence been exercised on them.
Man’s Strong Objection
But as soon as this flesh-withering truth is pressed upon the unregenerate, they raise an outcry and voice their objections against it. If the spiritual condition of fallen man is one of complete helplessness, then how can the gospel ask him to turn from his sins and flee to Christ for refuge? If the natural man is unable to repent and believe the gospel, then how can he be justly punished for his impenitence and unbelief? On what ground can man be blamed for not doing what is morally impossible? Notwithstanding these difficulties the point of doctrine which we shall insist upon is that no one is able to comply with the terms of the gospel until he is made the subject of the special and effectual grace of God, that is, until he is divinely quickened, made willing, so that he actually does comply with its terms.
Nevertheless, we shall endeavor to show that sinners are not unjustly condemned for their depravity, but that their inability is blameworthy. Great care needs to be taken in stating this doctrine accurately. Otherwise men will be encouraged to put it to wrong use, making it a comfortable resting place for their corrupt hearts. By a misrepresentation of this doctrine more than one preacher has “strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way” (Ezek. 13:22). The truth of man’s spiritual impotence has been so distorted that many sinners have been made to feel that they are to be pitied, that they are sincere in desiring a new heart— which has not yet been granted them. Many, while excusing their helplessness, suppose this to be consistent with a genuine longing to be renewed. It is the duty of the minister to make his hearers realize they are under no inability except the excuseless corruption of their own hearts.
Need for Understanding the Doctrine
There is a real need for us to look closely at the precise nature of man’s spiritual inability, as to why he cannot come to Christ unless he be divinely drawn. But first let us notice some of the tenets of others on this point. These fall into two main classes, Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians—Pelagius being the principal opponent of the godly Augustine in the fifth century.
A. A. Hodge in his Outlines of Theology has succinctly summarized the Pelagian dogmas on the subject of man’s ability to fulfill the law of God. Here is the essence of his four points: (1) Moral character can be predicated only of volitions. (2) Ability is always the measure of responsibility. (3) Hence every man has always plenary power to do all that it is his duty to do. (4) Hence the human will alone, to the exclusion of the interference of any internal influence from God, must decide human character and destiny. The only divine influence needed by man or consistent with his character as a self-determining agent is an external, providential and educational one.
Semi-Pelagians believe thus: (1) Man’s nature has been so far weakened by the fall that it cannot act right in spiritual matters without divine assistance. (2) This weakened moral state which infants inherit from their parents is the cause of sin, but not itself sin in the sense of deserving the wrath of God. (3) Man must strive to do his whole duty, when God meets him with cooperative grace and makes his efforts successful. (4) Man is not responsible for the sins he commits until after he has enjoyed and abused the influences of grace.
Arminians are Semi-Pelagians, many of them going the whole length of the error in affirming the freedom of fallen man’s will toward good. But their practical contention may fairly be stated thus: Man has certainly suffered considerably from the fall, so much so that sinners are unable to do much, if anything, toward their salvation merely of themselves. Nevertheless sinners are able, by the help of common grace (supposed to be extended by the Spirit to all who hear the gospel) to do those things which are regarded as fulfilling the preliminary conditions of salvation (such as acknowledging their sins and calling on God for help to forsake them and turn to Christ). And if sinners will thus pray, use the means of grace, and put forth what power they do have, then assuredly God will meet them halfway and renew their hearts and pardon their iniquities.
We object to this belief. First, far from the Scriptures representing man as being partially disabled by the fall, they declare him to be completely ruined—not merely weakened, but “without strength” (Rom. 5:6). Second, to affirm that the natural man has any aspiration toward God is to deny that he is totally depraved, that “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart . . .(is) only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5; cf. 8:21), that “there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11). Third, if it were true that God could not justly condemn sinners for their inability to comply with the terms of the gospel, and that in order to give every man a “fair chance” to be saved He extends to all the common help of His Spirit, that would not be “grace” but a debt which He owed to His creatures. Fourth, if such a God-insulting principle were granted, the conclusion would inevitably follow that those who improved this “common grace” could lawfully boast that they made themselves to differ from those who did not improve it.
But enough of these shifts and subterfuges of the carnal mind. Let us now turn to God’s own Word and see what it teaches us concerning the nature of man’s spiritual impotence. First, it represents it as being a penal one, a judicial sentence from the righteous Judge of all the earth. Unless this is clearly grasped at the outset we are left without any adequate explanation of this dark mystery. God did not create man as he now is. God made man holy and upright, and by man’s own apostasy he became corrupt and wicked. The Creator originally endowed man with certain powers, placed him on probation, and prescribed a rule of conduct for him. Had our first parents preserved their integrity, had they remained in loving and loyal subjection to their Maker and Ruler, all would have been well, not only for themselves but also for their posterity. But they were not willing to remain in the place of subjection. They took the reins into their own hands, rebelling against their Governor. And the outcome was dreadful.
The sin of man was extreme and aggravated. It was committed contrary to knowledge and, through the beneficence of the One against whom it was directed, in the face of great advantages. It was committed against divine warning, and against an explicit declaration of the consequence of man’s transgression. In Adam’s fearful offense there were unbelief, presumption, ingratitude, rebellion against his righteous and gracious Maker. Let the dreadfulness of this first human sin be carefully weighed before we are tempted to murmur against the dire consequences which accompanied it. Those dire consequences may all be summed up in the fearful word “death,” for “the wages of sin is death.” The full import of that statement can best be ascertained by considering all the evil effects which have since come to man. A just, holy, sin- hating God caused the punishment to fit the crime.
Probation of Human Race in Adam
When God placed Adam on probation it pleased Him to place the whole human race on probation, for Adam’s posterity were not only in him seminally as their natural head, but they were also in him legally and morally as their legal and moral head. In other words, by divine constitution and covenant Adam stood and acted as the federal representative of the whole human race. Consequently, when he sinned, we sinned; when he fell, we fell. God justly imputed Adam’s transgression to all his descendants, whose agent he was: “By the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation” (Rom. 5:18). By his sin Adam became not only guilty but corrupt, and that defilement of nature is transmitted to all his children. Thomas Boston said, “Adam’s sin corrupted man’s nature and leavened the whole lump of mankind. We putrefied in Adam as our root. The root was poisoned, and so the branches were envenomed.”
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). We repeat that Adam was not only the father but the federal representative of his posterity. Consequently justice required that they should be dealt with as sharing in his guilt, that therefore the same punishment should be inflicted on them, which is exactly what the vitally important passage in Romans 5:12-21 affirms. “By one man (acting on behalf of the many), sin entered (as a foreign element, as a hostile factor) into the world (the whole system over which Adam had been placed as the vicegerent of God: blasting the fair face of nature, bringing a curse upon the earth, ruining all humanity), and death by sin (as its appointed wages); and so death (as the sentence of the righteous Judge) passed upon all men (because all men were seminally and federally in Adam).”
It needs to be carefully borne in mind that in connection with the penal infliction which came upon man at the fall, he lost no moral or spiritual faculty, but rather the power to use them right. In Scripture “death” (as the wages of sin) does not signify annihilation but separation. As physical death is the separation of the soul from the body, so spiritual death is the separation of the soul from its Maker. Ephesians 4:18 expresses it as “being alienated from the life of God.” Thus, when the father said of the prodigal, “This my son was dead” (Luke 15), he meant that his son had been absent from him—away in the “far country.” Hence when, as the Substitute of His people, Christ was receiving in their stead the wages due them, He cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This is why the lake of fire is called “the second death”—because those cast there are “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1:9).
We have said that all of Adam’s posterity shared in the guilt of the great transgression committed by their federal head, and that therefore the same punishment is inflicted on them as on him. That punishment consisted (so far as its present character is concerned) in his coming under the curse and wrath of God, the corrupting of his nature, and the mortalizing of his body. Clear proof of this is found in that inspired statement “And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image” (Gen. 5:3), which is in direct antithesis to his being created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27). That Adam’s first son was morally depraved was clearly evidenced by his conduct; and that his second son was also depraved was fully acknowledged by the sacrifice which he brought to God.
As a result of the fall man is born into this world so totally depraved in his moral nature as to be entirely unable to do anything spiritually good; furthermore, he is not in the slightest degree disposed to do good. Even under the exciting and persuasive influences of divine grace, the will of man is completely unfit to act right in cooperation with grace until the will itself is by the power of God radically and permanently renewed. The tree itself must be made good before there is the least prospect of any good fruit being borne by it. Even after a man is regenerated, the renewed will always continues dependent on divine grace to energize, direct and enable it for the performance of anything acceptable to God, as the language of Christ clearly shows: “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
But let it be clearly understood that though man has by the fall lost all power to do anything pleasing to God, yet his Maker has not lost His authority over him nor forfeited His right to require that which is due Him. As creatures we were bound to serve God and do whatever He commanded; and the fact that we have, by our own folly and sin, thrown away the strength given to us cannot and does not cancel our obligations. Has the creditor no right to demand payment for what is owed him because the debtor has squandered his substance and is unable to pay him? If God can require of us no more than we are now able to give Him, then the more we enslave ourselves by evil habits and still further incapacitate ourselves the less our liabilities; then the deeper we plunge into sin the less wicked we would become. This is a manifest absurdity.
Even though by Adam’s fall we have become depraved and spiritually helpless creatures, yet the terrible fact that we are enemies to the infinitely glorious God, our Maker, makes us infinitely to blame and without the vestige of a legitimate excuse. Surely it is perfectly obvious that nothing can make it right for a creature to voluntarily rise up at enmity against One who is the sum of all excellence, infinitely worthy of our love, homage and obedience. Thus, for man—whatever the origin of his depravity—to be a rebel against the Governor of this world is infinitely evil and culpable. It is utterly vain for us to seek shelter behind Adam’s offense while every sin we commit is voluntary and not compulsory —the free, spontaneous inclination of our hearts. This being the case, every mouth will be stopped, and all the world stand guilty before God (Rom. 3:19).
To this it may be objected that the writer of Romans argued that he was not personally and properly to blame for the corruptions of his heart: “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (7:17, 20). But there is no justification for perverting the language in that passage. If the scope of the words is noted, such a misuse of them is at once ruled out. The writer was showing that divine grace and not indwelling sin was the governing principle within him—as he had affirmed previously: “Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (6:14). Far from insinuating that he did not feel wholly blamable for his remaining corruption, he declared, “I am carnal, sold under sin” (7:14), and cried as a brokenhearted penitent, “O wretched man that I am!” (v. 24). It is perfectly obvious that he could not have mourned for his remaining corruption as being sinful if he had not felt he was to blame for them.
Man’s spiritual impotence is not only penal but moral, by which we mean that he is now unable to meet the requirements of the moral law. We employ this term “moral,” first of all, in contrast with “natural,” for the spiritual helplessness of fallen man is unnatural, inasmuch as it does not pertain to the nature of man as created by God. Man (in Adam) was endowed with full ability to do whatever was required of him, but he lost that ability by the fall. We employ this term “moral,” in the second place, because it accurately defines the character of fallen man’s malady. His inability is purely moral, because while he still possesses all moral as well as intellectual faculties requisite for right action, yet the moral state of his faculties is such as to render right action impossible. A. A. Hodge said, “Its essence is in the inability of the soul to know, love, or choose spiritual good; and its ground exists in that moral corruption of soul whereby it is blind, insensible, and totally averse to all that is spiritually good.”
The affirmation that fallen man is morally impotent presents a serious difficulty for many. They suppose that to assert his inability to will or do anything spiritually good is utterly incompatible with human responsibility or the sinner’s guilt. These difficulties are later considered at length. But it is necessary for us to allude to these difficulties at the present stage because the effort to show the reconcilability of fallen man’s inability with his responsibility has led not a few defenders of the former truth to make predications which were unwarrantable and untrue. They have felt that there is, there must be, some sense or respect in which even fallen man may be said to be able to will and do what is required of him; and they have labored to show in what sense this ability exists, while at the same time man is, in another sense, unable.