THE RICH YOUNG RULER AND THE ‘TOTAL DEPRAVITY OF MAN’
This subject of “The Total Depravity of man” is indeed a most solemn one, and none can fitly write or preach on it unless his own heart is deeply awed by it. It is not something from which any man can detach himself and expatiate on it as though he were not directly involved in it; still less as from a higher level looking down on those whom he denounces. Nothing is more incongruous and unbecoming than for a young preacher glibly to rattle off passages of Scripture which portray his own vileness by nature. Rather should they be read or quoted with the utmost gravity. J. C. Philpot stated:
“As no heart can sufficiently conceive, so no tongue can adequately express, the state of wretchedness and ruin into which sin has cast guilty, miserable man. In separating him from God, it severed him from the only source of all happiness and holiness. It has ruined him body and soul: the one it has filled with sickness and disease; in the other it has defaced and destroyed the image of God in which it was created. It has made him love sin and hate God.”
The doctrine of total depravity is a very humbling one. It is not that man leans to one side and needs propping up, nor that he is merely ignorant and requires instructing, nor that he is run down and calls for a tonic; but rather that he is undone, lost, spiritually dead. Consequently, he is “without strength,” thoroughly incapable of bettering himself; he is exposed to the wrath of God, and unable to perform a single work which can find acceptance with Him.
Almost every page of the Bible bears witness to this truth. The whole scheme of redemption takes it for granted. The plan of salvation taught in the Scriptures could have no place on any other supposition. The impossibility of any man’s gaining the approbation of God by works of his own appears plainly in the case of the rich young ruler who came to Christ. Judged by human standards, he was a model of virtue and religious attainments. Yet, like all others who trust in self-efforts, he was ignorant of the spirituality and strictness of God’s law; when Christ put him to the test his fair expectations were blown to the winds and “he went away sorrowful” (Matt. 19:22).
It is therefore a most unpalatable doctrine. It cannot be otherwise, for the unregenerate love to hear of the greatness, the dignity, the nobility of man. The natural man thinks highly of himself and appreciates only that which is flattering. Nothing pleases him more than to listen to that which extols human nature and lauds the state of mankind, even though it be in terms which not only repudiate the teaching of God’s Word but are flatly contradicted by common observation and universal experience. And there are many who pander to him by their lavish praises of the excellency of civilization and the steady progress of the race. Hence, to have the lie given to the popular theory of evolution is highly displeasing to its deluded votaries. Nevertheless, the duty of God’s servants is to stain the pride of all that man glories in, to strip him of his stolen plumes, to lay him low in the dust before God. However repugnant such teaching is, God’s emissary must faithfully discharge his duty “whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear” (Ezek. 3:11).
This is no dismal dogma invented by the church in “the dark ages,” but a truth of Holy Writ. George Whitefield said, “I look upon it not merely as a doctrine of Scripture—the great Fountain of truth—but a very fundamental one, from which I hope God will suffer none of you to be enticed.” It is a subject to which great prominence is given in the Bible. Every part of the Scriptures has much to say on the awful state of degradation and slavery into which the fall has brought man. The corruption, the blindness, the hostility of all Adam’s descendants to everything of a spiritual nature are constantly insisted upon. Not only is man’s utter ruin fully described, but also his powerlessness to save himself from the same.
In the declarations and denunciations of the prophets, of Christ and His apostles, the bondage of all men to Satan and their complete impotence to turn to God for deliverance are repeatedly set forth-not indirectly and vaguely, but emphatically and in great detail. This is one of a hundred proofs that the Bible is not a human invention but a communication from the thrice holy One.