T. PIERCE BROWN
A few days ago I discovered a book in my library that I have had for many years, but never got around to reading until now. It was entitled “An Appeal to Matter of Fact and Common Sense” by J. Fletchere, written in 1772 in an attempt to prove that man is hereditarily and totally depraved. He apparently was a preacher of the Church of England writing to the parishoners in the Parish of Madeley, in thecountyofSalop. In more than 200 pages of very fine print, he has written a more comprehensive defense of that doctrine than we have ever seen outside of the writings of John Calvin himself.
It was fascinating to me to read his passionate, oratorical and scholarly approach and to see him advance arguments that seemed so logical to him that we have never seen before. Perhaps an examination of some of them, with some comments may help someone to understand better why this false doctrine has perhaps had more influence on most of the Protestant world than almost any other of which we are aware. He divides the book into five parts. In the first, he deals with what he calls “man’s corrupt and lost estate” in the words of the Prophets, Apostles and Jesus Christ and recapitulated in the doctrines of the Church of England.
Like almost every false doctrine of which we are aware, probably the majority of the statements that are made to prove it are true, but the application of those statements, or the conclusion drawn from those statements do not follow. Therein lies the great danger, for Peter pointed out about Paul a tremendous truth in 2 Pet. 3:16 when he said, “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” The unlearned and unstable wrest the hard scriptures and do not use the plain ones to help understand them. We need to continually urge each other to take all the Bible says on any subject and not jump to conclusions about some verse that may be taken out of context and perverted. Let us now look at some of the arguments advanced and the conclusions reached, and note what is wrong with some of them.
He says on page 7, “If man is not at variance with his Creator, what need of a Mediator between God and him? If he is not a depraved, undone creature, what necessity of so wonderful a Restorer and Saviour as the Son of God?” He then very eloquently carries on for pages, concluding with such remarks as this: “If he is not born in sin, why is a new birth so absolutely necessary, that Christ declares, with most solemn asservations, without it no man can see the kingdom of God?”
Note carefully: No one with any ability to read the Bible or see humanity in action can successfully deny that man is corrupt and depraved. What that has to do with the proof that he was born that way and inherited his depravity from Adam is clouded with eloquent loquacious verbosity that we have seldom seen matched. Note especially the last sentence in the above paragraph. He asks, “Why is a new birth necessary if a man is not born in sin?” To the average person, the question may sound like a logical question that carries its own answer. But the simple truth is that the necessity of a new birth for a depraved and sinful man has nothing whatever to do with whether he was born as a sinner, but whether he is now a sinner.
He then makes the mistake that is common to all who hold that view. He says that Adam bore a son in his own image, sinful and mortal like himself; that his firstborn was a murderer. He then mentions Gen. 6:5, “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” He assumes that means they were born that way, but neither he nor any others who uphold that theory mention or deal with Gen. 6:9, “These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.” It should be evident to any thoughtful student who is not blinded by some false doctrine that in general mankind had corrupted his way on the earth (Gen. 6:12). It does not say that all flesh was born corrupt, but that in general all flesh had corrupted his way. Noah was an exception, but Noah could not be an exception if he had been born totally depraved.
Of course the truth is that when Adam begat a son in his likeness, it had nothing whatever to do with his moral nature. Paul said in 1 Cor. 11:7, “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.” He does not say he was in the image of God, but lost that image and produced morally corrupt persons in the image of the Devil. Furthermore, Heb. 12:9 says that God is the Father of spirits. We do not get our spirits or our spiritual nature from our earthly father. If we did, then Noah’s sons would have been perfect in their generation, for Noah was, and when a person has been made a partaker of the Divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), then his offspring would inherit his divine nature. A person may pass on to his offspring physical, mental and emotional attributes, but not moral ones.
Even when these false teachers quote such passages as Isa. 53:6 they do not bother to mention or explain how one can go astray if he was born astray. Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Almost invariably these theorists take passages like 1 Cor.2:14and misapply them. They assume that the natural man is an unsaved, unregenerate man. The English word “natural” occurs at least ten times the New Testament. It is here from the Greek word “psuchikos,” which basically means “sensuous,” or that which is related to the animal senses– the ability to taste, touch, smell, feel and hear.
So, a person by his animal instincts and feelings cannot receive, learn, understand or know the things of the Spirit of God. Why? It is not because he is a wicked man, or an unsaved man. It is simply because no man, saved or unsaved, can find out by his natural senses the things of the Spirit revealed by our Father.
It should be evident to any thoughtful person that if an unsaved person could not understand the revelation of God, it would be silly and useless to preach the gospel to him, for he would have to be regenerated and saved before he could understand the gospel, which is the power of God to save (Rom. 1:16). Yet, after painting the awful Biblical picture of the general condition of the lost and condemned world and emphasizing that the wisdom that is from below is earthly, sensual and develish (James 3:15), he says on page 14, “Till he flies to the Redeemer as a condemned malefactor, and secures an interest in the salvation provided for the lost, they represent him as on the brink of ruin.” How this totally depraved person can “fly to the Redeemer” he does not even believe in and pray for salvation that he does not even desire is never explained, for it has no explanation. Of course man is lost, and of course by human wisdom he cannot find salvation. This is the reason God sent His Son to redeem mankind, and sent his Apostles to preach the gospel so that man can hear it and have faith (Rom. 10:17) and turn from his wicked way and accept the wisdom that is from above. How a thoughtful person can assume that those verses somehow prove that man is born lost and cannot even by the power of God’s word see how to be saved is one of the world’s greatest mysteries. God says in Psa. 119:9, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.” He says in Psa. 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” And in Psa. 119:130, “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.” Yet no mention of that is ever made by these false teachers, as far as we have been able to discover, for God’s word has no power to reach the degenerated heart, and although Jesus’ word could cause dead Lazarus to come out of the tomb, it has no power to cause a person dead in sin to arise and follow the Lord! This conclusion is especially amazing from one who can so readily quote hundreds of scriptures showing the terrible sinful condition of man and that his only hope is through Jesus. Let us be aware again that the mere quoting of scripture does not prove any proposition, as any one should be able to see by examination of the Devil’s temptation of Jesus. The Devil quoted scripture and misapplied it, and many of those who have fallen into his snare have done it millions of time since then.
We observe another interesting thing that happens frequently in the doctrines of Calvin and many other brilliant theologians who teach false doctrines. After many paragraphs that show the depravity of man, including homilies of the church that state such things as this on page 17, “Instead of the image of God, he was now become the image of the devil, the bondslave of hell. Although spotted and deviled, he seemed to be nothing else but a lump of sin; and therefore, but the just judgment of God, he was condemned to everlasting death.” Mr. Fletchere has a footnote to that. He says, “Prejudiced persons—will be offended here, as if our Church ‘dammed every body.’ But the candid reader will readily observe, that instead of damming anyone to destruction she only declares that the Saviour finds all men in a state of condemnation and misery, where they would eternally remain, were it not for the compassionate equity of our gracious God, which does not permit him to sentence to a consciousness of eternal torments any one of his creatures, for a sin of which they were never personally guilty; and of which, consequently, they can never have any consciousness.”
Then, after that amazing statement that although men are depraved children of the Devil and condemned to an everlasting hell, God will not permit any of his creatures to go there for a sin of which we were not personally guilty, he continues to say on page 18, “St. Paul bears witness, that by Adam’s offence death came upon all men to condemnation, who becaue plain reprobates, and castaways, being perpetually damned to everlasting pains of hell fire.”
So, it appears that the doctrine is that everyone is condemned to hell because he was born a bond slave to the Devil, but no one will go there because God will not punish any person for a sin he did not commit and for which he is not personally guilty. That would seem to get almost everyone “off the hook” except for the fact that the doctrine still is that since a person was born depraved and every imagination of his heart must therefore be evil continually from the time he was born, everyone is personally guilty of all sorts of sins from the time he is born (or even before he was born, according to the theory), so although he is worthy of being condemned to hell because of Adam’s sin but will be delivered from hell because of God’s mercy, he will still go to hell because of his own sins that he could not keep from doing because by God’s decree he was born that way. Why God’s mercy could not keep out of hell the man who had to sin because God made him that way as well as he could keep out of hell the persons who deserved to go to hell because of the sin of Adam, but would not send them to hell because they were not personally guilty, is not made clear.
The whole thing is further confused by the idea that out of all these persons who deserved to go to hell (everyone in the world), God arbitrarily picked a few that He decided to save in spite of the fact that they deserved to go because of a sin of which they were not personally guilty, and at the same time arbitrarily picked out the majority who would be condemned to hell though they had never committed any sin at all.
It is hard to conceive of a more contradictory and confusing mess of theology that is accepted by practically all of the Protestant religions, and a large portion of it by the Roman Catholic Church. This simply illustrates the fact that when a person teaches any false doctrine, he almost invariably contradicts himself and the Bible when he tries to explain the system in the light of what the whole Bible teaches.
In the second part of his fascinating book attemping to prove the doctrine of hereditary total depravity, Mr. J. Fletchere writes about 40 pages of small print in which he sets forth such arguments as these: 1. The natural state of the earth with its quicksands, treacherous rivers, noxious weeds, parching deserts and frozen countries, forest fires in one section and destroying floods in others show that man is guilty. He states on page 26-27, “Now as reason loudly declares that the God of order, justice, and goodness, could never establish and continue this fearful course of things, but to punish the disorders of the moral world by those of the natural, we must conclude tht man is guilty.” Almost any Bible student knows that in Gen. 3:17-18 we find, “And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field.” What that has to do with proving that man is hereditarily and totally depraved is still a mystery. Even if we could prove that a forest fire inMontanaand an earthquake inCaliforniawas a result of their sinful life, that would not even touch the question of whether they inherited either a sinful nature or some guilt as a result of Adam’s sin.
His second argument is about as ingeneous and sensible (?). He says on page 27, “It can never be imagined, that a righteous and good God would suffer innocent and pure creatures to come into the world skilled in no language but that of misery, venting itself in bitter cries or doleful accents.”His argument, put in syllogistic form is this: Major premise: A pure and innocent creature cannot be born under such deplorable conditons. Minor premise: Mankind is born under various deplorable conditions. Conclusion: Therefore mankind is not a pure and innocent creature. Put in its simplest terms, the fact that a child is born with one eye, or a missing limb is, of itself, proof that the child is guilty of sin, for a good God would not allow an innocent person to thus suffer. If one uses the same kind of “logic?” then the fact that God allowed Job to suffer and countless saints to be crucified and suffer would prove that they were guilty. The argument is so patently false that it is not much wonder that one scarcely hears it except at the mouth of some atheist.
His third argument goes like this: “If we let our thoughts ascend from the little sufferers to the mothers that bear them, we shall find another dreadful proof of the Divine displeasure, and of our natural depravity.” Then he goes on with graphic descriptions of most births with the agony and difficulties surrounding them. He even lists Gen. 3:16 as if what God said to Eve about bringing forth children in sorrow proved that all of mankind is born hereditarily and totally depraved.
He then says on page 32, “We may then justly infer from the sufferings and death of still-born or new-born children, that man is totally degenerate, and liable to destruction from his mother’s womb.” The concept is, as he puts it, “If they were not conceived in sin, the Father of mercies could not, consistently with his goodness and justice, command the cold hand of death to nip them in the unopened or just opened bud.” The answer to this empty assumption is the same as that given in the paragraph above. The suffering of Job and/or all the righteous saints must, if his reasoning is consistent, prove that they are all terrible sinners, or that God is unjust. We would expect that kind of reasoning from an atheist, but to hear it from a highly religious man who knows many scriptures and professes to have high regard for them is interesting, to say the least.
One of his most amazing arguments is his fifth one on page 33. Here he presents a picture of a healthy child, stupidly staring in his nurse’s lap, or awkwardly passing through childhood to manhood. The idea, in his words is, “Part of the Divine Image consisted in purity, power, and knowledge, but now, he is naturally the least cleanly, as well as the most helpless and ignorant of all animals.” He even goes on to say, “Other animals are provided with a natural covering that answers the double end of usefulness and ornament; but indigent man is obliged to borrow from plants, beasts, and worms the material with which he hides his nakedness.” I never imagined that I would hear or read an argument that basically said that we can prove that men are born hereditarily and totally depraved because a baby is born ignorant, helpless and naked and does not even have fur or feathers to keep it warm!
His sixth argument on pages 35-37 may be summarized this way: Since God is not known in all of his glorious attributes by man in his natural state, it is evident that they (all mankind) is under his displeasure and are rebellious fallen creatures. His whole argument assumes that Adam, created in the image of God, must have understood all about all the attributes of God before he sinned, even if God had not revealed himself to Adam in some specific ways. Neither logic or scripture supports this assumption. Of course the Bible plainly teaches that because man refused to glorify God, and did not like to retain God in their knowldege, He gave them up to a reprobate mind (Rom. 1:28), but that very passage says, “When they knew God they glorified him not as God” which clearly shows it is not talking about being born depraved, but about human beings who knew God and refused to follow him. How anyone could twist that into an assumption that it proves that mankind was born depraved is one of life’s great mysteries.
The seventh argument on pages 38-40 is perhaps even more amazing. It is this: God gave mankind to rule over all other created life. However, it is evident that when locusts eat the fields that we have planted, and lions, tigers, rattlesnakes, sharks, etc. attack and devour mankind, it is evident that the animal kingdom has rebelled. The conclusion is: “The wise Governor of the world, the kind protector of his obedient creatures would not permit this rebellion if man himself had not rebelled against him.” Surely any thoughful person can see that even if he could prove his conclusion, it has nothing whatever to do with whether man is born totally depraved. The most it could possibly prove is that since man has rebelled, God allows nature to rebel against him. His eighth argument on pages 40-41 is that even vegetables, minerals and metals often cause misery and death. He concludes, “Tosay that infinite goodness can deal this with innocent creatures, is offering violence to our our reason, and an affront toDivine justice. Conclude with me that we have lost our original innocence, and forfeited our Creator’s favor.” It is little wonder that we have never heard those arguments from most of those who adhere to the doctrine of hereditary total depravity. They apparently are so baseless and even ridiculous that they fell under their own weight without anyone having to argue with them. To even dispute them feels about as silly as disputing the proposition that a square is a circle. That misery, death and decay were brought upon mankind because of the sin of Adam no one denies, as far as we know. But to leap from this apparent Bible teaching to the assumption that it proves that all his descendents were born with a depraved nature makes about as much sense as saying, “I waved my hand in the air and a hurricane came. It is evident that I can control the elements.”
His 9th argument of about 7 pages is that men toil and sweat and often produce very little. His conclusion is: “It is absolutely incredible that a good God, who by a word can supply the wants of all his creatures should have sentenced innocent mankind to all these hardships, so it is evident that they are guilty, miserable offenders.” By the same logic Job’s friends proved that he was guilty of the most horrible sins. But they were wrong, as any student of God’s word should be able to see. That Adam’s sin brought misery and hardship into the world, no one should deny. But that it proves that all who suffer as a result of it are guilty, miserable offenders, and born that way does not follow. It would be as logical to take an innocent child that is killed in a car wreck that his drunken father caused and say, “A good God could not allow this innocent child to suffer as a result of his father’s sins. So the child must not be innocent, but as guilty as his father and deserving of punishment.” Surely anyone who can see anything can see that a faithful child of God, innocent and forgiven of every sin, can suffer all sorts of things and even death itself in the most horrible forms. At other places, the author would probably admit this, but his next two arguments, covering several pages of vivid descriptions of the horrible ways mankind dies attempts that because of that, “God’s providential dealings with him proves that he, by nature, in a corrupt and lost estate.” He does not even attempt to deal with the question of why redeemed and sinless man suffers the same fate and why that does not prove that a redeemed and sinless man is still not proven to be lost and condemned because he thus suffers.
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.