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FIRST SBC THEOLOGIAN WRITES ON
TOTAL DEPRAVITYby Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, October 1, 2000
"And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision
of your flesh, hath he quickened…"
Some time ago a girl joined our church. She became a full member of our church. I wasn’t as careful in checking people’s testimonies back then as I am now. She was very eager to join and joyfully took part in everything - for a few months. Then the "crash" came. She no longer enjoyed being in church. My friend’s last memory of her was seeing her with tears streaming down her cheeks. She was sobbing and screaming, "I can’t do this! I can’t live the Christian life! I can’t do this!" It was a sad thing to behold. She had wanted to be with the young people in the church. She had hastily married a young man in the church. But then, like all the rest of her type, she "ran out of gas." She couldn’t live a simple Christian life! Jesus said:
"When they hear, (they) receive the word with joy: and these have no root, which for awhile believe, and in time of temptation fall away" (Luke 8:13).
Having "no root" means that there is no change in their inner nature - in their heart. Such a person will, sooner or later, say "I can’t do it! I can’t live the Christian life! I can’t do it!" Jesus said:
"Without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5).
He was exactly right. The person who doesn’t have Christ in reality, in a real conversion, will be totally incapable of living what appears to be a very simple Christian life - a thing which has the outward appearance of being quite easy and simple.
Why is it impossible for an unconverted person to live a Christian life? Not because it is a harder life. In many ways the Christian life is actually easier than the life of an unbeliever. The Bible says, "The way of transgressors is hard" (Proverbs 13:15).
Then what makes it so hard that an unconverted person really cannot live the Christian life? The thing that makes it impossibly difficult is that the unconverted human heart is dead set against God.
"Because the carnal (i.e. unconverted) mind is enmity against God (is hostile to God), for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7).
Notice the last few words of that verse, "neither indeed can be." It is not even able to do so! The unconverted person cannot live the Christian life because his carnal, unconverted mind is hostile to God - and he can’t change it! An unconverted person’s mind is hopelessly hostile against the things of God. And you can’t change it. You can’t change who you are! You can’t change what you are! You have a heart that is against God and you can’t change it! Only God Himself can awaken and convert you and give you saving faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Now, we will examine the Scriptural views of Dr. John L. Dagg (1794-1884). Dr. Dagg was the president of Mercer University, a large Southern Baptist school, in the nineteenth century. Dr. Dagg’s book, A Manual of Theology, was published in 1857. It was the first book on systematic theology written by a Southern Baptist. I will give Dr. Dagg’s teaching from that book on the subject of human depravity, man’s utter helplessness in saving himself. We believe Dr. Dagg’s views on this subject are thoroughly Scriptural.
Today many would call Dr. Dagg’s views hyper-Calvinistic. But those who would say that are usually Pelagianists. This means that they do not hold the Biblical view that man is really lost, really "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1).
I myself am not a five-point Calvinist. I reject three of the five points of Calvinism, accepting only the first and last points. But I am convinced by Scripture that the first point is true. Man is totally depraved. In my belief in total depravity, I am in basic agreement with John Wesley and all Protestants and Baptists before Charles G. Finney brought Pelagian heresy into evangelism in the nineteenth century.
John Wesley, an Arminian, wrote the following statement on total depravity. It shows that the Arminians in that day, as well as Calvinists, believed the doctrines taught by Dr. Dagg before Finney brought in the "decisionist" Pelagian heresy which now engulfs us. Mr. Wesley said:
I always did, for between these thirty and forty years, clearly assert the total fall of man and his utter inability to do any good for himself; the absolute necessity of the grace and Spirit of God to raise even a good thought or desire in our hearts; the Lord’s rewarding no work, and accepting of none but so far as they proceed from his…converting grace through the Beloved; the Blood and righteousness of Christ being the sole meritorious cause of our salvation. (Quoted by John H. Armstrong in Five Great Evangelists, Christian Focus Publications, 1997, pp. 118-119).
Although I am not a five-point Calvinist, I am convinced that Dr. John L. Dagg was absolutely correct Biblically in his teaching on mankind’s total depravity.
Furthermore, I believe that unless the Pelagian doctrines of decisionism are given up, and a return to Dagg’s views comes about, there is no hope for a true revival among Southern Baptists and others.
Vain it will be, to receive the doctrine of human depravity into our creed, if it is not received with our hearts. A thorough conviction of our total depravity is necessary to humble us before God, and to drive us to the fountain (i.e. Jesus). No genuine Christian experience can exist, where this is not felt and operative.
Dr. Dagg is here giving Whitefield’s view that no one can be truly converted who has not "felt" his own total depravity, his utter helplessness to do anything to save himself. We are in full agreement. Protests against this doctrine reveal false conversions in most cases. If man were not totally helpless, then salvation could not be by grace alone (Ephesians 2:1-9).
Here are Dr. Dagg’s comments on these pivotal Bible doctrines.
I. Dr. Dagg said "men are unable to save themselves." The inability of men to save themselves, respects both their condemnation and their depravity. Men are unable to save themselves from condemnation."
Dr. Dagg said that people are not able to save themselves. He cited this verse in Jeremiah:
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to evil" (Jeremiah 13:23).
He also cited Romans 3:9-20:
"What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:9-20).
And he cited Romans 8:7-8:
"Because the carnal (i.e. unconverted) mind is enmity against God (it is hostile toward God): for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So they that are in the flesh (i.e. unconverted) cannot please God" (Romans 8:7-8).
These passages and verses show that you are in a truly horrible condition. You are lost and you are unable to change or do anything else to save yourself, or even help yourself get saved. You are helpless.
Furthermore, you are also under a curse:
"For it is written, Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them" (Galatians 3:10).
Thus, you are unable to do a thing to remove God’s curse from yourself. You are under the spell of God’s curse and you can’t do one thing to help yourself.
The Scriptures affirm, that by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified. The law requires perfect and perpetual obedience, and can be satisfied with nothing less. Law is converted into mere advice, when its requirements are not obligatory. To claim the privilege of violating the law, or coming short of its requirements, is to claim, so far, exemption from its authority, and therefore from the moral government of God. Such exemption divine justice will not allow. Its language is, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." "What things the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God." The view which is here presented of man’s condition, relates not merely to his transgressions, but to his natural state. Hence it is said, "And were by nature the children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3). So much has God the maintenance of his law at heart, that he who was in the bosom of the Father, and well understood all his counsels, has with solemnity assured us: "Verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18).
There is a method of rescue from condemnation; but it is not one of man’s devising or executing. To effect it required a display of wisdom, power and love, infinitely beyond the highest efforts of man. It is God’s work, challenging the admiration of angels, and demanding gratitude, praise, and joyful acceptance from every human being. (John L. Dagg, ibid.).
II. Dr. Dagg said, "Men are unable to free themselves from depravity."
The first element of this inability is seen in the fact that men lack the necessary disposition. By nature we love darkness rather than light, sin rather than holiness. To be free from depravity is to be holy, and no man can desire holiness or perfect conformity to the law of God, who does not delight in that law. But experience and Scripture unite in teaching us that the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be (Romans 8:7). The cause of this exists in the fact, that the carnal mind is enmity against God. Men love the ways of transgression, and desire not the knowledge of God’s ways; and, therefore, they lack the disposition necessary to free themselves from depravity, and render themselves strictly conformed to the law of God.
Another element which renders the inability complete, is, that if men had the disposition, they have not the power. Men have the power to perform such external acts as God requires of them. If they were wholly disposed to perform such acts, and failed through mere physical inability, that inability would be a valid excuse. God accepteth according to what a man hath (II Corinthians 8:12). We are commanded not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together; but the man who is fastened to his bed by palsy is not required to meet in the house of God. Depravity does not consist in external acts, but belongs to the heart; and the affections of the heart are not subject to volition, as the motions of the limbs are. Hence the Apostle says, "Ye cannot do the things that ye would" (Galatians 5:17). Every converted man knows the meaning of that language. The current of depraved affections in our hearts, which has been flowing in the wrong direction from the beginning of our being, and gathering strength by the power of habit, does not stop at our bidding. A volition cannot stop it with as much ease as when it moves a finger. If any man thinks he has the power to be holy at will, let him try it, and he will find his mistake.
The inability last described, which is usually called moral, must be distinguished carefully from that physical inability which excuses outward acts. Physical inability would prevent the action, even if the whole heart were bent on performing it. It excuses the failure to act; but it will not excuse a corrupt or divided heart. The paralytic may be excused for not attending at the house of God; but he is not excused for preferring to be absent, or for possessing no longing for the courts of the Lord. The moral inability of men consists in having either a divided heart, or a heart fully not in them to do evil. The former every converted man laments, and blames himself for; and the latter is descriptive of unconverted or natural men. This includes the lack, both of disposition and power, and renders the inability complete. This inability is not an excuse for the depravity, but is the depravity itself, in its full influence over all the powers of the soul.
The Scripture representations of man’s inability are exceedingly strong. They are said to be without strength (Romans 5:6), captives (II Timothy 2:26), in bondage (II Peter 2:19; Romans 6:16-17), asleep (I Thessalonians 5:6), dead (Ephesians 5:14; Colossians 2:13), &c. The act by which they are delivered from their natural state, is called regeneration, quickening or giving life, renewing, resurrection, translation, creation; and it is directly ascribed to the power of God, the power that called light out of darkness, and raised up Christ from the dead.
Our views concerning our character and condition by nature are wholly incorrect, if we imagine that a little work, which we can effect at pleasure, will set all right. Thousands postpone the concerns of the soul from this vain imagination. A true sense of our inability would drive us to him who is able to save. (Ibid.).
Dr. Dagg has proved by Scripture that praying a sinner’s prayer, asking to be saved, believing the plan of salvation, making Christ Lord, dedicating or rededicating your life will do you no good! None of the things most new-evangelical preachers tell you to do will do you the slightest bit of good! You are helpless. That’s why you must be saved by Jesus! You cannot save yourself.
That’s why Jesus had to die on the Cross - in your place.
That’s why Jesus had to rise from the dead - in your place.
That’s why Jesus has to intercede for you in Heaven - at the right hand of God.
That’s why Dr. John Dagg said:
A true sense of our inability would drive us to Him (Jesus) who is able to save. (Ibid.)
As the old hymn puts it:
Guilty, vile and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
Full atonement! Can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
("Hallelujah, What a Saviour!,"
by Philip P. Bliss, 1838-1876).
Scripture Read Before Sermon: Romans 3:9-20.
Solo by Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: "Hallelujah, What a Saviour!"
THE OUTLINE OF
FIRST SBC THEOLOGIAN WRITES ON
TOTAL DEPRAVITYby Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
"And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision
of your flesh, hath he quickened…"
I. Men are unable to free themselves from condemnation, Jeremiah 13:23; Romans 3:9-20; Romans 8:7-8; Galatians 3:10; Romans 3:19; Ephesians 2:3; Matthew 5:18.
II. Men are unable to free themselves from depravity, Romans 8:7; Galatians 5:17; Romans 5:6; II Timothy 2:26; II Peter 2:19; I Thessalonians 5:6; Ephesians 5:14; Colossians 2:13.