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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, June 8, 2008

“For the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”
(Genesis 8:21).

Here we have a strong picture of the total depravity of man’s heart. It is most interesting to notice that although the modern translations make this the “inclination of his heart” (NIV), and “the intent of man’s heart” (NASB), yet the older translations render it, “the imagination of man’s heart” (The 1599 Geneva Bible) and again “the imagination of man’s heart” (KJV). So, we are left to wonder, as we compare the new translations with the old ones, whether man’s heart is only inclined to evil, or if “the imaginations” themselves are “evil from his youth.” When we check the Hebrew we discover that we must come down on the side of the old translations, that it is the “imagination,” not the “inclination” or “intent” of man’s heart which is evil. “Inclination” means “tending to evil, a leaning toward evil, an aptitude or propensity toward evil.” These modern translations thus weaken the true meaning of the text, which tells us in Hebrew that man does not simply incline or lean toward evil, but that the very imagination of man’s heart is evil, itself. Not just a tending toward evil, not just a “leaning toward evil,” but evil itself!

Thus, we see that the modern translations have moved away from the good old Reformation doctrine of total depravity, back to the view of the Catholic Church, that man is only "inclined" to evil. The modern translations therefore take us back to the Roman Catholic view of man’s heart only "inclining" toward evil. This is not the same view as that of Luther, the Reformers, and the early Baptists. To the modern translators man is merely “inclined” toward evil. This shows how the modern translations help to hide our Baptist/Protestant distinctives and make it more and more plausible to join ecumenically with Rome.

But to our Protestant and Baptist forefathers man is more than partly depraved, capable of giving some help in overcoming his sinful condition by contributing “his part” to saving himself from it. This is called “synergism” by theologians. But the old Reformers and Puritans believed no such thing. They believed that man is “dead in sins” (Ephesians 2:5).

If the older Puritans were right, and I believe they were, man in sin doesn’t just have a tendency to sin. No!

“The imagination of man’s heart [not its inclination] is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21).

The Hebrew word shows that the older preachers and theologians were right and the newer ones are wrong. The new ones tend to downplay that word in the text, and give it a Roman Catholic meaning, which is far softer and far more acceptable to the carnal mind of unconverted man. The Hebrew word translated “imagination” should not be translated “inclination” or "intent." The KJV word “imagination” comes from the translation of a Hebrew word which means “purpose, form, frame [of mind]” (Strong #336). The very purpose, form and frame of man’s heart “is evil from his youth,” not just his inclinations and intents! Therefore, the KJV word, "imagination," is a far better English word than that used by modern translations. "Imagination" speaks of the whole heart, not its inclination or intent.

From such verses as Genesis 8:21, the revival of the 16th century restored the Biblical teaching of the total depravity of man,

“for the imagination [purpose, form] of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21).

I. First, this was the condition of man before the Flood.

We read in Genesis 6:5,

“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” (Genesis 6:5).

This is not the view of human nature held by most people. In ancient times the heathen nations spoke of the dignity and goodness of man. The ancient philosophers said that man was a superior creature, with the power to make himself good, as did Socrates in the West and Confucius in the East. Later, even in the age of Christianity, many spoke highly of man’s abilities and nature.

This was the main difference between the Catholic teaching of Erasmus (1466-1536) and that of the Reformers. Was man totally depraved, or was there something left in human nature that could cooperate with God? Erasmus said that man’s heart was free to cooperate with God, that man could make a “decision” to obey God. The Reformers said that this was false, that

“every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).

Total depravity was what Luther called the “hinge on which all turns,” because it determined whether Christianity would be a religion of grace or of works.

Although the Catholic Church and “decisionist” Baptists and Protestants teach that man has the freedom to respond to God, the Bible teaches the exact opposite. The Bible teaches that man fell in the Garden of Eden.

“By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men” (Romans 5:12).

By Adam’s disobedience all men were constituted sinners because

“In Adam all die” (I Corinthians 15:22).

Fallen, sinful Adam then

“begat a son in his own likeness” (Genesis 5:3).

It was not possible for him to father any other kind of son, for

“Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one”
      (Job 14:4).

As a result, all mankind inherited natures that are

“dead in sins” (Ephesians 2:5),

“having no hope, and without God in the world”
      (Ephesians 2:12).

And so, all human beings are born as

“children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2),

“by nature the children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).

Thus, every human being can truly say,

“I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5);


“they are all under sin” (Romans 3:9).

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”
      (Romans 3:23).

Therefore God looked down at mankind and said,

“There is none righteous, no, not one…They are all gone out of the way…there is none that doeth good, no, not one”
      (Romans 3:10, 12).

Therefore, when God looked down from Heaven, He

“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” (Genesis 6:5).

Someone may say, “This is high Calvinism!” But you are wrong. I have been paraphrasing a sermon by John Wesley, who was an Arminian, and not a Calvinist at all! (“Of Original Sin” by the Rev. John Wesley, M.A., The Works of John Wesley, Baker Book House, 1979 reprint, volume VI, pp. 54-55). I might just as easily have paraphrased John Bunyan, our famous Baptist forefather, or Spurgeon, our Baptist preacher of the ages! This is a central point of true Baptist and Protestant orthodoxy, marred though it is now by Catholic and evangelical “decisionism.” This is the doctrine of total depravity found in the Great London Confession of the Baptists, the Westminster Confession of the Presbyterians, the Heidelberg Confession of the Lutherans, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. This is the doctrine of man's total depravity, which was the main difference between Roman Catholics, on the one hand, and the Baptists and Protestants on the other, "the hinge on which all turns." The text corrects this false teaching. It gives a dark picture of man before the Flood.

“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” (Genesis 6:5).

II. Second, this was the same condition of man after the Flood.

Nothing in man was changed by this great catastrophe. Before the Flood, God looked at man and saw

“that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).

And after the Flood God said,

“the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth
      (Genesis 8:21).

So, the only additional thought is that the evil nature of man’s heart exists from childhood, “from his youth.”

“They go astray as soon as they be born” (Psalm 58:3).

Spurgeon said,

After the Flood it is just the same…You might have hoped that after so terrible a judgment when only…eight were saved… that now the nature of man would be improved. [But] it is not so…the same God who, looking at man, declared that his imaginations were evil before the flood, pronounces the same verdict upon them afterwards. Oh God! how hopeless is human nature! How impossible it is that the carnal mind should be reconciled to God!...even the floods of thy judgments cannot cure it of its evil imaginations!...Dr. Dick says, “All man’s thoughts, all his desires, all his purposes are evil, expressly or by implication; because the subject of them is avowedly sinful, or because they do not proceed from a holy principle, and are not directed to a proper end. It is not occasionally that the human soul is under the influence of depravity; but this is its habit and state. It is impossible to construct a sentence which should more distinctly express its total corruption than this” (C. H. Spurgeon, “Human Depravity and Divine Mercy,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1979 reprint, volume XI, pp. 99-100).

“Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).

“The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth”
      (Genesis 8:21).

“Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them”
 (Ephesians 4:18).

That is why the eighteenth century hymn writer Joseph Hart spoke of man as, “Sinners base; a hardened herd, a rebel race” (“Come All Ye Chosen Saints of God” by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768). Though raised in a Christian home, Joseph Hart remained unconverted. He said,

About the twenty-first year of my age I began to be under great anxiety concerning my soul…In this uneasy round of sinning and repenting, working and dreading, I went on [until] I began to sink deeper into conviction of my nature’s evil, the deceitfulness and hardness of my heart…the shallowness of my Christianity, and the blindness of my devotion. I saw that I was in a dangerous state, and that I must have a better religion than I had yet experienced before I could…call myself a Christian…But, alas, I could no more do this than I could raise the dead (Joseph Hart, Hart’s Hymns, Old Paths Gospel Press, 1965 reprint, preface, pp. v-vi).

A friend of mine, a pastor in Tempe, Arizona, spoke with me on the telephone every few days as he was slowly dying. In each of these many conversations he mused and puzzled over the question of why there is so little conviction of sin in our churches today. “I wonder why there is so little conviction of sin today?” he would say in each of our conversations. I knew he was dying, in severe pain from the cancer that had spread throughout his body, so I offered no advice, but merely listened, rather than intrude upon his dying thoughts. “I wonder thy there is so little conviction of sin today?” He said that over and over in our conversations. It worried him as he lay there dying. I went over to Arizona to his funeral a short time later. Many leading Baptist preachers spoke, but I don’t remember what they said very well. As I sat there in the packed sanctuary of his church, I kept thinking of his question, “Why is there so little conviction of sin today?” His words ran through my mind throughout the funeral service.

Gradually, in the weeks and months following his funeral, I finally arrived at an answer. I began to realize that his question was an extremely important one, indeed the most important a preacher could think about in these evil days. And I now think I have the answer. We don’t see conviction of sin like that which Joseph Hart, and so many others in the First Great Awakening, experienced largely because we do not tend to preach convicting sermons, and few of us pray earnestly that lost people should experience such convicting agony of soul as Joseph Hart and thousands of others felt, in better and more spiritually enlightened times. We now think that conviction like Hart’s is not important, perhaps even odd, or psychologically strange. We now think all we need to do is teach the Bible, and not pray and preach for men to look for such conviction. Preachers have become satisfied with a quick decision, and have forgotten the agony of soul experienced by our forefathers when they experienced real conversions. But I am not satisfied with quick and unemotional “decisions for Christ.” I know that such “decisions” will not truly convert a human heart. Real conversions are nearly always accompanied by some of the agony of soul that Joseph Hart went through in his conversion, which was so common in that day, but so rare in our time. 

And, so, I must preach the reality of true heartbreaking conviction of sin. I must give you examples in my preaching of real men and women of past revivals who came to know the desperately wicked condition of their hearts. Remember that the great evangelist George Whitefield, of the 18th century, again and again with tears in his eyes, his heart ready to burst with emotion, said that no one can be truly converted unless he is convinced that he is a totally depraved sinner, which makes him feel,

“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).

Without such God-given inner despair, few if any will find rest in Christ, or cleansing by His all-atoning Blood.

And how is it with your soul? Are you cold toward the offer of salvation in Christ? If you are, is it not because you haven’t felt that horrid nature of your heart? Is it not because you have failed to realize that you are an unclean thing, that deeply in your heart you feel no need for Jesus?

If you felt that your heart was corrupted and evil you would flee to Christ, asking no questions, seeking no answers on how to come to Him. You would run to Jesus, fall at His feet, and plead with Him to save your ruined soul, so mangled and dead by reason of sin.

See, He dies for you on the Cross, to pay the awful price of your sin! See, He rises from the dead to give life to your mangled soul, depraved and ruined by the Fall! If you feel even a little of your corrupt condition, then flee to Christ, then plunge, head over heels, into His arms, and Jesus will heal your depravity “and restore a right spirit” within you. If you feel your sin at all, come to Jesus at once! "Plunge now into the crimson flood that washes white as snow!"

For Jesus shed His precious blood,
   Rich blessings to bestow;
Plunge now into the crimson flood
   That washes white as snow.
Only trust Him, only trust Him,
   Only trust Him now.
He will save you, He will save you,
   He will save you now.
(“Only Trust Him” by John H. Stockton, 1813-1877).

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Genesis 6:5-7.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Pass Me Not” (by Fanny J. Crosby, 1820-1915).




by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“For the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”
(Genesis 8:21).

(Ephesians 2:5)

I.   First, this was the condition of man before the Flood, Genesis 6:5;
Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 15:22; Genesis 5:3; Job 14:4;
Ephesians 2:5, 12, 2, 3; Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:9, 23, 10, 12.

II.  Second, this was the same condition of man after the Flood,
Genesis 6:5; Psalm 58:3; Ephesians 4:18; Romans 7:24.