"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • Rev. David Thommen (URC)
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    The Heart of the Problem by Pastor John Samson

    "The heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? "I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind..." - Jeremiah 17:9-10

    "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh;" - Romans 7:18

    "The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth." - Psalm 58:3

    "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me." - Psalm 51:5

    Every child comes into the world with an alarming capacity for evil. Does that shock you? Did you think I was going to end the sentence differently? Scripture teaches us that the heart of the human problem is the problem of the heart. That's true of us even before we are born.

    The theological term for this is "total depravity." It means that the depravity of man, including all the babies born into our world, is total. Does this mean that people are as depraved as is possible for them to be? Does total depravity mean utter depravity?

    No, for even the very worst amongst us can still be looked upon as having the capacity to be even worse than they are. How's that? Well, remember, Adolf Hitler? As bad as he was, he did not kill his mother or all his school teachers! As strange as it may seem, we can conceive of Hitler being even worse than he actually was, of committing more crimes, and killing more people.

    What total depravity means then is that every area of man has been affected by the Fall: man's entire body, soul and spirit has suffered a radical corruption. This does not mean that man is without a conscience or any sense of right or wrong, nor that every sinner is devoid of all the qualities that are both pleasing to men and useful to society, when those qualities are judged only by human standards. In addition, this does not mean that every sinner is prone to every form of sin.

    To quote Dr. John MacArthur "it means that children do not come into the world seeking God and righteousness. They do not come into the world with a neutral innocence. They come seeking the fulfillment of sinful and selfish desires. Although the outworking of the sin nature does not necessarily attain full expression in every person's behavior, it is nontheless called total depravity because there is no aspect of the human personality, character, mind, emotions, or will that is free from the corruption of sin."

    As parents, our natural reaction is to recoil at such an idea about the little ones who are newly born to us. We tend to see them as totally innocent. Yet the Bible reveals that these little ones are born simply naïve and inexperienced, and all the potential for sin is already present in their hearts.

    In reality, we do know this, for how many parents have actually had to teach their children to be naughty? No, the kids do that all by themselves!

    Where do kids get this depravity? It's not a learned behavior, but rather an inbred disposition. Kids get it from their parents, who get it from their parents, and so on, all the way back to Adam. Adam, "begot a son in his own likeness, after his image." Gen 5:3. Adam's children all bore the stamp of sin and were infected with evil desires, including, like Adam, an aversion to the things of God, who hid himself from the presence of the Lord (Gen 3:8).

    If you having trouble with all this, just remember that your children are just miniature versions of yourself! When children are simply permitted to follow the dictates of their own hearts, the result is disaster. Left to themselves, kids don't follow the ways of godliness. "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him." (Prov. 22:15).

    That's why Paul summarized the entire parenting task in a one-verse admonition to fathers: "Do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." (Eph. 6:4)

    As parents, we need to be evangelists in our homes. We are not to leave this task to others, including the children's ministry or youth department at a Church. God holds us as parents (and especially fathers) responsible to teach the children the message of the Bible. This includes giving the children an understanding of the law of God, the Holiness of God, His just wrath against sin, the gospel of Divine Sovereign grace, and the need of a perfect Savior. Then we need to point them to Jesus Christ as the only One who can save them.

    "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men" Rom 5:12, "for as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners..." Rom. 5:19. All of us as descendants of Adam have inherited the guilt and stain of sin. No one is exempt, or born innocent, except for Jesus Christ, who was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit, free from the moral taint of Adam's sin.

    Perhaps "radical corruption" is a better term to describe our fallen condition than the historic term "total depravity." "Radical" not in the sense of being "extreme," but radical in the sense of its original meaning, stemming from the Latin word for "root" or "core." Our problem with sin is that it is rooted in the core of our being, permeating our hearts. It is because sin is at our core and not merely at the exterior of our lives that Romans 3:10-12 declares: "There is none righteous, no not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one."

    Man, by nature, does not want to know God. "There is no one who seeks after God," as the above Scripture says. As Dr. Michael Horton noted, "We cannot find God for the same reason that a thief can't find a police officer."

    Spiritually speaking we were all born D.O.A. (dead on arrival), with no desire for God. Paul, addressing the Christians at Ephesus wrote, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God..." (Eph. 2:1-4). Only by the direct, gracious intervention of God will anyone ever come to a saving knowledge of Christ.

    C. H. Spurgeon put it this way: "Through the fall, and through our own sin, the nature of man has become so debased, and depraved, and corrupt, that it is impossible for him to come to Christ without the assistance of God the Holy Spirit. Now, in trying to exhibit how the nature of man thus renders him unable to come to Christ, you must allow me just to take this figure. You see a sheep; how willingly it feeds upon the herbage! You never knew a sheep sigh after carrion; it could not live on lion's food. Now bring me a wolf; and you ask me whether a wolf cannot eat grass, whether it cannot be just as docile and as domesticated as the sheep. I answer, no; because its nature is contrary thereunto. You say, "Well, it has ears and legs; can it not hear the shepherd's voice, and follow him whithersoever he leadeth it?" I answer, certainly; there is no physical cause why it cannot do so, but its nature forbids, and therefore I say it cannot do so. Can it not be tamed? cannot its ferocity be removed? Probably it may so far be subdued that it may become apparently tame; but there will always be a marked distinction between it and the sheep, because there is a distinction in nature. Now, the reason why man cannot come to Christ, is not because he cannot come, so far as his body or his mere power of mind is concerned, but because his nature is so corrupt that he has neither the will nor the power to come to Christ unless drawn by the Spirit." Sermon, Human Inability, March 7, 1858

    "For as through the one man's disobedience (Adam's) the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One (the Lord Jesus Christ) the many will be made righteous." Rom. 5:19

    "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive." 1 Cor. 15:22.

    Sinners are completely helpless to redeem themselves or to contribute anything meritorious toward their own salvation. Because of the Fall of man, the sinner is not morally neutral, but by nature is actually hostile towards God. He is, in fact, the sworn enemy of God. Though physically alive, he is spiritually dead. Unless he is born again, he cannot enter or even see the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5).

    Man's will is not free but in bondage to his evil nature; therefore, he will not, indeed he cannot choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. He cannot because he will not. Therefore it takes much more than the Spirit's assistance and wooing to bring a sinner to Christ - it takes a radical regeneration by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature - a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone.

    REGENERATION PRECEDES FAITH - Faith is actually the evidence of new birth, not the cause of it - (Regeneration > Faith > Justification). Repentance and faith are only possible because of the work of God in regeneration, therefore both are called the gift of God.

    Again, quoting the same sermon of Spurgeon: ""Oh!" saith the Arminian, "men may be saved if they will." We reply, "My dear sir, we all believe that; but it is just the if they will that is the difficulty. We assert that no man will come to Christ unless he be drawn; nay, we do not assert it, but Christ himself declares it—"Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life;' and as long as that "ye will not come' stands on record in Holy Scripture, we shall not be brought to believe in any doctrine of the freedom of the human will." It is strange how people, when talking about free-will, talk of things which they do not at all understand. "Now," says one, "I believe men can be saved if they will." My dear sir, that is not the question at all. The question is, are men ever found naturally willing to submit to the humbling terms of the gospel of Christ? We declare, upon Scriptural authority, that the human will is so desperately set on mischief, so depraved, and so inclined to everything that is evil, and so disinclined to everything that is good, that without the powerful, supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit, no human will ever be constrained towards Christ. You reply, that men sometimes are willing, without the help of the Holy Spirit. I answer—Did you ever meet with any person who was? Scores and hundreds, nay, thousands of Christians have I conversed with, of different opinions, young and old, but it has never been my lot to meet with one who could affirm that he came to Christ of himself, without being drawn. The universal confession of all true believers is this—"I know that unless Jesus Christ had sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God, I would to this very hour have been wandering far from him, at a distance from him, and loving that distance well." With common consent, all believers affirm the truth, that men will not come to Christ till the Father who hath sent Christ doth draw them." Human Inability, March 7, 1858

    Gen 2:15-17; Ps 51:5, Jer 17:9; Jn 3:1-8; 6:44; 8:34, 47; 10:26; Rom 3:10-18, 8:7, 8; 1 Cor 2:14; Eph 2:1-9; Ph 1:29; 2 Tim 2:25; Heb. 12:2; 1 Jn 5:1

    Posted by John Samson on March 11, 2006 08:55 AM


    I just started reading this blog and have found it to be very informative.

    In the post, you mentioned that children are born DOA. Because I believe in total depravity and original sin, I agree that children are born sinners and that salvation occurs through regeneration. The question I have is in regards to judgment for sin. How will children be judged when they die (as a result of abortion, being stillborn, as infants…)?

    I always have been taught that aborted babies will go to Heaven. Albeit a comforting sentiment, I never have been able to reconcile that teaching with the concept of original sin. We can say that, as with everyone else, children will be judged according to their level of knowledge and culpability. And that children, in particular, have not reached the age of accountability. But such explanations do not seem satisfying. Any thoughts?


    Hi Chong,

    These are important questions that you ask - not merely concerning aborted babies, but about all babies and young children that die in infancy.

    What I am sure of is that God will be seen to be perfectly just in all His decrees and declarations regarding these matters.

    As Abraham said to the Almighty, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25). The answer to this rhetorical question is a resounding "yes!"

    We must always bear in mind though that God would be perfectly just in sending all babies as well as all adults to hell. If He did so, no one could accuse God of any injustice, just as He has provided no redemption for angels who have fallen, and all the elect angels still sing, "holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts."

    However, as parents, the great concern we have for our children regarding their eternal well being, tends to speak much of the One who has made us in His image and likeness. If we have this concern, I am sure it is also a concern of our Father in heaven. But beyond this, I don't feel I can speculate further.

    Though I have found that many Bible teachers seem to feel free to make dogmatic statements on some of these issues, I hesitate to do so, simply because I don't find scripture addressing these issues in a full orbed manner. I believe we are wise to go as far as the biblical data mandates and then refrain from going beyond that, when there is no further scriptural light available. As John Calvin famously said, "where God makes an end of teaching, we should make an end of trying to be wise." Institutes, 3:21:3.

    Since Genesis 3:17, God curses Adam with the physical death of returning to dust as part of God's punishment, and since babies, even in the womb, die; obviously they are also subjects of that curse as well and therefore, not free from the guilt of it.

    Where I have a hard time of understanding is how do we evangelize a newborn or even an unborn for that matter, with the saving knowledge of Jesus whereby they will be saved since they don't have the ability to understand human speech at that age?


    The issue you raise is what all the speculation is about - how does God save infants when they don't have sufficient understanding of the content of the gospel.

    There are various answers that have been given to this question - but if we stay only with scripture, I am not sure there is much we can say other than the verse I quoted (Gen. 18:25).

    Pastor John,

    If you can provide me with what you feel is a good explanation to this question, would be most helpful.

    I'm trying to get an understanding for the practicality of evangelizing the inable. Does the ability to comprehend human speech or ability to read a necessity to receiving the power of the Gospel? We read of such instances in Romans 10:17 where hearing is united with preaching which seems to be a part of the "equation". And if this is the case, how would you evangelize to a newborn or someone who speaks a different language than yourself if it was just you and that other person?


    This is Mr. J.Hendryx, not Pastor Samson, but if I were to take a stab at answering this I would say that while God usually works by using means, as the Scripture testifies (such as preaching the gospel and prayer) He does not always do so. Obviously we cannot preach the gospel to all unborn life in the womb but we can pray. Still this means there are many instances in the world where someone dies in infancy or someone who is born with mental deficiencies who later will not understand the gospel. Can this person be saved? Of I said God is not limited to using means, though He generally does.

    Consider in the case of John the Baptist. He lept in his mother's womb at the arrival of the Mary when Pregnant with Jesus. No unregerate person rejoices at Christ or the gospel so God apparently quickened and worked saving grace in John the Baptist even prior to his birth or ability to understand. And I suspect he does for all His elect who die in infancy.

    Westminster Confession states tthat "Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ" (Chap. X, Sec. 3)

    Boettner says,
    Most Calvinistic theologians have held that those who die in infancy are saved. The Scriptures seem to teach plainly enough that the children of believers are saved; but they are silent or practically so in regard to those of the heathens. The Westminster Confession does not pass judgment on the children of heathens who die before coming to years of accountability. Where the Scriptures are silent, the Confession, too, preserves silence. Our outstanding theologians, however, mindful of the fact that God's "tender mercies are over all His works," and depending on His mercy widened as broadly as possible, have entertained a charitable hope that since these infants have never committed any actual sin themselves, their inherited sin would be pardoned and they would be saved on wholly evangelical principles.

    Such, for instance, was the position held by Charles Hodge, W. G. T. Shedd, and B. B. Warfield. Concerning those who die in infancy, Dr. Warfield says: "Their destiny is determined irrespective of their choice, by an unconditional decree of God, suspended for its execution on no act of their own; and their salvation is wrought by an unconditional application of the grace of Christ to their souls, through the immediate and irresistible operation of the Holy Spirit prior to and apart from any action of their own proper wills . . . And if death in infancy does depend on God's providence, it is assuredly God in His providence who selects this vast multitude to be made participants of His unconditional salvation . . .


    Ahh, I forgot about the Baptist. Your point is very true. Obviously, he wouldn't have had the opportunity to go to school to learn the language yet.

    This issue has become a little more of a concern for me recently because I became a father and so I'm struggling with the dilemma of should I share with him the Gospel even though he's only 5 months old or is it more biblically correct (since I don't know the answer) to wait until he's at least at an age of understanding.

    But from your response, I better get a move on.

    Does this also apply to adults as well? I have relatives who speak Korean while I do not speak the language so if I gathered them up for a bible study in English, they would all be scratching their heads but would God also apply the Gospel to them without such a "means" of understanding English?

    By the way, Pastor John, this is an excellent article and it's rare to find such truth being proclaimed at a time where people are more concerned about regarding their children as being "innocent" rather than a God who is "just". Kudos!


    you said >>>I have relatives who speak Korean while I do not speak the language so if I gathered them up for a bible study in English, they would all be scratching their heads but would God also apply the Gospel to them without such a "means" of understanding English?

    I do not recommend this as a way to share the gospel. There are plenty of Korean Christians and materials out there. I do not t think giving them the gospel in English will be understood. Better to pray for them and find someone who can teach in their own tongue.

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