The Doctrine of Total Depravity
September 14th, 1969 @ 7:30 PM
THE DOCTRINE OF TOTAL DEPRAVITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-14-69 7:30 p.m.
We invite you to take your Bible and to turn with us, all of you who listen on the radio, to turn with us with the great throng in the auditorium of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and we are going to read out loud together Luke chapter 23, Luke chapter 23. And we shall begin at verse 25 and read through verse 33 [Luke 23:25-33]. You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Doctrine of Total Depravity. Now as a background of the message we read this passage together, Luke 23, beginning at 25 concluding at verse 33. Now all of us reading out loud together:
And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.
And as they led Him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.
And there followed Him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented Him.
But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.
For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.
Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.
For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall they do in the dry?
And there were also two others, malefactors, led with Him to be put to death.
And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
When I was a seminary student, the professor of Greek, under whom I majored, said upon an occasion when we were studying this passage of Scripture, “If you are ever inclined to think too much about human nature, just get a good look of the cross.” Look at the cross if you would find human nature exhibited, dramatized, pictured. And of course that sight is the most tragic and sorrowful of all of the sights in human history.
One of the young ministers said to me, “So you are preaching tonight on the doctrine of total depravity. I’ve never heard it referred to in school nor have I ever heard it preached on in the pulpit.” That represents a tremendous shifting and a tremendous change from what used to be preached and what is preached today. For it’s an old time doctrine. And our forefathers who preached the gospel and who stood in these sacred pulpits spake often, and emphatically, about the doctrine of total depravity. The teaching is not that a man is as vile as he can be; but the teaching is, according to the Word of God, that sin, our fallen estate, has entered into every part of human life.
Sin is found in our mental faculties. It is found in our emotional natures. It is found in our wills. It is found in our work. It is found in our dreams; found in our visions; found in the imaginations of our hearts. It is found in our relationships with one another. We sin in body against ourselves and against others. We sin in our minds. We sin in our volitional natures. The doctrine of human depravity is this; that sin has entered all of our faculties, that we are a fallen people. That is the doctrine of total depravity.
Now as I said, you will find in the crucifixion of our Lord a dramatic and emphatic illustration of human nature. This is human nature. It is a fallen and cursed humanity. Look at the Lord, and as He is crucified. First: was there ever a more beautiful character who ever lived than Jesus? A Man without sin [2 Corinthians 5:21], perfect in all of His life; Jesus, a flawless character. And yet there He is, and they suborned men, they paid witnesses to vilify Him, and to defame Him, and to debauch His name; human nature [Matthew 26:59-61].
Look again. Was there ever anyone who was so gracious in His life, and so beautiful in His emotions and in the expression of all the good that was in Him? As Simon Peter said in his sermon in the household of Cornelius, “who went about doing good” [Acts 10:38]. The blessed Jesus brought health, and happiness, and healing, and curing, and resurrection, forgiveness, mercy, heaven, wherever He was. That’s the Lord. Yet look at Him in that day of the cross. He is brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, and officially by the nation accused of being an insurrectionist and a seditionist, leading His people, they said, to a revolt against Caesar and the Roman Empire [Mark 15:2].
Look again at our Lord. Did ever such gracious words fall from the lips of a mortal man? His words were like distilled dew. They were beautiful. They were sublime. “And the common people heard Him gladly” [Mark 12:37]. Everybody understood Him. He never went off into those deep theological discussions that characterize modern theology, and theology all the days since. Jesus spake in a plain language, and He used parables, heavenly stories with earthly meanings. And His words were light, and salvation, and encouragement. It was the good news of the gospel, the Scriptures say, that He preached, the words that He said [Matthew 4:23, Luke 4:43].
But look at the Lord that day of the cross. Humanity, what is it like? And they sought to entrap Him in His words. And they figured and conjured up questions that were like these two microphones here. They were polemical questions. If He answered one way He would find Himself in difficulty. If He answered the other way He would find Himself in difficulty. And they thought up words, and questions, and approaches by which they might trap Him in His speech; the degradation of humanity.
And look again. All of us who have bodies, are there is some weakness in us, all of us. There’s no one of us that has a perfect body. Our eyes, or our ears, or our muscles, or our anatomical processes; no one of us is perfect in our physical frame. We exhibit the Fall in the garden of Eden, all of us [Genesis 3:1-6]. And every physician here could say that. However strong the man might be there is always that imperfection.
But Jesus had a perfect body. It was framed, it was formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary [Matthew 1:20-21; Luke 1:30-35]. I don’t know how He looked. We have, each one of us, a mental image of the Lord in our minds. And of course, all of us think of Him as being majestic. And there are many, many little turns in the Scripture story of the Lord that give you that impression. For example, when they sought to take Him, several times He just walked through their midst [Luke 4:30, John 8:59, 10:39]. There was a majesty about Him, a glory about Him, an aura about Him. There was something magnificent about Jesus.
Just––I haven’t time to belabor that point, but just take this one instance. Alone, one Man, alone, He drove the entire money changers and those that sold and bought in the temple [Matthew 21:12]. He did it Himself. Why, one man against those traffickers, and any time you interfere with a man’s business, or a man’s profits, or a man’s trade, you touch him in his most sensitive part. And yet Jesus did that, just alone by Himself. There was a majesty, I’m saying, in the Man that was magnificent.
Now the beautiful, perfect, holy body of the Lord Jesus; look at it the day of the cross. This is humanity at its lowest. They took His body and drove great nails through it; hands and feet [John 19:25-27]. The fifty-second chapter of Isaiah says that “His visage was so marred, more than any man [Isaiah 52:14], until He didn’t look like a man.” They beat Him. They scourged Him [Matthew 27:26]. They buffeted Him [Matthew 26:67]. They plucked out His beard [Isaiah 50:6]. They spit on Him [Matthew 27:30], and last of all, as though to thus mar the workmanship of God, a Roman soldier took a spear and opened His side [John 19:34]; total depravity, humanity, the picture. Think of it. Think of it.
Now this is not something that we just wake up to realize in the day of the cross, our fallen nature. One of the young ministers said, “Are you going to use Scriptures here tonight?” I said, “I haven’t time. All I can do is just summarize.” But I’m going to summarize the whole Bible here tonight, just summarizing it, that you might see how inexorably and inevitably mankind always falls into that horrible estate of lack, and loss, and sin, and damnation, always; the doctrine of total depravity.
First, in the garden of Eden, the earth was cursed for our sakes [Genesis 3:17], God’s beautiful creation. And sin entered it through Adam and Eve [Genesis 3:1-6], and we fell [Romans 5:12]. “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely, surely die” [Genesis 2:17]. And Satan said, “Did God say that thou shalt surely die?” [Genesis 3:1-3]. And that’s the first lie, “Thou shalt not surely die” [Genesis 3:4]. Satan; and he always blinds us and beguiles us. He ruins us and destroys us. He takes away God’s word from us. And for our sakes because of us, because of sin, the earth was cursed and has been cursed ever since [Genesis 3:17-19].
All right, as the days passed, God honored His promise, “I will give you dominion over the earth; and all of these things that I have created are under your surveillance. They are in your hands. They are in your direction” [Genesis 1:26, 28]. So God made it possible for vineyards to grow. And the first thing we read after God destroyed the earth because of its villainy, and its iniquity, and its wickedness, and God raised up righteous Noah [Genesis 7:1]––the first thing we read after Noah came out of that ark [Genesis 8:15,18] is, he is taking the beautiful fruit that God made possible in the vineyards and he is drunk. He is drunk [Genesis 9:20-21].
God gave us language [Genesis 11:1]. Animals may have signs and sounds but a man is the only one with a language. God gave us language to speak that we might communicate with one another, that we might have poetry and song, and a thousand other things that come from language. And yet the tower of Babel, there they are blaspheming God and seeking by the genius that God had given them, to build them a tower in defiance of Almighty God [Genesis 11:1-6]. And the whole earth that the Lord has placed beneath our feet, there are chemicals and there are minerals. And it is full of marvelous abounding riches; but what does the man do with it? He forges explosive bombs out of it and atomic fission out of it, to be used for the destruction of cities. And he takes all of these marvelous principles of science and he turns them where we live in constant fear of one another; the depravity of mankind.
Then we continue on and the Lord chose a people, a people to name His name, through whom He would teach the whole world the oracles of God. And He said, “I have chosen you.” This is the nineteenth chapter of Exodus, “I have chosen you to be a kingdom of priests” [Exodus 19:6]; that is, “you represent Me to the people. You are to teach the people of Jehovah God.” And the Lord chose that family to be the priests, to be the pastors, to be the teachers of all of the families of the earth, for the families of the earth in them would be blessed [Exodus 19:6]. And the first thing we read; they fall into such grievous sin and error, ten of them sold their younger brother down to be a slave into Egypt [Genesis 37:26-36]. And the whole story, when God gave them the Ten Commandments [Exodus 31:18], while He was giving them the Ten Commandments, they were naked according to those sexual orgiastic worships of the pagans in those days. And they were dancing around and worshipping a golden calf [Exodus 32:1-4, 19, 25]. And the whole story is full of blood and violence.
Then finally, we come to the New Testament; and what a beautiful introduction you have in the Gospel of Luke, the one I am preaching out of. What a glorious introduction. There’s the Magnificat of the Virgin Mary [Luke 1:46-55]. And there is the responsing song of Elizabeth, her kinswoman [Luke 1:41-45]. And there is Zacharias, who’s dumb because he did not believe the angel Gabriel in the good news that the son was going to be born [Luke 1:18-20]. And there is the magnificent praise of Zacharias when the child is born and his lips are unloosed [Luke 1:64, 67-79].
And then there’s the story of Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-2:1], and the angels, and the story of the shepherds [Luke 2:8-16], and the wise men [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11]. And it’s the most beautiful Christmas you could imagine. And in the middle of it, in the middle of it is bloody Herod with his sword outstretched over Bethlehem slaying all of the children of two years of age and under [Matthew 2:16]. “A voice heard in Ramah, Rachel, wailing, lamenting for her children; and would not be comforted because they are not” [Matthew 2:18; Jeremiah 31:15]; they’d been slain; total depravity.
And just follow the story through. The church: God sent into the earth His church, and He blessed it. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. And then we read those parables, and how sad to know the truth and their true interpretation. It will be like a tree, Jesus said, and it grows, and it grows, and finally is filled with every unclean bird [Matthew 13:31-32]. Or, He says, it is like leaven, and it grows and grows until all of it is leaven [Matthew 13:33]. There is corruption in every part of it. There was a time in human history when the church was the dominant political, economic, and social power in the earth, and you call it the Dark Ages; depravity, total depravity. Now I must hasten.
And we come to our modern day. There never was, nor all together has there been, any nation as affluent as America. The poorest family that lives in America today, who has a bathroom in his house, water, lights, telephone, any family that has any of these services is as though a family living two hundred years ago had thirty-one servants. The affluence of America is astonishing. It is overwhelming. It is unlike anything in human history; the riches of America.
All right, look at it. In a national magazine on an airline, that’s when I read all those things, I saw a cartoon. And it was one of the most penetrating of all the cartoons I ever looked at. Now you catch its philosophy, and you’ll see it immediately when I describe the cartoon to you. There is a picture of a judge; he’s on the bench. Just beyond in the background is an arresting officer. And there before the bar are three juveniles. And the judge is saying to them, now listen to it, the judge is saying as he looks down from his bench on those three juveniles, “You belong to the finest families. You live in the most exclusive neighborhood. You attend the finest schools. And you drive the latest automobiles. No wonder you are juvenile delinquents.” Isn’t that something?
These sociologists, they say, and these economists, they say, “What we need to solve all of the social unrest in the world today, we need more,” and then they just name it. “We got to have more money, and more gadgets, and more automobiles, and finer houses, and finer medical services, and finer hospitals, and finer,” and they just go down the gamut. My brother, all of the economic policies in this world won’t solve anything. You’re still just the same, whether you are poor or whether you are rich, because it isn’t money that makes the difference in human character; it’s the man inside of him. And to change his clothes doesn’t change the man at all.
I know you’re weary with the illustration, but I can’t think of a better one. A bum will go to a railroad yard, and break into a railroad car, and steal a can of tomatoes because he’s hungry. Dress him up, send him to Harvard, and he’ll steal the entire railway system and get away with it. That is the doctrine of total depravity, that sin is in all of our faculties and in all of our life. You don’t escape it in government, or in the judiciary, or in the legislative. And you don’t escape it in the professional world, or in the academic world. And you don’t escape it in the ecclesiastical world, the church world. It is everywhere and it’s in you. All of us share that fallen nature.
Now the artists say, you’re never to paint a picture of a forest without a way out; it’s not artistically correct to do it. Nor does God leave us in our damnation and in our condemnation. The Lord God looks down from heaven and there is judgment. We can’t escape it. God said, “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:20]. “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]. And God Himself forged that iron chain and we can’t break it; where there is sin there is judgment. And if that’s not true, there’s not any God. Where there is sin there is judgment; and it never fails, and it falls, and always falls.
War is a judgment of God upon the nations; war, war. America’s trying to extricate itself. I don’t think America will ever extricate itself from war until it gets right with God. War is a judgment of Almighty God. Crime is a judgment of Almighty God. We are afraid to walk the streets of our cities in America. Last year more than a million young people entered careers of crime, our boys and girls. Crime is a judgment of Almighty God. Drunkenness, alcoholism is a judgment of Almighty God. In New York City alone there are more than two hundred thousand alcoholics. And there are more than a million family members that are affected by that tragic and abysmal aberration. And human misery is a judgment of Almighty God.
You can’t break God’s commandments and escape. You might as well climb on top of this tallest building and say, “Watch me break the law of gravity and jump off.” You just illustrate it. It’s the same way with God’s commandments. You can’t break God’s commandments and escape. There is a judgment that is inexorably linked with it. You can’t escape. And the human misery, the personal misery among our people is fantastic. Every day that passes, there are three thousand homes in America that break up; three thousand every day. And you think of the tears and the heartache, and the weeping, and the crying, and the disappointment, the disillusionment, the despair that accompanies it. God looks down in judgment.
And if that were all, as Paul would say, “We are of all men most miserable” [1 Corinthians 15:19]. But God also looks down in mercy [Titus 3:5], and in understanding, and in sympathy, and in grace [Ephesians 2:8], and in forgiveness [1 John 1:9]. God does. He looks down from heaven upon us in our sin, and He is moved with compassion [Romans 9:15]. And that’s the gospel. That’s the good news that the preacher preaches, that God loved us and sent Jesus to die for us [John 3:16]. And to us who will just turn, just look, just accept, just believe, just trust, just open our hearts to God [Acts16:30-31], the Lord comes like a flood. He comes with grace, and mercy, and healing, and forgiveness, and salvation [John 3:16]. That’s the gospel.
We are dying. We are a dying people, yes. We have fallen into sin, yes. All of us have sinned, yes [Romans 3:6]. I have sinned, yes. I’m a lost sinner, yes. But the good news is that Jesus died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], that God in love and mercy looked down upon our lost estate and sent His Son to save us [John 3:16]. And the whole gospel is like that. That’s what the story of the prodigal son is about: “For this my boy was dead, and is alive again: he was lost, and is found” [Luke 15:24]. And the father welcomed him, opened his arms wide, when the lad came back home [Luke 15:20-23].
And that’s the preaching of the apostles. “Repent ye, and be converted” [Acts 3:19], that ye may be ready for the coming of the Lord in that day of ultimate refreshing and rejuvenation, the consummation of the age when God shall come down [Acts 3:20]. “Repent and trust, and be converted, and be saved” [Acts 3:19]. And the whole gospel is that invitation. Come, trust, believe, turn, look and live [John 3:14-16], wash and be clean [Revelation 1:5, 7:14; 2 Kings 5:10-14], trust and be saved [Acts 16:30-31].
And the last part in the Bible—out there at Six Flags I quoted it Friday night. The Bible closes as though the Holy Spirit said to the apostle John: “John, do not close that book until I make one last, final, ultimate appeal.” And God wrote it there in one of those last verses of the Bible. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]. All we have to do to be saved is to recognize, assent to the truth of what I have preached tonight.
“Preacher, there’s no need for me to lie before God. I too am a sinner. There’s no need for me to lie to myself or to you. I am a sinner” [Romans 3:23]. And the whole world of us, lost in sin, that’s how it begins. And the second great assent and recognition: “I do accept the atoning grace of Jesus for my sins [Ephesians 2:8]. He died for me that I might be saved [1 Corinthians 15:3], poured out His blood [Ephesians 1:7], encrimsoned the earth that the stain of sin might be washed out of my soul [Revelation 1:5]. And I am coming in faith, and in trust, and in commitment, and in discipleship to the blessed Jesus” [Romans 10:8-13].
That’s it. That’s how to be saved. That’s how to die in the faith. That’s how to live in the grace, and love, and power, and glory of the Lord. But I cannot come until first I admit that I’m a sinner [Acts 3:19]. I cannot be saved until first I confess I need to be saved. But if I confess my sins, if I own myself a sinner––and how a man can escape that confession, I do not know; we all feel that in our souls. I am a sinner, and Christ came to die for sinners [1 Timothy 1:15]. That means He died for me; He included me [1 Corinthians 5:3]. If I’m not a sinner, then He didn’t die for me, and I’m not included in the great circle and circumference of His grace [Ephesians 2:8]. But if I am a sinner, then it’s for me; He died for me [1 Timothy 1:15], and the invitation is for me. “Come,” the Spirit of God pleads, “come”; the church, God’s sainted people plead, “Come”; “Let him that heareth,” the passerby repeat the refrain, come; “Let him that is athirst, come” [Revelation 22:17]. Would you like to be happy in your soul, victorious in your life, unafraid to die, unafraid to live? Come, come to Jesus. And whosoever will, anybody you, come, come to Jesus [Revelation 22:17].
We must sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you while we sing this song make that decision now. Come now. If you are in the balcony round, there is time and to spare, come down one of these stairways and to the front and to the pastor. And the throng on this lower floor into the aisle, “Here I am, pastor, I give you my hand. I’m giving my heart to God. I’m looking to Jesus for my Savior [Romans 10:8-13], and if I were to die tonight, I shall die trusting Him.” Do it now. Come now. Make it now. On the first note of that first stanza, come. That first step you take will be the greatest step in your life. Do it now. Come now. Immediately come, “Here I am, preacher, I make the decision now.” A family, a couple, or just you, while we stand and while we sing.