“The whole message of the gospel is introduced by this word ‘grace’. Grace means that in spite of everything I have been saying about man, God still looks upon him with favour. You will not understand the meaning of this word ‘grace’ unless you accept fully what I have been saying about man in sin. It is failure to do the latter that explains why the modern conception of grace is so superficial and inadequate. It is because man has an inadequate conception of sin that he has an inadequate conception of the grace of God. If you want to measure grace you must measure the depths of sin. Grace is that which tells man that in spite of all that is so true of him God looks upon him with favour. It is utterly unmerited, it is entirely undeserved; but this is the message of ‘Grace be unto you.’ It is an unmerited and undeserved action by God, a condescending love. When man in sin deserved nothing but to be blotted out of existence God looked on him in grace and mercy and dealt with him accordingly.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) pp. 40, 41
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor he is holy in almost the same way, for in him Christ is vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself—is truly hidden.” —C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), pp. 105–106
“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars, while their children remember their altars and their Asherim, beside every green tree and on the high hills, on the mountains in the open country” (Jeremiah 17:1–3a).
Sin being engraved on the heart isn’t so much the diagnosis as the prognosis. Here we’re not told the disease itself as of its advanced stages. Jeremiah will soon speak of humanity’s heart condition in verse 9. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” At the beginning of the chapter though, we see what happens when the sin-sick heart pumps sin after sin after sin.
Man, born totally depraved advances toward being utterly depraved. The more the heart flows with wickedness, the darker the flow of wickedness becomes. Sin, having flowed out of the heart, is then engraved on the heart. Heart-hardening is the result of our hereditary heart disease.
But it is not the heart being likened to a tablet which speaks to this hardness. The father of Proverbs pleads, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:1–3, emphasis mine). The heart is a tablet. It is what is written on it that is indicative of hardness.
In an oral culture the important and that which was to be preserved were written. Writing something on paper indicates was significant; engraving it on stone far more. Judah’s sin is indelible, ineffaceable, ineradicable.
This is humanity’s prognosis. We are all terminally ill. And because our hearts are deceitful, we are in denial. Our only hope is that the Great Physician, in mercy, grant us new hearts in the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34; 32:36–41; Ezekiel 36:24–32).
“At Rome my arrival was marked by the scourge of physical sickness, and I was on the way to the underworld, bearing all the evils I had committed against you, against myself, and against others—sins both numerous and serious, in addition to the chain of original sin by which ‘in Adam we die’ (1 Cor. 15: 22). You had not yet forgiven me in Christ for any of them, nor had he by his cross delivered me from the hostile disposition towards you which I had contracted by my sins. How could he deliver me from them if his cross was, as I had believed, a phantom? Insofar as the death of his flesh was in my opinion unreal, the death of my soul was real. And insofar as the death of his flesh was authentic, to that extent the life of my soul, which disbelieved that, was inauthentic.” —Augustine, Confessions
“Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone;
for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.” —Psalm 12:1 (ESV)
Like a drowning man, David urgently pleads “Save!” The petition comes abruptly, almost rudely. There is no address. There is no explanation. Just an urgent plea. What could distress David so? There are two answers in our text: the vanishing of the godly and the words of the wicked. I want to focus on the first.
The godly have vanished. David hasn’t been Left Behind. There are not a lot of nicely folded clothes lying around after a mini-rapture rehearsal. Having done away with any dispensational theories, we might conclude David is being a bit dramatic; overreacting. This is nothing but hyperbole. We recall Elijah whining in the wilderness, “I’m the only one left.”
We’re prone to discount hyperbolic statements. Overstatements are overused. Was that cheese burger really awesome? Delicious maybe, but isn’t awesome too strong a word? If the burger is awesome, how are we going to describe the Aurora Borealis? Likewise, the media exaggerates everything—even the weather. However, hyperbole in the Scripture communicates truth. What is exaggerated in one sense is understated in another. Concerning lust, Jesus says that if our eye offends us, we are to tear it out. This isn’t meant to be taken literally. The left can lust just as well as the right. Still, sin is to be attacked with this kind of violence. Sin isn’t less than Jesus makes it out to be; it is this serious.
David wasn’t alone in this thought. Micah later exclaimed, “The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net” (Micah 7:2). A couple of songs over David sings, “there is none who does good, not even one.” He would return to this meditation in Psalm 53. David isn’t having a temporary crisis of faith like Elijah; this is a sustained and repeated meditation. Paul will use David’s words as the capstone of his argument for the total depravity of man. Have you never beheld the total depravity of the totality of humanity?
Unlike Elijah’s lapse, David receives no rebuke when God answers him here. What gives? What makes the difference? No doubt, Elijah had David’s virtue, and David Elijah’s vice at times in their pilgrimage, but what is being brought to the fore in these instances that makes the difference? Elijah is selfishly whining, whereas David laments the situation itself. Elijah fails to see, where as David is seeing, though the same reality is in view.
The media often exaggerates, but though the news is filled with horrid events, they’re far from communicating just how wicked and vile humanity is. If the news merely makes you sad, concerned for the future, or fearful for your grandchildren, then you’re probably in league with Elijah. You’re seeing the bad, but you’re not yet seeing just how bad things are. You’ve got the horizontal dimension of evil in view, but don’t perceive the vertical height or depth of it. But if you lament the wickedness of this world before God, if you sense something of the moxie of man’s arrogance against the heavens, then you can sing this song. A song, that once God speaks (v. 5), turns to praise and confidence (vv. 6–7).
But that the doctrine of total depravity and inability is in reality a counsel of despair is grossly untrue. It is rather the very truth that lays the basis for the glory of the gospel of grace and for the exercise of that faith that is unto life eternal. Nothing is more soul-destructive than self-righteousness. And it is self-righteousness that is fostered by the doctrine that man is naturally able to do what is good and well-pleasing to God. To encourage any such conviction is to plunge men into self-deception and delusion and such is indeed the counsel of despair. —John Murray, Inability
The law of God extends to all relations of life. This is so because we are never removed from the obligation to love and serve God. We are never amoral. We owe devotion to God in every phase and department of life. —John Murray, The Nature of Sin
Death is not the debt of nature; itis hte debt of what violated man’s nature, namely, sin. —John Murray, The Nature of Man
Nothing is more basic and determinative in shaping our thought than is our conception of God. The thought that does not begin with God and move towards him is essentially godless and therefore ungodly, —John Murray, The Significance of the Doctrine of Creation
We cannot think of sinners as merely undeserving; they are also illdeserving. The grace of God to sinners is, therefore, not simply unmerited favour; it is also favour shown to the ill-deserving, indeed to the hell-deserving. When Paul says, ‘justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 3:24), the grace in view must be understood on the background of the judgment of God referred to in verse 19—’that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God’. It is guilty men, and therefore hell-deserving men, that the justifying grace of God contemplates. —John Murray, The Grace of God