The August Theologian: Total Depravity and Original Sin

“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

Whining or Lamenting (Psalm 12)

“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).

The Exegetical Systematician: Total Depravity isn’t Totally Depressing

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 Exegetical Systematician: Worse than Undeserving

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