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Depravity and Regeneration (1): Understanding Total Depravity

Depravity and Regeneration (1): Understanding Total Depravity

What follows is the first entry of a series of articles written by Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma.

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I am not a blogger. I seldom read blogs and am not really all that interested in the world of social media. The technology of today has left me behind. But I was asked by the RFPA to share with its readers on its blog what I wrote in a number of personal letters to my family. This was not my intention but somehow the letters “leaked” outside of the family and once they hit the internet they were shared far and wide. Many people have written to me thanking me for giving added clarification to what, in their minds, are confusing accusations leveled against some (most, perhaps all?) of the clergy in the Protestant Reformed Churches. From what I have now heard from others I can assume I am also numbered among those who teach error. Because of both these reactions to my letters I have consented to share in essence what I have written to my family. The reader may judge according to Scripture what is written.

Because for several years now loud protests have been leveled against several of our pastors as well as both Classes East and West members of the PRC might begin to doubt whether the truth is being taught them from their pulpits.  We ought to be reassured that the faith handed down to us from our fathers is still being faithfully preached and taught from the pulpit and in the catechism room. God has graciously given to us as churches pastors who labor diligently using their calling and gifts to expound rightly the Word of God. We need to examine, however, the accusations leveled against clergy and church assemblies to determine their validity. When we do, we find several interrelated errors that keep surfacing, howbeit it, in bits and pieces.

One such basic error is that the regenerated believer having been justified and sanctified in the blood of Christ yet remains totally depraved. This has revealed itself more recently in letters, protests and even sermons. Because of this we need to be clear, first of all, on what the Bible teaches us about the truth of total depravity. I know, we already know that truth well. It has been taught us in catechism and from the pulpit all our lives. Bear with me as I develop my thoughts.

In Paradise God warned Adam and Eve: “Do not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, for the day you eat of it you will die!” Well, they ate and they died! They died from a legal point of view, that is, they became guilty of disobeying their Creator and therefore liable to eternal death. But what is of particular importance to our discussion is that they died spiritually. Their spiritual center, their heart that at one time was upright, holy and filled with a true knowledge of God (God’s image) shriveled up and became as hard as rock. Having lost the image of God man now became unholy in his affections and stubbornly wicked in all his ways (Canons 3&4, Art. 1). The spiritual malady that overcame Adam and Eve was passed on to their posterity. “A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring.” (Canons, 3&4, Art. 2) Every baby born into this world without exception therefore is lost in the same depravity that characterized our first parents after the fall. Elect and reprobate alike are conceived and born dead in sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1).

This depravity, corruption, or sinfulness in every human being is total. It is rooted in the heart and extends to a person’s mind, will, and works. So all-encompassing is the corruption of a man that “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually,” (Genesis 6:5). God looks from heaven upon all the human race to see if there is any that understand or seek him. God’s assessment of man is, “They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one,” (Psalm 14:3). Man has before proved that we are all under sin. (Romans 3:9). So, the proof can go on. Every person conceived into this world (elect and reprobate alike) is conceived in sin, totally depraved and worthy of eternal punishment in hell. In fact, that horrible depravity, we will find, follows the elect into their regenerated life 

All this is a given. We oppose every Arminian teaching that would say that fallen man in Adam has a will that is free to choose the good if a man or woman so desires. The Bible uses specific terminology to describe one who is totally depraved. He is blinded to the things of the kingdom of heaven. He cannot see them neither can he discern them (Ephesians 4:18, 19). One who is totally depraved is lost in the darkness of unbelief (Matthew 6:23, John 3:19). He stumbles about in his unbelief unable and unwilling to walk in the light. John 3:20, “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” One who is totally corrupt in heart, mind and will is enslaved to sin. He is in bondage to sin. He thinks sin, he wills sin, and he does sin. He is a willing slave to sin and Satan (II Peter 2:19). Paul speaks of it as the “bondage of corruption” in Romans 8:21. All this is true of fallen man because there is no life in him. He is dead in sins and trespasses.

Next time I want to answer the question whether all of this is still true of the elect child of God after he is regenerated and saved in the blood of Christ.

–Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma






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