"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.X No.V Pg.6-7,13b
May 1948

Some Old Doctrines Restated And Examined

R. L. Whiteside

Hereditary Total Depravity—Some Arguments Examined

We are asked, "If people are not born totally depraved, how comes it that all people sin?" In reply we ask this question: "If Adam and Eve were not made totally depraved, how come they to sin? So far as the record shows, they sinned the first time they were tempted; none of us now do any worse. Adam and Eve were as human before they sinned as after.

In a radio speech, Mr. Ben M. Bogard accepted the scientific dictum that acquired characteristics cannot be transmitted to the offspring. Then he added that as righteousness is an acquired characteristic, the righteousness of parents cannot be transmitted to their children. He evidently did not see what that was doing to his ardently advocated doctrine of inherited depravity. All the depravity or sin that Adam and Eve ever had was acquired. This no one can deny. Sin was not a part of their nature; it was acquired. How then could they transmit it to their offspring? But though sin, or depravity, was an acquired characteristic, I shall call attention to the misuse of some passages that are used in an effort to prove the doctrine of hereditary total depravity.

"And Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thought of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen. 6:5). I think these people were totally depraved—there was no good in them. How come they to be so depraved? Verse 12: "And God saw the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth." They corrupted their way. And it will be noticed that God did not send a direct operation of his Spirit into their hearts to cure them of their corruption; but he did send a flood, and destroyed them. God does not regenerate totally depraved folks.

Much relied on by the advocates of inherited depravity is Jeremiah 13:23: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." But this text does not say anything about inherited depravity. To help the depravity argument it would have to read, "... then may ye also do good, that were born totally depraved." Neither are people accustomed to evil when they are born; to become accustomed to anything requires a period of practice. These people had practiced evil till reformation was impossible. Nor does the record say that God would send his Spirit to regenerate them and change their accustomed evil.

It is argued that nothing less than the mighty power of God can change a leopard's spots or an Ethiopian's skin; neither can examples be found where he ever did so. He leaves them as they are. But because their case was hopeless, the Lord says in the next verses, "Therefore will I scatter them, as the stubble that passeth away, by the wind of the wilderness. This is thy lot, the portion measured unto thee from me, saith Jehovah; because thou hast forgotten me, and trusted in falsehood . . . Woe unto thee, 0 Jerusalem: Thou wilt not be made clean; how long shall it yet be?" But their destruction was coming and so would end another group of depraved people. Read the whole chapter. They could not have forgotten Jehovah, unless they had once known him; they were not alien sinners, but Israelites, God's chosen people.

Another favorite text of total depravity advocates is Ps. 51:5: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." Psalm 51:5 is David's confession of sin and plea for mercy after his sin with Bathsheba, his guilty connection with her husband's death. He was in a distressing emotional state of mind. He certainly did not charge his mother with sin; neither did he implicate Adam in his sin. He was brought forth in this world, where iniquity abounds. It would save us from many blunders if we would give more attention to the language used. To say that he was brought forth in iniquity is quite different from saying he was brought forth with iniquity in him. I was brought forth in a log cabin, but—well, surely no one will accuse me of saying that I was brought forth with a log cabin in me! On Pentecost, when the multitudes from many countries heard the Apostles speaking with other tongues, "As the Spirit gave them utterance," they were amazed and said, "Behold, are not all these that speak Galileans? And how hear ye, every man in our own language wherein we were born?" Each one was born in a territory where a certain language prevailed, and therefore they grew up speaking the language of their territory. They were not brought forth with that language in them.

It seems that the main interest the advocates of hereditary depravity have is that they can use it as a supposed basis for their doctrine of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit; but if they could prove their depravity doctrine, they would then have to prove that the gospel was not sufficient to regenerate such sinners. The theory belittles the gospel, and makes the sinner feel that he can do nothing and is therefore not responsible for his condition. It does more than stupefy; it paralyzes.

A favorite argument is based on the fact that the alien is spoken of as dead, but the Bible represents the sinner as being dead through his own trespasses. (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13). But even if we had inherited this dead state from Adam, we are no more dead to righteousness than Adam and Eve in their state of innocence were dead to sin. The Devil led them into sin by placing motives before them; he did not have to perform some direct inward change in their hearts to enable them to act. God places the highest imaginable motives before the sinner; but we are told that God cannot undo by motives what the Devil accomplished by motives!

Several years ago I had a debate with B. M. Bogard. As a basis for his claim for a distinct and direct work of the Holy Spirit in conversion, he put much stress, as they all do, on the fact that the sinner is dead in sins, and therefore must be made alive before he can obey the gospel. I replied, "One objection I have to Mr. Bogard's argument is, he limits the power of God; he makes the sinner so dead that God could not have made a gospel that would reach him." He came back with a great deal of bluster, saying, "It is not a question of what God can do; he can do anything he wants to do; he could have made a gospel that would reach that dead sinner, if he had wanted to." I replied, "Oh, well, the sinner is not as dead as we've been hearing he was. We might as well leave off all this talk about depravity and the dead sinner. The trouble is not with the sinner at all; according to Mr. Bogard the inability is in the gospel, and not in the sinner. I say God made the very gospel Mr. Bogard said he could have made, and I will proceed to show that he did."

Ephesians 2:3—"were by nature children of wrath." But nature may be inherent or acquired. By nature a person does what he is in the habit of doing. When you began to drive a car, you were awkward; but by practice you reached the point where it became a part of your nature to do things a certain way. You were not born talking; but you learned to talk, and then it was natural for you to talk. If you will read verses 1, 2, 3, of Eph. 2, you will see how these people became children of wrath by nature. But even if by birth we inherited the wrath of God, that does not mean that it requires a direct impact of the Holy Spirit on the sinner to remove God's wrath. God's wrath is not in the sinner. Does it not sound absurd to say that a direct operation of the Spirit in the sinner's heart would remove wrath from God's mind? In Eph. 5:1-5 Paul mentions a number of sins, and then adds, "for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience." It is not because of what we inherit, but because of what we do, or fail to do. (See also Col. 3:5-6).

Some confusion arises from putting undue stress on certain terms used in reference to the process of becoming children of God. Here are some of the terms used: born again, created, conversion, turn from darkness to light, turn from power of Satan unto God, translated into kingdom, obey from the heart, believe and be baptized, repent and be baptized, believe and turn to the Lord, baptized into Christ. All these terms refer to the same thing, that is, how people become children of God. To give a meaning to any of the terms that makes void the other terms, or any one of them, is, beyond question, wrong. And every advocate of the direct operation of the Spirit does that very thing. As an illustration, take "born again" and "created." When they talk of being created, they put a stress on it that puts born again out of the picture; and the reverse when they talk about being born again. A literal birth and a literal creation are two different things. The change in becoming a Christian is so great that it may be figuratively spoken of as being born again or as being created. Neither term, when applied to becoming a Christian, expresses a literal act. So far as the record shows, the apostles never told sinners that they must be born again, or that they must be created. To sinners they said, "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38). "Repent ye, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, so that there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord." (Acts 3:19). Inspired Ananias said to Saul, "And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name." (Acts 22:16). They called their converts saints, new born babe's, children of God, and new creatures, and told them that they had been baptized into Christ, and had been translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ.

There is one truth which is necessary to observe in studying the Bible, which denominational preachers seem never to learn, and that is, that commands are given in plain, unfigurative language, but conditions and relationships are frequently expressed in highly figurative language. No inspired man ever commanded an inquiring sinner to become a branch of the vine, or to become a sheep, or to become a child of God by being born again, or to become a member of the Lord's body, or to become a new creature, or to become a stone in God's temple, or to become an epistle of Christ, or to be a graft; but these terms are all applied to Christians. Figures of speech abound in the epistles; but if you want to read what inspired men in plain unfigurative language told sinners to do, read the book of Acts. Figures of speech abound in many speeches Jesus made, but there is no figurative language in the commands he gave the apostles in the great commission. Yet people will turn away from the plain commands and promises of Jesus and his apostles and hang their hopes of heaven on fanciful interpretations of figures of speech. These figures of speech enlarge the views of the Christian and comfort him in his struggles and trials, but no figure of speech tells a sinner what to do to be saved. Think on these things.