1. How Bad Are Children…and the rest of us?
Papasmurph objects to the doctrine of total depravity because he says it paints a picture of infants that is contrary to God’s Word. He accuses us of holding that infants possess a nature identical to that of Satan himself.
In response, I would first say so what if that is the case? Papasmurph doesn’t offer any Scripture stating that infants have a good nature, an innocent nature, or even a bad nature that is just less evil than the Devil’s. This is nothing more than an anecdotal appeal to the emotions. Who wants to look at a cooing baby and say anything bad about it? I certainly don’t. But I am not the one who judges hearts, and if God’s word makes a statement about the nature of a child who am I to argue?
Secondly, Scripture makes no differentiation between the nature of children, and the nature of anyone else. What Scripture says of man includes all men descending from Adam by ordinary generation. It is at this point that Papsmurph’s presentation is weakest. He greatly minimizes the fallen nature of man. Papasmurph doesn’t feel the weight of simple Biblical statements like “inclination of [man’s] heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). It is no insult to God or to a child for the inspired Word to claim “The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth” (Psalm 58:3). Jesus has very strong words for those who did not listen to His words:
“Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:43,44)
Jesus says here that men are totally unable to respond to Him (you cannot hear My word) because they are “of their Father the devil”. This is not a very flattering picture of man, but it does run contrary to the underlying assumption of Papasmurph’s objection which seems to be that we are insulting man for pointing out his evil nature as a result of the fall. Jesus said “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…” Luke 11:13). It is no insult to man to point out that he is evil. Was Paul wrong to point out that we used to walk “according to the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:1-3)? Or that we were “by nature children of wrath”? Total depravity is not wrong for pointing out “the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives” (Ecclesiastes 9:3). It may be the case that men do not have a nature as evil as the Devil’s (something we never claimed), but neither does man have a nature as good as the objection assumes.
2. Imputation of Sin
I would like to remind the reader that both I and Micah begged our opponent’s to keep the debate on topic, and original sin is not it. Though it may be impossible to debate total depravity without debating original sin, the two are not synonymous. The heart of this debate is whether or not man can respond to the gospel on his own in a fallen state, not how man ended up in that state.
Nevertheless, I do think Papasmurph’s assertions need a response. Ultimately, if Papasmurph is right, there is no atonement and no hope of peace with God through justification, and therefore no gospel. Papasmurph denies unequivocally that man’s guilt can not possibly be imputed to anyone else: “Each person dies for his own sins alone…”. I hope it is painfully obvious to the reader that this type of theology is utterly destructive of the atonement of Jesus Christ for His people. Papasmurph, Jesus died for the sins of other people. These sins were imputed to Him (there is no other way for the sins of His people to “get to Him” than imputation). If your theology is correct, there is no possibility of a substitutionary atonement. Machen said it well:
“Well I should just like to point out to you that if it is impossible in the nature of things for one person to bear the guilt of another person’s sins, then we have none of us the slightest hope of being saved and the gospel is all a delusion and a snare. At the heart of the gospel is the teaching of the Bible to the effect that Jesus Christ, quite without sin Himself, bore the guilt of our sins upon the Cross. If that be true, then we cannot pronounce it impossible that one person should bear the guilt of another person’s sins.” (The Christian View of Man, 215).
The flip side is also true. If guilt can not be imputed, neither can righteousness, and Papasmurph destroys the doctrine of justification. For in the justification, rather than sin, the spotless righteousness of Jesus imputed to us. How can guilt not be imputed, but righteousness can? Ultimately Papasmurph’s leaves every man with no hope whatsoever.
These considerations being true, Papasmurph ignores the key Biblical passage on this doctrine: Romans 5:12-21. In verse 12 Paul says sin came into the world “through one man, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men”. If sin causes death, and death spread to all men through the actions of Adam, it stands to reason then that sin also spread to all men through the actions of Adam as our representative. In verse 18 Paul says condemnation came to all men through the offense of one, and in verse 19 Paul says that the many were “made sinners” by the disobedience of one.
3. Do Commands Imply Ability?
Papasmurph says that total depravity is wrong because it teaches that man cannot choose to do right. I hope everyone can see that this is assuming the matter under debate. We’re debating whether or not the fall of man leaves him unable to respond, it makes no sense to reply that this doctrine is wrong because it leaves man unable! Neither does Papasmurph present a single text of Scripture proving that man has the ability to respond to divine commands. The mere presence of divine commands does not prove ability. Papasmurph cites Matthew 11:28 (“Come unto me…”, but he ignores the words just prior to that (“no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him). The best Papasmurph can do is admit that the concept of ability is “assumed” in every command of God. But why assume that when we have the abundant testimony of Scripture that fallen man “cannot please God” (Romans 8:78), “cannot come” to Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:37-45), is unable to discern the things of the Spirit because they are foolishness to him (1 Corinthians 2:14)? Robert Reymond responds to this objection well:
“God deals with man according to his obligation, not according to the measure of his ability. Before the Fall, man had both the obligation and the ability to obey God. As a result of the Fall, he retained the former but lost the latter. Man’s inability to obey, arising from the moral corruption of his nature, does not remove from him his obligation to love God with all his heart soul, mind and strength, and his neighbor as himself. His obligation to obey God remains intact. If God dealt with man today according to his ability to obey, he would have to reduce his moral demands to the vanishing point. Conversely, if we determined the measure of man’s ability from the sweeping obligations implicit in the divine commands, then we would need to predicate total ability for man, that is to say we would all have to adopt the Pelagian position, for the commands of God cover the entire horizon of moral obligation.” (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, pg. 454-455).
If Papa is right, man has the ability to keep the Law in full detail (since it is commanded), the ability to be perfect as his heavenly father is perfect (since it is commanded), and to love God perfectly without sin (since it is commanded). I hope it is painfully clear then, that it is a grave error to assume ability is implied by the command.
There is still so much to get to, but not enough space to do it fully.