A Conversation between Crispus and Gaius
C. I thank you, Gaius, for your observations on various important subjects; and now, if agreeable, I should be glad of your thoughts on the painful but interesting subject of human depravity.
G. An interesting subject indeed! Perhaps there is no one truth in the Scriptures of a more fundamental nature with respect to the gospel way of salvation. I never knew a person verge toward the Arminian, the Arian, the Socinian, or the Antinomian schemes, without first entertaining diminutive notions of human depravity, or blameworthiness.
C. Wherein do you conceive depravity to consist?
G. In the opposite to what is required by the Divine law.
C. The sum of the Divine law is love; the essence of depravity then must consist in the want of love to God and our neighbour; or in setting up some other object, or objects, to the exclusion of them.
G. True; and perhaps it will be found that all the objects set up in competition with God and our neighbour may be reduced to one, and that is self. Private self-love seems to be the root of depravity; the grand succedaneum in human affections to the love of God and man. Self-admiration, self-will, and self-righteousness are but different modifications of it. Where this prevails, the creature assumes the place of the Creator, and seeks his own gratification, honour, and interest, as the ultimate end of all his actions. Hence, when the apostle describes men under a variety of wicked characters, the first link in the chain is—lovers of their own selves. Hence also the first and grand lesson in the Christian school is—to deny ourselves.
C. Almost all evangelical writers, I believe, have considered men as utterly depraved; and that not by education, or any accidental cause or causes, but by nature, as they are born into the world.
G. They have. This was manifestly the doctrine generally embraced at the Reformation, and which has been maintained by the advocates for salvation by sovereign grace in every age.
C. Yet, one should think, if men were totally depraved, they would be all and always alike wicked.
G. If by total depravity you mean that men are so corrupt as to be incapable of adding sin to sin, I know of no person who maintains any such sentiment. All I mean by the term is this:—That the human heart is by nature totally destitute of love to God, or love to man as the creature of God, and consequently is destitute of all true virtue. A being may be utterly destitute of good, and therefore totally depraved, (such, it will be allowed, is Satan,) and yet be capable of adding iniquity to iniquity without end.
C. I should be glad if you would point out a few of the principal evidences on which the doctrine of human depravity is founded.
G. The principal evidences that strike me at this time may be drawn from the four following sources; Scripture testimony, history, observation, and experience.
C. What do you reckon the principal Scripture testimonies on this subject?
G. Those passages which expressly teach it; such as the following:—“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”—“God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back, they are altogether become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”—“Both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one. Destruction and misery are in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”—“The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”—“The whole world lieth in wickedness.”—“Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past, in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind: and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”—Those passages also which teach the necessity of regeneration. If men were not essentially depraved, a reformation might suffice; but if all be corrupt, the whole fabric must be taken down: “Old things must pass away, and all things must become new.”
C. What evidence do you derive from history in favour of this doctrine?
G. If our limits would allow us to survey the history of mankind from their first apostacy to this day, the amount would go to prove what the Scriptures affirm—that “the whole earth lieth in wickedness.” The circumstances and changes among mankind have been various. They have greatly differed in their manners, customs, and religions: one age has established what another has demolished; in some ages they have been enveloped in ignorance, in others irradiated by science; but in all ages and in all circumstances they have been alienated from the love of God.
C. The history of the world, though it appear to favour the doctrine in question, yet seems to be too large and complicate an object to be viewed distinctly. Suppose you were to single out one nation as a specimen of the whole.
G. Very well; and suppose this one nation to have been attended above all others with mercies and judgments, Divine laws, special interpositions, and every thing that could have any tendency to meliorate the hearts of men.
C. You seem to have in view the nation of Israel.
G. I have; and the rather because I consider this nation as designed of God to afford a specimen of human nature. The Divine Being singled them out, crowned them with goodness, strengthened them with the tenderest encouragements, awed them with the most tremendous threatenings, wrought his wonderful works before their eyes, and inspired his servants to give us a faithful history of their character. I need not repeat what this character is. Excepting the conduct of a few godly people among them, which, being the effect of Divine grace, argues nothing against the doctrine in question, it is a series of rebellion and continued departures from the living God.
C. What additional evidence in favour of this doctrine do you derive from observation?
G. In looking into the composition of the human mind we observe various passions and propensities; and if we inspect their operations, we shall see in each a marked aversion from the true God, and from all true religion For example: Man loves to think, and cannot live without thinking; but he does not love to think of God; “God is not in all his thoughts.” Man delights in activity, is perpetually in motion, but has no heart to act for God. Men take pleasure in conversation, and are never more cheerful than when engaged in it; but if God and religion be introduced, they are usually struck dumb, and discover an inclination to drop the subject. Men greatly delight in hearing and telling news; but if the glorious news of the gospel be sounded in their ears, it frequently proves as unwelcome as Paul’s preaching at Athens. In fine, man feels the necessity of a God, but has no relish for the true God. There is a remarkable instance of this in the conduct of those nations planted by the king of Assyria in the cities of Samaria They were consumed by wild beasts, and considered it as an expression of displeasure from the god of the land. They wished to become acquainted with him that they might please him. An Israelitish priest is sent to teach them the manner of the god of the land. But when he taught them the fear of Jehovah, his character and worship do not seem to have suited their taste; for each nation preferred the worship of its own gods, 2 Kings 17.
C. What evidence do you draw in favour of this doctrine from experience?
G. The best of men, whose lives are recorded in Holy Scripture, have always confessed and lamented the depravity of their nature; and I never knew a character truly penitent, but he was convinced of it. It is a strong presumption against the contrary doctrine, that the light-minded and dissipated part of mankind are generally its advocates; while the humble, the serious, and the godly as generally acknowledge, with the apostle, that, “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, they were by nature children of wrath, even as others.”
C. I have several more inquiries to make on this interesting subject, which I must defer till another opportunity.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). “Human Depravity,” Dialogues and Letters Between Crispus and Gaius. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Controversial Publications (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 2, pp. 662–664). Sprinkle Publications.