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Total Depravity

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Many object to the doctrine of total depravity on the ground that all men are capable of some good, even if unsaved. All of us recognize the value of decency in behavior, a kind spirit, generosity in caring for the needy, and similar virtues which are frequently seen in unconverted and even positively godless men and women. How, then, it is asked, can they be said to be totally depraved? Dr. Joseph Cook, the great Boston lecturer of the latter half of the nineteenth century, answers this question with the following illustration.

He had in his home a very beautiful and valuable clock. It had an exceedingly handsome case, a very fine set of works, a nice-appearing dial, and elegantly finished hands. It was altogether a good clock to look at, but it had one fault. It simply would not, or could not, keep time. It had been gone over by many different clock makers, but no one had been able to correct this fault. As a timepiece it was totally depraved!

Is not this like man, even at his best, if he has not been born again? There may be much about him that others can admire, but he is positively unable to do the will of the Lord because his heart is utterly estranged from God and therefore, as far as holiness is concerned, he is totally depraved. Only the new birth—regeneration by the Word and Spirit of God—can enable him to keep in line with the divine will as laid down in the Holy Scriptures. However righteous he may appear in the eyes of his fellows, because of this fatal defect all his righteousness is as filthy rags in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6).