The Canons of Dordt: Total Depravity.

This week we are taking time from our study of the Gospel of John in order to observe the 400th anniversary of The Council of Dordrecht or Dordt. The council or synod began on November 13, 1618. It occurred in the Netherlands at a southern city called Dordrecht, which in English is shortened to Dordt. The resulting document from the synod is called the Canons (rules) of Dordt.

The followers of Jacob Arminius, otherwise known as the Remonstrants or protestors,  proposed five points: (1) Election unto salvation is conditioned upon foreseen faith and obedience; (2) Universal atonement; (3) Regeneration enables sinners to contribute good works toward salvation; (4) Resistible grace; (5) Believers may fall away or lose their salvation.

The synod met in order to address and biblically refute each of the Remonstrants’ five points. This morning we look at the first point which is known as Total Depravity.

Dr. R.C. Sproul explains that, The doctrine of total depravity reflects the Reformed viewpoint of original sin. That term—original sin—is often misunderstood in the popular arena. Some people assume that the term original sin must refer to the first sin—the original transgression that we’ve all copied in many different ways in our own lives, that is, the first sin of Adam and Eve. But that’s not what original sin has referred to historically in the church. Rather, the doctrine of original sin defines the consequences to the human race because of that first sin.”

David, in Psalm 51, acknowledged that human beings were marred by the fall when he wrote, “Oh, God, I was born in sin, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). David was not saying that it was sinful for his mother to have borne children. Neither was David saying that he was evil because he was physically born.  On the contrary, David acknowledged the human condition of fallenness—that condition that was part of the experience of his parents, a condition that he himself experienced when born into this world. Original sin concerns the fallen nature of mankind.

Total Depravity does not mean that man is as bad as he can possibly be. Total Depravity does not mean utter depravity. We often use the term total as a synonym for utter or for completely. Therefore, some believe that the notion of total depravity means that every human being is as bad as that person could possibly be. Not at all.

Total Depravity does mean that sin has permeated, or affected, every part of man’s being. Sin has pervaded his intellect, emotions, and will. Perhaps another way of identifying this biblical truth is to say that fallen man is radically corrupted (Jeremiah 17:9; John 8:44). To put it another way, we are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are by nature sinners.

I submit the following biblical observations regarding Total Depravity.

  • Total Depravity means that fallen man is dead in his trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1; 2:12).
  • Total Depravity means that fallen man lives in worldliness and disobedience to God (Ephesians 2:2).
  • Total Depravity means that fallen man lives in the lusts of his flesh, indulges the desires of the flesh and of the mind (Ephesians 2:3).
  • Total Depravity means that fallen man is by nature a child and an object of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3).
  • Total Depravity means that fallen man has no fear, or reverence, of God (Romans 3:18).
  • Total Depravity means that fallen man is an enemy of God (Romans 5:8-10).
  • Total Depravity means that fallen man’s passions motivate all of his living (Romans 7:5).

Dr. John MacArthur explains that, “Total Depravity does not mean that the expression of sinful human nature is always lived out to the fullest. It does not mean that unbelievers are incapable of acts of kindness, benevolence, goodwill, or human altruism. It certainly does not mean that non-Christians cannot appreciate goodness, beauty, honesty, decency, or excellence. It does mean that none of this has any merit with God.”  

Total Depravity teaches that sinful man is incapable of doing anything to please God (Isaiah 64:6). He is incapable of truly loving God or obeying Him from the heart (Mark 7:21-23), of understanding spiritual truth (I Corinthians 2:14), of possessing genuine faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29; 2 Peter 1:1), and of truly seeking Him (Romans 3:10-20; Hebrews 11:1). Because of Adam’s sin, the entire fallen human race is totally depraved (Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 15:22).  Because of this reality, sinful and fallen man is incapable of achieving his own salvation

Theologian and Pastor J.C. Ryle explains, “The blind man can see no difference between a masterpiece of Titian or Raphael and the queen’s head on a village signboard. The deaf man cannot distinguish between a penny whistle and a cathedral organ. The very animals whose smell is most offensive to us have no idea that they are offensive and are not offensive to one another. And man, fallen man, I believe, can have no idea what a vile thing sin is in the sight of that God whose handiwork is absolutely perfect.”

Pastor D. Martyn Lloyd Jones says, “Why is it that man ever chooses sin? The answer is that man has fallen away from God, and as a result, his whole nature has become perverted and sinful. Man’s whole bias is away from God. By nature he hates God and feels that God is opposed to him. His god is himself, his own abilities and powers, his own desires. He objects to the whole idea of God and the demands which God makes upon him. Furthermore, man likes and covets the things which God prohibits, and dislikes the things and the kind of life to which God calls him. These are no mere dogmatic statements. They are facts. They alone explain the moral muddle and the ugliness that characterize life to such an extent today.”

The Apostle Paul explained Total Depravity as follows: “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:9-20)

The only hope fallen man has is receiving the imputed righteousness of Christ by grace alone, through faith alone because of the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul from Romans 3:21-26.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Tomorrow we examine the biblical doctrine known as Unconditional Election.

Soli deo Gloria!






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