Thursday, May 5, 2011

"And there is no health in us"... total depravity?

"No... not that dreadful Calvinist doctrine!", huffed the Anglo-Catholic churchman in an tone of cultured-indignant outrage...

In a previous post I considered the case for the reformed doctrine of predestination being taught in Article 17 of the Thirty-Nine Articles.  But what about the reformed doctrine of  total depravity?  Is it likewise to be found in the Anglican formularies or is it merely a morbid innovation of of those "hyper-puritan Calvinists"?  This question is posed in the context of the larger question that this blogger has explored, what is the historical Reformational heritage of the Anglican Church?

First up we need a definition... what is the doctrine of total depravity?  I like how this pastor defines it:
What total depravity means then is that every area of man has been affected by the Fall: man's entire body, soul and spirit has suffered a radical corruption.  This does not mean that man is without a conscience or any sense of right or wrong, nor that every sinner is devoid of all the qualities that are both pleasing to men and useful to society, when those qualities are judged only by human standards. In addition, this does not mean that every sinner is prone to every form of sin...

Perhaps "radical corruption" is a better term to describe our fallen condition than the historic term "total depravity." "Radical" not in the sense of being "extreme," but radical in the sense of its original meaning, stemming from the Latin word for "root" or "core." Our problem with sin is that it is rooted in the core of our being, permeating our hearts. It is because sin is at our core and not merely at the exterior of our lives that Romans 3:10-12 declares: "There is none righteous, no not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one."

Man, by nature, does not want to know God. "There is no one who seeks after God," as the above Scripture says. As Dr. Michael Horton noted, "We cannot find God for the same reason that a thief can't find a police officer." [Pastor John Samson]  
You've got to love that Horton quote, eh?

Simply put, sin has affected all parts of man. And this corruption touches the entire man - heart, emotions, will, mind, and body.  In that respect man is completely sinful, though not as sinful as he could be.  So, is this doctrine to be found among the teachings of the Thirty-Nine Articles or the Homilies or the prayers of the Book of Common Prayer?  Let's take a survey...

Excerpts from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer...
4th Sunday in Advent Collect:  ... that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us...
Morning Prayer Confession of Sin:  And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.
The Lenten Collects:   Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness...
... Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves...
Easter-Even Collect:  ... so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with him...
Easter Day Collect:  ... as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires...  [how else to interpret this than without God's special grace going before us we are incapable of even good desires, let alone any good, i.e. righteous, works]
4th Sunday After Easter Collect:  Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men... [how else to take this than we have no power to rule over or against our sinful affections]
1st Sunday After Trinity Collect:  ... through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without thee...
9th Sunday After Trinity Collect:  ...that we, who cannot do any thing that is good without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will...
15th Sunday After Trinity Collect:  ...because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall...
24th Sunday After Trinity Collect:  ...absolve thy people from their offences; that through thy bountiful goodness we may all be delivered from the bands of those sins, which by our frailty we have committed...  
Holy Communion General Confession:  We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.
Prayer preceding kneeling at the Lord's Table:  We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.
The Commination:  Ps. 51 - Behold, I was shapen in wickedness: and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
The Commination Confession:  ...enter not into judgement with thy servants, who are vile earth, and miserable sinners; but so turn thine anger from us, who meekly acknowledge our vileness, and truly repent us of our faults...
Psalm 14:1-8:  The fool hath said in his heart : There is no God.
2. They are corrupt, and become abominable in their doings : there is none that doeth good, no not one.
3. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men : to see if there were any that would understand, and seek after God.
4. But they are all gone out of the way, they are altogether become abominable : there is none that doeth good, no not one.
5. Their throat is an open sepulchre, with their tongues have they deceived : the poison of asps is under their lips.
6. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness : their feet are swift to shed blood.
7. Destruction and unhappiness is in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known ; there is no fear of God before their eyes.
8. Have they no knowledge, that they are all such workers of mischief : eating up my people as it were bread, and call not upon the Lord?
Psalm 53: 1-4:  The foolish body hath said in his heart : There is no God.
2. Corrupt are they, and become abominable in their wickedness : there is none that doeth good.
3. God looked down from heaven upon the children of men : to see if there were any that would understand, and seek after God.
4. But they are all gone out of the way, they are altogether become abominable : there is also none that doeth good, no not one.
Psalm 58:3:  The ungodly are froward, even from their mother's womb : as soon as they are born, they go astray, and speak lies.
Article IX. Of Original or Birth Sin:  Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea, in them that are regenerated, whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek phronema sarkos (which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire of the flesh), is not subject to the law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess that concupiscence and lust hath itself the nature of sin.
Article X. Of Free Will:  The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing ( us that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will.
Article XIII. Of Works before Justification:  Works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea, rather for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.

Update (5-8-2011):  And this tidbit - Article XIV. Of Works of Supererogation:  ... Whereas Christ saith plainly, When ye have done all that are commanded to do, say, We be unprofitable servants
[Me:  That is, we bring nothing to the table when it comes to the demands of God's holiness, for we always fall short due to the corruption of our nature]

And you may want to take the time to read these selected excerpts below as they are part of the authoritative doctrinal teaching (see Article XXXV. Of Homilies) for the the Church of England concerning the fallen state of man:

Book I-Homily #2 Of The Misery of All Mankind:  ... And all men, of their evilness and natural proneness, were so universally given to sin that, as the Scripture saith [Gen. 6:6] *God repented that ever he made man... And thus he setteth us forth, speaking by his faithful Apostle St. Paul: [Rom. 3:9–18] All men, Jews and Gentiles, are under sin. There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none that understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God.  They are all gone out of the way; they are all unprofitable: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used Craft and deceit; the poison of serpents is under their lips.  Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood.  Destruction and wretchedness are in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes...

St. Paul in many places painteth us out in our colours, calling us the children of the wrath of God when we be born; saying also that we cannot think a good thought of ourselves, much less we can say well or do well of ourselves... And our Saviour Christ saith there is none good but God, and that we can do nothing that is good without him, nor no man can come to the Father but by him.  He commandeth us all to say that we be unprofitable servants, when we have done all that we can do... He saith he came not to save but the sheep that were utterly lost and cast away...

We be of ourselves of such earth as can bring forth but weeds, nettles, brambles, briars, cockle, and darnel.  Our fruits be declared in the fifth chapter to the Galathians. [Gal. 5:[19–23].]  We have neither faith, charity, hope, patience, chastity, nor any thing else that good is...

Let us therefore acknowledge ourselves before God, as we be indeed, miserable and wretched sinners... For truly there be imperfections in our best works... Let us therefore not be ashamed to confess plainly our state of imperfection; yea, let us not be ashamed to confess imperfection even in all our own best works...

Thus we have heard how evil we be of ourselves; how, of ourselves and by ourselves, we have no goodness, help, nor salvation, but contrariwise sin, damnation, and death everlasting: which if we deeply weigh and consider, we shall the better understand the great mercy of God, and how our salvation cometh only by Christ... Hitherto have we heard what we are of ourselves; verily, sinful, wretched, and damnable.
Again, we have heard how that, of ourselves and by ourselves, we are not able either to think a good thought, or work a good deed: so that we can find in ourselves no hope of salvation, but rather whatsoever maketh unto our destruction... Let us also knowledge the exceeding mercy of God toward us, and confess that, as of ourselves cometh all evil and damnation, so likewise of him cometh all goodness and salvation; as God himself saith by the Prophet Osee: [Hos. 13:9] O Israel, thy destruction cometh of thyself, but in me only is thy help and comfort.

Well... what do you think?  Can a case be made that the reformed doctrine of total depravity is reflected in the Anglican formularies as exampled in the above quotes?  It seems difficult to come to any other conclusion; a conclusion which magnifies the radical remedy that God provided for us miserable sinners:  the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God come in the flesh - the perfect holy one - on the cross for sinful humans.  Nothing less was needed and because of the great mercy and love of God, nothing less was provided.


  1. Total depravity. The perfect holy one. For us.

  2. Three years ago, my ACNA rector, widely known as an "evangelical", told me he refused to render the confession with "there is no heath in us" because in his view there WAS health in him. The next day I began searching for another church. About 4 months later, the rector preached a sermon in which he insisted that a man might bolster his prospects of salvation and his rewards in heaven by doing specific good deeds. Obviously, this was not the Gospel of Christ. I never went back to that church again and have concluded since then that such views are not only common in ACNA but are actually encouraged.

  3. Thanks for bringing all these points together into one post, Jack. I've seen these in isolation from each other but it certainly does point to the doctrine of the bondage of the will and of total inability. Too bad modern Lutherans no longer agree with Luther on the bondage of the will or the sovereignty of God in salvation.

  4. Charlie,

    And too bad modern Anglicans, likewise, no longer hold those two biblical doctrines.

    We therefore contend for the faith once delivered...


  5. To one degree or another, all of today's Protestant groups are falling down on the totality of depravity, the conditionality of election, the particularity of atonement, the resistibility of grace, and the persistence of the saints. If you truly hold to the Doctrines of Grace, you are immediately branded a "hyper-calvinist" as if they actually knew what the term meant. No church can be a real church unless it confronts these attackers boldly. Anglicans are the worst of course, but if they were to reassume pride in being confessional, and return to the 1662 BCP or the 1926 Irish BCP, things could turn around very quickly. No other Protestant group has a blueprint for recovery.