Chapter 2 is entitled, “Corruption of human nature.” Section one of this chapter is subtitled, “Inadequate conceptions of the corruption of human nature.”
In the first chapter, Wilberforce went over what he called “defective notions of the importance of Christianity in general.” In this chapter his focus is on “particular misconceptions,” namely, the misconception of the corruption and weakness of human nature — this subject, he says, is of the deepest import and “lies at the very root of all true religion, and is eminently the basis and groundwork of Christianity.” He further states that:
“…the generality of professed Christians among the higher classes, either altogether overlook or deny, or at least greatly extenuate, the corruption and weakness here in question. They acknowledge, indeed, that there is, and ever has been in the world, a great portion of vice and wickedness…They own that it is too often in vain that you inform the understanding, and convince the judgment…These facts are certain; they cannot be disputed; and they are, at the same time, so obvious, that one would have thought the celebrated apophthegm of the Grecian sage, ‘the majority are wicked,’ would scarcely have established his claim to intellectual superiority” (Wilberforce).
The truth of total depravity has been greatly extenuated among Calvinists who assert that faith is an “instrumental non-meritorious condition” for salvation. The biblical reality regarding one aspect of total depravity is that every natural descendent of Adam owes a debt to God’s law and justice that he cannot pay or be “spiritually-enabled” to pay by meeting an allegedly “non-meritorious condition.” This particular aspect of the total depravity of man’s nature is connected to God’s law and its function, which is to show forth God’s perfect standard of righteousness that His people may (1) Learn their natural inability to meet that standard (2) Rest in a Substitute who would and did meet that standard on their behalf (3) And strive to obey Him out of love, thankfulness, and a desire to glorify Him.
“For as many as are out of works of Law, [these] are under a curse. For it has been written, Cursed [is] everyone who does not continue in all the things having been written in the book of the Law, to do them. And that no one is justified by Law before God [is] clear because, The just shall live by faith. But the Law is not of faith, but, The man doing these things shall live in them. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us; for it has been written, Cursed is everyone having been hung on a tree; that the blessing of Abraham might be to the nations in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith….But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, having come into being out of a woman, having come under Law, that He might redeem the ones under Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba! Father!” (Galatians 3:10-14, 4:4-6).
Contrary to the unregenerate Calvinists who twist faith into a condition or prerequisite for salvation; true faith, rather, believes that Jesus Christ alone met ALL the conditions for salvation (the Galatians passages cited above presenting a clear and strict view of what those conditions are). Jesus Christ met, in full, the penal and preceptive demands of God’s law and justice. The aforementioned Calvinists, with their added conditions and prerequisites, have made themselves debtors “to do all the law” (Galatians 5:3).
At the time of God’s appointing, the promise of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of His Son, is sent forth to glorify Jesus Christ in the hearts of all whom Christ represented by granting to them a faith that receives the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ and is justified, crying out, Abba! Father! While this faith is indeed the instrument through which God’s elect receive righteousness imputed, justification, and adoption; this righteousness imputed, justification, and adoption COME TOGETHER WITH faith as an immediate and inevitable result (fruit) of the Spirit’s regenerating work (Galatians 4:4-6).
“But, though these effects of human depravity are every where acknowledged and lamented, we must not expect to find them traced to their true origin…Prepare yourself to hear rather of frailty and infirmity, of petty transgressions, of occasional failings, of sudden surprisals, and of such other qualifying terms as may serve to keep out of view the true source of the evil, and, without shocking the understanding, may administer consolation to the pride of human nature. The bulk of professed Christians are used to speak of man as of a being, who, naturally pure, and inclined to all virtue, is sometimes, almost involuntarily, drawn out of the right course, or is overpowered by the violence of temptation”(Wilberforce).
Unless I’m completely missing something here, Wilberforce is saying that the majority (the “bulk”) of professed Christians have a Pelagian conception of human nature. Obviously this bulk of professed Christians did not adhere to, or were ignorant of the 39 articles of the Church of England (some of these 39 articles, while being certainly and damnably heretical, are clearly NOT Pelagian).
“But to put the question concerning the natural depravity of man to the severest test: take the best of the human species, the watchful self-denying Christian, and let him decide the controversy; not by inferences drawn from the practices of a thoughtless and dissolute world, but by an appeal to his personal experience. Go with him into his closet, ask him his opinion of the corruption of the heart, and he will tell you that he is deeply sensible of its power…that he feels within him two opposite principles, and that ‘he cannot do the things that he would.’ He cries out in the language of the excellent Hooker,
‘The little fruit which we have in holiness, it is, God knoweth, corrupt and unsound: we put no confidence at all in it, we challenge nothing in the world for it, we dare not call God to reckoning, as if we had him in our debt-books; our continual suit to him is, and must be, to bear with our infirmities, and pardon our offences.’
Such is the moral history, such the condition of man. The figures of the piece may vary, and the colouring may sometimes be of a darker, sometimes of a lighter hue; but the principles of the composition, the grand outlines, are every where the same” (Wilberforce).
Some comments on what Richard Hooker is quoted as saying. Obviously the fruit in holiness is not sinless as Romans 7:14-25 teaches us. But since this fruit is not free from indwelling sin does it therefore become “corrupt” as Hooker says? What does Hooker mean by “corrupt fruit”? Would Hooker say that the “corrupt fruit” had “in holiness” is fruit unto God, or would he say that it is fruit unto death (cf. Romans 7:4-5)? Does Hooker believe that the fruits had “in holiness” are “corrupt and unsound” or are they “fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11)?
By appealing to the “watchful self-denying Christian” as evidence of the natural depravity of man, Wilberforce is articulating the common nefarious notion that the heart of a regenerate person remains deceitfully and desperately wicked (or, at least has a remaining sin principle in his breast that is deceitful and desperately wicked). This is a blatant DENIAL of the Holy Spirit’s transforming work (cf. Ezekiel 36:26; 2 Corinthians 5:17). It’s true that a regenerate person has a remaining sin principle (cf. Romans 7:14-25), but in stark contrast to Wilberforce et al, this sin principle is NOT deceitfully and desperately wicked since the deceitfully and desperately wicked heart was completely excised by God upon regeneration:
“And I will also give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give to you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
Do Christians still sin? They most certainly do. Indwelling sin is still constantly with them to harass them and make them do what they do not want to do, to the point of making them cry out that they are afflicted, distressed, grieved, and vexed (Romans 7:14-24). But they even sin differently than the wicked — the sin of the wicked comes from their totally depraved hearts; the sin of believers comes from the principle of sin dwelling in them.
For more information about the deceitful and desperately wicked heart see the following article: