The Exegetical Basis for Total Depravity and Total Inability (Murray)

Epistle to the Romans One aspect of the doctrines of grace is the insistence that man, by nature, is unable and unwilling to come to Jesus in repentance and faith. Apart from saving grace, a sinner is corrupt in every part of his being and morally incapable of doing good in God’s sight.  Although he isn’t as wicked as he could be, he is dead in sin and his will is in bondage to sin.  Of course, the Reformers taught these things, as did other in history before them.  But is there a biblical basis for these teachings?  Yes.  For one of several examples, consider Romans 8:7-8, which says, “…The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (NASB).

Here are some of John Murray’s helpful comments on these verses:

“Verse 7 gives the reason why the mind of the flesh is death [v.6].  It is ‘enmity against God.’  …It defines the mind of the flesh, the mind characterizing those who are ‘after the flesh’ and ‘in the flesh’, as one that is conditioned and governed by ‘enmity’, enmity of which God is the object.  Enmity towards God is the actuating principle and governing propension of the mind of the flesh.”

“…The last clause, ‘neither indeed can it be’, points to the impossibility that resides in the mind of the flesh and means nothing less than it is a moral and psychological impossibility for those who are ‘in the flesh’ to have any disposition of obedience with respect to the law of God.”

“…The apostle…expressly states what is to the effect that it is a moral and psychological impossibility for those who are in the flesh to do anything that elicits the divine approval and good pleasure.  Here we have nothing less than the doctrine of the total inability of the natural man, that is to say, total inability to be well-pleasing to God or to do what is well-pleasing in his sight.”

“…In the whole passage we have the biblical basis for the doctrines of total depravity and total inability.  It should be recognized, therefore, that resistance to these doctrines must come to terms not simply with the present-day proponents of these doctrines but with the apostle himself.  ‘Enmity against God’ is nothing other than total depravity and ‘cannot please God’ nothing less than total inability.”

John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 286-7.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 45015

 

 

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