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




The Final Answer to the Devil

Romans 8:17-39: The Final Perseverance of the Saints The Christian’s salvation is securely founded on historical facts and truths of God.  We are justified by faith alone in Christ alone by God’s grace alone.  These gospel truths give us solid ground to stand upon and a bulletproof defense against Satan’s attacks.  Lloyd-Jones explains this well in his comments on Romans 8:33-34.

“How important it is to understand the doctrine of justification by faith only!  There is no type of Christian who is so utterly foolish as the one who says, ‘I am not interested in doctrine; I have my experience.’  It is only as you understand the doctrine of justification by faith that you will have security and safety and joy.  Doctrine is essential.”

“Have you realized the meaning of justification?  You are not merely pardoned and forgiven; you are declared by God to be just in his sight.  This is a matter of status, a matter of standing.  There is no going back and forth from being justified to not being justified, and then being justified again.  God has done this one and for ever, and the Law is ended as far as you are concerned.  ‘Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.’  (Romans 10:4).  That is the complete answer to any charge that can ever be brought against us.  It is the only answer.  If you rely on anything else the devil will soon shake you.  There is only one answer to give him, and it is, ‘God himself has justified me, so all you say is a lie.”

“This, then, is the way to meet the devil and his accusations.  If you begin to listen to the devil and say to yourself, ‘Well, after all, he is right; I did sin yesterday and I am not as good as I ought to be,’ you will soon be feeling under condemnation again because you have brought in works once more.  You should rather say, ‘I know I am unworthy, I know I am sinful; no one knows how bad I am, but God has justified me in Christ.  I do not rely upon myself; I am relying utterly, only, absolutely upon the Lord Jesus Christ and upon what he has done on my behalf, and upon God’s declaration with respect to me.’”

“Stand on justification by faith only.  It is the only ground on which you can stand.  We must learn to do this; it is the final answer to the devil.  ‘It is God who justifieth.’”

D. M. Lloyd Jones, Romans Chapter 8:17-39, p.411.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Lloyd-Jones on Dispensationalism

Romans 8:17-39: The Final Perseverance of the Saints I came across this helpful quote on old-school dispensationalism in chapter 17 of D. M. Lloyd-Jones’ sermons on Romans 8:17-39.

“It is important that we emphasize that the plan of salvation did not come into the mind of God after the fall of man.  It was in his mind even before the creation of the world.  The plan of salvation was not conceived after the Fall.  There have been no readjustments in God’s plan.  Some have taught and still teach, a notion of a series of readjustments in God’s plan….”

“This erroneous teaching is carried even further in the notes of a certain well-known edition of the Bible, [notes] which do not hesitate to say that even when eventually God sent his Son into the world the plan had to be changed.  They assert that the Son came and preached the Kingdom of God, and offered an entry into the Kingdom of God to the Jews simply on the terms that they should believe on him and his teaching.  Had they done so the Kingdom of God would have been established there and then.”

“But unfortunately the Jews rejected the offer, and on that account God had to introduce another way through the death of his Son.  And so the Church came into being.  The Church had never been thought of before; it came in as an after-thought, as a temporary expedient, because the Jews had rejected the teaching of the Kingdom of God and the offer of entry into the Kingdom.  The Church and salvation through the death of Christ are a kind of improvisation.  The death of Christ need not have taken place if the Jews had believed the message of the Kingdom.  God’s plan had to be interrupted.  The ‘prophetic clock’ was stopped for the time being, and after this ‘church age’, which is a digression, God’s plan and purpose will be continued again.”

“Such notions are a complete denial of the biblical teaching concerning the ‘purpose of God’ conceived in eternity before the foundation of the world and the creation of man.  They represent the teaching which is known as ‘dispensationalism.’  We must be clear about these things.  God’s purpose came into being before the foundation of the world.  There is nothing contingent, nothing temporary or expedient about it.  It does not come into being because of something unforeseen.”

D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Romans 8:17-39, chapter 17.

rev shane lems

Affliction: The Christian’s Great Teacher

 Though affliction, trials, suffering, and sorrow are difficult to bear in this life, they are not meaningless for the Christian.  In fact, as Paul says, God can uses affliction for our good (Rom 8).  Thomas Watson, in All Things for Good, lists several ways how affliction works for the good of God’s people.  I’ve slightly edited them here.

1) Affliction is our teacher.  Affliction teaches us to know ourselves.  In prosperity we are for the most part strangers to ourselves.  God makes us know affliction, that we may better know ourselves.  We see corruption in our hearts in the time of affliction, which we would not believe was there. 

2) Affliction draws the Christian away from the love of the world.  In prosperity the heart cleaves partly to the world, partly to God.  Then God takes away the world so that the heart may cleave more to him in sincerity.

3) Afflictions conform the Christian to Christ.  God’s chastening rod is a pencil to draw Christ’s image more lively upon us.  Was Christ’s head crowned with thorns, and do we think to be crowned with roses?

4) Affliction takes away the dross of sin.  Just like a doctor sometimes prescribes painful methods to get rid of tumors, so God uses afflictions as the painful medicine which heals many spiritual diseases.

5) Afflictions help loosen our grip on the world.  When you dig away the dirt from the root of a tree, it is to loosen the tree from the earth.  So God digs away our earthly comforts to loosen our hearts from the world.

6) Affliction is a sign of God’s fatherly love.  God disciplines those whom he loves.  Every stroke of the rod of affliction is a badge of sonship.

Watson lists a few more ways that affliction is one of the teachers God uses in the Christian’s life.  Again, though they are difficult to bear and bring tears, they are not useless.

The above quotes and paraphrases above are found in chapter two of All Things for Good.

shane lems