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Sermon Notes

Please note that these are only notes, not transcripts, and as such are not identical to the recorded sermons. They also contain frequent abbreviations.


    1. The Heidelberg Catechism identifies three things which are necessary for us to know, that we might enjoy comfort, the first of which is misery.

      1. We have seen that our misery is not disease, poverty and all those things which make life unpleasant in this world.

        1. All those things are consequence of the greater underlying problem of sin.

        2. Man would gladly get rid of the consequences of sin, and all his efforts are employed in eradicating poverty, ending war, improving his environment and curing disease.

        3. But although man makes great strides in developing his culture, in science and industry, he cannot change his nature.

      2. LD 2 showed us that we know our misery out of the Law of God which we cannot keep and now LD3 goes further.

        1. Our misery consists in the fact that we are sinful by nature that corruption pervades us to the center of our being and therefore we cannot do anything good.

        2. Our misery consists in knowing how far we have fallen from the original righteousness in which we were created in Adam.

        3. Our misery consists in knowing that there is nothing we can do to deliver ourselves from such dreadful corruption and depravity.

    2. In Psalm 58 David describes the wicked by using a very striking figure of a serpent.

      1. The wicked, all men by nature as rebels against God, are poisonous serpents (“Their poison is like the poison of a serpent,” v. 4).

        1. The poisonous nature of the wicked comes out in their behavior: they work wickedness in their hearts, they weigh out violence with their hands and they speak lies with their tongues.

        2. The venomous nature of the wicked is manifest from their earliest days: from the womb they are enemies of God and haters of their fellow men.

      2. But these wicked in Psalm 58 are not the wicked out there in the world; they are the wicked in the congregation (v. 1).

        1. Psalm 58 speaks of the wicked as they are by nature, and therefore it speaks of our human nature.

        2. This fits with the focus of Lord’s Day 3 which speaks not of a few particularly wicked examples of mankind but of all of us in general.

        3. Therefore we must confess with shame and sorrow that our misery is that “we are so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness,” exactly because our nature has been corrupted by sin.



I. The Extent of this Corruption

II. The Source of this Corruption

III. The Answer to this Corruption


  1. The Extent of this Corruption

    1. Sin has so corrupted our entire nature that we are totally depraved which means, first, that we are “wholly incapable of doing any good.”

      1. By nature we have no ability to do good, that is, anything which in any sense pleases God since God alone is the standard of good.

        1. Our problem is not simply that we sin, but that we are sinners in our nature and from that corrupt source of the flesh nothing good can proceed.

          1. Not one good thought, not one good word and not one good deed have ever come forth from the sinful nature of man since the fall.

          2. But do not misunderstand. It is not the case that sinners want to do good works and want to please God but they cannot. They do not even have the desire for good.

          3. This inability is described in Ps. 58:3 as spiritual estrangement from the womb.

        2. This means that all of the supposedly great works of unbelieving men are nothing but splendid sins or “glittering vices” as Augustine famously put it.

          1. What are we to make of unbelievers who are decent, outwardly law-abiding, who seem to love their wives and children, who give to charity and who even go to church?

          2. What are we to make of an unbeliever who sacrifices his wealth and even his life to help sick children in Africa, or of the unbeliever who composes a beautiful symphony or discovers a cure for disease?

          3. The answer is that all such supposedly “good works” are filthy rags and dung in God’s sight: they proceed from a totally depraved nature, they are not done out of obedience to God’s Law, they are not done in faith or to the glory of God and are therefore sin.

        3. This doctrine of man’s nature is a devastating blow to the pride of man.

          1. The secular humanist believes that man is basically good and noble, and that he is steadily evolving, and that by shaking off the foolish superstitions of the past he can reach his full potential.

          2. The religious liberal believes that man is basically good and has great potential for good, and that the reason for evil in the world is man’s poor environment.

          3. The Semi-Pelagian and Arminian (Rome and most of modern evangelicalism) will concede that man has fallen far from where he should be, but that there are remnants of good in man which allow him to do good and noble deeds.

      2. But this truth, that man is wholly incapable of doing any good, proves that any notion of salvation by man’s works is a complete non-starter.

        1. Man cannot do good works! In fact, so depraved is man that he cannot even turn from his sins in repentance and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation.

          1. Look at the striking figure in Ps. 58: we are like the deaf adder whose habitual behavior is to stop her ears when the charmer of serpents tries to tame her.

          2. No matter how skillfully the snake charmer seeks to bind the serpent with enticing spells the whole effort falls on deaf ears.

          3. What a picture of the sinner who can hear the sweetest invitations or the most terrifying threatenings from the pulpit but he will not hear!

        2. Arminianism, with its altar calls, appeals and manipulative devices to try to convince a sinner to accept Jesus, refuses to accept this reality.

          1. According to Arminianism we have the power of freewill which enables us to desire and to choose the good although we are far from perfect and are often hindered by sin.

          2. So the Arminian preacher will beg, plead, cajole and use the sweetest appeals, heart-stirring music or tear-jerking testimony to create an atmosphere in which the sinner can be persuaded to accept Jesus.

          3. But something infinitely more powerful than the snake-charming efforts of preachers, no matter how skilful and eloquent they may be, is required to turn sinners from the sin, which they love, to Jesus Christ, whom they hate.

    2. Total depravity means, secondly, that we are “inclined to all wickedness.”

      1. That word “inclined” does not mean that fallen man has a preference, tendency or liking for sin which sometimes he can overcome.

        1. Words like preference, tendency and liking are much too weak.

          1. By nature we are sinful, we love sin and only sin, we do sin and only sin, we think sin and only sin and we speak sin and only sin.

          2. By nature man since the fall is irresistibly attracted to sin as surely as a pig is attracted to mud or a tiger is attracted to a blood-red chunk of meat.

          3. It would be much easier for a tiger to choose to eat broccoli instead of that chunk of red meat than it would be for a sinner to choose good rather than evil.

        2. The Catechism uses stronger language than preference, tendency and liking.

          1. Sin has so corrupted our nature that we are wicked which means that our whole life is rebellion against God.

          2. Sin has so corrupted our nature that we are perverse which means that we are bent, twisted or crooked, so deformed spiritually that we cannot walk in the straight paths of God’s holy law.

          3. Sin has so corrupted our nature that we are depraved, completely ruined morally and utterly loathsome in the sight of God.

      2. Because we are inclined to all wickedness there is no sin we could not commit.

        1. It is very easy for us to forget that and to be offended at this teaching.

          1. When in II Kings 8:13 the prophet Elisha warned Hazael of the atrocities he would commit he responded in indignation, “But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?”

          2. Our response might be similar but the dreadful truth is that by nature we are dogs, and we are treacherous serpents, capable of every conceivable evil.

          3. We are capable of gross sins such as drunkenness, adultery and even murder: all these things could come to expression in us. Let us, then, take heed, and watch and pray, lest we fall.

        2. Remember, beloved, that our nature – not just the nature of unbelievers – is irresistibly attracted to sin and repelled by all righteousness.

          1. We should never underestimate the power of our flesh so that we let our guard down for one moment: inside us, to use the figure of Psalm 58, is a poisonous viper ready to strike at the first opportunity.

          2. We delight in evil thoughts, we love to use evil words and we delight in the evil words and deeds of others, we are attracted to the evil we see on TV, on the internet and in books and we love to walk in evil deeds.

          3. We cannot charm that viper within us, and we cannot neutralize its venom: we have a viper in our bosom which spits venom against God and the neighbor and our calling is to kill our sinful nature by hating sin and fleeing from it.

  2. The Source of this Corruption

    1. In Q&A6 the Catechism vehemently rejects any idea that God is the author of sin and of our corrupt and totally depraved human nature.

      1. On the contrary, man as he came forth from the hands of God was righteous and holy, made in God’s image and therefore able to know, love and serve God.

        1. Man was morally and ethically perfect.

          1. There was in man no inclination towards sin but only a perfect will and delight in all of God’s commandments.

          2. God created man as His friend in a covenant relationship with Himself so that man knew God, man loved God and man lived in fellowship with God.

          3. There was no moral defect in man; he had a perfect will to choose the good.

        2. Man was made in the image of God so that in a spiritual sense he resembled God and stood in a covenantal relationship with God.

          1. The image of God does not consist in man’s being a moral rational creature but in his original righteousness, holiness and knowledge of God.

          2. As he was originally created man was righteous: he was upright and all of his thoughts, words and deeds conformed perfectly to the will and law of God.

          3. As he was originally created man was holy: he was entirely consecrated or devoted to God in all his thoughts, words and deeds.

          4. As he was originally created man knew God with an intimate knowledge of love.

      2. God did not place the tree with its forbidden fruit in the Garden to tempt Adam and Eve and then make them eat it against their will.

        1. Part of the obedience which God required of Adam was to refuse evil, that is, God required antithetical obedience.

          1. God did not entice Adam to sin; rather, He was testing Adam’s obedience: would he serve God in love if placed in a position where he had the opportunity to disobey?

          2. God did not put poison in the fruit so that the natural result of eating it would be death: death was the punishment for eating the fruit, not a quality in the fruit itself.

          3. God gave Adam every reason to obey: Adam tasted the goodness of God’s friendship and God warned Adam about the consequences of disobedience (“in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” Gen. 2:17).

        2. Although God was sovereign over the fall He cannot be blamed for it.

          1. God did not force Adam to eat the fruit against his will. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in full consciousness of what they were doing and with God’s warning of death ringing in their ears.

          2. We could illustrate it this way: someone digs a pit, put a fence around it and erects signs in every direction which say, “Warning: PIT!” Then another man comes along and deliberately jumps into the pit. Can the second man blame the first man for his predicament? Of course not!

          3. It is simply one aspect of our wicked, perverse, ruined and depraved nature that we seek to blame others rather than ourselves and that we even try to blame God Himself for our sins.

    2. God did not corrupt us, we corrupted ourselves by our “disobedience” (Q&A 7), and Satan played an important role.

      1. The source of the corruption of sin which entered the human race is the old serpent, the devil who enticed our first parents to eat of the forbidden fruit.

        1. In the Garden our first parents encountered the old enemy of God through the physical form of a serpent.

          1. The devil suggested that God would not permit Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because He was withholding some good from them, something which they needed and to which they had a right.

          2. The devil cast aspersions on the generosity of God and boldly contradicted God’s Word, “Ye shall not surely die.”

          3. And, Eve, instead of fetching Adam and chasing the serpent out of the Garden, listened to Satan, believed what he said, ate the fruit and gave it to Adam who also ate

        2. But Adam and Eve were not the helpless victims of a sneaky and underhand trick; their sin was deliberate disobedience.

          1. Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in full knowledge of the deadly results which would follow.

          2. No-one was under any illusions that day: but Adam and Eve chose death rather than obey God, and they received the bitter fruit of that choice.

          3. As a result of that choice God in His just judgment punished the entire human race with spiritual death.

      2. The fall and disobedience of our first parents had a devastating effect upon the entire human race.

        1. First, the fall had a devastating effect upon man as the image bearer of God.

          1. Man lost the image of God in its entirety: he lost the knowledge of God, he became unrighteous and unholy; he died spiritually and became total depraved.

          2. The fact that man remains a rational moral creature (and did not become a beast or a devil) does not mean that he kept some of God’s image.

          3. Through the fall the image of God was turned into the image of the devil so that man became the devil’s friend and willing servant.

        2. Second, the corruption of sin spread throughout the entire human race with the result that “we are all conceived and born in sin” (Q&A 7).

          1. This explains the language of the Catechism in LD3: the word man is used in the generic sense, God created “man” good (Q&A 6), “man” has become wicked and perverse (Q&A 6) and the “human nature” is depraved (Q&A 7).

          2. We enter the world totally depraved: we are born polluted with the nature which we received from Adam and even as children are worthy of eternal death.

          3. Therefore every child is infected with sin and is in the words of Psalm 58 “estranged [from God] from the womb” (v. 3).

        3. Adam and Eve were only able to bring forth totally depraved children.

          1. The reason for universal sin and sinfulness in the world is not a bad environment and the bad example of parents so that sin spreads by imitation (that’s Pelagianism) but the “propagation of a vicious nature” (Canons III/IV).

          2. It is a humbling thought, that the only thing we can give our children, as they come forth from us, is the depravity which characterizes our nature.

          3. Since we can only pass on to our children the spiritual death of total depravity we know that our only hope and our children’s only hope is the grace of God.

  3. The Answer to this Corruption

    1. The answer to the corruption of total depravity is not common grace.

      1. The idea of many theologians is that immediately after the fall God injected into man the antidote of common grace to counteract the effects of sin.

        1. Thus, thanks to common grace fallen man retains some ability to do good.

          1. Because of common grace an ungodly man is capable of kindness and can live as a decent citizen in the midst of the world (civil righteousness).

          2. Common grace permits the development of a God-honoring society as otherwise ungodly men produce good works of art, science and culture.

          3. Without this common grace all men would be beasts and devils, we would live on a kind of “hell on earth” and human development would be impossible.

        2. Thus, God favors man by the working of common grace in his heart so that his naturally corrupt nature is restrained and he does not break forth into all possible sins.

          1. Common grace is therefore the ultimate snake charmer: it tames the savage beast within ungodly men so that we do not all become murderers and rapists.

          2. But is that the explanation of why all men do not live always in every conceivable vice?

          3. Absolutely not! All sins lurk in seed form in our nature but they do not come to expression in all men’s lives because of a lack of opportunity, a lack of resources, a fear of punishment or disgrace, not because of the supposed restraint of common grace.

          4. Moreover, God takes no pleasure in the achievements of man’s culture, in his humanitarianism, in his attempts to eradicate disease and make a fair and just society: all of it is motivated by hatred of God and hatred of the neighbor.

      2. Common grace is not the answer to total depravity: it is the denial of total depravity.

        1. The Catechism does not teach what might have been but for the miracle of common grace but what really happened and what really is.

          1. First, the tenses employed throughout LD3 are present: “our nature is become so corrupt …” (A7); “are we then so corrupt …?” (Q8); “we are wholly incapable of doing any good …” (Q8) and “indeed we are” (A8, literally, “yes”).

          2. Second, the one who makes this confession that his human nature is totally depraved and corrupted by sin is not the unbeliever but the child of God: “our nature” (A7); “we” (Q8) and “indeed we are” (A8).

        2. So serious is the Catechism in its confession of Total Depravity that LD3 teaches that even the believer in Jesus Christ is still totally depraved by nature.

          1. We saw that already in LD2: “I (the believer in Jesus Christ) am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor” (A5).

          2. The venom of our flesh remains as potent as it did the day we were born and will remain until the day that old serpent within us is finally destroyed when we are glorified at death or at the Second Coming of Christ.

    2. The only answer to the corruption of total depravity is regeneration (“except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God”).

      1. Regeneration is God’s work of giving life to a spiritually dead sinner so that he lives out of a new principle and is able to bring forth good works to God’s glory.

        1. Regeneration is a sovereign work of God in which we are completely passive.

          1. The sovereign Spirit of God, who blows where He desires, gives this life to those sinners whom God has eternally elected in love and for whom Christ has purchased all the blessings of salvation on the cross.

          2. No sinner has any right to receive this precious gift of life; all of us deserve to remain in the state of spiritual death and to perish in eternal death in hell.

          3. No sinner has the power to work life in himself or even to cooperate in this sovereign work of God. This is clear from A8 (“except we are regenerated” not “except we regenerate ourselves”).

        2. As a result of regeneration or the new birth there are two principles active within the elect, redeemed and regenerated child of God.

          1. On the one hand there is the principle of sin, the totally depraved flesh which hates God and only ever produces evil works.

          2. On the other hand there is the principle of regeneration, the seed of the new life of Christ which loves God and delights to do his will.

          3. These two principles are engaged in constant, fierce, unrelenting warfare.

        3. The Christian therefore answers the question, “Are you totally depraved?” with a carefully qualified “Yes and No.”

          1. With respect to our fallen human nature which like a viper dwells in our bosom we are still totally depraved, still inclined to all wickedness and still incapable of doing any good.

          2. But with respect to the principle of regeneration in us (the “except” of A8) we must say, “No, we are not totally depraved; we can and do perform good works and we can and do love God from the heart.”

          3. If the only thing a man can say about himself is that he is totally depraved, that man is an unbeliever, not a Christian.

      2. Beloved, if we understand the misery of our sinful nature our only response will be to get down on our knees and thank God for our regeneration.

        1. Thank God there is an “except” in LD3, an “except” which directs us to the power of God in Jesus Christ.

          1. By nature we are completely under the power of sin which like a serpent holds us in a stranglehold.

          2. But Jesus Christ went to the cross to purchase for us the right to be regenerated and rose again to make us partakers of His heavenly life.

          3. He crushed the head of the old serpent Satan on the cross and in principle He has crushed the power of sin in our hearts.

        2. We must not fear because the power of the grace of God in Jesus Christ is more powerful than the power of our sin.

          1. That venom-spitting viper in our bosom is alive and kicking but his days are numbered.

          2. On the Day of Jesus Christ that old corrupt nature will be removed and destroyed.

          3. Then we will enjoy unspoiled fellowship with God in Jesus Christ forever. Amen!