How Dead is Dead?- Thomas Manton on the Ability of Man to Save Himself

October 16, 2008

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” -Ephesians 2.1-3

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” -Genesis 6.5

We have spoken here numerous times, and probably alluded towards a number more, that there is somewhat of a controversy over just how capable man is of “deciding” for God, i.e. if it is man’s choice to follow God or if God sovereignly leads man to following him.

As a personal apologetic, I often find myself referring to Ephesians 2.1-3 (above) as my key passage in favor of the view that, aside of the regenerating work of the Spirit in our hearts, man is utterly unable to do anything pleasing to God or decide to live in anyway for God.  However, this is certainly not the only passage in favor of this view.  It is because of that that I was so struck by a quote of Thomas Manton, taken from his sermon “Man’s Impotency to Help Himself Out of that Misery,” where he appeals to the shear bulk of evidences for this view.  Quote:

If the scripture had only said that man had accustomed himself to sin, and was not “born in sin;” that man were somewhat prone to iniquity, and not “greedy” of it; and did often think evil, and not “continually;” that man were somewhat obstinate, and not a stone,” and “adamant;” if the scripture had only said that man were indifferent to God, and not a professed “enemy;” if a captive of sin, and not a “servant;” “rebel;” then there might be something in man, and the work of conversion not so difficult.  But the scripture saith the quite contrary.

There is certainly something inside man which longs to be able to save ourselves, but Scripture is, in my opinion, overly clear on the fact that this is simply something that we cannot do.  As a result of Adam’s sin in the Garden, the whole lineage of humanity has been corrupted and there is not a person born (aside from the miraculous birth of Christ) who is not subject to a fallen, depraved nature which leads them “astray from birth” (Psalm 58.3).  This is such an enlightening doctrine, and to stubbornly hang on to “man’s ability to choose” puts us at risk of elevating man to the place of God, a place of worship, in violation of the second commandment.