The meaning of the Arminian doctrine that is here opposed is in itself quite clear, and is in need of little exposition. It is a plain and simple contradiction of the Scriptural and Reformed truth concerning man’s total depravity: “The unregenerate man is not really nor utterly dead in sin, nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good.” This is the main proposition here, the key to the Arminian thought. He must maintain this in order to maintain what he is really after, namely, that the unregenerate man can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit, which is pleasing to God. In this respect we must at least give the Arminian credit for consistency, if indeed it may be called credit. His reasoning is quite correct by itself. This will be plain if we cast his doctrine in the form of a syllogism, as fellows:
1. The unregenerate man is not really nor utterly dead in sin.
2. The unregenerate man is, accordingly, not destitute of all powers unto spiritual good.
3. Therefore, the unregenerate man can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and can do that which is pleasing to God, namely, offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit.
The consistency of the Arminian lies herein, that he recognizes the fact that a man who is really dead in sin could neither hunger and thirst after righteousness nor offer a sacrifice of a broken and contrite spirit. And by the same token, the error of the Arminian lies herein, that he denies that the unregenerate man is really and utterly dead in sin. Hence, our fathers, as we shall see presently, were quite correct in concentrating all their effort upon this one error of denying man’s utter death in sin.
And indeed, just as in the natural sense, so also in the spiritual sense of the Word, hunger and thirst is possible only where there is life. The dead do not hunger and thirst. In the physical sense of the word, when once a man has breathed his last and his body is placed in the coffin and laid away in the grave, he knows the need for bread and water no more. And so also in the spiritual sense. To hunger and thirst after righteousness implies, in the first place, the acute awareness of a lack, the consciousness of need. That awareness of a lack is the consciousness of sin. It is the consciousness of guilt and condemnation, the awareness of one’s corruption and perversity, the knowledge of his transgression and iniquity. He who hungers and thirsts after righteousness is spiritually aware of the fact that he lacks righteousness as to his state, as to the condition of his nature, and as to his actual walk. And if you would see this consciousness of Sin in its real nature, then you must notice that the Lord Jesus calls him blessed precisely, not who is righteous in himself; but who merely hungers and thirsts for righteousness. In the second place, to hunger and thirst after righteousness implies a deep-seated spiritual yearning for justification, a longing for the forgiveness of sins and for the state of one who is declared righteous by the only Judge of heaven and earth. It includes, moreover, a longing to be free from the corruption of our nature and from the bondage of sin, and to be set spiritually free. And it implies the earnest desire for actual righteousness of walk, for a walk according to all the commandments of God. That is the life’s need of him who hungers and thirsts after righteousness and eternal life. His want of righteousness is a matter of need, a matter of life and death. He lacks righteousness, is destitute of it. His want is a matter of suffering, of misery, of sorrow. He must have righteousness or perish. And certainly, this is possible only for one who is alive. The dead hunger not, neither do they thirst. He who is spiritually alive, though still in his sinful flesh, he who has the beginning of this righteousness in him,—he alone can know the spiritual reality of a hunger and thirst after righteousness.
And from this point of view, it must certainly be granted that if all men are hungry and thirsty, if all men have the capability of offering the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit, if all men belong to those who labor and are heavy laden,—as is proclaimed either expressly or by implication from so many pulpits, also Reformed pulpits, today,—then all men are not really nor utterly dead in sin. And yet, as we have said, this is exactly the message, literally expressed or implied, that is heard from many a pulpit. Some dare not, it seems, express this forthrightly. But they imply as much when they make of the gospel a general, well-meant offer of salvation. For what, pray, is the sense of offering grace to a man who has not even the capability to know his need of it, to desire it, to yearn after it? The very idea of a general offer of grace presupposes that those to whom the offer is made are capable of accepting it. Others are more bold, and will openly declare that all men belong to this class of the spiritually hungry and thirsty, or at least, that they have the capability to hunger and thirst if only they will. The sad part of it is that this is even done in the name of the Reformed faith, the faith that maintains the truth of man’s total depravity. And then either one of two things must be true. Either the teaching that the unregenerate is capable of hungering and thirsting after righteousness and life must utterly vitiate the doctrine of total depravity, so that it is neglected and left unproclaimed and finally is officially denied; or the preaching of these two contradictory doctrines becomes a piece of terribly absurd folly. Absurd because they are obviously contradictory, and terrible because he who so preaches must needs become guilty of tantalizing the totally depraved sinner (who at the same time hungers and thirsts for righteousness) with a delicious meal of grace of which he can never partake. No, in this respect I would far prefer to be a consistent Arminian. For the, Arminian, though he is wrong, is at least consistently wrong. He at least maintains that a man who is really dead cannot hunger and thirst, and then maintains that the natural, unregenerate man is not really and utterly dead in sin, nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good.
But, of course, the Arminian, though consistent, iswrong! And his error is that he denies that man is dead in sin. Notice that now I have left out the words “really” and “utterly.” And this omission serves to clarify the issue. We say: the unregenerate man is dead in sin. The Arminian really says: the unregenerate man is not dead in sin. We say: the unregenerate man is destitute of all powers unto spiritual good. The Arminian says: the unregenerate man is not destitute of all powers unto spiritual good. For, after all, death is not something relative. A man is either dead or he is not dead. When he is dead, you do not have to add the words “really” and “utterly.” When he is merely sick, you do not call him dead: for then he is still alive. When he is only dying, you do not call him dead: for then too, though he may be dying, he is still alive. The folly of the Arminian doctrine is that its words are deprived of their real meaning. The Arminian says that the natural man is dead in sin (because Scripture uses this language), and then he interprets this as meaning: unregenerate man is not really dead, but only apparently dead, only make-believe dead, that is, actually alive,—so alive that he can still experience the pangs of spiritual hunger and thirst after righteousness and life.
Now our fathers see through this camouflage of the Remonstrants, and they perceive that for the Arminians words do not have their true meaning, and therefore they take the most direct and simple means of exposing the Arminian error. They might very well have engaged in the argument which we used above, and pointed out that death is in its very nature an absolute idea, and that if one is not really dead, then he is alive. And, in fact, this thought is presupposed in the argument from Scripture which the fathers use. But their argument as such is very simple, and for that reason very powerful. They employ the weapon of the Word of God directly, without any argumentation. “These are contrary to the express testimony of Scripture.” What is the testimony of Scripture? This: “Ye were dead through trespasses and sins.” Where is that testimony found? It is found in Ephesians 2:1, 5, and found in a connection, by the way, which makes it plain beyond a shadow, of a doubt what Scripture means by “dead in trespasses and sins.” For “death” in this passage is the very opposite of “quickened, made alive.” In Ephesians 2:1 we read: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins:” And again, in Ephesians 2:5 we read: “God (vs. 4), even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).” Now place, if you will, the Arminian doctrine over against this direct testimony of Holy Writ: “The unregenerate man (the man who is not yet ‘quickened’) is not really nor utterly dead in sin.” No more direct contradiction of the testimony of Holy Writ could be imagined. And we cannot refrain from remarking in this connection, as we have before, that it is also quite obvious which the Reformed or the Arminian, is the simple and lucid doctrine. How Arminians love to charge that the Reformed doctrine is involved and beyond the understanding of the ordinary child of God! But how totally beyond the comprehension of any mother’s son is the doctrine that the unregenerate man is dead in sin, but is not really nor utterly dead in sin! Let the Arminian try to explain this conundrum in the light of Holy Scripture’s language. To the simple question whether the natural man is dead in sin the Reformed man gives a simple and unequivocal, “Yes, that is the testimony of Scripture.” But to that same simple question all Arminians and their ilk must needs answer: “Yes, but . . . .” And this, by the way, regardless now of the Arminian conception of the gospel that is taught by the First Point of 1924, is also one of the most serious objections to the teaching of the Second and Third Points. It vitiates the Reformed doctrine of total depravity. It makes if impossible to give an unqualified and unequivocal yes to the question whether the unregenerate is dead in sin. The tendency of the Second and Third Points is Pelagian and Arminian. They too say that the unregenerate man is not really nor utterly dead in sin, though they arrive at this conclusion along another, and probably more devious, path.
To the statement that the unregenerate man is not destitute of all powers unto spiritual good, the fathers also have a direct Scriptural answer. It is the answer of Genesis 6:5: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” It is the answer of Genesis 8:21: “. . . . . for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth . . . .” Again, the truth is very simple. How is it possible in the light of such a Scriptural declaration to maintain that the unregenerate man is not destitute of all powers unto spiritual good?
And finally,—because this matter is indeed important with respect to the very preaching of the gospel,—the fathers point out the positive truth, namely, that to hunger and thirst after deliverance from misery, and after life, and to offer unto God the sacrifice of a broken spirit, is peculiar to the regenerate. This is plain, first of all, from Psalm 51:19, taken in connection with verse 10 of the same psalm. For there the psalmist confesses that it is only when the Lord creates in him a clean heart, and renews in him a right spirit, that he can offer the pleasing sacrifice of a broken spirit: “Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.” And this is proved, in the second place, from Matthew 5:6. For there the Lord calls these that hunger and thirst after righteousness blessed, that is, saved. For when a man hungers and thirsts after righteousness, he is blessed already. It is only the saved already, that is, the regenerated, who are able to hunger and thirst after righteousness. That is the blessed gospel. Do you hunger and thirst after righteousness? O, to be sure, then the promise is that you shall be satisfied,—in the future. But don’t you understand? Then the truth is that God has already wrought in you the new life! You are blessed! By grace only! Sovereign grace!