Professor James Moriarty is, of course, the archenemy of detective Sherlock Holmes in the classic tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Moriarty is a criminal mastermind, described by Holmes as the “Napoleon of crime.”  The miscreant makes a stunning entrance in the newest Sherlock Holmes film, A Game of Shadows–it’s quite an unforgettable scene when Moriarty first appears in the restaurant.  I’ve seen the film twice now; it’s definitely worth the price of a ticket, I think.  One of my favorite things about the movie is how it hints at the fallen condition of man.  Consider a few lines from Moriarty:

“You’re not fighting me, Mr. Holmes, you’re fighting the human condition.”

“Hidden in the unconscious is an insatiable desire for conflict.”

In an age when most movies prefer to cosset audiences with the assurance that we are all basically “good,” it is refreshing to see a movie take a more biblical position–intentional or not.  The truth of the matter is:  man is radically corrupt and desperately in need of a Savior (Rom. 3:10-18, 23-24).

A number of great (though less sinister) minds from the past would agree with Moriarty on the human condition.  Consider three:  Augustine, Luther, and Edwards.

One of the most powerful descriptions of the depravity of human nature is found in Augustine’s Confessions.  In this work, Augustine tells the story of stealing pears when he was a child.  He explained, “I stole something which I had in plenty and of much better quality.  My desire was to enjoy not what I sought by stealing but merely the excitement of thieving and the doing of what was wrong.”[1]  Reflecting back on this monumental event in which he realized his utter depravity, Augustine wrote: 

“Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart.  You had pity on me when I was at the bottom of the abyss…  I had no motive for my wickedness except wickedness itself.  It was foul, and I loved it.  I loved the destruction, I loved my fall, not the object for which I had fallen but my fall itself.  My depraved soul leaped down from your firmament to ruin.”[2]

This description of depravity fit Augustine as an adult, as an adolescent, and even as a small child.[3]

With Augustine, Martin Luther argued that all men are radically corrupt.  One of Luther’s most well known works, The Bondage of the Will, is a response to Erasmus in which Luther devotes great attention and effort to establishing the biblical truth of depravity and inability.  The sinner cannot choose to have a relationship with God (inability) because he is a sinner by nature (depravity).  His will is bound because his nature is depraved.  Luther articulated this truth beautifully.  Commenting on Rom. 1, Luther explained:

“Paul in this passage lumps all men together in a single mass, and concludes that so far from being able to will or do anything good, they are all ungodly, wicked, and ignorant of righteousness and faith… This means that in themselves they are ignorant, and being ignorant of the righteousness of salvation, they are certainly under wrath and damnation, from which in their ignorance they can neither extricate themselves nor even try to.”[4]

Finally, perhaps the clearest and most thorough explanation of total depravity that has ever been written is found in Jonathan Edward’s The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended.  Whereas Augustine wrote a sort-of spiritual autobiography and Luther wrote specifically in response to Erasmus, Edwards wrote “not merely as an answer to any particular book written against the doctrine of original sin, but as a general defense of that great important doctrine.”[5]  In this work, Edwards explains that original sin is defined as “the innate sinful depravity of the heart.”[6]  Furthermore, he builds a compelling case for the importance of this doctrine.  Edwards remarked:   

“I look on the doctrine as of great importance; which everybody will doubtless own it is, if it be true.  For, if the case be such indeed, that all mankind are by nature in a state of total ruin, both with respect to the moral evil they are subjects of, and the afflictive evil they are exposed to, the one as the consequence and punishment of the other, then doubtless the great salvation by Christ stands in direct relation to this ruin, as the remedy to the disease; and the whole gospel or doctrine of salvation, must suppose it; and all real belief, or true notion of the gospel, must be built upon it.”[7]


[1] Augustine, Confessions, 29.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Earlier in his Confessions, Augustine explained that “the feebleness of infant limbs is innocent, not the infant’s mind” (9).

[4] Timothy F. Lull, ed., Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2005) 170.

[5] John Smith, Harry Stout, and Kenneth Minkema, eds., A Jonathan Edwards Reader (Yale University Press, 2003) 223.

[6] Ibid., 224.

[7] Ibid.

2 Comments

  1. Amen, D. So glad I’m getting your blog now! Did you hear Piper at Passion2012? He brought too about how we can’t save ourselves. I’ll be praying for yall and the upcoming move. Love yall! Nancy

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