Thomas Boston on the corruption of human nature


Our view of human nature in the West swung in the past century from believing that we are essentially corrupt and wicked to believing we are essentially good and evolving, as American journalist and talk show host Barbara Walters puts it:

It would be nice to feel that we are a better world, a world of more compassion and a world of more humanity, and to believe in the basic goodness of man.

It would be nice, but people in the West are experiencing a gnawing weariness at our helplessness.  We have proved that we are unable to evolve to greater levels of goodness and compassion.  We don’t trust ourselves.  People want to believe what Walters wants to believe but the question won’t go away: are we essentially good or essential wicked?

I’m reading Thomas Boston’s work Human Nature in its Fourfold State (Boston was a 17th century Scottish pastor-theologian).  Boston unpacks human nature as God reveals it in his word.  It is refreshingly honest and more complex than the dichotomy of good and evil.

We need to know why we are the way we are we are, because we are then in a position to address the problem.  As Calvin wrote, we can’t know ourselves until we know God and we can’t know God until we know ourselves.  Here’s how Boston confirms the corruption of human nature:

  1. Adam was good but fell from grace and marred the image of God.  So, Adam communicated his new nature to his posterity (Gen 5:3).
  2. As Adam’s nature was no longer good and clean, the bible asks, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean thing?” (Job 14:4)  If our first parents were unclean, how then can we be clean?
  3. King David confessed his wickedness after sleeping with Bathsheba and said “Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  Here he ascends from his actual sin, to the fountain of it, namely, corrupt human nature.
  4. Jesus confirms this understanding of human nature (John 3:6) “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.”  Human corruption is universal as all are flesh.
  5. Man has sunk very low in comparrision to what he once was.  “God made him a little lower than the heavenly angels” (Psalm 8) but now we find him compared to beasts that perish, mindly only of earthly things (Phil 3:19).  He is more stupid than the ant (Prov 6:6-8) and the ox (Isa 1:3) and the stork (Jer 8:7).
  6. Therefore, we are by nature objects of wrath (Eph 2:3).  We are worthy of, and liable to, the wrath of God; and this by nature.

Understanding why we are the way we are puts us in a position to look to God for a solution to our problem.  But as long as the West believes the Disney dream that one day humans will, by their own evolution and ability, be more compassionate and good we will never get there.

Easter, the passion of the Christ, the death and resurrection of Jesus, his taking the wrath of God in our place and his call to learn from him are all the beginning of the solution of the problem.

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