An old preacher one day--who had fought through many a battle for the souls of men--sat down and wrote to a young preacher in these words, "Never represent faith as being an act so SIMPLE that the work of the Spirit is not needed to produce it." Yet this is what is being done all over Christendom today. The majority of evangelists for the past hundred years have manifested a zeal for God which is not according to knowledge (Rom. 10:2), and they have manifested a far greater concern to see souls saved than to preach the truth of God's Word in its purity and power. Man in his effort today to show the simplicity of the way of salvation and thus make it easy for a sinner to be saved has lost sight of the difficulties of salvation, according to Luke 18:24,
"How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!"
and according to I Pet. 4:18,
"And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?"
Out of this preaching of the simplicity of the way of salvation, there has grown up today in our midst the doctrine of "BELIEVINGISM," which ignores Holy Spirit conviction and sets aside Bible repentance, and leaves the poor sinner resting upon a faith of his own that has no foundation. From the doctrine of "believingism" there has been produced in the last few years the offspring or stepchild of "DECISIONISM." Let me repeat that, out of the doctrine of "Believingism" has grown the stepchild of "Decisionism," a practice which is even more shallow and more deadly in its effect upon poor unawakened sinners. This practice is widespread in the realm of so-called "mass evangelism" today, and it is not even worthy to be called religion, especially salvation,because it savors only of the flesh and has Satan as its originator. They preach Christ in their own name, and many times under the cloak of orthodoxy. Now, my friends, I have made a statement here that is attacking Satan's stronghold today as never before, but I know what I am talking about, and I am speaking with the authority of God's Word.
Now, why do we face such awful hours and spiritual darkness today, and why is the doctrine of "Believingism, " and believingism's stepchild, "Decisionism," so widespread today? This has all grown out of one fact -- man's blindness as to WHO he is by nature, WHAT he is by nature, and the JUDGMENT he is under. In other words, man is failing to know and understand THE DOCTRINE OF TOTAL DEPRAVITY -- which is laughed at, made fun of, and denied in practically all religious circles of today -- is the underlying cause of the shallowness and mistaken conception of God's way of salvation. Let me say again, any individual who misunderstands, who does not know, or fails to see the Total Depravity of Man, goes wrong on all other doctrines of God's Word, especially the DOCTRINE of SALVATION.
You ask, "How is that true?" For instance, here is an individual who teaches that you have to be baptized to be saved. That's not according to God's Word; it won't stand up. This erroneous concept of salvation grows out of the fact that the individual does not accept the Doctrine of Total Depravity (no individual who teaches baptismal regeneration will accept the Doctrine of Total Depravity), and the reason he does not accept it is because he has never been convicted by the Holy Spirit and come to see himself totally depraved. Therefore, he cannot see the Scriptures in the Bible that teach Total Depravity just like the man who does not believe in Bible repentance cannot see the Scriptures that teach repentance.
The individual who has never been awakened by the Holy Spirit to see himself as he is, totally depraved, cannot see and understand the Scriptures in the Bible that teach judgment. He can't -- every time he picks up the Bible he sees only mercy. (But the individual -- get it! -- who is awakened to the fact that he is lost and sees himself under condemnation, when he picks up his Bible, the only Scriptures he sees are the Scriptures teaching judgment, until God shows him mercy.) Apart from Holy Spirit conviction they mean nothing to him. Therefore the greatest need of the present hour is a spiritual awakening that begins in the pulpit and reaches on out through the pew to the world. This applies to every individual. This applies to you, and to you, and to you. Have you ever been awakened? For you to sit in judgment on my preaching doesn't amount to a hill of beans. Every individual who is awakened to the fact that you are lost and brought to see yourself as you are by nature, you know in your heart that I am preaching the truth. For anyone to say that I am not preaching the truth of God's Word and God's way of salvation, manifests the fact that he has never been awakened; he is still blinded and on the road to Hell, and he does not know it. I'll stake my destiny on the fact that I am preaching the truth of God's Word, and every born-again believer knows that I am. God's Word is true, whether you believe it or not!
Our subject today is, "TOTAL DEPRAVITY AND THE NECESSITY OF THE NEW BIRTH." Let's first notice, in general, Man's Total Depravity by Nature. According to Matt. 4:16, we "sat in darkness... and in the region and shadow of death." Then according to Isa. 61: 1, we were "captives, " "bound" and in "prison." According to II Tim. 2:25, 26, we were "taken captive by him (Satan) at his will." If you will read that Scripture closely, you will find it says, "That they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil." That word "recover" means to wake up and see yourselves as captives of Satan. Then we were those "having no hope, and without God in the world," according to Ephesians 2:12. Then, according to Ephesians 2:1 we were "dead in trespasses and sins," which means dead spiritually, having no spiritual life, no inherent grace. According to II Cor.4:3, we were "blinded" by "the god of this world" -- could not see -- Then, according to Eph. 4:18, we had our "understanding darkened" and were "past feeling." And according to Rom. 1:21, our "foolish heart was darkened." My friend, is this not a dreadful picture of man in his natural state without God and without hope? That was L. R. Shelton. That's you if you are not saved.
But, let's go further in our picture of man's natural state according to God's Word. Isa. 1: 5, 6 says, "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint . . . There is no soundness...but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores." What a picture! Then Isa.64:6 says, "For we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy (menstruous) rags." How can you ignore these Scriptures? May God open your eyes to see yourself as you are by nature. If you never do, you will never come to know Christ as your Lord and Saviour, as the One who died in your place -- Let's read again Gen. 6:5, "Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." According to Rom. 3:10-12, "There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one." Listen again to God's Word describing the natural man: "Knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev 3:17). "Wretched" -- a contemptible outcast; "miserable" -- worthless, unprofitable, not fit for use; "poor" -- penniless, a pauper, no capital of stock whatsoever; "blind" -- can't see, knows not the way; "naked" -- no covering for your soul, no righteousness that God will accept! Sinner, can't you see yourself before God -- and yet it was for such a creature that Christ died! Thousands of you do not see that, and you say, "What in the world is that preacher talking about?"
I'm talking about your condition in your natural state, and you don't see it because of your blindness! Again Christ said, "Go out quickly into the streets and lanes. . and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind" (Luke 14:21). Now, that is God's description of man by nature I don't care whether he is in the pulpit, the pew, or the world. I don't care whether he is the king or the peasant, the learned or the ignorant, the rich or the poor. Listen, millionaire -- that's your spiritual pedigree by nature! Listen, professor -- that's your spiritual pedigree by nature! Drunkard, that's your spiritual pedigree by nature. Man by nature will do his best to seek some way out by formulating a religion of his own. He will try to build his tower of Babel to get back to God -- But you can't get to Him, my friend, except you come by the way of the cross. For a sinner to come by the way of the cross means first the revelation of himself; and when a sinner once sees himself as he is by nature, as set forth here in God's Word, he realizes that nothing but the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary's cross can cleanse him from sin. Then he comes as a poor, lost, helpless, condemned sinner begging for mercy at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ -- with one plea, and one plea only, that Christ died for a sinner such as he is. (When You come there, my friend, you find that salvation isn't just walking down the aisle and giving the preacher your hand. You may walk down the aisle a thousand times making a profession of faith, and yet go to Hell for your trouble, because Christ has n e v e r been revealed to that heart. You have never come to see yourself as you are by nature, who you are by nature, and the judgment you are under (John 16:7-11). Sinner, may the Spirit of God awaken you to the awful ruin of your poor soul and show you that you are on the road to Hell!) And after God forgives him, pardons him, and saves him, his only basis of hope and assurance is the shed blood of Christ. He never gets away from it, and he finds that Christ is his salvation -- Christ plus nothing, minus nothing.
Now let's look at another array of Scriptures, showing us MAN BY NATURE.
Listen! According to John 3:19, he is destitute of the love of God, "Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. " But someone would rise up and say, "Didn't Christ say in Matt. 18:3, 'Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven'"? That's so, but what is the natural state of a child? Listen to God's Word,
"Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psa. 51:5). Listen again, "They go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies" (Psa. 58:3). Get it now -- every child by nature is totally depraved! They may be taught to sing religious songs, taught to memorize the Scriptures, etc., but these will mean nothing to them unless the Holy Spirit opens their blinded eyes, unstops their deaf ears, and opens their darkened understanding. A child may be christened into the church and given all the rites of the church, but when that child comes to the age of accountability, if it is never awakened by the Holy Spirit, it will go to Hell without warning. Now don't misunderstand me -- I didn't say that we ought not to teach the child, because the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, saying, "From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation. " Unawakened, no sinner would come to Christ for salvation, according to John 5:40, "And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life." Man is lost and does not know it. Man is lost and will not repent of himself. Man has definitely willed not to come to Christ, The depraved man, unrenewed by the Holy Spirit, will always choose sin. As we have often said, Man does not have a free will: his will is a slave to his corrupt, depraved nature.
Man's heart is deceived and is incurably wicked, according to Jer. 17:9. Man by nature is asleep in the lap of Satan, according to I John 5:19. Christ describes such an one in these words, whether you are a preacher in the pulpit, or a deacon in the pew. Listen, unsaved professor, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matt.23:27,28).
The Apostle Paul said in Rom. 7:18, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing." What a dark picture we see here as God paints in His Word the portrait of man in man's natural state! That's awful isn't it?
Now let's go a step further in GOD'S PICTURE OF MAN'S TOTAL DEPRAVITY in his natural state, as He gives illustrations which set forth man's depraved nature.
In Matt. 3:7 He says, "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" Here He calls man in his natural state a "generation of vipers," an offspring of Satan. In Rom. 3:13 He says, "With their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips." Man by nature is venomous, deceitful, poisonous, cunning -- just the opposite of the nature of God. Then in John 8:44 He describes man thus, "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it."
Man, as a son of Satan by nature, is a murderer, following after lust; he is a liar. Then, man is described in II Thess. 2:10-12 in these words, "And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
Now let's took at another picture that God gives us in Rom. 3:12, "They are together become unprofitable." The word "unprofitable" means not fit for use, not salable. It gives us a picture of a barrel of rotten apples, or a boatload of spoiled shrimp, or a basket of rotten tomatoes. Now that's man by nature, and the only thing God can do is to cast him away from Him or make a new creature out of him. Then in II Pet. 2:22 God shows us how man's old corrupt, vile nature expresses itself in this picture, "But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire..."
Here God gives us a picture of man's totally depraved, corrupt nature without Christ. This goes for every unsaved religious professor, I don't care how highly religious you are, if you don't know the Lord Jesus Christ. Man's nature will believe Satan's lie and turn God's truth down. From such a heart continues to flow wickedness and sin, according to Prov. 15:8, "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD." The fountain of man's being was and is polluted, and continually sends forth nothing but bitter waters. This is because man's heart is incurably wicked and deceitful above all things; everything that man does is evil in the sight of God. Matt. 7:18 says, "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit", and in Tit. 1:16 God says, "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate..." Listen to God's Word! Then the works of man out of Christ are "works of darkness" (Eph. 5:11), "wicked works" (Col. 1:21), and "dead works" (Heb. 6:1). Therefore, man out of Christ in his natural state is totally depraved, lost -- world without end, on the road to Hell, and can't save himself.
We could go on giving you picture after picture, drawn from God's Word, of man in his natural state, but this much will suffice. When you see man in his natural state, dead, blinded, corrupt, vile, wicked, wretched, miserable, halt, naked, going forth as a viper, destitute of the love of God, hating what God loves, loving what God hates, enmity against God, not subject to the Law of God, and indeed cannot be - you throw up your hands in a hopeless state and cry out, "Who then can be saved?" Listen, my friend; let me tell you something: If I could run away, I'd run to get away from the situation, if I did not know and believe that the power of God can save a sinner! Then for an evangelist, pastor, Bible teacher, or personal worker to walk up to such an individual and lead that individual on a profession of faith in Christ, telling him to trust Jesus the best he knows how, or get him to make a decision for Christ, and call that salvation, is nothing short of murder, and blasphemy. He makes that person twofold more the child of Hell than he was before! (Matt. 23:15). We see here how man reverses the order of God's truths, when Christ has plainly and emphatically stated, "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (John 6:44). How can a blind sinner come to Christ? How can a dead sinner believe Christ?
How can a sinner who hates God love the Christ he does not know? The Holy Spirit must awaken that sinner, quicken him, raise him from the dead, bring him to Christ, and reveal Christ to his heart before that sinner can know Him and love Him. Coming to Christ is an inward and spiritual act, not an outward and natural one -- "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Cor. 2: 14). No sinner can so much as see Christ until he is born again, according to John 3:3, "Except a man be born again, he cannot SEE the kingdom of God." Do you see how helpless we are, my friend, to do one thing! It is by the foolishness of preaching that God has ordained to save them that believe (I Cor. 1:21). "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom. 10: 14).
My friend, THERE IS NO MIDDLE GROUND between life and death. There is no intermediate stage between conversion and non-conversion. The bestowal of eternal life is instantaneous. We are created in Christ Jesus, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. Just to say that you believe the promise of God, or believe His Word, and call that regeneration or the new birth, is to expose your ignorance beyond words of expression. Such is not the new birth. Saving grace is something more than an objective fact presented to me; saving grace is a subjective operation wrought within me. It was not by natural discernment that I discovered my need of Christ: it was by the revelation of the Holy Spirit. So, it was not by my natural strength and will that I came to Christ but by the power of God's Holy Spirit.
Believing in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation is a supernatural act, the product of supernatural power. Oh, I'll grant you that by means of words or phrases and by quoting Scriptures and by propositions you may teach spiritual truth to another, but you have no power to illuminate, or open that sinner's mind to his real lost, undone condition, and by no human power are you able to reveal Christ to that individual's heart as his Lord and Saviour. You may tell a man that God is holy, but only the Holy Spirit can impart to that man a consciousness that God is holy. You may tell a sinner that he is lost, but, my friend, only the Holy Spirit can reveal to him his utterly lost condition, and convince him of it. I may tell you that sin is infinitely heinous, wicked, vile, and damning, but I cannot beget in you a feeling, or a heart realization, that such is so. I tell you there is a Hell, and there is, but only the Spirit of the Living God can reveal to your heart the reality of Hell, and that you are going there because you are a sinner and under the condemnation of God. I may tell you that you are a son of Satan and have a nature like your father the devil, and you'll get mad with me and say that I don't know what I'm talking about, but just let the Holy Spirit speak to your heart, enlighten your understanding, open your blinded eyes and let you see and realize that you are a son of Satan, a child of Hell, under the wrath of God like Satan is, condemned to die, under the judgment that Satan is, and then you will shut your mouth and become guilty before God! (Rom. 3:19). When that happens, you'll say, "That preacher is preaching the truth; you'd better listen to him. God showed me in my heart that I'm a lost sinner on the road to Hell. " My friend, what we need today is A SPIRITUAL AWAKENING, I'm battling all the forces of Hell this morning with the Word of God. Are you listening?
Yes, a man may know the way of righteousness INTELLECTUALLY, but there is a vast difference in knowing the way of righteousness EXPERIMENTALLY. I am convinced that there are very few today who know the Lord Jesus Christ experimentally. How many can look me in the face and say, "Brother Shelton, I know that I know Christ"? Can you? Some of you may say, "I have come down the same road that you have, Brother Shelton," but when I confront you with the one supreme, eternal question, "Do you know Christ?" you blank out on me. Why? Because He has never been revealed to your heart by the Holy Spirit. If I were in your condition, my man, and God gave me the least realization at all that I had missed Christ, I wouldn't rest until I did know Him. You may know ABOUT Him; you may know a lot of doctrines of the Word -- you may theoretically know a lot of Bible truths, and you may set yourself up as a judge of my messages, but I want to tell you one thing: you can know all of that and still go to Hell because you don't KNOW CHRIST!
Now, you may ask, "Brother Shelton, how is the new birth brought about?" The Holy Spirit takes the Word -- the written Word, the Word of God and opens that sinner's heart and reveals to that sinner his awful condition; He places in that sinner's heart a longing after Christ, and brings that sinner to Christ, reveals Christ to his heart and gives him faith to believe Him, gives him power to rest at the feet of Christ as a poor lost sinner, and, as I said, reveals to that sinner's heart Christ as his Substitute, One who died for him. That awakened sinner comes down at the feet of Christ crying for mercy, and the Holy Spirit delivers him out of his distresses (Psa. 107:13). He opens the sinner's eyes to see a loving gracious God. He sees that the Lord God is merciful, gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. He hears a voice in his innermost soul, "I will . . . be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy" (Ex. 33:19). The sinner is made to rest wholly and completely upon the shed blood of the Son of God as his only hope and foundation for his plea for mercy. Then he sees the light of the glorious love of God in the face of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:5;II Cor. 4:6). He sees all of his sins laid on Christ. He beholds the Lamb of God taking away his sin. Here God turns his heaviness into joy; here God ends the "bondage to fear," because his heart stands fast in the Lord. Here he finds peace with God (Rom 5:1); because the love of God is shed abroad in his heart, and his only praise is, "Thank you, Lord, for dying for such a wretch as I; thank you, Lord, for bringing me to Christ."That sinner never gets over thanking the Lord for dying for him, for being buried and rising for him, until he reaches the pearly gates in Glory Land. And he'll always wonder, 'Why did God choose me? Why did the Holy Spirit call me out? Why did He open my heart? Why did He bring me to Christ?"