What Saith the Scripture?
Moral Depravity- No. 1
by Charles Grandison Finney
President of Oberlin College
Oberlin Evangelist" Publication of Oberlin College
March 12, 1862
Public Domain Text
Reformatted by Katie Stewart
"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject
to the law of God, neither indeed can it be."
The first inquiry is--
I. What is moral depravity?
II. The attributes or qualities of moral depravity.
III. What is the "carnal mind"?
IV. The "carnal mind" is a state of enmity against God.
V. The carnal mind is a state of mortal enmity against God.
VI. The carnal mind is a state of supreme opposition to God.
I. What is moral depravity?
- 1. The words "moral depravity" means, literally, crooked manners, from
mos, manners, and pravus, crooked. The de is intensive. Hence, moral depravity means
manners wholly crooked.
- 2. By manners is intended not merely the outward life, for the outward life has
not in itself any morality or immorality. All that is strictly or properly moral,
all that has moral character, belongs to the mind. Moral manners, therefore, are
the manners of the inner will, the moral agent, the mind itself. The outward or bodily
manners are only expressions of the inward or real manners of the subject.
- 3. When we speak of manners as crooked, we of necessity refer to something strait
with which the manners are compared. A thing may have a natural crookedness, or a
physical crookedness, or a moral crookedness. Moral crookedness is a deviation from
the strait rule of action prescribed by the moral law. It is crooked when compared
with the moral straitness of the law of God.
Again, moral depravity lies entirely back of individual actions and volitions,
and is the source from which these actions and volitions spring.
II. It behoves us to enquire into the attributes or qualities of moral depravity.
- 1. As already intimated, unlawfulness is a quality or attribute of moral depravity.
This depravity must be a thing prohibited by the moral law. If it were not, it would
not be morally crooked. Whatever has moral character, must be either in accordance
with moral law or in violation of it.
- 2. Another attribute of moral depravity is sinfulness. Dr. Woods defines moral
depravity as being "sinfulness." By this is meant that this state of mind
called moral depravity, which is contrary to God's law, is sinful. This is the term
by which we express its moral turpitude.
- 3. Another attribute of moral depravity, is blame-worthiness. It is not only
contrary to God's law and sinful; but it is worthy of blame and of punishment, and
justly brings the subject of it under the penalty of moral law.
- 4. Moral depravity is a violation of moral obligation. It is a state of mind
the opposite of that which we are bound to be in. We ought not to be morally depraved.
If it were not a violation of moral obligation, it would be neither unlawful or blame-worthy.
- 5. It is a state of mind that ought to be instantly abandoned. Of course, if
it is sinful, if it is blame-worthy, if it is a violation of moral obligation, it
ought to be instantly renounced.
- 6. Moral depravity is a state that can be instantly abandoned. It ought to be,
and therefore it can be. To say that it ought to be abandoned, that we are under
moral obligation to abandon it instantly, and yet to deny the possibility of abandoning
it instantly, involves a gross contradiction.
- 7. I have said that moral depravity must be a state of mind. It cannot be a state
of body. Depravity of body is physical depravity, not moral. It is simply disease.
- 8. You will observe that moral depravity consists in moral manners, that is,
in mental action, and is no part or quality of soul or body. Whatever belongs to
the essence or substance of either soul or body, must of necessity be in its nature
physical; and if depraved, therefore, its depravity must be physical and not moral.
It is plain that whatever is strictly constitutional in the sense of being an attribute,
quality or part of soul or body, cannot have the distinctive characteristics of moral
depravity. For example, it cannot be unlawful or contrary to the law of God, for
the law legislates over man's mental activities, and not over the essential qualities
of either body or mind.
Again, that which is a part or attribute of either soul or body, cannot be a violation
of moral obligation. Nor can any attribute of body or mind be a violation of conscience.
It cannot be a violation of duty; it cannot be instantly abandoned; it cannot be
- 9. Again, moral depravity cannot consist in things created or transmitted, such
as the appetites, passions, propensities. These have none of the attributes of moral
depravity. They are not contrary to moral law. It is only their unreasonable indulgence
that is contrary to moral law, and not the appetites or propensities themselves.
They are not blame-worthy. They cannot be immediately abandoned so as to exist no
longer. Their existence is no violation of moral obligation. Consequently, the existence
in the constitution of these appetites and propensities is not moral depravity, is
not bad manners.
- 10. Moral depravity should not be confounded with temptation, or excited feelings
or propensities. I have just said that the existence of these sensibilities in the
soul is not in itself sinful. Nor is an excited state of the propensities necessarily
in itself sinful. If they are indulged unreasonably, this is sin; but no merely excited
state of feeling, that does not secure the consent of the will, can be a violation
of moral obligation.
- 11. From its very attributes, moral depravity must certainly be a voluntary state
of mind. For whatever is involuntary, has none of the attributes of moral depravity.
- 12. Moral depravity is the state of mind called in the Scriptures--the wicked
heart. It is that in us to which moral character belongs. I speak of it as a state
of mind, to distinguish it from mere volitions, or mere executive acts of mind. It
is that state of mind from which wicked words, and acts naturally proceed. Words
and acts are means to an end. They proceed from a choice of an end, and have moral
character only as they partake of the moral qualities of the choice that gives them
Moral depravity must consist in a settled ultimate choice, the choice of an end.
It must consist in the voluntary devotion of the mind to self--self-interest and
self-gratification. Human activity is rational and responsible. Men are moral agents--that
is, they act under the responsibilities of moral obligation, are subjects of moral
law and of moral government. Moral law requires of all moral agents sincere, perfect,
universal devotion to God and to the interests of his kingdom. In other words, it
requires perfect, universal, perpetual, unselfish benevolence.
Moral depravity is the opposite of what this law requires; or, more strictly, it
is want of conformity to this law. It is primarily a withholding--a refusal to be
devoted to God and to the interests of his kingdom. It sets up self above God. It
deliberately prefers self-interests and self-will to God's interest and God's will.
It practically makes self of supreme importance. In one word, it is selfishness.
It is the mind's committed to self as the great supreme good of life.
Moral depravity is a standing choice as distinct from a volition. It is a choice
of the supreme end to which the mind shall devote itself. It is the choice of an
ultimate end, that is, self-gratification is chosen for its own sake. We know from
consciousness, that when the mind is made up and has decided upon the end to be secured,
its whole activities will be directed to the accomplishment of that end. Volition,
as distinguished from the choice of an end is the minds' effort to secure the end.
When we speak of individual sins, we speak of volition and consequent action. When
we speak of moral depravity as distinct from individual sinful acts, we mean that
abiding and wrong, selfish choice from which these volitions proceed. Please observe
the distinction I make between sinful acts and moral depravity. Moral depravity is
originally a choice and therefore a mental act. It is the choice of an end, and therefore
an abiding, standing choice. Volitions are individual efforts to secure the end chosen.
Sinful acts are found in the life. Moral depravity lies back of the outward life,
and back of volition, in a standing preference of self-interest over God's interests
and all other interests.
III. What is the "carnal mind"?
- 1. It is not the substance of either soul or body. It has been common to speak
of the "carnal mind" as being identical with the mind itself. I recollect
that Dr. Griffin, in his Park Street Lectures, confounds the "carnal mind with
the substance of the soul; and hence, since the Bible affirms the carnal mind to
be enmity against God, he insists that the more clearly God is revealed to the mind,
the more it will hate him; and also that there is nothing in the Gospel at all adapted
to win the mind, but that the character of God as there presented, is adapted only
to repel the soul. He maintains this on the ground that the soul of the sinner is,
in its very substance, enmity against God. But this must be a great mistake.
- 2. The carnal mind must be a voluntary state. If you have Bibles with marginal
references and readings, you will observe that in the margin it is written, "the
minding of the flesh." The carnal mind is the fleshly mind, or the mind in a
state of committal to the indulgence of the appetites, passions and propensities.
- 3. It is that state of mind into which Adam fell. It appears that, for a time,
Adam preferred the will of God to his own, the pleasure of God to his own, and the
interests of God to his own. But a temptation of peculiar nature was presented to
him through Eve. The wily serpent addressed Eve--"Yea, hath God said, Ye shall
not eat of every tree of the garden?" She answered--"We may eat of the
fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst
of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it,
lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God
doth know, that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened; and ye
shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was
good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to
make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and gave also unto her
husband with her, and he did eat."
Here two constitutional propensities, innocent in themselves, were strongly excited
by this appeal of the tempter. The desire of knowledge is constitutional; the appetite
for food is constitutional. These appetites are not wrong in themselves, nor is it
morally wrong that they should be in an excited state. But the question as put by
the tempter, amounted to a proposal to Eve and to Adam to gratify their appetites,
although it involved disobedience to God. This question was really fundamental to
their moral character. They could not yield to this temptation without preferring
their own self-gratification to the will of God, and their own pleasure to God's
pleasure. To yield to this temptation would be to revolt from the government of God.
It would break off their allegiance to him. In the very act they must decide to seek
their own pleasure in their own way as their supreme good. This would really be a
change of the supreme ultimate end of life. Instead of loving God supremely, they
now love themselves supremely. They reject God's authority, God's rights, God's happiness
and his glory, as all subordinate to their own gratification. You will observe that
the temptation was not merely to put forth a single volition to secure some good,
without any reference to the ultimate end in view. It was nothing else than a proposal
from the tempter to set aside God as the great end for which they should live, and
set up self-gratification as the supreme object of life. Yielding to this temptation,
plunged them into a state of choice--a settled state of voluntary preference of self-interest
above all other interests, and of self-gratification above all other good.
A voluntary state as distinguished from a voluntary act, is a matter familiar to
us all. We all know what is meant by choosing a partner for life, and abiding in
that choice; and we know that when that choice is settled and abiding, the volitions
and the outward life flow from it. The choice, abiding, gives direction to all the
Just so of this choice made by Adam. It became a fixed state of mind. He lapsed into
a state of supreme selfishness, which is nothing else than a strong committal of
the will, and consequently of the whole being, to self-gratification.
- 4. This carnal mind, or state of minding the flesh, reveals itself in fulfilling
the desires of the flesh and of the mind. As is said in Ephesians 2:1-3, "And
you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past
ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power
of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience; among whom
also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling
the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath,
even as others."
The mind being settled in its great ultimate aim and end, the supreme choice being
to gratify the deepest desires and propensities, it will of course reveal itself
in all the myriad ways of self-indulgence in which unconverted sinners actually live.
- 5. The carnal mind has all the attributes of moral depravity. It is directly
contrary to moral law; it is utterly sinful; it deserves punishment; it ought to
be instantly abandoned; it can be instantly abandoned; to abandon it would be a change
IV. The "carnal mind" is a state of enmity against God. I say a state,
that is, an abiding choice.
It is enmity against God,
- 1. Because it is the exact opposite of what his law requires. His law requires
us to love Him supremely and to make his glory, pleasure, will and interests, the
supreme object of our lives. But this minding of the flesh is making self-indulgence
the supreme object of our lives. This is not only a refusal to obey his law, but
a state of mind the direct opposite of it.
- 2. This minding of the flesh is directly opposite to the whole character of God.
- 3. It is a state of voluntary alienation from God, and of intense committal against
him. It is the wicked heart. It is so treated in the Bible itself. It is spoken of
in the chapter of our text as being "in the flesh," and a state of mind
in which it is impossible to please God. Furthermore, in this same chapter it is
affirmed to be a state of death in sin. "To be carnally minded is death."
Also in Ephesians 2:1-3, this carnal mind is represented as a state of spiritual
death, of bondage to the flesh, of enmity against God.
- 4. I observe again that this carnal mind is a state of total moral depravity.
As is said in verse 8: "So then they that are in the flesh cannot see God."
- 5. This carnal mind reveals itself in the neglect of God. This is the reason
why sinners neglect worship, prayer, and communion with God, and why they do not
love to think of him or speak of him.
- 6. The carnal mind reveals itself also in contempt for God's authority. The Psalmist
enquires --"Wherefore do the wicked contemn God?" I answer, Just because
they are wicked. And their wickedness consists in this carnal-mindedness.
But, perhaps you will say--I do not contemn the authority of God.
But how much do you care for this authority? Do you, in fact, treat it as if it were
of the slightest importance? You will set aside the authority of God for the most
trifling indulgence. See that young man smoking that cigar. Do you think, young man,
that that is right? Do you think God wants you to smoke that cigar? Do you believe
he is pleased with it? You know he is not; and yet you care less for God's authority
than you do for smoking that cigar. Every day you live, you gratify yourself in ways
which you know to be unlawful, without the slightest regard to God's authority. What
do you mean, then, by saying that you do not contemn the authority of God? Is there
anything in the world that you treat as of less importance than the authority of
God? Your daily conduct is equivalent to saying, "What do I care for the authority
of God? Who is God that I should obey him, or what profit should I have if I should
pray unto him?"
- 7. The carnal mind reveals itself in opposition to God's people and cause. Who
does not know that unconverted sinners are always picking at God's people, and in
a multitude of ways manifesting opposition to them, magnifying their faults and publishing
them as widely as possible, ridiculing their piety, accusing them of hypocrisy, and
in every way manifesting opposition to them. Now this is not because they have received
any injury from God's people nor is it really because God's people are worse than
other people; but it is because of their own enmity to God, that they oppose him
in his people.
- 8. This carnal mind also reveals itself in a want of confidence in God. Sinners
very well know that they have every reason to confide in him, but yet they do not.
They have not the slightest confidence in all his professions of love for them, nor
are they at all inclined to trust him.
- 9. This carnal mind reveals itself in a total want of sympathy with God. In every
way, this state of mind shows itself the opposite of God's state of mind. His revealed
will and way are an abomination to them, and their will and way are an abomination
to him. As He says--"They loathe me, and I abhor them."
- 10. The carnal mind reveals itself in a whole life of rebellion against God.
That unconverted men are in a state of rebellion against the authority of God, is
one of the plainest facts that lie on the face of society.
of easily misunderstood terms as defined by Mr. Finney himself.
Compiled by Katie Stewart
- Complacency, or Esteem: "Complacency, as a state of will or heart,
is only benevolence modified by the consideration or relation of right character
in the object of it. God, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints, in all ages, are
as virtuous in their self-denying and untiring labours to save the wicked, as they
are in their complacent love to the saints." Systematic Theology (LECTURE
VII). Also, "approbation of the character of its object. Complacency is
due only to the good and holy." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE
- Disinterested Benevolence: "By disinterested benevolence I do not
mean, that a person who is disinterested feels no interest in his object of pursuit,
but that he seeks the happiness of others for its own sake, and not for the sake
of its reaction on himself, in promoting his own happiness. He chooses to do good
because he rejoices in the happiness of others, and desires their happiness for its
own sake. God is purely and disinterestedly benevolent. He does not make His creatures
happy for the sake of thereby promoting His own happiness, but because He loves their
happiness and chooses it for its own sake. Not that He does not feel happy in promoting
the happiness of His creatures, but that He does not do it for the sake of His own
gratification." Lectures to Professing Christians (LECTURE I).
- Divine Sovereignty: "The sovereignty of God consists in the independence
of his will, in consulting his own intelligence and discretion, in the selection
of his end, and the means of accomplishing it. In other words, the sovereignty of
God is nothing else than infinite benevolence directed by infinite knowledge."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXVI).
- Election: "That all of Adam's race, who are or ever will be saved,
were from eternity chosen by God to eternal salvation, through the sanctification
of their hearts by faith in Christ. In other words, they are chosen to salvation
by means of sanctification. Their salvation is the end- their sanctification is a
means. Both the end and the means are elected, appointed, chosen; the means as really
as the end, and for the sake of the end." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LXXIV).
- Entire Sanctification: "Sanctification may be entire in two senses:
(1.) In the sense of present, full obedience, or entire consecration to God; and,
(2.) In the sense of continued, abiding consecration or obedience to God. Entire
sanctification, when the terms are used in this sense, consists in being established,
confirmed, preserved, continued in a state of sanctification or of entire consecration
to God." Systematic Theology (LECTURE LVIII).
- Moral Agency: "Moral agency is universally a condition of moral obligation.
The attributes of moral agency are intellect, sensibility, and free will." Systematic
Theology (LECTURE III).
- Moral Depravity: "Moral depravity is the depravity of free-will,
not of the faculty itself, but of its free action. It consists in a violation of
moral law. Depravity of the will, as a faculty, is, or would be, physical, and not
moral depravity. It would be depravity of substance, and not of free, responsible
choice. Moral depravity is depravity of choice. It is a choice at variance with moral
law, moral right. It is synonymous with sin or sinfulness. It is moral depravity,
because it consists in a violation of moral law, and because it has moral character."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).
- Human Reason: "the intuitive faculty or function of the intellect...
it is the faculty that intuits moral relations and affirms moral obligation to act
in conformity with perceived moral relations." Systematic Theology (LECTURE
- Retributive Justice: "Retributive justice consists in treating every
subject of government according to his character. It respects the intrinsic merit
or demerit of each individual, and deals with him accordingly." Systematic
Theology (LECTURE XXXIV).
- Total Depravity: "Moral depravity of the unregenerate is without
any mixture of moral goodness or virtue, that while they remain unregenerate, they
never in any instance, nor in any degree, exercise true love to God and to man."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE XXXVIII).
- Unbelief: "the soul's withholding confidence from truth and the God
of truth. The heart's rejection of evidence, and refusal to be influenced by it.
The will in the attitude of opposition to truth perceived, or evidence presented."
Systematic Theology (LECTURE LV).
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