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, County Wexford, Ireland

Miles McKee Ministries

Chapter 1: A Wretch like Me

Amazing Grace, the classic hymn by John Newton, is probably the most sung yet most disbelieved song in the Church.  Here are some of its words;

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.

And Grace, my fears relieved.

How precious did that Grace Appear?

The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already come;

'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far

And Grace will lead me home.

This magnificent hymn tells us, first of all, that we are wretches! Then it tells us we were lost and had to be found and then tells us we were blind and couldn’t see.” Blind, Lost, Wretches! Yes, we can sing heartily about it, but how many of us really believe this?

Michel de Montaigne, the essayist (1533-1592) said, “There is no man so good, who, were he to submit all his thoughts and actions to the laws, would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.”  He was right: but he understated the wretch nature of man.  We are far worse than that. But was Newton really correct?  Are we, by nature, blind, lost wretches? What does the Bible say on this matter?  Does the Bible really teach these things? Or does it tell us that, "There is some bad in the best of us, and some good in the worst of us."

Many people find this idea about our wretch nature quite repellent. Because of this, many pastors refuse to teach on this subject choosing rather to offer pleasing little stories about how we are getting better and better all the time.  God forbid that we should upset people! Ministers of the gospel, however, have not been sent here entertain the sheep, but to declare the full counsel of God, not merely those parts of it which may meet with popular approval and acceptance.

But let’s be fair: perhaps this maxim, “There is some bad in the best of us, and some good in the worst of us" may sometimes apply outside of the spiritual realm.  For example, you may be quite a nice person when compared to your neighbour. But what does that matter when it comes to getting into right standing with God? According to the scriptures, salvation is a matter of pure grace (Ephesians 2:8).  We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Anyone who embraces this must immediately see that there is nothing in man that can save him or recommend him to God. Thus we have the foundation for the doctrine of the wretch nature of man. Grace theologians call it the Total Depravity or Total Inability of Man.

When Newton implied that we are all wretches by nature, he did not mean that all people are as bad as they can be; most people aren’t! We feel strong restraints placed on us by civil government and, therefore, do not sin with reckless abandonment. By way of illustration, if we had no rules of the road, the wretch nature would make its appearance among motorists more often than it does. Human nature needs only an opportunity to declare itself for what it is.

Also, by the wretch nature, we do not mean that all men are equally wicked; some, it would seem, are less sinful than others. When we say men are wretches, we do not mean that they are impoverished when it comes to being useful and upright in society; we do not mean that their actions are always wrong; we do not mean that men are incapable of kindness or love or loyalty.

What we mean by the wretch nature is that there is an entire spiritual destitution in the human heart.  By nature, we are dead towards God. To change this state of the mind, and produce a heart that loves God, is the work of the omnipotent and eternal Spirit. To love God and desire Him is not natural to the human condition.  In fact it is just the opposite!  For a sinful man to come to the place where he calls out for mercy requires a supernatural act of God’s grace.

Most Christian churches agree that man is depraved to some extent. But just how depraved is he? Is he really a wretch, or only partially depraved? Was human nature merely injured by the Fall, as Roman Catholic theologians would say, or was it completely ruined, as the Reformers would say?

There are three contrasting views concerning the wretch nature that Newton about:

1. The first position questions the reality of original sin.  English monk, Pelagius (AD 354-418), was the great champion of this position. He taught that man was totally free to choose God and thus could choose by his free will, unaided by God, to go to heaven. He’d never sung Amazing Grace but if he had heard it, he wouldn’t have added it to his repertoire. According to him, each individual starts with a clean sheet and becomes sinful by free choice.

2. The second theory is the Arminian position. In the 16th century, Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius arrived on scene. He taught that human nature had been severely corrupted but not so severely that the grace of God could not co-operate with the innate spark of human goodness left over from the Fall.  He could have sung the Hymn Amazing Grace, if he didn’t think too closely about the words.

3. The position of the Reformers.  They taught that man is hopelessly, totally endued with a wretch nature, his nature being so corrupted through the Fall that the whole motivation of his life is one of self-centred rebellion against God. Man’s first choice is neither God’s Glory not God’s will but rather an autonomous rule of one’s life for the Glory of King Self.

We can argue these points till the cows come home but rather than do that, let’s see what the Scripture actually teaches. In Genesis 8:21 we read,

"And the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth."

According to this verse, evil is already present from one's youth. It is of interest to note that God makes this declaration immediately after the flood when the only people on this earth were the ‘Good Guys’, Noah and his family.

A second verse to consider is Psalm 51:5 where David confesses,

"Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me."

You have probably heard people speak of "innocent" babes -- but the psalmist insists that he was shaped in iniquity and conceived in sin. He did not consider himself innocent at birth -- but already a wretch by nature. He had inherited the virus of sin from his first parent, Adam.

Furthermore, we read;

"The heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11).

Outside of grace, when men see the Judgment hand of God withheld they, instead of repenting, increase their wickedness. There’s no point in continuously repeating the phrase, “Everyday, in every way I am getting better and better," for it will not make you better and better. In fact, if you repeat it often enough you will eventually go hoarse.

Do you want to know a description of your heart and every other person’s heart? Jeremiah gives us when He says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). That’s what I am like on my best day!  And you are the same: if ever we are to be saved it must be by grace and grace alone. We by nature are wretches! Don’t sing Amazing Grace if you don’t believe that!

We discover more about our common wretch nature in Romans 3:10-18 where we read, "As it is written, there is none righteous, no not one: there is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They have all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace have they not known; there is no fear of God before their eyes."

The same thought is expressed later in Romans 7:18 where Paul says, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing."

But why is it so important that churches should emphasize this truth of total depravity? Why indeed emphasize the terrible sinfulness of man? The answer is simple, if churches do not emphasize this truth, we will eventually lose the significance of the cross of Christ. Grace will cease to be amazing!

The excellent commentator, Arthur Pink, said;

“The first office of the preacher is to stain the pride of all human glory, to bring down the high looks of man, to make him aware of his sinful perversity, to make him feel that he is unworthy of the least of all God’s mercies. His business is to strip him of the rags of his self-righteousness and to shatter his self-sufficiency; to make him conscious of his utter dependence on the mere grace of God. Only he who finds himself absolutely helpless will surrender himself to sovereign grace. Only he who feels himself already sinking under the billows of a justly deserved condemnation will cry out, "Lord, save me, I perish." Only he who has been brought to despair will place the crown of glory on the only head entitled to wear it. Though God alone can make a man conscious of his impotence, He is pleased to use the means of the truth—faithfully dispensed, effectually applied by the Spirit—in doing so.

Nowadays there is, at best, merely lip service paid to the doctrine of Total Depravity. The reason for this is man's demand not to be considered spiritually impotent. Man is willing to admit his spiritual sickness, but unwilling to admit to his spiritual death. But the Bible teaches that unregenerate man (unsaved man) is spiritually dead (see Ephesians 2:1). Pelagius, on the other hand taught that man was perfectly well.  Arminius held man was sick but not dead. Which do you believe? Only a person who sees that he was raised spiritually raised from the dead can really sing Amazing Grace and mean it!

The Bible says sin brought death! The entire world is guilty before God.  Without the intervention of God no one would call upon Him for mercy! The wretch nature manifests itself spiritually in man's natural refusal of God's salvation. Man is not forced to refuse God’s salvation ….this is what he wants. When he refuses to be saved, he is merely exercising his free will.

The wretch nature is indeed awful. In Isaiah 45:22 the Lord commands, 'Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.' In Isaiah 55:6 the Lord again commands, 'Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near.' But men do not seek, look unto or seek the Lord! Why?  Because they don’t want to! We have the wretch nature!

The All-Powerful, Creator God of heaven declares, “Seek ye my face.” Let’s face it, this is not a mere invitation, it is a command. Yet men show their true colours as they willingly refuse to obey this heavenly edict.

God commands, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else.” God has commanded men to look to him for redemption, therefore we have no right to look anywhere else for His salvation? All His words are large with power and invested with authority; He works all things after the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11). We are charged to look unto Him. All who, therefore, look anywhere else, to any other being or to themselves, for salvation, are not only guilty of disobedience, but also of idolatry.

God commands, yet people do not look or seek or call on Him! Why not?  It’s because they don’t want to! We are wretches who need to be rescued. The Reformers recognized that the Bible teaches that while man may be highly educated, his spiritual understanding, left to himself is in the dark and his will is against God. They didn’t make this up!  They found it in the Bible!

Listen to this,

Romans 8:7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

How can unsaved man repent of his sin when he loves it? How can he come to God when he hates Him?

This kind of thinking is offensive; we don’t want to hear about our wretched vileness.  But if we don’t see it, how will we ever understand that grace really is amazing. However, we don’t want to see our ugliness in the mirror of the Bible.  We’d rather someone told us smooth things about an invented god who is dilly dallying around his potting shed, delighted with all his little children who clench their collective fits at him and spit in His face. We’d rather hear about our will being able to turn to God at any time we get good and ready.

But what do we do with scriptures like, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again (from above), he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

Until a man is born ‘from above’ he remains in his natural, fallen and wretch state and so long as that is the case it is utterly impossible for him to discern or perceive divine things. He cannot see the things of God because, by nature, he is enveloped in total spiritual darkness; even though external light shines on him, he has no eyes with which to see. "The light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not" (John 1:5). When the Lord of life and light appeared among them, men had no eyes to see His beauty, but despised and rejected Him. And so it remains. The only reason that any of us overcame our spiritual darkness is that,

“God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6). Now that’s amazing grace!

Notice how this giving of light and knowledge of salvation is by divine power.  John Calvin did not invent this doctrine of man needing Divine intervention because of spiritual inability. Jesus taught it Himself. Our Master said in John 5:40,

"Ye will not come to me, that ye may have life,"

Jesus believed in the innate wretch nature of man. He taught that by nature, men are unwilling to come to Him that they, "might have life." But why? Is it because they fail to realize their awful peril? If they knew that they were standing on the brink of the Pit, would they not flee from the wrath to come? No they don’t flee! Why is it they don‘t flee? Is it because they have no sense of their deep and desperate need? Perhaps if they understood the awful condition their wickedness, their blindness, their hard-heartedness, their depravity—they would run to the great Physician to be healed by Him. But they don’t run to Him because the carnal mind is enmity against God, and Christ is God. They WILL not come.  They have freedom to exercise their will and their will is set against God every time.  That’s the nature of sin.  It has made every child of Adam a wretch by nature.

On another occasion the Lord Christ asked,

"Why do you not understand my speech?" to which He Himself answered, "Even because you cannot hear my word" (John 8:43). There is no mistaking His meaning here. Christ teaches that unregenerate people cannot hear his message! It is not in man’s nature to hear God’s word and man cannot act contrary to his nature anymore than a pig will wear perfume. Man is beset by a total inability to hear God’s word. Unless God opens our ears to hear His message of Grace we cannot hear! We have a total inability to hear Him.  To hear Him we need His grace and life giving power.

Listen again to Jesus as He further illustrates this truth. John 3:19;

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

What a proof of man’s wretch nature! It is not only that men are in the dark, but that they actually love the darkness—they prefer ignorance, error, superstition, to the light of truth. And the reason why they love the darkness and hate the light is because their deeds are evil.  This is how Jesus taught it.  Who are we to rise up in our man-centred conceit and argue differently?

Man has a total inability in his will to come to Christ. His will is also totally depraved as it is set against God.  The unsaved man always exercises his free-will  against God. That is why we read in the Jerusalem Lament in Matthew 23:37,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that kills the prophets, and stones them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”

Jesus never denied that man, in spite of his total moral depravity is morally free. He is not a puppet, for a puppet cannot choose to be a puppet. Man, however, not only chooses to be a sinner, but by nature loves to remain one.  Notice how Jesus says, that they would not come to Him! They of their own free will, willed not to come to Christ.  Man loves his sin.  He may cloak it in religion and conceal it by good works but, at His core, He chooses a life un-submitted to the will and glory of God.

Of course man is free to choose salvation if he wills it. We read, “Whosoever will may come” (Revelation 22:17). But by nature man does not will to be saved. He is a wretch by nature! No man who wills for salvation is denied it; however, no man wills it unless God in grace turns his will around. We are saved by grace and grace alone. Amazing grace has caused us to will to be saved.  If we had willed salvation in our own strength and ability, salvation would be no longer by grace.

Now listen to this scathing charge made against all men; "Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not" (Jeremiah 5:21).

According to this verse, the unregenerate man is spiritually blind and deaf. This awful fact was affirmed again and again by our Lord as He addressed hypocritical scribes as: "blind leaders of the blind," "ye blind guides," "thou blind Pharisee" (Matt. 15:14; 23:24, 26). Paul takes up this theme and says: "The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not" (2 Corinthians 4:4). From these passages we learn that there is, in the unregenerate mind, an incompetent incapacity, and inability to see the things of God. We are wretches. We need Amazing Grace!

Worse than that is that, the natural man is quite blind to the blindness of his heart.  He hasn’t got a clue that his blindness is leading him to, "the blackness of darkness for ever" (Jude 13). That is why the vast majority live so securely and peacefully. It has always appeared strange to believers as to why the unsaved can be so indifferent while under sentence of death; they conduct themselves with unconcerned flippancy while exposed to the wrath to come. But the reason for this is that they are blind ---they do not see their predicament!

So then if we do not have the ability or the inclination to come to Christ how did we get saved? The answer is found in Psalms 110:3 “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power."  Jesus further explained it when He said,

"No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (John 6:44).

And why is it that the sinner cannot come to Christ by his own unaided powers? It is because he has no inclination or will to do so. There is not the slightest desire in the unregenerate heart to come to Christ. Man is so helpless that to come to Christ, he must be drawn by the Father.

Furthermore, we read in John 6:65, "… Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto Me, except it were given unto him of My Father."

Here Jesus clearly states that the ability to come to Him is a gift from the Father. There is no ability to come to Christ unless there is divine intervention. This is Amazing Grace!   Christ’s language is undeniably clear. He doesn’t say, "no man will come," but "no man can come” He is teaching that the will of the natural man has nothing to do with Salvation because his will is turned against God. John 1:13 expressly declares that the new birth is "not of the will of the flesh." This may be contrary to what you believe and distasteful to your mind and heart; but it is God’s truth and all the denials of men will never alter it.

But will this Kind of preaching build a crowd? It didn’t for Jesus.  Right after He told them this we read,

"From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him" (John 6:66).

Again, this is a sad commentary on the human condition!

While we are camping on these verses in John, we should also notice that the "drawing" of the Father is exercised according to His sovereign will. He draws us------ then we seek. Men, if left to themselves, are such wretches that they love the darkness and hate the light. They, therefore, will not seek God. But, that any do seek Christ, is because God, in His sovereign grace, has put forth a power within them which overcomes the resistance of their depravity.

But we must face the fact that God does not work this way in everyone. He is under no moral obligation so to do. Why should He make an enemy love Him? Why should He "draw" to Christ somebody who wants to stay away? That He draws particular individuals to Christ is according to His own eternal counsels and sovereign pleasure. But try preaching this in your average church and people get mad. I remember well preaching this to a Baptist church in Nevada when one man and his wife, long standing members of the church, stood and screamed at me, called be all manner of remarkable things, stopped their ears and stomped out.

However, if we follow the teaching of the Bible we will find that man is no big shakes.  When the Holy Spirit goes to work on him, man’s pride is humbled and he sees that without divine intervention and grace he is a spiritual zero!  It is only then he can sing Amazing Grace and mean it.

Consider these scriptures,

John 15:5: "I am the vine, you are the branches: he that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit; for without me you can do nothing."

Ephesians 2:1, 5: "And you has he quickened (made alive), who were dead in trespasses and sin." "Even when we were dead in sins, has he quickened us together with Christ; (by grace ye are saved.)"

Colossians 2:13: "And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, has he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses."

Much modern preaching lies to its listeners.  It tells them that they can get saved any time they will to get saved.  There is no sense of danger given to them. The impression is given that a man can come to God anytime he pleases because he is a free agent in this matter of salvation!  But how can a dead man turn to God? How can a blind man see his need? How can a deaf man hear?  We are ruined by sin and our only hope is the amazing grace of God revealed in Christ Jesus.  Just so long as the sinner believes in the freedom of his will—that he has the power to repent and believe at any moment, he will defer faith and repentance to some future date. Thus by the failure to proclaim the wretch nature of man, multitudes have been calmed and comforted in their free-fall into Hell.

And that’s the Gospel Truth!

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