WoW: Bridges and Total Depravity
Answering the Question
Solomon knew the truth. In his wisdom he recognized what too many have forgotten today. We are not pure. We are not clean. Not a one of us. Of all the men that ever lived, only Jesus Christ can honestly proclaim that He is pure and clean. The rest of us are, as the first phrase of the T.U.L.I.P. reminds us, "totally depraved." Paul has the great summation of the Old Testament revelation of this truth in Romans 3:9-12, and while he doesn't use this verse, it clearly supports his case.
As with the other Proverbs, the idea is that we stop and think about what Solomon is saying, or in this case asking. How do we answer? According to Charles Bridges in his commentary on Proverbs:
The question is confounding. The answer humbles us in the dust- Who can say—truly say---I have made my heart clean? A sinner in his self delusion may conceive himself to be a saint. But that a saint should ever believe that he made himself so, is impossible. Who can say--I am pure from my sin? What! no vain thoughts, no sinful imaginations, lodging within! No ignorance, pride, wandering, coldness, worldliness, unbelief indulged! The more we search the heart, the more will its impurity open upon us. "Turn thou yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations" (Ezekiel 8:13), evils hitherto unsuspected. Vain boasters there are, who proclaim their good hearts. But the boast proves, not their goodness, but their blindness; that man is so depraved, that he cannot understand his own depravity. (1 John 1:8; Comp. 1 Kings 8:46; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Jeremiah 2:35; Hosea 12:8)
The Terrible Result of Walking Close to God
I recently used banging your head against a wall as a metaphor for sin. It always hurts, but we have become so numb by repetition that we no longer feel the pain. It is only when we begin to lessen the frequency that our nerves begin to heal and we feel the pain associated with sin. One of the truism of the Christian walk is that the closer we are to God, the more we feel our sin. The more we see His holiness, the more we understand our depravity.
What say they, who have entered into the presence of the King, whose holiness scattereth away all evil? "Behold! I am vile!" said one. "Now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself." "Woe is me"—said another--"for I am a man of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." (Job 40:4; 42:5-6; Isaiah 6:5) Take again one—counted as the foremost of the saints of God; a very flame of love for Christ and his Church; "in labours more abundant than all;" in tenderness as a mother for her new-born child; in walk "holy, just, and unblameable"--does he speak of his purity from, sin? Verily in his highest state of Christian attainment he feels himself to be the chief of sinners—a wondrous "pattern of Divine long-suffering." (1 Timothy 1:15-16) Such was the mighty power of depravity, mingled with such shining grace, that but for a miracle of instant Almighty help, he might have been thrown from "the third heavens into the snare of the devil." (2 Corinthians 12:2-7 with 1 Timothy 3:6-7) To descend to the level near to our own day. ‘Once I thought’—said a holy man of God—'some humiliating expressions of the saints of God, too low for me—proud, blind wretch as I was! Now I can say with Edwards ‘Infinite upon infinite only reaches to my sinfulness.’' (Venn's Life, p. 183) And indeed there is not a conscious child of God, that does not drink into this selfabased spirit.
The Wonderful Result of Walking Close to God
Are we then left to our own despair? Does God delight in seeing us in continual sorrow over sin? I don't think so. I think the sorrow has the purpose of causing us to flee to Christ for His righteousness. The sorrow is not beneficial in and of itself. If we only sorrow over the sin, then we remain in the sin. Godly sorrow will drive us to the cross, and there to be reminded of our forgiveness. This is true not only of the lost, but also of the redeemed. As God reveals to the depths of our sin, we understand more of the greatness (glory) of His grace. And the more we understand the greatness of the forgiveness bestowed upon us, the deeper our love for God will be (Luke 7:36-50).
But for the clear manifestation of gospel grace, should we not have cause to tremble, lest our sins—after such multiplied engagements on our part, and such tender long-suffering on God's part —should remain in all their hundredfold aggravations uncancelled in the great account, and consign us in just demerit "to everlasting punishment?" The clean heart therefore is not the heart pure from sin, but the heart cleansed and renewed by grace. And truly, if none can say---I have made my heart clean, myriads can witness to the blood of him, who is the Son of God, cleansing it from guilt (1 John 1:7), and to the mightiness of the Creator to renew it unto holiness.
But are there not many, who in the house of God will confess themselves miserable sinners, and at the holy table will acknowledge 'the burden of their sin to be intolerable,' who yet will go back to the world, and boast or comfort themselves in the confidence of their goodness? confessing indeed, that they are sinners, but stoutly warding off every charge of sin? Ah! such are not "the heavy-laden," to whom Christ hath promised "rest" (Matthew 11:28); not "the lost, whom the Son of Man is come to seek and to save." (Luke 19:10) They will lie beside the cleansing fountain, but never care to "wash and be clean."
But observe in this proverb the fundamentals of the gospel—man's total corruption; his inability to make his heart clean; and his grievous tendency to self-deception. Hence his need. Hence, when that need is felt, the value of the cleansing remedy. "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part in me." If this be so, then, Lord, "not my feet only, but my hands and my head." (John 13:8-9) "Wash me throughly from my transgressions, that I may be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, 0 God, and renew a right spirit within me." (Psalm 51:2, 7, 10)
As Bridges notes, this is a foundational truth for the gospel. The good news is for those who understand their corruption and need of a savior. Those who think they only have need to improve their self image will never turn to the bloody image of Jesus on the cross. Until I understand that the person on the cross should have been ME, all my religion is doing is putting a fresh coat of whitewash on my tomb.