I’ve just finished reading Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ The Plight of Man and the Power of God. It’s exceptional, and I’ll have a full review written shortly. Tonight I just wanted to share a lengthy excerpt from the last chapter, which sums up the whole book. The premise is that we can not truly understand the gospel without having an accurate understanding of man’s sinfulness, and complete inability to save himself (or, in the words of The Doctor: “Without a true anthropology, it is idle to discuss soteriology — diagnosis must precede treatment”). This excerpt comes from his exposition of Romans 1:16-32.
What are the main and chief problems of life and of man? Wherein are to be found the causes of our misery and failure, of life as it is today in this world? We have been considering them already in our previous discussions of this section.
First and foremost we are face to face with the fact of the wrath of God. Paul starts with that, because, obviously, it is the most important and serious matter of all. But, alas! it is the one thing of which mankind never thinks, the one thing which it never considers in all its calculations. All scheming and planning and thinking are purely in terms of man. And this is why they always fail and are always doomed to failure. How can you plan for life and the world and at the same time exclude God who is the Maker and Sustainer and Controller of all things? God has not only made the world, he is actively concerned in it, and constantly intervenes in its affairs. His laws are absolute and cannot be avoided. He has decreed that disobedience and evil and sin are to be punished, and one of the forms of punishment is to allow our actions to bear their own fruits and consequences, here and now, in this present world. God has decided and ordered and arranged that a life of forgetfulness of Him, and of antagonism to Him, shall not be successful and happy. Cursing falls upon such a way of life. That is the whole story of mankind from the very beginning, and it has continued until this day, and it will continue to be so until the end of time. Mankind has refused to recognize this–indeed, has ridiculed it. It has been confident that it could succeed without God. But what of the results? Constant failure. God cannot be thwarted. The facts of life, the story of history, proclaim the wrath of God against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. That is our first problem. We have sinned against God. We are in the wrong relationship to Him. His wrath is upon us. We have made it impossible for Him to bless us. His Holy nature demands that He must punish us and our transgressions. What can we do about it? Nothing! Our tears, our sorrow, our works and strivings, can avail nothing. We cannot atone for our past or undo our misdeeds, or make recompense. None can keep the law. “There is none righteous, no, not one.” “Every mouth has been stopped.” The whole world is guilty before God (Romans 3:19). Is there no hope, therefore? Can nothing be done? God be thanked, the gospel of Christ provides the answer, as we have already seen. God has dealt with our sins in Christ. The demands of holiness and justice have been satisfied–Christ has been “delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25). God in Christ is prepared to receive us. In him, who has “been made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13), the curse pronounced against sin is removed and there is hope for all. The law of God which decrees travail and sorrow and misery as the result of sin has been satisfied. God in Christ offers us pardon and forgiveness, and instead of cursing, blessing. Without God we cannot be happy, “for there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” Try as we will, and as mankind has, we cannot succeed. The first step is to have the favour of God, and in Christ it is gloriously possible–indeed, it is offered us.
But that raises another question. Why is it that man is in the wrong relationship? Why is it that man ever chooses to sin? The answer is that man has fallen away from God, and as a result, his whole nature has become perverted and sinful. Man’s whole bias is away from God. By nature he hates God and feels that God is opposed to him. His god is himself, his own abilities and powers, his own desires. He objects to the whole idea of God and the demands which God makes upon him. We have seen this worked out in detail already in previous studies. Furthermore, man likes and covets the things which God prohibits, and dislikes the things and the kind of life to which God calls him. These are no mere dogmatic statements. They are facts. They alone explain the readiness of people to accept any theory, however flimsy and unsupported by facts and proofs, which queries and questions the being of God or the supernatural element in religion. They alone explain the moral muddle and the ugliness that characterize life to such an extent today. This is recognized, as regards the facts, by all serious thinkers. But all who are not Christian face the facts in such a superficial manner that their proposals with respect to them must of necessity fail. They are interested only in men’s actions, and try to invent methods to persuade men to refrain from them.
They write books and deliver lectures on the evil consequences of sin, both in the individual and socially; they paint their glowing pictures of the other type of life. But all this ignores the central problem, which is: Why should man ever desire the wrong? That is the question. Why is it that man, faced with good and evil, right and wrong, and knowing the consequences, the painful consequences, that follow wrong-doing, nevertheless chooses the wrong? And not merely ordinary or ignorant men, but all men, those who are most intellectual and cultured, those who spend their lives in considering these problems. Why is it? What explains it? Only one answer is satisfactory: that which is supplied by the gospel of Christ. Man’s very nature is fallen. Man is wrong at the centre of his being, and therefore everything is wrong. He cannot be improved, for, finally, nothing will suffice but a radical change, a new nature. Man loves the darkness and hates the light. What can be done for him? Can he change himself? Can he renew his nature? “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?” (Jeremiah 13:23) Can man change the whole bias of his life? Give him new clothing, provide him with a new house in new surroundings, entertain him with all that is best and most elevating, educate him and train his mind, enrich his soul with frequent doses of the finest culture ever known, do all and more, but still he will remain the same essential man, and his desires and innermost life will be unchanged. Were that not true, the world and individual man would long since have reached perfection. Think of all the work of the philosophers and thinkers. Consider especially the titanic changes and social enactments of the past hundred years, with all the efforts at solving the problems of mankind. All these things are good and right in their way within their circumscribed limits. But the great problem is still left. Man needs a new nature. Whence can he obtain it? Again, there is but one answer, in Jesus Christ the Son of God. He came from Heaven and took upon Him human nature perfect and whole. He is God and man. In Him alone are the divine and the human united. And He offers to give us His own nature. He desires to make of us new men. He is “the first-born among many brethren.” (Romans 8:29) All who believe on Him, and receive Him, obtain this new nature, and as the result all things become different. Those who hated God now love Him and desire to know more and more about Him. Their supreme desire now is to please Him and to honour and to glorify Him. The things which formerly delighted them they now hate and detest, and the ways of God are the ways they desire. The self they glorified and which they ever desired to please, they now hate and regard as their greatest enemy. And this in turn brings them into an entirely new relationship with their fellow men. Loving the Lord their God first, they find themselves loving their neighbours as themselves. Self, and concern about self, is the great cause of ail quarrelling and strife and war. Pride is the root of all social discord. But in Christ self is crucified and peace becomes truly possible. A new society is only possible when we have new men; and Christ alone can produce new men.