November 10, 2020 · C.E. Carter
Jonathan Edwards wrote and preached about Hell so much because he had his anthropology right.
Anthropology is the study of man. In a systematic theology context, we draw our inferences for what man is like according to Scripture. There are many things you could ask about man, because he is a very interesting creature. The whole history of philosophy has been anthropological; even the metaphysicists like Plato and Aristotle only cared about such abstractions for the sake of understanding themselves. Naturally, a proper anthropology begins at the beginning. The Bible affirms that mankind was created in the likeness of God (some say, in the image of God), as two distinct, functionally different, ontologically equal sexes, namely male and female, man and woman. The Bible also says that in Adam all mankind fell in sin; first Eve was tempted and fell, and then she tempted Adam and he fell.
In many places, Scripture asserts that sin has corrupted mankind. The Biblical anthropology is an exposition of both the glory of man and the peculiar nature of his being, and of the sin which corrupts his nature from top to bottom. His glory is great, for what man has accomplished on earth through means of art, science, and technology is nothing short of astounding. Yet, his sin is far greater, and far more important to mention. For all man’s brilliance and intuition about the natural world, we know that he suppresses the truth of God in unrighteousness, as Scripture says,
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. (Romans 1:18-19)
We know that for all of man’s ambition, that no man seeks after God, for there is not an iota of good in man, for,
“There is no righteous person, not even one; There is no one who understands, There is no one who seeks out God; They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, There is not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The venom of asps is under their lips”; “Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; “Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths, And they have not known the way of peace.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18)
These are go-to passages which tell us of the sinful and depraved condition of man; there are many, many more. Passages like this support the Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity: that man has neither the ability nor the desire to come to God in repentance and worship. There are no “seekers” of God, for no one seeks after God. There are no “good people”, for there is none righteous, not even one. There is not even good “inside of” people, for their throat is an open grave, and “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks”. There are no true agnostics or atheists, for what is known about God is evident within everyone, for God has made Himself evident to everyone. Knowing these things, we see that true goodness acted out in the world by unbelievers is not evidence of their goodness, but rather, evidence a result of God’s common grace which works to constrain the evil in mankind so that he acts according to God’s law at least in some capacity. When God keeps the reigns tight, men can only be so hard-hearted. But when God loosens the reigns on men, man returns to his natural state; their hearts, like the heart of Pharaoh, are hardened again and sin abounds.
Here is a way to imagine total depravity. Suppose that after Death and Hades are thrown into the Lake of Fire, we were to wait 10000 years, pull a smoldering human being out of there, and give them the option of living in the New Creation forever and ever if only they turned and worshipped God. We would have to imagine, given a proper Biblical anthropology, that every single person we pulled out would look at God, shake their fist at Him, spit at Him, and so choose to be dragged back into their torments again forevermore. There is no repentance in Hell; there will be no one in Hell crying out to God to be saved. And lest you think my example is too dramatic, consider the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 who cried out from Hades, not to God in humble repentance and faith, but to Abraham, in the same spirit of arrogance that he possessed in his former life, that Abraham would direct the man he neglected for years named Lazarus to bring to him a drop of water to cool his tongue. That is the extent of the wretchedness and depravity of man. It is total.