John Calvin on Total Depravity

In commenting on 1 Peter 4:3 Calvin states,

But here a question arises, that Peter seems to have done wrong to many, in making all men guilty of lasciviousness, dissipation, lusts, drunkenness, and revellings; for it is certain that all were not involved in these vices; nay, we know that some among the Gentiles lived honorably and without a spot of infamy. To this I reply, that Peter does not so ascribe these vices to the Gentiles, as though he charged every individual with all these, but that we are by nature inclined to all these evils, and not only so, but that we are so much under the depravity, that these fruits which he mentions necessarily proceed from it as from an evil root. There is indeed no one who has not within him the seed of all vices, but all do not germinate and grow up in every individual.

It has been said before, and said better, but…

Total depravity does not mean that every man always sins.

Total depravity does not mean that every man is as bad as he could be.

Total depravity means that we are hopelessly enslaved to sin and there is nothing within our own power we can do about it.

Total depravity means that our our faculties are corrupted by sin: our thinking, our feeling, our willing, our actions.

Total depravity means that sin reaches to the very core of man’s being so that his only hope is the radical salvation of God in Christ.

3 thoughts on “John Calvin on Total Depravity

  1. Total depravity sounds like cancer; every person has recessed genes for cancer: but it does not develop in every person.


  2. Well, not exactly. Every one has it. And everyone shows it. It is just that not everyone shows how bad they have it!

    A more helpful label might be “total inability.” Man is not able to do anything to recommend himself to God or gain God’s favor. He is spiritually dead. And, as with pregnancy, there is no such thing as a mild case of death.

  3. I think I like your term better,”total inability”, helps me undertand it better.

    Good job Pastor

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