The Sinfulness of Man's Natural State

Thomas Boston


III: The Corruption of the Affections

The affections are corrupted. The unrenewed man’s affections are wholly disordered and distempered: they are as the unruly horse, that either will not receive, or violently runs away with, the rider. So man’s heart naturally is a mother of abominations (Mark 7.21,22), ‘For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness,’ &c. The natural man’s affections are wretchedly misplaced; he is a spiritual monster. His heart is where his feet should be, fixed on the earth; his heels are lifted up against heaven, which his heart should be set on (Acts 9.5). His face is towards hell, his back towards heaven; and therefore God calls to him to turn. He loves what he should hate, and hates what he should love; joys in what he ought to mourn for, and mourns for what he should rejoice in; glories in his shame, and is ashamed of his glory; abhors what he should desire, and desires what he should abhor (Prov 2.13-15). They hit the point indeed, as Caiaphas did in another case, who cried out against the apostles, as men that turned the world upside down (Acts 17.6); for that is the work which the gospel has to do in the world, where sin has put all things so out of order, that heaven lies under, and earth atop. If the unrenewed man’s affections be set on lawful objects, then they are either excessive or defective. Lawful enjoyments of the world have sometimes too little, but mostly too much of them; either they get not their due, or, if they do, it is measure pressed down, and running over. Spiritual things have always too little of them. In a word, they are never right; only evil.

Now, here is a threefold cord against heaven and holiness, not easily to be broken; a blind mind, a perverse will, and disorderly distempered affections. The mind, swelled with self-conceit, says, the man should not stoop; the will, opposite to the will of God, says, he will not; and the corrupt affections, rising against the Lord, in defence of the corrupt will, say, he shall not. Thus the poor creature stands out against God and goodness, till a day of power comes, in which he is made a new creature.

IV: Corruption of the Conscience

The conscience is corrupt and defiled (Titus 1.15). It is an evil eye, that fills one’s conversation with much darkness and confusion, being naturally unable to do its office; and till the Lord, by letting in new light to the soul, awakens the conscience, it remains sleepy and inactive. Conscience can never do its work, but according to the light it has to work by. Wherefore, seeing the natural man cannot spiritually discern spiritual things (I Cor 2.14), the conscience naturally is quite useless in that point; being cast into such a deep sleep, that nothing but saving illumination from the Lord can set it on work in that matter. The light of the natural conscience in good and evil, sin and duty, is very defective; therefore, though it may check for grosser sins, yet, as to the more subtle workings of sin, it cannot check them, because it discerns them not. Thus, conscience will fly in the face of many, if at any time they be drunk, swear, neglect prayer, or be guilty of any gross sin; who otherwise have a profound peace, though they live in the sin of unbelief, and are strangers to spiritual worship, and the life of faith. Natural light being but faint and languishing in many things which it reaches, conscience, in that case, shoots like a stitch in one’s side, which quickly goes off: its incitements to duty, and checks for, and struggles against sin, are very remiss, which the natural man easily gets over. But because there is a false light in the dark mind, the natural conscience following the same, will call evil good, and good evil (Isa 5.20). So it is often found like a blind and furious horse, which violently runs down himself, his rider, and all that comes in his way. (John 16.2), ‘Whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.’ When the natural conscience is awakened by the Spirit of conviction, it will indeed rage and roar, and put the whole man in a dreadful consternation; awfully summon all the powers of the soul to help in a strait; make the stiff heart to tremble, and the knees to bow; set the eyes weeping, the tongue confessing; and oblige the man to cast out the goods into the sea, which he apprehends are likely to sink the ship of the soul, though the heart still goes after them. Yet it is an evil conscience which naturally leads to despair, and will do it effectually, as in Judas’ case; unless either lusts prevail over it, to lull it asleep, as in the case of Felix (Acts 24.25), or the blood of Christ prevail over it, sprinkling and purging it from dead works, as in the case of all true converts (Heb 9.14, and 10.22).

V: Corruption of the Memory

Even the memory bears evident marks of this corruption. What is good and worthy to be remembered, as it makes but slender impression, so that impression easily wears off; the memory, as a leaking vessel, lets it slip (Heb 2.1). As a sieve that is full when in the water, lets all go when it is taken out, so is the memory with respect to spiritual things. But how does it retain what ought to be forgotten? Sinful things so bear in themselves upon it, that though men would fain have got them out of mind, yet they stick there like glue. However forgetful men are in other things, it is hard to forget an injury. So the memory often furnishes new fuel to old lusts; makes men in old age react the sins of their youth, while it presents them again to the mind with delight, which thereupon returns to its former lusts. Thus it is like a riddle, that lets through the pure grain, and keeps the refuse. Thus far of the corruption of the soul.

VI: Corruption of the Body

The body itself also is partaker of this corruption and defilement, so far as it is capable thereof. Wherefore the Scripture calls it sinful flesh (Rom 8.3). We may take this up in two things. 1. The natural temper, or rather distemper of the bodies of Adam’s children, as it is an effect of original sin, so it has a natural tendency to sin, incites to sin, leads the soul into snares, yea, is itself a snare to the soul. The body is a furious beast, of such a temper, that if it be not beat down, kept under, and brought into subjection, it will cast the soul into much sin and misery (I Cor 9.27). There is a vileness in the body (Phil 3.21), which, as to the saints, will never be removed, until it be melted down in the grave, and cast into a new form at the resurrection, to come forth a spiritual body; and will never be carried off from the bodies of those who are not partakers of the resurrection to life. 2. It serves the soul in many sins. Its members are instruments or weapons of unrighteousness, whereby men fight against God (Rom 6.13). The eyes and ears are open doors, by which impure motions and sinful desires enter the soul: the tongue is ‘a world of iniquity’ (James 3.6), ‘an unruly evil, full of deadly poison’ (verse 8): by it the impure heart vents a great deal of its filthiness. ‘The throat is an open sepulchre (Rom 3.13). The feet run the devil’s errands (verse 15). The belly is made a god (Phil 3.19), not only by drunkards and riotous livers, but by every natural man (Zech 7.6). So the body naturally is an agent for the devil, and a magazine of armour against the Lord.

To conclude — man by nature is wholly corrupted: ‘From the sole of the foot, even unto the head, there is no soundness in him.’ As in a dunghill every part contributes to the corruption of the whole, so the natural man, while in this state, grows still worse and worse; the soul is made worse by the body, and the body by the soul: and every faculty of the soul serves to corrupt another more and more. Thus much for the second general head.

III. I shall show how man’s nature comes to be thus corrupted. The heathens perceived that man’s nature was corrupted; but how sin had entered, they could not tell. But the Scripture is very plain on that point (Rom 5.12,19), ‘By one man sin entered into the world. By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.’ Adam’s sin corrupted man’s nature, and leavened the whole lump of mankind. We putrefied in Adam as our root. The root was poisoned, and so the branches were envenomed: the vine turned into the vine of Sodom, and so the grapes became grapes of gall. Adam, by his sin, became not only guilty, but corrupt; and so transmits guilt and corruption to his posterity (Gen 5.3; Job 14.4). By his sin he stripped himself of his original righteousness, and corrupted himself; we were in him representatively, being represented by him as our moral head in the covenant of works: we were in him seminally, as our natural head; hence we fell in him, and by his disobedience were made sinners, as Levi, in the loins of Abraham, paid tithes (Heb 7.9,10). His first sin is imputed to us; therefore we are justly left under the want of his original righteousness, which being given to him as a common person, he cast off by his sin: and this is necessarily followed, in him and us, by the corruption of the whole nature; righteousness and corruption being two contraries, one of which must needs always be in man, as a subject capable thereof. And Adam, our common father, being corrupt, we are so too; for ‘who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?’

Although it is sufficient to prove the righteousness of this dispensation, that it was from the Lord, who doeth all things well, yet, to silence the murmurings of proud nature, let these few things further be considered. 1. In the covenant wherein Adam represented us, eternal happiness was promised to him and his posterity, upon condition of his, that is, Adam’s perfect obedience, as the representative of all mankind: whereas, if there had been no covenant, they could not have pleaded eternal life upon their most perfect obedience, but might have been, after all, reduced to nothing; notwithstanding, by natural justice, they would have been liable to God’s eternal wrath, in case of sin. Who in that case would not have consented to that representation? 2. Adam had a power to stand given him, being made upright. He was as capable of standing for himself and all his posterity, as any after him could be for themselves. This trial of mankind in their head would soon have been over, and the crown won for them all, had he stood: whereas, had his posterity been independent of him, and every one left to act for himself, the trial would have been continually carrying on, as men came into the world. 3. He had the strongest natural affection to engage him, being our common father. 4. His own stock was in the ship, his all lay at stake, as well as ours. He had no separate interest from ours; but if he forget ours, he must necessarily forget his own. 5. If he had stood, we should have had the light of his mind, the righteousness of his will, and holiness of his affections, with entire purity, transmitted unto us; we could not have fallen; the crown of glory, by his obedience, would have been for ever secured to him and his. This is evident from the nature of a federal representation, and no reason can be given why, seeing we are lost by Adam’s sin, we should not have been saved by his obedience. On the other hand, it is reasonable, that he falling, we should with him bear the loss. 6. Those who quarrel with this dispensation, must renounce their part in Christ; for we are no otherwise made sinners by Adam, than we are made righteous by Christ, from whom we have both imputed and inherent righteousness. We no more made choice of the second Adam for our head and representative in the second covenant, than we did of the first Adam in the first covenant.

Let none wonder that such a horrible change could be brought on by one sin of our first parents; for thereby they turned away from God, as their chief end, which necessarily infers a universal depravation. Their sin was a complication of evils, a total apostasy from God, a violation of the whole law: by it they broke all the ten commands at once. 1. They chose new gods. They made their belly their god, by their sensuality; self their god, by their ambition; yea, and the devil their god, by believing him, and disbelieving their Maker. 2. Though they received, yet they observed not that ordinance of God about the forbidden fruit. They contemned that ordinance so plainly enjoined them, and would needs carve out to themselves how to serve the Lord. 3. They took the name of the Lord their God in vain; despising His attributes, His justice, truth, power, &c. They grossly profaned the sacramental tree, abused His word, by not giving credit to it, abused that creature of His which they should not have touched, and violently misconstrued His providence, as if God, by forbidding them that tree, had been standing in the way of their happiness; therefore He suffered them not to escape his righteous judgment. 4. They remembered not the Sabbath to keep it holy, but put themselves out of a condition to serve God aright on His own day; neither kept they that state of holy rest wherein God had put them. 5. They cast off their relative duties; Eve forgets herself, and acts without the advice of her husband, to the ruin of both; Adam, instead of admonishing her to repent, yields to the temptation, and confirms her in her wickedness. They forgot all duty to their posterity. They honoured not their Father in heaven, and therefore their days were not long in the land which the Lord their God gave them. 6. They ruined themselves, and all their posterity. 7. Gave themselves up to luxury and sensuality. 8. Took away what was not their own, against the express will of the great Owner. 9. They bore false witness, and lied against the Lord, before angels, devils, and one another; in effect giving out that they were hardly dealt by, and that Heaven grudged their happiness. 10. They were discontented with their lot, and coveted an evil covetousness to their house; which ruined both them and theirs. Thus was the image of God on man defaced all at once.

IV: I shall now apply this Doctrine of the Corruption of Nature.

Use I: For information. Is man’s nature wholly corrupted? Then,

1: No wonder that the grave opens its devouring mouth for us, as soon as the womb has cast us forth; and that the cradle is turned into a coffin, to receive the corrupt lump: for we are all, in a spiritual sense, dead-born; yea, and filthy (Psa 14.3), noisome, rank, and stinking as a corrupt thing, as the word imports. Then let us not complain of the miseries we are exposed to at our entrance into, nor of the continuance of them while we are in the world. Here is the venom that has poisoned all the springs of earthly enjoyments we have to drink of. It is the corruption of man’s nature that brings forth all the miseries of human life, in churches, states, and families, and in men’s souls and bodies.

2: Behold here, as in a glass, the spring of all the wickedness, profanity, and formality, which is in the world; the source of all the disorders in thy own heart and life. Every thing acts like itself, agreeable to its own nature; and so corrupt man acts corruptly. You need not wonder at the sinfulness of your own heart and life, nor at the sinfulness and perverseness of others; if a man be crooked, he cannot but halt; and if the clock be set wrong, how can it point the hour aright?

3: See here, why sin is so pleasant, and religion such a burden to carnal spirits: sin is natural, holiness not so. Oxen cannot feed in the sea, nor fishes in the fruitful fields. A swine brought into a palace would soon get away again, to wallow in the mire; and corrupt nature tends ever to impurity.

4: Learn from this the nature and necessity of regeneration. First, This discovers the nature of regeneration, in these two things: x. It is not a partial, but a total change, though imperfect in this life. Your whole nature is corrupted; therefore the cure must go through every part. Regeneration makes not only a new head, for knowledge, but a new heart, and new affections, for holiness — ‘All things become new’ (2 Cor. 5.17). If a man, having received many wounds, should be cured of them all, save one only, he might bleed to death by that one as well as by a thousand: so, if the change go not through the whole man, it is naught. 2. It is not a change made by human industry, but by the mighty power of the Spirit of God. A man must be born of the Spirit (John 3.5). Accidental diseases may be cured by men; but those which are natural, not without a miracle (John 9.32). The change wrought upon men by good education, or forced upon them by a natural conscience, though it may pass among men for a saving change, yet it is not so; for our nature is corrupt, and none but the God of nature can change it. Though a gardener, by ingrafting a pear branch into an apple tree, may make the apple tree bear pears, yet the art of man cannot change the nature of the apple tree: so a man may fix a new life to his old heart, but he can never change the heart. Secondly, This also shews the necessity of regeneration. It is absolutely necessary, in order to salvation (John 3.3), ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ No unclean thing can enter the New Jerusalem; but you are wholly unclean, while in your natural state. If every member of your body were disjointed, each joint must be loosened before the members can be set right again. This is the case of your soul, as you have heard: therefore you must be born again; otherwise you shall never see heaven, unless it be afar off, as the rich man in hell did. Deceive not yourself: no mercy of God, no blood of Christ, will bring you to heaven in your unregenerate state: for God will never open a fountain of mercy to wash away His own holiness and truth; nor did Christ shed His precious blood, to blot out the truths of God, or to overturn God’s measures about the salvation of sinners. Heaven! What would you do there, you who are not born again? you who are no ways fitted for Christ the Head? That would be a strange sight! a holy Head, and members wholly corrupt! a Head full of treasures of grace, and members wherein are nothing but treasures of wickedness! a Head obedient to the death, and heels kicking against heaven! You are no better adapted for the society above, than beasts are for converse with men. You are a hater of true holiness; and at the first sight of a saint there, would cry out — ‘Hast thou found me, O mine enemy!’ Nay, the unrenewed man, if it were possible he could go to heaven in that state, would go to it no otherwise than now he comes to the duties of holiness; that is, leaving his heart behind him.

Use II: For lamentation. Well may we lament your case, O natural man! for it is the saddest case one can be in out of hell. It is time to lament for you; for you are dead already, dead while you live: you carry about with you a dead soul in a living body; and because you are dead you cannot lament your own case. You are loathsome in the sight of God; for you are altogether corrupt; you have no good in you. Your soul is a mass of darkness, rebellion, and vileness, before the Lord. You think, perhaps, that you have a good heart to God, good inclinations, and good desires: but God knows there is nothing good in you: ‘Every imagination of thine heart is only evil continually.’ You can do no good; you can do nothing but sin. For, 1: You are the servant of sin (Rom 6.17), and therefore free from righteousness (verse 20). Whatever righteousness be, poor soul, you are free from it; you do not, you cannot meddle with it. You are under the dominion of sin, a dominion where righteousness can have no place. You are a child and servant of the devil, seeing you are yet in a state of nature (John 8.44), ‘Ye are of your father the devil.’ And, to prevent any mistake, consider, that sin and Satan have two sort of servants: 1. There are some employed, as it were, in coarser work; those bear the devil’s mark on their foreheads, having no form of godliness; but are profane, grossly ignorant, mere moralists, not so much as performing the external duties of religion, but living in the view of the world as sons of the earth, only attending to earthly things (Phil 3.19). 2. There are some employed in a more refined sort of service to sin, who carry the devil’s mark in their right hand; which they can and do hide from the eyes of the world. These are close hypocrites, who sacrifice as much to the corrupt mind, as the others to the flesh (Eph 2.3). These are ruined by a more secret trade of sin; pride, unbelief, self-seeking, and the like, swarm in, and prey upon their corrupted, wholly corrupted souls. Both are servants of the same house; the latter as far as the former from righteousness.

2: How is it possible that you should be able to do any good, you whose nature is wholly corrupt? — Can fruit grow where there is no root? or, Can there be an effect without a cause? ‘Can the fig-tree bear olive berries? either a vine, figs?’ If your nature be wholly corrupt, as indeed it is, all you do is certainly so too; for no effect can exceed the virtue of its cause. ‘Can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit?’ (Matt 7.18).

Ah! what a miserable spectacle is he that can do nothing but sin! You are the man, whoever you are, that are yet in your natural state. Hear, O sinner, what is your case.

(1) Innumerable sins compass you about: mountains of guilt are lying upon you; floods of impurities overwhelm you, living lusts of all sorts roll up and down in the dead sea of your soul, where no good can breathe, because of the corruption there. Your lips are unclean; the opening of your mouth is as the opening of an unripe grave, full of stench and rottenness (Rom 3.13), ‘Their throat is an open sepulchre.’ Your natural actions are sin; for ‘when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?’ (Zech 7.6). Your civil actions are sin (Prov 21.4), ‘The ploughing of the wicked is sin.’ Your religious actions are sin (Prov 15.8), ‘The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.’ The thoughts and imaginations of your heart are only evil continually. A deed may be soon done, a word soon spoken, a thought swiftly pass through the heart; but each of these is an item in your accounts. O sad reckoning! so many thoughts, words, and actions, so many sins. The longer you live, your accounts swell the more. Should a tear be dropt for every sin, your head must be waters, and your eyes a fountain of tears; for nothing but sin comes from you. Your heart frames nothing but evil imaginations: there is nothing in your life but what is framed by your heart; and, therefore, there is nothing in your heart or life but evil.

(2) All your religion, if you have any, is lost labour, as to acceptance with God, or any saving effect on yourself. Are you yet in your natural state? Truly, then, your duties are sins, as was just now hinted. Would not the best wine be loathsome in a vessel wherein there is no pleasure? So is the religion of an unregenerate man. Under the law, the garment which the flesh of the sacrifice was carried in, though it touched other things, did not make them holy: but he that was unclean who touched any thing, whether common or sacred, made it unclean. Even so your duties cannot make your corrupt soul holy, though they in themselves be good; but your corrupt heart defiles them, and makes them unclean (Hag 2.12-14). You were wont to divide your works into two sorts; some good, some evil: but you must count again, and put them all under one head: for God writes on them all ‘only evil.’ This is lamentable: it will be no wonder to see those beg in harvest, who fold their hands, and sleep in seedtime; but to be labouring with others in the spring, and yet have nothing to reap when the harvest comes, is a very sad case, and will be the case of all professors living and dying in their natural state.

(3) You cannot help yourself. What can you do, to take away your sin, who are wholly corrupt? Nothing, truly but sin. If a natural man begin to relent, drop a tear for his sin, and reform, presently the corrupt heart takes merit to itself; he has done much himself, he thinks, and God cannot but do more for him on that account. In the mean time, he does nothing but sin: so that the fitness of the merit is, that the leper be put out of the camp, the dead soul buried out of sight, and the corrupt lump cast into the pit. How can you think to recover yourself by any thing which you can do? Will mud and filth wash out filthiness? and will you purge out sin by sinning? ‘Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one’ (Job 14.4). This is the case of your corrupt soul; not to be recovered but by Jesus Christ. ‘O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thine help’ (Hos 13.9). You are poor indeed, extremely ‘miserable and poor’ (Rev 3.17). You have no shelter, but a refuge of lies; no garment for your soul, but filthy rags; nothing to nourish it, but husks that cannot satisfy. And more than this, you got such a bruise in the loins of Adam, as is not yet cured, so that you are without strength, as well as ungodly (Rom 5.6); unable to do, or work for yourself; nay, more than all this, you cannot so much as seek aright, but are lying helpless, as an infant exposed in the open field (Ezek 16.5).

Use III: I exhort you to believe this sad truth. Alas! it is evident that it is very little believed in the world. Few are concerned to get their corrupt conversation changed; but fewer, by far, to get their nature changed. Most men know not what they are, nor what spirits they are of; they are as the eye, which, seeing many things, never sees itself. But until you know every one the plague of his own heart, there is no hope of your recovery. Why will you not believe it? You have plain Scripture testimony for it; but you are loath to entertain such an ill opinion of yourselves. Alas! This is the nature of your disease (Rev. 3.17), ‘Thou knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.’ Lord, open their eyes to see it, before they die of it, and in hell lift up their eyes, and see what they will not see now.

I shall close this weighty point, of the corruption of man’s nature, with a few words as to another doctrine from the text.


Born into relative obscurity in 1676 in Duns, Berwickshire, Thomas Boston died in 1732 in the small parish of Ettrick in the Scottish Borders. But his 56 years of life, 45 of them spent in conscious Christian discipleship, lend credibility to the spiritual principle that it is not where, a Christian serves, but what quality of service he renders, that really counts.

It is as a loving, faithful, rigorously self-disciplined Christian pastor, and one deeply committed to the grace of God, that Boston is best remembered. Leaving his first charge at Simprin (where he served 1699-1707), he settled in Ettrick for a 25-year ministry that saw the number of communicants rise from 60  (in 1710) to 777 (in 1731). There he constantly taught them in season and out of season, in pulpit and in home.

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