The Sinfulness of Man's Natural State

Thomas Boston


DOCTRINE: God takes special notice of our natural corruption

This He testifies two ways: 1. By His Word, as in the text — ‘God saw that every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually’ (see Psa 14.2,3). 2. By His works. God marks His particular notice of it, and displeasure with it, as in many of His works, so especially in these two.

1: In the death of the infant children of men. Many miseries they have been exposed to: they were drowned in the deluge, consumed in Sodom by fire and brimstone; they have been slain with the sword, dashed against the stones, and are still dying ordinary deaths. What is the true cause of this? On what ground does a holy God thus pursue them? Is it the sin of their parents? That may be the occasion of the Lord’s raising the process against them; but it must be their own sin that is the ground of the sentence passing on them: for ‘the soul that sinneth, it shall die,’ saith God (Ezek 18.4). Is it their own actual sin? They have none. But as men do with serpents, which they kill at first sight, before they have done any hurt, because of their venomous nature, so it is in this case.

2: In the birth of the elect children of God. When the Lord is about to change their nature, He makes the sin of their nature lie heavy on their spirits. When He means to let out their corruption, the lance goes deep into their souls, reaching to the root of sin (Rom 7.7-9). The flesh, or corruption of nature, is pierced, being crucified, as well as the affections and lusts (Gal 5.24).

Use: Let us then have a special eye upon the corruption and sin of our nature. God sees it: O that we saw it too, and that sin were ever before us! What avails it to notice other sins, while this mother-sin is not noticed? Turn your eyes inward to the sin of your nature. It is to be feared, that many have this work to begin yet; that they have shut the door, while the grand thief is yet in the house undiscovered. This is a weighty point; and in handling of it, I shall notice these four heads:

Men overlooking their Natural Sin

I: I shall, for conviction, point at some evidences of men’s overlooking the sin of their nature, which yet the Lord takes particular notice of. 1. Men’s looking on themselves with such confidence, as if they were in no hazard of gross sins. Many would take it very unkindly to get such a caution as Christ gave his apostles (Luke 21.34), ‘Take heed of surfeiting and drunkenness.’ If any should suppose them to break out in gross abominations, each would be ready to say, ‘Am I a dog?’ It would raise the pride of their hearts, but not their fear and trembling, because they know not the corruption of their nature. 2. Want of tenderness towards those that fall. Many, in that case, cast off all feelings of Christian compassion, for they do not consider themselves, lest they also be tempted (Gal 6.1). Men’s passions are often highest against the faults of others, when sin sleeps soundly in their own breasts. David, when he was at his worst, was most violent against the faults of others. While his conscience was asleep under his own guilt in the matter of Uriah, the Spirit of the Lord takes notice that his anger was greatly kindled against the man in the parable (2 Sam 12.5). And, on good grounds, it is thought it was at the same time that he treated the Ammonites so cruelly, as is related (verse 31), ‘Putting them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and making them pass through the brick-kiln.’ Grace makes men zealous against sin in others, as well as in themselves: but eyes turned inward to the corruption of nature clothe them with pity and compassion; and fill them with thankfulness to the Lord, that they themselves were not the persons left to be such spectacles of human frailty. 3. There are not a few, who, if they be kept from afflictions in worldly things, and from gross outbreakings in their conversation, know not what it is to have a sad heart. If they meet with a cross, which their proud hearts cannot stoop to bear, they are ready to say, O to be gone! but the corruption of their nature never makes them long for heaven. Lusts, scandalously breaking out at a time, will mar their peace, but the sin of their nature never makes them a heavy heart. 4. Delaying of repentance, in hopes to set about it afterwards. Many have their own appointed time for repentance and reformation, as if they were such complete masters over their lusts, that they can allow them to gather more strength, and yet overcome them. They take up resolutions to amend, without an eye to Jesus Christ, union with Him, and strength from him; a plain evidence that they are strangers to themselves; so they are left to themselves, and their flourishing resolutions wither; for, as they see not the necessity, so they get not the benefit, of the dew from heaven to water them. 5. Men’s venturing freely on temptations, and promising liberally in their own strength. They cast themselves fearlessly into temptation, in confidence of their coming off fairly: but, were they sensible of the corruption of their nature, they would be cautious of entering on the devil’s ground, as one girt about with bags of gunpowder would be unwilling to walk where sparks of fire are flying, lest he should be blown up. Self-jealousy well becomes Christians. ‘Lord, is it I?’ They that know the deceit of their bow, will not be very confident that they shall hit the mark. 6. Ignorance of heart-plagues. The knowledge of the plagues of the heart is a rare qualification. There are indeed some of them written in such great characters, that he who runs may read them: but there are others more subtle, which few discern. How few are there, to whom the bias of the heart to unbelief is a burden! Nay, they perceive it not. Many have had sharp convictions of other sins, that were never to this day convinced of their unbelief; though that is the sin especially aimed at in a thorough conviction (John 16.8,9), ‘He will reprove the world of sin, because they believe not on Me.’ A disposition to establish our own righteousness is a weed that naturally grows in every man’s heart; but few labour at the plucking of it up, it lurks undiscovered. The bias of the heart to the way of the covenant of works is a hidden plague of the heart to many. All the difficulty they find is, in getting up their hearts to duties: they find no difficulty in getting their hearts off them, and over them to Jesus Christ. How hard it is to bring men off from their own righteousness! Yea, it is very hard to convince them of their leaning to it at all. 7. Pride and self-conceit. A view of the corruption of nature would be very humbling, and oblige him that has it to reckon himself the chief of sinners. Under the greatest attainments and enlargements, it would be ballast to his heart, and hide pride from his eyes. The want of thorough humiliation, piercing to the sin of one’s nature, is the ruin of many professors: for digging deep makes great difference betwixt wise and foolish builders (Luke 6.48,49).

Original Sin to be specially noticed

II: I will lay before you a few things, in which you should have a special eye to original sin. 1. Have a special eye to it, in your application to Jesus Christ. Do you find any need of Christ, which sends you to Him as the Physician of souls? O forget not this disease when you are with the Physician. They never yet knew well their errand to Christ, who went not to Him for the sin of their nature; for His blood to take away the guilt of it, and His Spirit to break the power of it. Though, in the bitterness of your souls, you should lay before Him a catalogue of your sins of omission and commission which might reach from earth to heaven, yet, if original sin were wanting in it, assure yourselves that you have forgot the best part of the errand which a poor sinner has to the Physician of souls. What would it have availed the people of Jericho, to have set before Elisha all the vessels in their city, full of the water that was naught, if they had not led him forth to the spring, to cast in salt there? (2 Kings 2.19-21). The application is easy. 2. Have a special eye to it in your repentance, whether in its beginning or its progress; in your first repentance, and in the renewing of your repentance afterwards. Though a man be sick, there is no fear of death, if the sickness strike not to his heart: and there is as little fear of the death of sin, as long as the sin of our nature is not touched. But if you would repent indeed, let the streams lead you up to the fountain; and mourn over your corrupt nature as the cause of all sin, in heart, lip, and life (Psa 51.4,5), ‘Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.’ 3. Have a special eye upon it in your mortification (Gal 5.24), ‘They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh.’ It is the root of bitterness that must be struck at; which the axe of mortification must be laid to, else we labour in vain. In vain do men go about to cleanse the stream, while they are at no pains about the muddy fountain: it is a vain religion to attempt to make the life truly good, while the corruption of nature retains its ancient vigour, and the power of it is not broken. 4. You are to eye it in your daily walk. He that would walk aright, must have one eye upward to Jesus Christ, and another inward to the corruption of his own nature. It is not enough that we look about us, we must also look within us. There the wall is weakest; there our greatest enemy lies; and there are grounds for daily watching and mourning.

Why original Sin is to be especially noticed

III: I shall offer some reasons, why we should especially notice the sin of our nature.

1: Because of all sins, it is the most extensive and diffusive. It goes through the whole man, and spoils all. Other sins mar particular parts of the image of God, but this at once defaces the whole. A disease affecting any particular member of the body is dangerous; but that which affects the whole, is worse. The corruption of nature is the poison of the old serpent cast into the fountain of action, which infects every action, and every breathing of the soul.

2: It is the cause of all particular lusts, and actual sins, in our hearts and lives. It is the spawn which the great leviathan has left in the souls of men, from whence comes all the fry of actual sins and abominations (Mark 7.21), ‘Out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries,’ &c. It is the bitter fountain; particular lusts are but rivulets running from it, which bring forth into the life a part only, and not the whole of what is within. The fountain is always above the stream: and where the water is good, it is best in the fountain; where it is bad, it is worst there. The corruption of nature being that which defiles all, it must needs be the most abominable thing.

3: It is virtually all sin, for it is the seed of all sins, which want but the occasion to set up their heads, being, in the corruption of nature as the effect in the virtue of its cause. Hence it is called ‘a body of death’ (Rom 7.24), as consisting of the several members belonging to such ‘a body of sins’ (Col 2.11), whose life lies in spiritual death. It is the cursed ground, fit to bring forth all manner of noxious weeds. As the whole nest of venomous creatures must needs be more dreadful than any few of them that come creeping forth, so the sin of your nature, that mother of abominations, must be worse than any particular lusts that appear stirring in your heart and life. Never did every sin appear, in the conversation of the vilest wretch that ever lived; but look you into your corrupt nature, and there you may see all and every sin, in the seed and root thereof. There is a fulness of all unrighteousness there (Rom 1.29). There is atheism, idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, and whatsoever is vile. Possibly none of these appear to you in your heart; but there is more in that unfathomable depth of wickedness than you know. Your corrupt heart is like an ants’ nest, on which, while the stone lies, none of them appear; but take off the stone, and stir them up but with the point of a straw, you will see what a swarm is there, and how lively they be. Just such a sight would your heart afford you, did the Lord but withdraw the restraint He has upon it, and suffer Satan to stir it up by temptation.

4: The sin of our nature is, of all sins, the most fixed and abiding. Sinful actions, though the guilt and stain of them may remain, yet in themselves they pass away. The drunkard is not always at his cups, nor the unclean person always acting lewdness: but the corruption of nature is an abiding sin; it remains with men in its full power, by night and by day; at all times fixed, as with bands of iron and brass, till their nature is changed by converting grace; and it remains even with the godly, until the death of the body, though not in its reigning power. Pride, envy, covetousness, and the like, are not always stirring in you; but the proud, envious, carnal nature, is still with you, even as the clock that is wrong is not always striking wrong, but the wrong set continues with it without intermission.

5: It is the great reigning sin (Rom 6.12), ‘Let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.’ There are three things which you may observe in the corrupt heart: 1. There is the corrupt nature, the corrupt set of the heart, whereby men are unapt for all good, and fitted for all evil. This the apostle calls here ‘sin which reigns.’ 2. There are particular lusts, or dispositions of corrupt nature, which the apostle calls ‘the lusts thereof;’ such as pride, covetousness, &c. 3. There is one among these, which is, like Saul among the people, higher by far than the rest, namely, ‘the sin which doth so easily beset us’ (Heb 12.1). This we usually call the predominant sin,’ because it doth, as it were, reign over other particular lusts, so that other lusts must yield to it. These three are like a river which divides itself into many streams, whereof one is greater than the rest; the corruption of nature is the river head, that has many particular lusts in which it runs, but it chiefly disburdens itself into what is commonly called one’s predominant sin. Now all of these being fed by the sin of our nature, it is evident that it is the reigning sin, which never loses its superiority over particular lusts, which live and die with it, and by it. But, as in some rivers, the main stream runs not always in one and the same channel, so particular ruling sins may be changed, as lust in youth may be succeeded by covetousness in old age. Now, what does it avail to reform in other things, while the reigning sin remains in its full power? What though some particular lust be broken? if sin, the sin of our nature, keep the throne, it will set up another in its stead; as when a water-course is stopped in one place, if the fountain is not closed up, it will stream forth another way. Thus some cast off their prodigality, but covetousness comes up in its stead; some cast away their profanity, and the corruption of nature sends not its main stream that way, as before, but it runs in another channel, namely, in that of a legal disposition, self-righteousness, or the like. So that people are ruined, by their not eyeing the sin of their nature.

6: It is an hereditary evil (Psa 51.5), ‘In sin did my mother conceive me.’ Particular lusts are not so, but in the virtue of their cause. A prodigal father may have a frugal son; but this disease is necessarily propagated in nature, and therefore hardest to cure. Surely, then, the word should be given out against this sin, as against the king of Israel (I Kings 22.31), ‘Fight neither with small nor great, save only with this;’ for this sin being broken, all other sins are broken with it; and while it stands entire, there is no victory.

How to get a View of the Corruption of Nature

IV: That you may get a view of the corruption of your nature, I would recommend to you three things: 1. Study to know the spirituality and extent of the law of God, for that is the glass wherein you may see yourselves. 2. Observe your hearts at all times, but especially under temptation. Temptation is a fire that brings up the scum of the vile heart: carefully mark the first risings of corruption. 3. Go to God, through Jesus Christ, for illumination by His Spirit. Lay out your soul before the Lord, as willing to know the vileness of your nature: say unto Him, ‘That which I know not, teach thou me.’ And be willing to take light in from the Word. Believe, and you shall see. It is by the Word the Spirit teacheth; but without the Spirit’s teaching, all other teaching will be to little purpose. Though the gospel were to shine about you like the sun at noon-day, and this great truth were ever so plainly preached, you would never see yourselves aright, until the Spirit of the Lord light His candle within your breast: the fulness and glory of Christ, and the corruption and vileness of our nature, are never rightly learned, but where the Spirit of Christ is the teacher.

To conclude this weighty point, let the consideration of what has been said commend Christ to you all. You that are brought out of your natural state of corruption unto Christ, be humble; still come to Christ, and improve your union with Him, to the further weakening of your natural corruption. Is your nature changed? It is but in part so. If you are cured, remember the cure is not yet perfected, you still go halting. Though it were better with you than it is, the remembrance of what you were by nature should keep you low. You that are yet in your natural state, take this with you: believe the corruption of your nature; and let Christ and His grace be precious in your eyes. O that you would at length be serious about the state of your souls! What do you intend to do? You must die; you must appear before the judgment-seat of God. Will you lie down and sleep another night at ease in this case? Do it not: for, before another day, you may be summoned before God’s dreadful tribunal, in the grave-clothes of your corrupt state; and your vile souls be cast into the pit of destruction, as a corrupt lump, to be for ever buried out of God’s sight. For I testify unto you all, there is no peace with God, no pardon, no heaven, for you, in your natural state: there is but a step between you and eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord. If the brittle thread of your life, which may break with a touch ere you are aware, be broken while you are in this state, you are ruined for ever, without remedy. But come speedily to Jesus Christ: He has cleansed souls as vile as yours; and He will yet ‘cleanse the blood that he has not cleansed’ (Joel 3.21). Thus far of the sinfulness of man’s natural state.


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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