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Reading the Classics – Real Christianity (III)

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This is a slightly abbreviated version of my usual “Reading the Classics” post. I am in Orlando and about to begin blogging the Ligonier Ministries National Conference. I am going to need to head to the church in just a few minutes. So I will to leave it to the other participants in this effort (that’s you!) to add a little bit more detail about the contents of this chapter. For now, here are just a few brief notes.


I tried something different this week. We had a long drive this week, traveling from Toronto to Chattanooga and, while we were driving, I asked my wife to read this chapter to me. It’s the first time I’ve listened to a chapter of the classics instead of reading a chapter of the classics. I quite enjoyed it.

In this chapter of Real Christianity, Wilberforce writes about “Inadequate Conceptions of Human Nature.” He shows that one of the keys to discerning true from false beliefs relies on a person’s understanding of human nature. He believes rightly that a proper understanding of human nature “lies at the very root of all true religion. And it is the basis and groundwork of Christianity.”

“Most educated, professing Christians,” he writes, “either overlook or deny the corruption and weakness of human nature.” Though they are forced to acknowledge that something is amiss with human behavior, they will deny sin and depravity and speak instead of frailty and infirmity, of petty wrongdoings rather than indwelling sin. “The majority of professing Christians usually speak of man as a being who is naturally pure. He is inclined to all virtue. Only occasionally something draws him out of the righteous course…” Wilberforce compares and contrasts such a view to the Bible’s understanding of humanity which describes man as desperately wicked and sinful to the very core.

He is right when he declares “They who have formed a true notion of their lost and helpless state will most gladly listen to good news. And they will have a high estimation of the value of such a deliverance.” I almost wonder if he was thinking of his friend John Newton when he wrote these words. Regardless, he goes on to say that, though talk of man’s depravity is a difficult and painful discussion that does damage to man’s pride, it is one that is necessary for one who would truly understand the great work of the gospel. “The mind listens to it with difficulty, nay, with a mixture of anger and disgust. Yet it is here that our foundation must be laid. Otherwise our superstructure, whatever we may think of it, will one day prove tottering and insecure.”

Next Week

We’ll continue next Thursday with Chapter 3, “Inadequate Conceptions of God and of Christian Behavior.”

Your Turn

Reading the Classics Together is, at its heart, an interactive effort. If you have read the chapter and have comments or questions, please feel free to post a comment. If you have a blog of your own and have written about the book there, please feel free to leave us a link to your article.

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