How Bad Have Our Hearts Become?
How Bad Have Our Hearts Become?
But in all this external progress, is there internal progress?
Are our hearts changed compared to the generations before us, or are
we the same moral degenerates, or even worse?
– The Paralysis of Pessimism, Gary DeMar
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Welcome to Episode 48 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 20 minutes I will try to cover an issue that has become very important in the last one century, in respect to the victories and the defeats of the church, and especially in respect to the work of spreading the Gospel, both at home and in the field of foreign missions. So important, in fact, that I have seen foreign missions fail exactly because of lack of understanding on this particular issue. As far as its influence at home, we can safely say that a large part of the cultural defeats of the church in the US have been caused by lack of understanding on this particular issue. And, as we will see later in this episode, a number of false church practices have come out of either lack of understanding, or of deliberate false teaching on this particular issue. So this issue needs to be resolved; we need to lay the axe to the root of this sacred oak of modern church theology and eschatology, and deal with it before we are able to score again cultural victories for the Kingdom of Christ.
The issue is the moral condition of our hearts. Or, to be more precise, the moral condition of the hearts of all men taken as an aggregate; that is, the moral condition of mankind, the covenantal unity of all human beings living on earth in this particular moment of history. Are we as mankind better than our ancestors? Are we more morally upright? Are we less cruel, less violent, less prone to commit crimes against property? Are we less willing to lie? Or are we more corrupt and more eager to commit all kinds of crimes? The answers to these questions are very important to everything we do, from our personal undertakings to our business decisions, to our cultural and church practices. The dynamics of mankind’s morality in history gives a clue to the expectations we should have of our immediate future and of the future of our children. And while it is impossible to know the future for certain, we still need to have somewhat reliable expectations. After all, no one makes any decisions without certain expectations of the future, right? (If you don’t believe this last sentence, try making even a single decision without taking the future in account.)
Of course, those of us who have been involved in Christian Reconstruction and have preached and taught postmillennialism have had to face the question: “Is the world getting better or worse?” There have been multiple sermons and lectures and books on this issue; all of them showing that contrary to the nearsighted view of a world that is gradually declining, we actually have a world that is getting better, generation after generation. Yes, even with all the wars we have had in the last one century – after all, at the end of all these wars, all the bad guys and their extremely wicked ideologies have been defeated, to the point that they are extinct today, or limited to only a few small impoverished nations around the world. My favorite question in this regard has always been, “What century would you prefer to live in, compared to today?” Most people who believe the world has been getting worse, after giving it a good thought, come to the conclusion that they would still prefer to live in our own day. Some would mention some period of the past, usually of what they assume to have been a period of unquestionable prevalence of Christian ideas. And yet, when I point to them the reality of that specific period, stripped of the romantic and nostalgic descriptions, they take an exception, “Well, without these bad things.” In other words, they would like to live in a past of their own imagination, sort of a modern cultural setting (without the bad things of the past) with a vintage wardrobe.
Anyone who is trying to prove that the world has been getting worse and worse will have serious hard time with collecting his evidence. The world has been getting better and better, and that is obvious. Economically, our poor today, in the West, are richer than the richest people just 300 or 400 years ago; and the vast majority of the world’s population today is not under the danger of starvation. Politically, we don’t have the gigantic and cruel empires of ages past. With time, the empires of man seem to be shorter and shorter-lived. Remember, as a political entity, Rome existed for 12 centuries; the Ottoman Empire for just a little over 7, the Russian Empire as established by Peter the Great for only 2 centuries, and the Communist Soviet empire couldn’t survive even two generations. Would-be dictators in Africa and Latin America seldom stayed in power for more than a few decades, and the remaining ones are viewed as remnants of a forgotten past. Not that we have achieved the perfect state of civil government in the world today, but yet, we don’t have anything close to Caligula or Tamerlane. Judicially, one may argue, we have had ups and downs, but then again, remember that even in America, we had slavery on the books until just 4 generations ago, and legal segregation was a daily reality in the childhood of millions of Americans who are still living today. And while police brutality today is just as bad as it has always been – because police is created to be an institution of brutality and oppression – the public opinion is changing against it. Technologically, we have the world at our fingertips today, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the direct access to a world of literature and knowledge; making Paul’s reward in 1 Cor. 9:18 come true, namely, the Gospel is offered free of charge around the world. And speaking of preaching the Gospel, nowhere is progress more visible than in the fact that within just the last century, the unreached groups in the world shrank from 60% to less than 5% of the population of the world, during a period when the population of the world increased 7-fold!
The world is getting better with every generation. Really. There is no doubt about it. No matter what anyone says, no one really wants to live in ages past. Not without some disclaimer like, “without the bad things,” most of which “bad things” were in fact characteristic for the ages past. The world today is a serious improvement over the world of 200 years ago, or of 2,000 years ago. In all respects.
While this issue has been dealt with in numerous publications, one legitimate question remains: “Have our hearts changed also?” Yes, we have seen technological and scientific progress, no doubt about it. Yes, we have certain judicial and political progress; no one really wants to live in earlier ages when there was no rule of law, and everything was dependent on the whim of rulers. Yes, undoubtedly, we have economic progress; what is the last time we saw real famine? (Think about it, we have thousands of gyms where spend energy to spend energy, so that we don’t get too fat!!!) But in all this external progress, is there internal progress? Are our hearts changed compared to the generations before us, or are we the same moral degenerates, or even worse? I said that the question is legitimate because if that external progress is only external, then it is only temporary, and it is only a prelude to judgment, a judgment from God on our civilization. But if this external progress is also internal, then the progress is not only here to stay, but we should expect even more progress coming our way, including more and better ways of spreading the Gospel.
So, what is it? Is the current state of mankind common judgment, external progress without internal sanctification, and therefore a prelude to judgment? Or is it special grace, that is, internal moral sanctification plus external cultural redemption, a manifestation of the Kingdom of God?
Now, while there can no perfect assurance when we covenantally interpret history and present circumstances, and while there is no broad-brush interpretation that would apply to everything without exception, we have a very good reason to believe that mankind has been experiencing a steady moral sanctification ever since the Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Let me start with this: Even before the ministry of Christ, and before the Cross and the Resurrection, the Word of God exercised a redemptive role in the ancient world. It is hard for us today, having been brainwashed by the modern secular concept of ancient history and ancient chronology, to imagine that the Law of God actually had any influence in the world before Christ, but the reality is, it had a much greater impact than we today imagine. I have written an article on the impact it had on Greece and Rome, titled “The Shadow of Christ in the Legal Revolutions in Greece and Rome,” found on ChristendomRestored.com. But Greece and Rome were not the only cultures affected. According to Eusebius, the first great historian of the Church, the Law of God given through Moses did change the hearts of mankind from a state of savagery to a civilized state:
…an entire nation appeared, sprung from the Hebrews and practicing the true religion. To them, through the prophet Moses, he revealed images and symbols of a mystical Sabbath and of circumcision, as well as instruction in other spiritual principles, but no complete revelation of the mysteries, for they were still bound by old practices. Yet when their law became famous and penetrated everywhere like a fragrant breeze, the minds of most of the heathen were moderated by lawgivers and philosophers. Savage brutality changed into mildness, so that profound peace, friendship, and easy communication prevailed.
Yes, yes, I know, it sounds like Eusebius was exaggerating or making it up, but in reality, such was the common consent in the antiquity, even among the pagans, that the Law of Hebrew God was the foundation of all civilization. This was the reason why Julius Caesar had read the Septuagint and had freed the Jews in the Empire from taxes every seventh year; and why Titus ordered his legions to not destroy the Temple. The Jewish historian Josephus, writing two centuries before Eusebius, had the same view. The same view, in fact, is confirmed by Scripture in 1 Kings 4:34: “Men came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.” Modern secularist history and chronology have brainwashed us to believe otherwise, but the Biblical truth is, the ancient world knew about the Law of God, and this knowledge became especially widespread with Solomon, over the whole earth. As I have argued in a previous episode of Axe to the Root, if we reject the secularist chronology and adopt a chronology that is in agreement with the Biblical narrative, we will see that all known civilized societies in history – societies of some established form rule by law, as opposed to rule by the whim of a ruler – appeared after 900 BC, that is, after Solomon’s reign. The ancient world knew this, and what Eusebius wrote about the minds of the heathen being changed by the Law of God was a common knowledge. Even before Christ, the Word of God was changing the minds and the hearts of even the worst of the heathen.
This change was obvious to the ancients, for in the first century AD, the memory was still kept of earlier empires and conquests. Rome was an exquisitely cruel culture by modern standards, but by the standards of, for example, the Assyrian Empire or the Phoenicians, it was rather mild and tamed. Assyrians liked to flay all their war prisoners alive and leave heaps of flayed, still wriggling bodies in the scorching sun. The Phoenicians sacrificed their children to their gods. Rome didn’t practice unnecessary cruelty on the battlefield, and human sacrifices were especially loathsome to the ordinary Roman. The reason why the early church fathers tried to preserve the Empire was exactly this: in their eyes, the alternative was much crueler and more savage.
The problem was not only with the pagan nations. The Bible tells us that before Christ, even the Jews had extraordinary hardness of heart. Jesus specifically said it when discussing the provisions for divorce in the Law of God, in Matt. 19:8 and Mark 10:5: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives.” The general understanding here is that Jesus was giving indulgence to the husbands. The truth is, however, he was protecting the wives. Because of the hardness of the hearts of the men under the Old Covenant, when a husband quit loving his wife, her life would become a nightmare, while she would be trapped in a marriage without love and care. It was much safer for such a wife to receive a divorce from her husband, for given the hardness of men’s hearts, she wouldn’t get anything better. Under the New Covenant, however, Jesus restored the original legal condition, namely, whatever God has joined together, man can’t put asunder. Therefore, Jesus expected that under the New Covenant, there won’t be the same hardness of hearts, and therefore the protection of the wife would be not so much in outward legal rules but in the inner sanctification of her husband. In fact, such family sanctification even of unbelievers is specifically anticipated by Paul in 1 Cor. 7:14, where the unbelieving spouse is expected to be sanctified (not necessarily saved) by the believing spouse; therefore, the physical proximity would lead to some sort of inner sanctification and partial redemption in the unbeliever.
The early church fathers began to see signs of cultural sanctification as early as the 4th century. In his work On the Incarnation, Athanasius testifies how his compatriots, the Egyptians, have abandoned their worship to idols, and even the non-Christians have stopped offering sacrifices to their temples. He even speaks of the sacrifice of Jesus as “restoring the whole nature of man.” We may judge his enthusiasm a bit premature, from our own vantage point, but for Athanasius to declare such things, the change in the hearts of men – all men – must have been really obvious and surprising, within just a generation or two. Missionaries testified of similar experiences on the mission field where even the unconverted were still influenced by the preaching of the missionary, and changed their conduct accordingly. (Today’s missionaries also testify of such indirect influence of the Gospel upon even those who are just listeners, even if they have never turned to Christ.)
And these were still the times of the Roman Empire, with all their cruelty and oppression and personal wickedness. People still flocked to see gladiatorial games and found entertainment in the cruel death of human beings in the arena. Roman women still found pleasure in torturing their male and female slaves. Sexual immorality was still rampant in the culture, and temple prostitution was the norm. And yet, even in those early centuries of the Church, the change of heart was obvious. A new paradigm of personal conduct was replacing the old paradigm. Step by step, the pagan concept of morality and conduct was being replaced. Cruelty to slaves gradually disappeared. The old paradigm of dominating other human beings did not disappear, but it was softened by the introduction of new codes of conduct that emphasized the servanthood aspect of power. Chivalry was one of those new codes of conduct; while in itself imperfect and not really Biblical, chivalry did change much in the way the ruling classes saw themselves in relation to their subjects. The social position of women changed from being second-class citizens under the old pagan laws (whether Roman or German) to position of full rights and even social influence and special protection for women and other weaker members of the society. The change was legal, but it was also ethical, for the teaching of equality came through the preaching of the church.
Overtime, more changes came in the hearts of men, through that same preaching. Our modern economic prosperity didn’t come by magic; it was a fruit of the Protestant Reformation and its concept of spiritual calling. (Read Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.) It only happened because the doctrines of the Reformation changed the concept of work, stewardship, and wealth. Where previously the middle class of productive entrepreneurs was viewed with suspicion, under the Reformation this same class was now elevated to the status of the most important class in the society. This elevation of the entrepreneurial class by the preaching of the Reformers changed the hearts of many people and created a new role model to follow for future generations. Modern atheists often point to the fact that many unbelievers have high work ethic – therefore, they say, Christianity is not unique in creating such work ethic. The question, of course, is, how did this sanctification in the hearts of these unbelievers happen? The answer is: through the preaching of the Reformers, and through later imitation and historical legacy, which modern unbelievers have taken advantage of. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and Henry Ford and Sam Walton etc could only happen in a culture that had been previously saturated with Gospel truths. Such saturation inevitably leads to sanctification not only in the hearts of the Christian believers, but also in the hearts of everyone.
The decline in crime is another example of the influence of the preaching of the Gospel. We often today imagine that crime is on the increase, that the world is becoming less and less secure . . . but the truth is, we have never had crime rates so low, and we have never been safer, especially in the West. The crime statistics show a much lower rate of all violent crimes, from murder to rape, and multiple studies confirm it. In fact, despite all the scares of terrorism, terrorism is in decline compared to the second half of the 20th century. Only France in the 1970s had as many terrorist acts and people killed in them every year as all of the US today, again, a year. Such decline is not simply due to some change in the legal system; it is very clearly a change in the heart of the population in general. Violence is not considered a normal conduct anymore. Again, we can say many things about the moral condition of the hearts of all our neighbors, but it is still true that a world of less criminal violence is a better world than the one with more.
And such decline in violence is obvious even in nations where Christianity is not the prevalent faith of the population. India is a good example. Just a generation ago, in India, any act of cruelty against people of lower castes was considered the norm, and no one was surprised. (Read the story of Phoolan Devi, the Bandit Queen of India.) The caste divisions which had ruled India for millennia, were enough of a justification for any cruelty against the lower castes. This situation has been changing rapidly for the last several decades, even for the lowest of lowest castes, the Dalits. Just recently, the harassment of a Dalit professor by his colleagues which led to his suicide became a public scandal in India; obviously, the heart of India is changing. And much of this change has come through the preaching of the Gospel. (Read the novel Karukku by the Christian Dalit writer Bama Soosairaj to find out more.) If even India is changing, the rest of the world is changing too. And the change is not simply in technology, or politics, or economics. It is in the hearts of men as well. The Gospel never returns back empty. It changes hearts. Even where the hearts remain hard against the Lord Jesus Christ.
We can continue with more and more evidence, if we had the time, in any case, one thing is obvious: The hearts of men have not become harder. To the contrary, they have grown softer. Even the unbelievers these days understand justice and mercy better than some Christians in ages past. Mankind is growing more sanctified. God’s special grace is at work, overcoming the curse of the sin. Until every enemy of Christ is made subject to Him.
The only issue that needs to be resolved is, can there be any harm from this false belief that the hearts of men become harder and more wicked? Yes, such belief is harmful. The promise of the New Covenant is that the more the Gospel is preached, the more mature and self-governing men will be. That applies to Christians first, by special grace, but it also applies to unbelievers as well, as common grace which spills over the cup of special grace. When we understand special grace at work in history, in changing the hearts of mankind, we will plan for a world that will be much better, much more mature and responsible, and much less prone to violence and crime. In such a world, we don’t need to spend more energy on building institutional controls. In such a world, preaching the whole council of God will be a much more effective tool for securing justice and liberty for all. The Holy Spirit at work in the culture will be the protection of our society, as the promise in Zechariah 2:3-4 says, that God Himself will be protection around His Church.
When we, however, expect men to become less mature, more wicked, and more prone to commit crime, we will invest more effort and resources into building institutional restraints. In a world of immature men, we will want to make sure we have as many guardians as possible – whether as police presence or as church bureaucrats. In addition to wasting resources for such “security,” we will be opening the door for tyranny, civil or ecclesiastical. Any institution that is given the power to constantly correct the steps of men, is an institution that can impose a foreign agenda on men. In the final account, we will be back to Rome, in both civil and ecclesiastical sense. And back to Rome means no growth, and no future.
And Paul tells us that the future belongs to us.
The reading I will assign this week is an audio by Gary DeMar, titled The Paralysis of Pessimism. Listen to him explain the consequences of our expectations of the future. Add to this the assigned reading of several weeks ago, Gary North’s Millennialism and Social Theory. Your expectations of the future determine your present. And your effectiveness as a worker of the Kingdom of God.
Consider in your prayers and your giving Bulgarian Reformation Ministries, a mission organization committed to preaching the whole council of God in Eastern Europe. Our goal has never been to create immature men and place them under the care of ecclesiastical baby-sitters in some sort of spiritual nursery. Our goal has been raising mature, spiritual men, who can apply the Word of God to every area of life and change cultures. Help us continue the work. Visit BulgarianReformation.com, subscribe to the newsletter, and donate.