And now...(drum roll )
the topic of depravity of unregenerate man...
What Presbyterians really mean by terms such as "Original Sin," "Total Depravity," and "Inability of the Will" is defined by our Confession of Faith, Chapter 10, Section 3: "Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto." http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/dabney/5points.htm
And from the CRTA (Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics) website:
Total Depravity is probably the most misunderstood tenet of Calvinism. When Calvinists speak of humans as "totally depraved," they are making an extensive, rather than an intensive statement. The effect of the fall upon man is that sin has extended to every part of his personality -- his thinking, his emotions, and his will. Not necessarily that he is intensely sinful, but that sin has extended to his entire being.
The unregenerate (unsaved) man is dead in his sins (Romans 5:12). Without the power of the Holy Spirit, the natural man is blind and deaf to the message of the gospel (Mark 4:11f). This is why Total Depravity has also been called "Total Inability." The man without a knowledge of God will never come to this knowledge without God's making him alive through Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5).
I really appreciate the distinction the CRTA link makes about the unregenerate state of depravity being extensive rather than intensive. This is a crucial point and where most get hung up on the truth of this aspect of our relationship with our Creator/Redeemer. The fact that the fall has effected and infected every part of our being and extensively so is the very reason we are unable to turn to Jesus, unable to be sincere in our quest of Him, and unable to hear and/or understand His calling out to us.....UNLESS He intervenes and causes it to be so.
Everything about us, our understanding, our will or desire, our emotions, are self-directed NOT God-directed prior to salvation. Even if we are religious while unregenerate we cannot please God in this condition (I was very religious while unregenerate as a Seventh day Adventist, and then later as a Mormon, and then further into that regression in my unregenerate faith I was absolutely on fire for paganism in the new age movement) therefore our religion is to effect ourselves some credit for doing good out of our self-appropriated "goodness" rather than a true seeking of redemption from the hellfire we ought to know we are headed for (which we all deserve for the fact that we do not attain to the holiness required to avoid such a fate) without redeeming grace to assist us. This knowledge, this understanding does not enter into the unregenerate mind UNLESS it enters into it by the Lord's intervention, opening the understanding to the true hopelessness of our own situation without Christ's intervening and redemptive love. The fact that not all are redeemed some will say, reveals that God lacks love, however it reveals the fact that it is His love, not ours, that redeems us. Our love comes only in response to the love that is activated in our hearts which, prior to His intervention, is incapable of the agape love, the truly selfless love, spoken of in scripture...a love that continues even when rejected and martyred for the truth.
The question: If God is so loving, forgiving and merciful, why does He send many to hell?
The two seem incompatible in our way of thinking, but we still think of things with our fleshy understanding of what is right and what is wrong. If we can come to grips with the truth about what depravity is, that we all truly deserve hell, than one person not getting what he/she deserves proves the point about God's unlimited mercy. He doesn't have to prove anything. He is God. But however, He chose to prove to His creation those things that are true about Himself through the means He has given. The Bible puts it this way: If a pot is constructed poorly does the pot then say to the potter "why did you make me this way?" ...we know that pottery has no way of addressing a potter, and likewise, unregenerate man has no way of addressing God. The Bible states that we were dead in our trespasses and sins. This is talking about a spiritual condition and we know this because it is talking about our sinful state, that sin caused us to be spiritually dead. Dead means dead. There was NO means of communicating with a living God because there was a huge chasm of separation (or a barrier, if you like that mental image better) between us where nothing, no communication of any kind, was able to cross over....but God made a way of crossing over...by a cross....and even then He has to communicate it to us, and spark that life and light into our understanding to bring us over that chasm or through that impenetrable barrier.
If we think we are somehow able to credit ourselves with being good enough to enter into God's presence, we are still deceived with the notion that there is some inherent goodness which is able to gain God's respect, that somehow we can choose to force God's hand to give us what we want for ourselves. Many are deceived by that. There is absolutely nothing in us that is deserving of anything of God. If we can truly come to understand that, it is only by God's grace because our vanity won't penetrate that truth unless we have divine help...and once understanding it, then Jesus supplies us the ability to trust and to believe that Jesus is making the way for us out of our dire situation.
If this somehow helps someone, praise the Lord...I know that I can change no one,I can help no one unless it is the Lord Jesus intervening on your behalf, sparking His truth into your being. I can hope and pray that He may use these words to touch and heal someone of their separation from Him, to bring them out of their total depravity, and into the kingdom of His holiness and perfection and love.