Richard Watson on the Origin of Depravity: “The Withdrawing of That Spirit from Adam” (1832)

, , Comments Off on Richard Watson on the Origin of Depravity: “The Withdrawing of That Spirit from Adam” (1832)

[This post first appeared at]

“Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.”

– King David, Psalm 51:11 KJV

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

– Galatians 3:13-14 ESV

“We have seen that the curse of the law implied a denial of the Spirit; the removal of that curse implies, therefore, the gift of the Spirit, and the benefit must be as large and extensive as the atonement.”

– Richard Watson, Institutes, Vol. 2, page 86


Those who deny the depravity of man will sometimes ask what kind of “ontological change” took place when Adam sinned, or they will sometimes even accuse us (who hold that depravity is a Biblical doctrine) of holding that God makes us unable to believe and then blames us for that same unbelief.

But why is man depraved? The Methodist Theologian Rev. Richard Watson suggested that our depravity was due to the withdrawing of the Spirit of God from man. This makes sense. Adam and Eve had spiritual life, but when they sinned, they died–they experienced spiritual death or the withdrawing of the Spirit. When we are regenerated as Christians, we experience the renewal of spiritual life and the indwelling Spirit.

It seems, then, that depravity is the natural state of a man apart from the Spirit of God—“God” is, said James Arminius, “the Chief Good, [and] in all of which is comprehended the supreme and the only happiness of this world and of that which is to come”–and so without the source of all good, how can man do any good thing? We can’t.

But the Spirit helps us. And this is what we mean by Prevenient Grace. Even before we are regenerated–given spiritual life again–the Spirit helps us to understand our state and bring us to repentance and faith. “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17b). Here is Arminius, again:

As the very first commencement of every good thing, so likewise the progress, continuance and confirmation, nay, even the perseverance in good, are not from ourselves, but from God through the Holy Spirit. For “he who hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ;” (Phil. i. 6;) and “we are kept by the power of God through faith.” (1 Pet. i. 5.) “The God of all grace makes us perfect, stablishes, strengthens and settles us.” (i, 10.) […] “Every good and perfect gift, therefore, is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights,” (James i. 17,) by whose power the dead are animated that they may live, the fallen are raised up that they may recover themselves, the blind are illuminated that they may see, the unwilling are incited that they may become willing, the weak are confirmed that they may stand, the willing are assisted that they may work and may co-operate with God. “To whom be praise and glory in the church, by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen!”

Now, here is Rev. Richard Watson, is his Theological Institutes (1836), at pages 81-82 & 83:

[…] Certain it is, that before we are thus quickened by the Spirit, we are “dead in trespasses and sins;” and if we are made alive by that Spirit, it is a strong presumption thatthe withdrawing of that Spirit from Adam, when he wilfully sinned, and from all his posterity, that is, from human nature itself, was the cause of the death and the depravation which followed.

But this is not left to mere inference. For, as Mr. Howe justly observes, when speaking of “the retraction of God’s Spirit from Adam,”

“This we do not say gratuitously; for do but consider that plain text, Gal. iii, 13, ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree; that the blessing of Abraham might come upon us Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.’ If the remission of the curse carry with it the conferring of the grace of the Spirit, then the curse, while it did continue, could not but include and carry in it the privation of the Spirit. This was part of the curse upon apostate Adam, the loss of God’s Spirit. As soon as the law was broken, man was cursed, so as that thereby this Spirit should be withheld, should be kept off, otherwise than as upon the Redeemer’s account, and according to his methods it should be restored. Hereupon it could not but ensue that the Holy image of God must be erased and vanished.” (Posthumous Works.)

This accounts for the whole case of man’s corruption. The Spirit’s influence in him did not prevent the possibility of his sinning, though it afforded sufficient security to him, as long as he looked up to that source of strength. He did sin, and the Spirit retired; and, the tide of sin once turned in, the mound of resistance being removed, it overflowed his whole nature.In this state of alienation from God men are born, with all these tendencies to evil, because the only controlling and sanctifying power, the presence of the Spirit, is wanting, and is now given to man, not as when first brought into being, as a creature ; but is secured to him by the mercy and grace of a new and different dispensation, under which the Spirit is administered in different degrees, times, and modes, according to the wisdom of God, never on the ground of our being creatures, but as redeemed from the curse of the law by him who became a curse for us.


From this view of the total alienation of the nature of man from GOD, it does not, however, follow that there should be nothing virtuous and praiseworthy among men, until, in the proper sense, they become the subjects of the regeneration insisted upon in the Gospel as necessary to qualify men for the kingdom of heaven.  […]On the contrary theory of God’s universal love nothing is more easy ; because, in consequence of the atonement offered for all, the Holy Spirit is administered to all, and to his secret operations all that is really spiritual and good, in its principle, is to be ascribed.

You can read an excerpt from a few pages later in my previous post, here: More from Richard Watson on Prevenient Grace

The full Theological Institutes is available online from Google Books, or in the recently re-printed edition from Lexham Press.