Guess Who?

I read a quote that struck a chord from a surprising source, and I thought I’d share it:

Let no one suppose that I claim that just living can be taught; for in a word, I hold that there does not exist an art of the kind which can implant sobriety and justice in depraved natures.

A few pages later, the same author expounded on the same theme, with more words this time:

I consider that the kind of art which can implant honesty and justice in depraved natures has never existed and does not now exist, and that people who profess that power will grow weary and cease from their van pretensions before such an education is ever found.

Google can find the quote for you, if you can’t wait for my point to play out.  But if you actually know who said that, I’d be very impressed!  In addition to guesses, feel free to also leave your thoughts on the content of the quote.

Hint 1: The author of this quote is very far in the past.

Hint 2: The quote struck a surprising chord because I didn’t expect this author’s tradition to be concerned with typical Reformed buzzwords like “just” and “depraved”.  Wesley is not a bad guess, but strike farther afield…

[UPDATE]: The answer is Greek philosopher Isocrates, writing Against the Sophists.  This from The Great Tradition, a compendium of classical writing about education, edited by Richard M. Gambe, which I am reading for “Parent Academy,” an activity of my kids’ awesome school.

The very next sentence after the first quote is:

Nevertheless, I do think that the study of political discourse can help more than any other thing to stimulate and form such qualities of character.

My point is, even though that one sentence seems to be orthodoxally reformed, if you take a second, closer look, it’s really not.  First off, he probably doesn’t think that everybody has a depraved nature.  Second off, he’s off on his categories.  What we are concerned about in the gospel is not “just living” or “implanting” sobriety and justice.  That’s catlick talk.  We are interested in “justified” and having justice imputed to us (around us), not implanted in us.

It just goes to show you, the gospel really is an alien concept.  Accept no substitutes.

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23 Responses to Guess Who?

  1. John Yeazel says:

    It seems that God reserves that ability for Him alone. And then we take credit for it. Reading the last few chapters of the book of Job will deliver us from the mentality that we can cure our depraved natures without the mediation of Christ and His Church.

    I believe you are going to have to give a few hints on this one. Why don’t you start off by telling us if it is someone contemporary or from the past. My guess, from the language used, would be someone from the past.

    I am a bit miffed about what you mean by “struck a chord from a surprising source.” The quote struck a chord with you from the surprising source or the quote was commented on by this surprising source? If the latter is the case who is the surprising source?

    I will take a wild guess and say John Wesley. His views of sanctification certainly seem to communicate that we have the ability to cooperate with God in this overwhelming task. The quote above would indicate that he may have had some reservations about the task.

  2. John Yeazel says:

    That is reservations with our own power and internal resources.

  3. John Yeazel says:

    How about Barack Obama, Bill Clinton or Jim Wallis? Come on Rube- give us some hints.

  4. RubeRad says:

    I posted a parallel quote and some hints. I have to run out for a few hours, but I’ll check back a little later.

  5. Stormcrow says:

    Whitefield perhaps? Props to the new blog format being easier to read the Outhouse on the iPhone.

  6. RubeRad says:

    Sorry, Whitefield is not very far in the past. Nor is he further afield than Wesley.

    And I don’t think we changed anything about the Outhouse’s format; but it’s quite likely that the good folks at made some changes behind the scenes. They’re always doing that.

  7. John Yeazel says:

    Is he a theologian, philosopher or politician? If he really used the word depraved then I would guess he has to have lived after Calvin. Although I am not sure who in the Church first used the word depraved. If that word was being used before Calvin then I will guess Thomas Aquinas. Maybe Augustine was the first one to use the word depraved or its Latin equivalent. I am sure the word has an interesting history behind it.

  8. drollord says:

    Sophist: Isocrates

  9. drollord says:

    Are you reading the Loeb Classical Library?

  10. drollord says:

    The first quote reput:
    Make sure there’s beer in your pitcher before you start pouring, lest you be a poor example.

  11. John Yeazel says:


    Say what? I do not quite follow the first quote reput. I hope that if it is a quote by Isocrates you did not just happen to remember he said that in your vast memory banks.

  12. drollord says:


    If you read the text against the sophists. you will find that he’s going after those men who put forth that they know something when they don’t, leading people astray. Making it up as they go. And on top of that, they’re getting paid for it.

    “…in your vast memory banks.”
    -Ohio State’s vast memory banks to be exact.
    -Please don’t be impressed with me, Rube (or John). I won’t pretend knowledge that I don’t have. I read the whole thing, after you pointed it out. A good read.

    -So we weren’t supposed to look it up then and answer? Stellman states no googling, etc. explicitly each time. For the slower in mind, please state next time, “no googling.”

  13. John Yeazel says:

    Well Drollard, you will not get the cigar of your choice- I am still waiting for my extra large habana black. These miserly reformed types are a bit stingy with their rewards.

  14. RubeRad says:

    Yes drollord of course found it; I really meant no Googling, except that I didn’t expect anybody to actually guess the precise answer. I would have accepted anything as close as “Greek”, so I’ll give Yeazel the reward for mentioning the word “philosopher”. (But whatever reward that is, that won’t be until after you get your Cuban — wasn’t it Z that owes you that one?)

    As to the etymology of “depraved”, that’s an interesting point. Apparently there is a greek word that translates well as “depraved”, and why isn’t it all over the New Testament? I wonder if it’s the same word from 1 Tim 6:5?

  15. drollord says:

    -Had it been Seneca or Cicero, I might have nailed it without looking it up. My apologies for blowing it, Rube. I appreciate you pointing out the text. It really is good reading.

    “It just goes to show you, the gospel really is an alien concept. Accept no substitutes.”
    Well put. Don’t scrap Isocrates though.

    -On the side, I’ve got asthma. Smoking’s probably not the best thing for me to do anyways (besides me being a painter). But light ’em up.

    -“Kakos” might be the word. No it isn’t in the Timothy text.

  16. John Yeazel says:


    Seneca was going to be my next guess- since Calvin drew so much from him.


    I have wondered why “depraved” is not all over the New Testament either. I guess it is implied in the Gospel of John with our inability to come to God unless “drawn” and in Ephesians where we are told we are “dead in our trespasses and sins.”
    But how Calvin began using the word depraved is a mystery to me and probably one worthy of trying to find out about. Anybody out there want to respond to this?

  17. drollord says:

    Seneca was a weird read. I know he’s a stoic, pagan, etc. But at times I thought I was reading Paul, Rube’s point being held firmly in the forefront about the alien-ness of the gospel. It was strange. And I enjoyed him too.

  18. RubeRad says:

    Hmmm, Seneca is coming up in the book, I’ll keep an eye out for Calvin-ness.

    About the alien-ness of the gospel, you know Isocrates is correct in what he says; in common grace, God uses the 2nd kingdom institutions he ordained as a means that we improve each other — in a non-salvific sense. And as long as we understand that Isocrates is speaking within the realm of common grace, not special grace, then he can be read usefully.

    It’s interesting to think that Isocrates, who we apparently know lived 436–338 BC, may well have been read by Paul as part of his wide-ranging education. Obviously Paul never wrote it infallibly, but I wonder if he ever did an Acts 17-type thing in any context, saying something like “As you know, Isocrates spoke truly that man cannot be educated out of his depravity; but what he didn’t know is that, (a) all men are depraved, and (b) God has brought a totally different means of justifying the depraved…”

  19. John Yeazel says:

    I just got back from a 3 mile walk and was thinking about the implied usages of depravity (when comparing God’s nature with human nature after the fall) throughout the scriptures. You find it in Genesis, Dueteronomy, Judges, the Prophets (esp. Is. 6 where Isaiah becomes “undone” in the presence of God and in Ezekial’s opening chapters where that weird energetic living being with wheels “full of eyes” is darting all over the place and Ezekial is completely taken aback by it). You also find it in Romans chapters 3 and 7.

  20. RubeRad says:

    Yeah, there’s no denying that the doctrine is there; but the question remains, if the Greek had a word that corresponds well with the English “depravity”, why didn’t Paul use it?

  21. John Yeazel says:


    I know Sproul preferred the words radically corrupt to depraved but he probably had a narcissistic reason for that- his initials R.C. stood for radically corrupt. At least that is what he often stated is some of his teaching tapes. I always got a kick out of that one.

    However, that does not solve our dilemma because I do not think radically corrupt is used in scripture either.

  22. John Yeazel says:


    Reading about that “awesome school,” I am expecting the next John Calvin or Martin Luther to be brought up in your home. When I was raising my kids I wanted them to to be exposed to those lost tools of learning but it never happened (that still eats at me today). I am hoping I will be able to nurture one of my kids kids now.

    I really hope the best for families raising their kids these days- to hold down the fort and catechize them properly. Everything around us seems to work against it and it is rare to see it properly done. You folks at the outhouse may be able to pull it off- may God’s power and grace be with you.

  23. John Yeazel says:

    depravity Look up depravity at
    1640s, from deprave (q.v.). Earlier in same sense was pravity, from L. pravitas.
    turpitude Look up turpitude at
    “depravity, infamy,” 1490, from M.Fr. turpitude (1417), from L. turpitudinem (nom. turpitudo) “baseness,” from turpis “vile, ugly, base, shameful,” used in both the moral and the physical senses; of unknown origin. Perhaps originally “what one turns away from” (cf. L. trepit “he turns”).
    original (adj.) Look up original at
    1315, from L. originalis, from originem (nom. origo) “beginning, source, birth,” from oriri “to rise” (see orchestra). The first ref. is in original sin “innate depravity of man’s nature,” supposed to be inherited from Adam in consequence of the Fall. The noun, in sense of “original text,” is attested from c.1385, from M.L. originale. Of photographs, films, sound recordings, etc., from 1918. Origin first recorded 1563. Originality is first attested 1742, probably after Fr. originalité.

    Found this at the online etymology dictionary-

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