The Four Stages of Man

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  • The Four Stages of Man

    Adrian Reynolds

    It is always helpful for the preacher to be thinking through to whom he is preaching in terms of their spiritual state. Thomas Boston is helpful here with his fourfold state, picking up on Augustine:
    • Primitive integrity, i.e. pre-fall – in Augustinian terms, able to sin
    • Entire depravity, i.e. post-fall, pre-conversion, not able not to sin
    • Begun recovery, i.e. regenerate, able not to sin
    • Consummate happiness (or misery), i.e. glorification, unable to sin


    It will not have escaped your notice that we are not preaching to either (1) or (4). However, chances are we are preaching to both (2) and (3). Moreover, it is easy to make two mistakes when it comes to Christians (category 3 to you and I):

    It’s easy to put them into (2) and forget they are indwelt by the Spirit and so able not to sin. The sinful nature remains, sure, but sin is not a power over them. I love Wesley here: to paraphrase, the power of cancelled sin is broken. We can appeal to believers on the basis of the work of Christ applied to them by the Spirit: it need not be this way. We fall into this error when we preach too much on sin (did I just say that?). I must qualify: if we only give the impression that the Christian life is one of failure and repentance in a demoralising cycle, is that really reflecting the teaching of Scripture?

    However, it’s equally easy to go to the other extreme and assume believers are somehow glorified already. It’s all about delighting, rejoicing and abiding in Christ with no (it seems) sin to be put to death. I caricature, but you get the point. We do this when preach too little on sin. Perhaps we scoff at old-Keswick holiness teaching, but there is a real risk that this sinless Christianity is creeping back into our preaching through the back door.
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