a website dedicated to the memory of Adolphe Monod (1802-1856)



The Misery of Man (1828)

English translation

This sermon is a beautiful example of truly evangelical preaching, completely in line with the values of the Awakening. It is the first part of a series of two sermons that should not be separated.


This sermon partially stems from Monod’s period in Naples, where he was the pastor of the French-speaking church. It is is also the period during which he made a conversion experience. The sermon has been elaborated during his stay in Lyon and bears its marks. As a matter of fact, the young convert soon entered in conflict with the local church and its council, both of which adhered to the Enlightenment religiosity, which insisted on the pursuit of virtue and had completely abandoned salvation by grace, which the Reformation had rediscovered. Several of Monod’s remarks, and in particular the portrait of the “virtuous sinners” appear to be directed at this audience of respectable citizens who were proud of their achievements and thought that a life without scandal could open the gates of paradise to them.


This sermon aims at explaining and exposing the first part of Romans 11.32: For God has bound everyone over to disobedience … Monod explains that everyone encompasses both Jews and Non-Jews, of all times. He shows that there is a parallel text in Galatians 3.22 that allows to establish that disobedience here has to be understood as referring to sin. Finally, he asserts that the binding over to sin means that God has declared all men to be sinners. He thus reformulates the verse as follows: “God has declared that every man, in his natural state, is a sinner.”

Monod then justifies the apparent harshness of his assertions. Very much like a doctor, he wishes to administer a radical message in order to heal, rather than reassuring the sick by false securities.

He then goes on to explain the notion of sin, which must not be confused with vice. Man is a sinner because he has missed the goal his Creator had fixed for him, which is to love God more than anything else. This commandment is affirmed both in the Old and in the New Testament. As a matter of fact, the Bible teaches that man has failed; it is not the isolated texts cited by Monod that contain this teaching, but the Bible as a whole makes this assertion. Monod in particular refers to the first three chapters of Romans, which establish this doctrine with great clarity.

Monod then answers the objection according to which some texts only concern the people of Paul’s time. He warns against “that terrible error” that consists in adding to and subtracting from the Bible (see Revelation 22.18 et seq.) “under pretext of abstracting from our faith all that is unreasonable”.

Although he is certain of the biblical foundations of his assertion and their authority, Monod endeavours to demonstrate that reason itself comes to the same conclusions. God, both as the perfect being and in his dealings with mankind, is supremely worthy of love. Whatever is lovable has its origins in him; whoever goes to the origins of such things has to acknowledge that God must be the foremost object of our love. Any man who abandons this love is like a planet leaving its orbit around the sun, which exposes it to dreadful consequences.

Monod then shows that man does not at all come up to these expectations, loving other things more than God. The preacher draws a portrait of what the attitude towards God of an ideal Christian would be, thereby highlighting how far his listeners are away from this ideal. We do not love God as we should; all we do offer him is some “cold esteem”.

Monod then develops an intriguing typology of sinners. According to him, men are either “worldly sinners” who put their love on material things, or, which is less frequent, “affectionate sinners”, who love their family and friends over all, or, which is even more rare, “virtuous sinners” (!) who offer their greatest love to their duties and the requirements of their conscience. How many offer their first love to God? Following Paul, Monod finds that there is “none, not even one”.

The preacher invites his audience to open themselves to these assertions of Scripture and to let their conscience be troubled by them, which will make them receptive to God’s mercy.

The sermon ends accordingly with a prayer.


The structure of the sermon is rather simple.

The introduction is very short, i.e. it is contained in a single sentence (“The man who thoroughly understands this single verse has the key to the whole Bible”) This is extremely concise but quite efficient – who would not want to have the key to the entire revelation of Scripture?

The main part of the sermon is divided in three balanced parts: (1) exposition of the biblical teaching; (2) confirmation by what reason finds; (3) the types of sinners to which we belong, which brings us back to the biblical assertion according to which all men have gone astray.

A prayer forms the conclusion.

Rhetorical elements

Monod is not very much into rhetorical effects. He sometimes likes to repeat expressions: for instance, when defending the universality of biblical teaching, he repeats “If man is not in this condition of disorder …” three times in three successive sentences, and when he insists on the fact that his listeners are far from having the appropriate attitude towards God, he repeats “it is not true” not less than six times in six successive sentences. All of this is very unspectacular, from a rhetorical point of view.

Why this sermon matters

This sermon is fundamental in that it establishes the basis of the doctrine of sin held by Monod. It was the basic discovery underlying his conversion that one has to distinguish sin and vice. Monod thus attacks the concept of sin of Enlightenment Christianity and returns to the concept of sin as we find it exposed in particular in Paul’s writings.

The sermon also contains a powerful rebuttal of the liberal approach, which establishes human reason as judge of Scripture and feels free to abandon whatever is found not to comply with the requirements of reason. Monod contradicts Bultmann by anticipation and shows a very profound respect for Scripture: “When the Word of God thus explains itself, I do not need for myself any other authority.”


I have the impression that Monod to some extent violates the verse on which his sermon is based when he asserts that God’s binding over to disobedience has to be understood as God’s declaration that man is a sinner. The idea that God makes declarations on man’s state underlies the biblical concept of justification (wherein God declares the believers to be righteous), and it may well be legitimate to presuppose an analogous declaration with respect to sin, but I cannot really find this idea in Romans 11.32, which rather suggests that God has decided to let man delve into his sin (see Romans 1.28: … God has given them over …). In contrast to justification, there is no need to declare man to be a sinner, his actions clearly manifest that he is. When Monod says that “it would be as unnecessary as it is easy to prove by all the Bible that [the expression “God has bound everyone over to disobedience »] does not mean that God constrains men to sin, but that He declares them to be sinners” he does not administer this proof ; as a matter of fact, he appears to introduce an element that is foreign to the verse he comments, which is questionable on behalf of a preacher who intends to be faithful to the Scriptures.

Other observations

This sermon provides a first example of a feature that is characteristic for Adolphe Monod: the use of illustrations from the world of the physical sciences. He compares man’s rebellion against God to a planet that leaves its orbit around the sun.


Download the original (French) text (thanks to Google Books)

Download the (French) text in modern layout

Download my English translation

Listen to a recording of my translation (50 min):

Download the.mp3 file

Download the 1878 translation by J.E. Rankin


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