Part 2 Chapter 5

Section 2—Psalm 51:5.

[with Psalm 58:3 and Isaiah 48:8]
, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

David, having committed some very great sins, and being made sensible of them, ingeniously confesses them, and mourns over the depravity of his nature, the fountain of them; which he mentions not as an extenuation, but as an aggravation, of his iniquities, since he had been so early and so long a sinful creature. The sin and iniquity he speaks of he does not call his sin, and his iniquity, though it was so, being in his nature, but sin and iniquity,being common to him with all mankind, and which attended his conception and formation in the womb, before he was born, and so before he had committed any actual transgression; and, therefore, cannot design any thing else but the original corruption of his nature. Now, to this sense of the words many things are objected.

1. It is observed,[1] from Clemens of Alexandria, Chrysostom, and Theodoret, that "David speaks this of his mother Eve, and of our first parents, whose posterity were begotten after they had sinned." I reply, David indeed, might Well enough call Eve his too: then since she is the mother of an living;but could not, with any propriety, say that she conceived him: this could only be said of his immediate parent, not of his next grandmother, much less of Eve, at the distance of three thousand years. It is also certainly true of our first parents, that their posterity were begotten after they had sinned. But then it will follow, that if they were begotten not before, but after they had sinned, they must be begotten, not in the image of God, in which man was created, and was now lost by sin, but in the sinful and corrupt image of Adam; which was the case not only of Cain, but of Seth, and of all others who have since descended from him by ordinary generation, among whom David was one.

2. It is objected,[2] that David here speaks not of his own, but of his mother's sin, and a very broad[3] intimation is given, that this was the sin of adultery; and, indeed, if he was conceived in a sin of his mother's, what else could it be? This shows, that these men are grievously pinched with this text, and miserably put to their shifts, to betake themselves to such an interpretation, at the expense of the character of an innocent person, of whom there is not the least suggestion of this kind in the sacred writings; but on the contrary, she is represented as a religious person. David valued himself upon his being related to her, and pleads, that he might be regarded by the Lord for her sake (Ps. 86:16; 116:16). Moreover, had this been the case, David must have been excluded from entrance into the congregation of the Lord; for there was a standing law (Deut. 23:2). in Israel, which forbade a bastard to enter there until the tenth generation; whereas it is certain, that David often went into the house of God with company,where he enjoyed much spiritual pleasure and delight (Ps. 43:4; 55:14; 122:1; Ps. 63:1, 2; Ps. 84:1, 10). Once more, it is beside David's scope and design to expose the sins of others, much less his own parents, whilst he is confessing and lamenting his own; and to what purpose should he mention theirs, especially if he himself was not affected by them, and did not derive corrupt nature from them? To say no more, the particle b, in,relates not to his mother, but to himself; it is not said, my mother in sin,that is, being in sin, or through sin, conceived me;but, my mother conceived me in sin,that is, as soon as I was conceived in the womb, and the mass of human nature was shaped and quickened; or as soon as soul and body were united together, sin was in me, and I was in sin, or became a sinful creature. Some, who do not run this length, yet say, that the sin and iniquity in which David was conceived and shapen, was the sinfulness of his parents, in the acts of begetting and conceiving him, though in lawful wedlock. But this cannot be true; since tire propagation of the human species, by natural generation, is a principle of nature implanted by God him-serf, and therefore cannot be sinful; and is agreeable to the first law of nature, given to man in a state of innocence, be fruitful and multiply.Marriage was instituted by God in paradise, and in all ages has been honorable in all, when the bed is undefiled.Besides, one of the words here used ytllwt, translated shapen, is of the passive form, and designs something in which both David and his parents were entirely passive, and means no other than that amazing and surprising act of formation he so much admires in Psalm 139:13-16. Others[4] nterpret these words of his mother's conceiving him in profluviis,which usually produces sw~ma ouj kaqaro<n kai< eujkra>ton, a body impure, ill tempered, and subject to evil passions.The Jews and Isidore are referred to for this sense of them, though the former, as far as I have been able to observe, say nothing of 2:14. Sol. Jarchi, R. David Kimchi, R. Aben Ezra, and R. Abendana,[5] understand the words of [rh rxy, the corruption of nature in man as soon as he is born. And as for Isidore,[6] both elder and younger understand these words of original sin, in which David and all men are involved. However, nothing of this nature can be concluded from the sacred Scriptures concerning David, but rather the reverse; since he is taken notice of, as no other man is excepting Moses, for his being comely, ruddy, of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to (1 Sam. 16:12, 18); and so far from having an unclean body of an ill temperament, or subject to bad qualities.

3. It is observed,[7] that David here makes no mention of Adam, and goes no higher than his mother, and, therefore, what he says makes nothing for original sin. In answer to which, it will be sufficient to say, that inasmuch as natural generation is the channel in which the corruption of nature is derived, David, in speaking of it, and his particular concern in it, had no need to take notice of any other than his immediate parents, through whom it was conveyed to him; for God hath made of one blood all nations of men (Acts 17:26). This blood being tainted in the fountain of it, the first man, must be so in its streams; and so all are corrupted that partake of it.

4. It is further urged,[8] that David is speaking here only of himself, and not of all mankind: he does not say that all men, but that he was shapen in iniquity,and conceived in sin;and, therefore, can be no proof of the original corruption of the whole human nature. To which may be replied, that what is here said of David is true of all men; since every imagination of the thoughts of men's hearts, both in the old and in the new world, is evil (Gen. 6:5; 8:21) from their infancy; and that not only the wicked are estranged from the womb (Ps. 58:3), but the elect of God are, by nature, children of wrath, even as others (Eph. 2:3; 3); which suppose them to be guilty and polluted as others; and, how should it be otherwise? for that which is born of the flesh is flesh (John 3:3). Besides, the argument from David to other men is very strong; for, if he who was so famous for his early religion and piety, a man after God's own heart,raised up by him to fulfill all his will,from whose seed sprang unto Israel a Savior Jesus (Acts 13:22,23); if he was shapen in iniquity,and conceived in sin,is it not reasonable to conclude, that this is the case of others? Who can stand up, and exempt himself from such a conception and birth, and say, he was not shapen and conceived in this manner?

5. If all this will not do to set aside the sense of the text we plead for, we are told[9] that the words are an hyperbole, of the like kind with Job 31:18, Psalm 22:10,11, and Psalm 71:6, and Psalm 58:3, Isaiah 48:8, and mean no more than that he had not only sinned now, but very often from his childhood. To which may be answered, that to say that being shaped in iniquity, and conceived in sin,means no more than a frequency of sinning from the youth upwards, is to contradict the express letter of the text; nor should we depart from the literal sense of words, and put a figurative one upon them,, unless there is an absolute necessity, of which there can be none here, unless it be to serve a turn. The places referred to are no hyperboles. The words in Psalm 22:9,10, are not the words of David, but of Christ, who, through the care of Divine Providence, and powerful operation of the Holy Ghost, was preserved from the original taint of sin. Job 31:18, Psalm 71:5,6, ought not to be any more accounted hyperbolical expressions than those which say, that Jeremy was sanctified before he came out of the womb;and that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb (Jer. 1:5; Luke 1:15). But, admitting that the last-mentioned texts are aggravations of Job's pity and compassion, and of David's trust and confidence, it does not follow, that the words under consideration are hyperbolical exaggerations of sin, since the Psalmist is here making a sincere and hearty confession of sin, in which it is not usual with saints to hyperbolize, that is, either to make their sins lesser or greater than they are; and, indeed, the sinfulness of nature cannot well be hyperbolized; for the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jer. 17:9).

6. To confirm this hyperbolical sense of the text, the words of the Pharisees to the blind man are produced, thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us?On which it is observed, that had they a regard to original sin, they could not have justly objected this to him since he might have re-criminated them with it. To which I answer, it is very true, no doubt they were both born in sin alike; but then these words are no hyperbole, but express the real sentiments of these Pharisees, who had either given in to the Pythagorean notion of the transmigration of souls, and supposed that this man's soul had sinned greatly in another body before, and therefore was grievously punished in this; or at least, they imagined that none were born in sin, but such who had some marks of deformity upon them, as blindness, lameness,and the like; but I hope we are not bound to believe the same things, nor should any expression or doctrine of theirs be urged to disprove any truth of the Gospel. As for Psalm 58:3, it is true of all men, that they are estranged from the womb from all righteousness, and alienated from God, and the life of God,being dead in trespasses and sins;and therefore it is no strange thing that they go astray ˆfbm, from the belly;since they are devoid of the principles of real justice and truth: and hence, as soon as they are capable of speaking, they go about speaking lies.Now, to what can such early impieties be ascribed, but to the corruption of nature? To the same purpose are the words in Isaiah 48:8, and wast called a transgressor from the womb;in which the corruption of nature is represented as the spring and fountain of all that treachery, stubbornness,hypocrisy, and idolatry, the people of Israel are charged with in the context. It is objected[10] that this passage implies something not common to all, but peculiar to the people of Israel, but surely if the people of Israel, who were an holy people to the Lord,and chosen by him to be a special people unto himself, above all people on the face of the earth (Deut. 7:6), were called transgressors from the womb,much more may others be so called. It is further alleged, that this does not regard their natural birth, but their coming out of Egypt, when they were formed into a civil state, and in a figurative sense was their birth;from which time they discovered, a proneness to impiety and idolatry. Be it so that this is the sense of the passage, to what can this impiety and idolatry be ascribed, when they were a people indulged with so many peculiar and special favors by God, but to the abominable corruption originally seated in their natures? As to what is usually[11] objected to this and the preceding scripture, that they cannot be understood of original sin; because these holy men, David and Isaiah, must object to, and upbraid these wicked men with that which they themselves were guilty of; I need only observe, that the words under consideration, are not the words of Isaiah, but of God himself, who in his eternal prescience foreknew the original and actual transgressions of these people; which he observes both to prove his own Deity, and point out to them the fountain of all their iniquities. As to the preceding passage, David might, with great propriety, take notice of the original corruption of the wicked, of which he was so sensible himself, and acknowledged in as strong, or stronger terms than here used: since his design is to expose the internal wickedness of some who appeared outwardly righteous, and made great pretensions to holiness, justice and truth, when, in their hearts, they wrought wickedness, which sprang from the original depravity of their natures, as appears from the connection of the words with the two foregoing verses.


[1] Whitby, p. 326; ed. 2. 318.

[2] Limborch, p. 192.

[3] Sient ergo cum dicimus, aliquem natum esse in adulterio, non ipsum, sed ejus pareutes accu-sarans: Its quando David, se in iniquitate forma-turn, et matrem suam se calefecisse in peccato fatetar, non aliud quam parris et matris peccatum intellezit. Curcellaeus, p. 140.

[4] Vide Whitby, p. 326; ed. 2. 318.

[5] In loc.

[6] Pelusiota, ep. 1. 1. ep. 100; Hispalensis de different, spiritual, p. 187.

[7] Limborch, p. 192; Curcellaeus, p. 140.

[8] Curcellaeus and Limborch, ibid.

[9] Curcellaeus and Limborch, ibid.; Grotius in loc.

[10] Whitby, p. 327; ed. 2. 318.

[11] Episcopius, Curcellaeus, Limborch, ubi supra.

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