on Psalms 51 :5
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity - A genuine penitent will hide nothing of his state; he sees and bewails, not only the acts of sin which he has committed, but the disposition that led to those acts. He deplores, not only the transgression, but the carnal mind which is enmity against God. The light that shines into his soul shows him the very source whence transgression proceeds; he sees his fallen nature, as well as his sinful life; he asks pardon for his transgressions, and he asks washing and cleansing for his inward defilement. Notwithstanding all that Grotius and others have said to the contrary, I believe David to speak here of what is commonly called original sin; the propensity to evil which every man brings into the world with him, and which is the fruitful source whence all transgression proceeds. The word חוללתי cholalti, which we translate shaped, means more properly, I was brought forth from the womb; and יחמתני yechemathni rather signifies made me warm, alluding to the whole process of the formation of the fetus in utero, the formative heat which is necessary to develope the parts of all embryo animals; to incubate the ova in the female, after having been impregnated by the male; and to bring the whole into such a state of maturity and perfection as to render it capable of subsisting and growing up by aliment received from without. "As my parts were developed in the womb, the sinful principle diffused itself through the whole, so that body and mind grew up in a state of corruption and moral imperfection."
on Psalms 51 :5
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity - The object of this important verse is to express the deep sense which David had of his depravity. That sense was derived from the fact that this was not a sudden thought, or a mere outward act, or an offence committed under the influence of strong temptation, but that it was the result of an entire corruption of his nature - of a deep depravity of heart, running back to the very commencement of his being. The idea is, that he could not have committed this offence unless he had been thoroughly corrupt, and always corrupt. The sin was as heinous and aggravated "as if" in his very conception and birth there had been nothing but depravity. He looked at his, sin, and he looked back to his own origin, and he inferred that the one demonstrated that in the other there was no good thing, no tendency to goodness, no germ of goodness, but that there was evil, and only evil; as when one looks at a tree, and sees that it bears sour or poisonous fruit, he infers that it is in the very nature of the tree, and that there is nothing else in the tree, from its origin, but a tendency to produce just such fruit.
Of course, the idea here is not to cast reflections on the character of his mother, or to refer to her feelings in regard to his conception and birth, but the design is to express his deep sense of his own depravity; a depravity so deep as to demonstrate that it must have had its origin in the very beginning of his existence. The word rendered "I was shapen" - חוללתי chôlaletiy - is from a word - חול chûl - which means properly, "to turn around, to twist, to whirl;" and then it comes to mean "to twist oneself with pain, to writhe;" and then it is used especially with reference to the pains of childbirth. Isaiah 13:8; Isaiah 23:4; Isaiah 26:18; Isaiah 66:7-8; Micah 4:10. That is the meaning here. The idea is simply that he was "born" in iniquity; or that he was a sinner when he was born; or that his sin could be traced back to his very birth - as one might say that he was born with a love of music, or with a love of nature, or with a sanguine, a phlegmatic, or a melancholy temperament.
There is not in the Hebrew word any idea corresponding to the word ""shapen,"" as if he had been "formed" or "moulded" in that manner by divine power; but the entire meaning of the word is exhausted by saying that his sin could be traced back to his "very birth;" that it was so deep and aggravated, that it could be accounted for - or that he could express his sense of it - in no other way, than by saying that he was "born a sinner." How that occurred, or how it was connected with the first apostasy in Adam, or how the fact that he was thus born could be vindicated, is not intimated, nor is it alluded to. There is no statement that the sin of another was "imputed" to him; or that he was "responsible" for the sin of Adam; or that he was guilty "on account of" Adam's sin, for on these points the psalmist makes no assertion. It is worthy of remark, further, that the psalmist did not endeavor to "excuse" his guilt on the ground that he was ""born"" in iniquity; nor did he allude to that fact with any purpose of "exculpating" himself. The fact that he was thus born only deepened his sense of his own guilt, or showed the enormity of the offence which was the regular result or outbreak of that carly depravity. The points, therefore, which are established by this expression of the psalmist, so far as the language is designed to illustrate how human nature is conceived, are
(1) that people are born with a propensity to sin; and
(2) that this fact does not excuse us in sin, but rather tends to aggravate and deepen our guilt.
The language goes no further than this in regard to the question of original sin or native depravity. The Septuagint agrees with this interpretation - ἰδού γὰρ ἐν ανομίαις συνελήφθην idou gar en anomias sunelēfthēn. So the Vulgate: in iniquitatibus conceptus sum.
And in sin did my mother conceive me - Margin, as in Hebrew, "warm me." This language simply traces his sin back to the time when he began to exist. The previous expression traced it to "his birth;" this expression goes back to the very beginning of "life;" when there were the first indications of life. The idea is, "as soon as I began to exist I was a sinner; or, I had then a propensity to sin - a propensity, the sad proof and result of which is that enormous act of guilt which I have committed."
on Psalms 51 :5
51:5 Behold - Nor is this the only sin which I have reason to bewail before thee; for this filthy stream leads me to a corrupt fountain: and upon a review of my heart, I find, that this heinous crime, was the proper fruit of my vile nature, which, ever was, and still is ready to commit ten thousand sins, as occasion offers.