The Grace of Christ, or,
Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness

William S. Plumer, 1853

"We believe it is through the grace of our
 Lord Jesus that we are saved." Acts 15:11


No mere man was ever born without a sinful nature. The Son of God miraculously derived his human nature from his mother alone, and escaped the taint of original sin. Mary herself however was a sinner and needed a Savior, as she readily confessed. Luke 1:47. As Emesenus said, "the mother of the Redeemer is not otherwise loosed from the bonds of her sin, than by redemption." All the Pope's teachings on this subject are idle dreams. Every human being whose descent has been in the ordinary way has inherited a corrupt nature. The faith of the people of God on this subject has been as uniform as on any other truth of the Gospel. In Psalm 51:5, in the midst of the humblest and most penitent confessions, David says: "Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." All attempts to set aside the clear teachings of this passage have been such as rather to shock by their profaneness, than to deceive by their plausibility. Sound commentators have been wonderfully agreed as to the teaching of this verse. Ambrose says: "All are born in sin, as David witnesses," and then quotes these words. Luther says: "It is a great part of wisdom, for one to know, that there is nothing good in us, but vain sin, that we do not think and speak so triflingly of sin as those, who say that it is nothing else than the thoughts, words, and deeds, which are contrary to the law of God. But if you will rightly point out according to this Psalm, what sin is, you must say, that all are sinners, who are born of father and mother, even before the time that man is of age to know what to do, speak, or think."

Calvin says: "David does not confess himself guilty merely of some one or more sins, as formerly, but he rises higher, that from his mother's womb he has brought forth nothing but sin, and by nature is wholly corrupt, and, as it were, immersed in sin. And certainly we have no solid conviction of sin, unless we are led to accuse our whole nature of corruption." Perhaps in all his writings this great man has not made a remark more fully coincident with religious experience, and of more weight in personal piety than the last sentence quoted from him: "Certainly we have no solid conviction of sin, unless we are led to accuse our whole nature of corruption." Patrick's paraphrase of the verse is: "It is true indeed, and you, O Lord, know it better than I--that there is in me an innate proneness to evil; but I am so far from representing this as an excuse for what I have done, that I confess the consideration of it ought to have rendered me the more watchful and diligent to suppress those bad inclinations; which I knew to be so natural, that I brought them into the world with me." Horne says: "Divine mercy is implored by the penitent, because that alone can dry up the fountain of original corruption, from which the streams of actual transgression derive themselves; and which is here only lamented as their cause, not as their excuse; seeing that the greater our danger is of falling, the greater should be our care to stand. David was the offspring of the marriage-bed, which is declared to be honorable and undefiled. No more, therefore, can be intended here, than that a creature begotten by a sinner, and formed in the womb of a sinner, cannot be without that taint, which is hereditary to every son and daughter of Adam and Eve."

Matthew Henry says: "David here confesses his original corruption." "He elsewhere speaks of the piety of his mother, that she was God's handmaid, and he pleads his relation to her, and yet he here says she conceived him in sin; for though she was, by grace, a child of God, she was by nature a daughter of Eve, and not excepted from the common character. Note--it is to be sadly lamented by everyone of us that we brought into the world with us a corrupt nature, wretchedly degenerated from its primitive purity and rectitude." Scott says that David, "having received from his parents Adam's fallen nature with all its evil propensities, confesses that he was conceived and shaped in iniquity." Hengstenberg says that the doctrine of original sin is so plainly taught here, "that nothing but the most confused mind can deny it. For when David confesses, that even before the development of his consciousness, before the time of his distinguishing between good and evil, that even at his birth, nay at his very conception, sin dwelt in him, and had so poisoned his nature, that he was quite incapable of attaining to true righteousness and wisdom; he places himself in direct collision with those, who consider sin merely as a product of the abused freedom of each individual, and leaves room for no other derivation of sinfulness than this, that it goes down from parents to their children, according to the word, 'what is born of the flesh is flesh.'" J. A. Alexander says: "Having just before confessed his actual transgressions, he now acknowledges the corruption of his nature."

Theologians no less than commentators, have taken the same view of this text. Even John Taylor of Norwich admits that the first clause is correctly translated "I was born in sin." Whereupon Edwards well says, "If it is owned that man is born in sin, it is not worth the while to dispute, whether it is expressly asserted that he is conceived in sin." Beveridge says, "Sin was in his heart, while he was in his mother's womb; for seeing he was conceived in sin, sin must needs be conceived in him." Alexander Hill says: "The Scriptures not only declare that all have sinned, but they seem to refer the abounding of iniquity to a cause antecedent to education, example, or the operation of particular circumstances; and in numberless places they represent the nature of man as corrupt. Of this kind are the following: "The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth." "Behold I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." "The wicked are estranged from the womb, they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies." "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.'" Dr. Leonard Woods of Andover says: "Is it not a plain matter of fact, that a depraved nature, a propensity to sin, is transmitted from parent to child, and has descended from the common ancestor of our race to all his posterity? Are we not 'degenerate plants of a strange vine?' And if depravity comes in this way, what impropriety is there in calling it hereditary?"

These views have been presented chiefly in connection with one text of Scripture, rather than to call attention to many. If any prefer to examine others, they are easily found. The true spirit of David's confession in Psalm 51:5 is fully coincident with the sentiments of every deeply humble and penitent man who ever lived. Different Christian Churches have spoken very strongly and harmoniously on the subject of native depravity. The Confession of Bohemia says: "Original sin is naturally engendered in us, and hereditary; wherein we are all conceived and born into this world." The Confession of France says: "We believe that all the offspring of Adam is infected with this contagion, which we call original sin: that is a stain spreading itself by propagation, and not by imitation only as the Pelagians thought; all whose errors we do detest. Neither do we think it necessary to search how this sin may be derived from one unto another. For it is sufficient that those things which God gave unto Adam, were not given to him alone, but also to all his posterity; and therefore we, in his person, being deprived of all these good gifts are fallen into all this misery and curse." The Confession of England holds this language: "We say also that every person is born in sin, and leads his life in sin: that nobody is able truly to say his heart is clean." The Confession of Scotland says that by the fall "the image of God was utterly defaced in man; and he, and his posterity of nature became enemies to God, slaves to Satan, and servants to sin." The Confession of Belgia teaches that, "Original sin is a corruption of the whole nature, and an hereditary evil; wherewith even the very infants in their mothers' womb are polluted; the which also as a most noisome root does branch out most abundantly all kind of sin in man." The Augsburg Confession says that "after the fall of Adam, all men descended one from another have original sin, even when they are born." The Confession of Saxony says: "As touching original sin, we do plainly affirm that we do retain the consent of the true Church of God, delivered to us from the first fathers, prophets, apostles, and the apostles, scholars, even unto Augustine, and after his time, and we do expressly condemn Pelagius, and all those, who have scattered in the Church like doting follies."

The Confession of Wirtemberg says: "We believe and confess that in the beginning, man was created by God--just, wise, endued with free will, adorned with the Holy Spirit, and happy; but that afterwards for his disobedience, he was deprived of the Holy Spirit, and made the bondslave of Satan, and subject both to corporal and eternal damnation; and that evil did not stay in one only Adam, but was derived into all the posterity." The Church of England, the Church of Ireland, and the Wesleyan Methodist Churches all hold this language: "Original sin stands not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk) but in the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil and that continually." The Synod of Dort says: "Such as man was after the fall, such children he begat; namely, a corrupt issue from a corrupt father; this corruption being by the just judgment of God derived from Adam to all his posterity (Christ only excepted) and that not by imitation (as of old the Pelagians would have it), but by the propagation of nature." The London and Philadelphia Baptist, the Savoy, Cambridge and Boston Congregational, and the Presbyterian Confessions in Great Britain and America, say that a "corrupted nature is conveyed to all the posterity of our first parents," and that thereby "we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil."

The Heidelberg Catechism, speaking of the misery of man, says:
3. Whence know you your misery? Out of the law of God.
4. What does the law of God require of us? Christ teaches us briefly, (Matt. 22:37-40,) "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first and the great command; and the second is like to this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commands hang the whole law and the prophets."
5. Can you keep all these things perfectly? In no sense; for I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.
6. Did God then create man so wicked and perverse? By no means, but God created man good, and after his own image, in righteousness and true holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him, and live with him in eternal happiness, to glorify him and praise him.
7. Whence, then, proceeds this depravity of human nature? From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; hence our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.
8. Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness? Indeed we are, except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.
9. Does not God then do injustice to man, by requiring of him, in his law, that which he cannot perform? Not at all; for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own willful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.
10. Will God allow such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished? By no means, but he is terribly displeased with our original sin, as well as actual sins; and will punish them in his just judgment temporally and eternally, as he has declared, "Cursed is everyone who continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law, to de them."
11. Is not God then also merciful? God is indeed merciful, but also just; therefore his justice requires that sin, which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment, both of body and soul."

John Wesley says, "If, therefore, we take away this foundation, that man is by nature foolish and sinful, fallen short of the glorious image of God, the Christian system falls at once; nor will it deserve so honorable an appellation as that of a 'cunningly devised fable.'" Richard Watson says: "The true Arminian, as fully as the Calvinist, admits the doctrine of the total depravity of human nature in consequence of the fall of our first parents." Arminius, speaking of the first sin oft the first man, says: "The whole of this sin is not peculiar to our first parents, but is common to the whole race, and to all their posterity, who at the time when the first sin was committed, were in their loins, and who afterwards descended from them in the natural mode of propagation." Richard Baxter says: "You cannot exempt infants themselves from sin and misery." Beveridge says: "Adam begat Seth and all his posterity in his own likeness, (Gen. 5:3,) and, if in his own likeness, then sinners like himself. A wolf begets wolves, not lambs; so a sinner begat sinners, not saints."

Let the celebrated saying of Augustine not be forgotten: "Neither the guilty unbeliever, nor the justified believer begets innocent--but guilty children; because the generation of both is from corrupted nature." Nor is the remark of Calvin less weighty: "Original sin is properly accounted sin in the sight of God, because there could be no guilt without crime."

As frequent allusion is made to the Pelagians, it may be useful here to insert their opinions on the subject of the native corruption of man. Pelagius says: "In our birth we are equally destitute of virtue and vice; and previously to moral agency, there is nothing in man, but that which God created in him." His disciple Celestius held that "infants are born in that state in which Adam was before he sinned." Julian, another of the same school, held that "human nature in the time of our being born is rich in the gift of innocence;" and "nobody is born with sin." It is a very favorite idea with all Pelagians that sin consists only in acts, and is a voluntary transgression of known law and nothing else. As to the text of Scripture, on which such rely, it should be remembered that while we read "sin is the transgression of the law;" the word rendered "transgression" is literally "want of conformity," and no one denies that sin is either a transgression of law, or a lack of conformity to it. The same inspired apostle tells us that "all unrighteousness is sin."