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Bible Commentaries

Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation

Leviticus 12

Verses 1-8

; Leviticus 13:1-46

Twelfth Lecture.
Birth-Sin and Its Developments

Leviticus 12:1-8; Leviticus 13:1-46

Cavils on the doctrine of native Depravity—The doctrine explained—Sin a disease—Symbolized by Leprosy—The analogy traced.

A popular and eloquent living preacher has remarked of the first of these chapters, that "its chief value lies in the light it casts upon the Virgin Mary at the birth of our blessed Redeemer." To this observation I am not prepared to assent. This chapter is interesting to Christians as containing the law for the purifying of mothers, which the mother of Jesus so meekly obeyed when she brought the two doves as an offering in her poverty for a sacrifice unto the Lord; but "its chief value lies" in quite another direction. Its particular descriptions are not such as to allow much freedom of public comment, but they fill an important place in the typical system to which they belong.

The theme of the chapter is the same as that of the one preceding and the one following. The subject is sin, portrayed by symbols. In the division of the animals into clean and unclean, we had the nature of sin in its general character and outward manifestations. It is a brutalization of humanity. It has its type in all sorts of savage, noxious, vile, annoying creatures. But this chapter presents another and still more affecting phase of man’s corruption.

Surveying those masses of sin and vileness which hang about our world, touching the path and defiling the doings of every human being, as we saw in our last discourse, the question arises, Whence comes it? How are we to account for it? That some particular periods, nations, families, or individuals should be depraved and vicious, might perhaps be explained in peculiar outward circumstances. Bad education, bad government, bad religion, bad associations, begetting bad habits, might, in a measure account for it. But the records of inspiration and experience assure us that "all have sinned and come short," and that "if any man say he hath no sin, he deceiveth himself, and the truth is not in him." There is not a corner of the earth, nor a member of the race, which the great contamination has not touched. The soil of sin is upon every conscience, and its uncleanness is more or less in every heart. To what source or cause are we to refer this melancholy fact? It is useless to attribute it to errors in the structure of society; for society itself is the mere aggregate of human life, feelings, opinions, intercourse, agreement and doings. It is man that corrupts society, and not society that corrupts man. The one may react very powerfully upon the other, as we shall see hereafter; but the errors and corruptions in both must have a common seat and source. What is that seat? Where are we to find this prolific fountain? Penetrating to the moral signification of the twelfth chapter of Leviticus, we have the true answer.

Sin is not only a beastliness and grovelling brutality assumed or taken upon a man from without. It is a manifestation which comes from within. It is a corruption which cleaves to the nature, mingles with the very transmissions of life, and taints the vital forces as they descend from parent to child, from generation to generation. We are unclean, not only practically and by contact with a bad world, but we are innately impure. Man is a creature of wrong impulses, not only by education and association, for he would be the same if he were born in heaven. Uncleanness is upon the very seat of life, and attaches to every one of us from our very coming into the world. We were conceived in sin. We were shapen in iniquity. And it is just this that forms the real subject of this chapter. It is the type of the source and seat of human vileness.

The uncleanness here spoken of, is no more a real uncleanness, than that attributed to certain animals, in the preceding chapter. The whole regulation is ceremonial, and not at all binding upon us, (though a relic of it is still found in some of the churches, known by the name of "The Churching of Women"). It is an arbitrary law, made only for the time then present, as a figure of spiritual truths. Its great significance lies in its typical nature. And a more vivid and impressive picture can hardly be conceived. I am checked from entering particularly into it; but solemn and sacred allusions are suggested by it. It imposes a special legal disability upon woman, and so connects with the fact, that "the woman being deceived was in the transgression." (1 Timothy 2:14.) It is a vivid remembrancer of the occurrences in Eden. It tells us that we all have come of sinful mothers. It exhibits our very birth as involving uncleanness. It portrays defilement as the state in which we receive our being. For "who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one." (Job 14:4.)

I therefore lay down this doctrine, "that all men who are naturally engendered, are conceived and born in sin; that is, they are all, from their mother’s womb, full of evil desires and propensities;" and that this "is the fountain-head of all other or actual sins, such as evil thoughts, words, or deeds."

I am acquainted with the cavils which exist with reference to this doctrine. And the way some state it, I would not undertake to defend it. Some call it "natural depravity," and say that man is a sinner "by nature." To say the least of this, it is a misapplication of terms. Nature is God’s work; and God never made sin. No being ever came from his hands with a corrupt or wicked nature. He never made a devil or a sinner. And concupiscence and guilt, so far from being natural to man, are monstrous perversions and spoliations of nature. It is not natural; but, of all things, the most unnatural. God made man upright and good. And if people now have upon them a predisposition to sin, it must be traced to some other source than that of natural constitution. I will join with all heartiness in the expressions of abhorrence at the idea that a holy, just, and benevolent God should have created any being with a nature the inherent tendency of which is to sin. How, then, are we to solve the difficulty? If the Creator never constitutes any being with an evil nature, how is it that all men are born in corruption, and inclined to sin from their very birth? Some have tried to explain it by supposing a previous state of probation. But this solution is so far-fetched, and implies a punishment so wholly divorced from all consciousness of the sin that produced it, that it never has commanded serious belief. How, then, are we to get out of the difficulty? A very few words will clear up the matter to all right philosophy.

What is an individual human being as he now comes into existence? Is he a new creation, separate and distinct in himself? I say he is not. A modern man is not an original product of creative power. He is not now first created. He is only an outgrowth of one primal humanity which was created nearly six thousand years ago. He is an evolution from principles of life which were constituted in the garden of Eden. Humanity is a stream flowing from one original fountain. God never directly made more than one man and one woman; and all other men and women are but effluxes of that original creation. Nobody now is created, in any true sense of that word, but begotten and born of a creation made thousands of years ago. Any conception of humanity which differs from this, is physiologically and scripturally false. The creation of the first pair was a self-perpetuating creation; and therefore the only creation, as respects human existence. There is therefore a very important sense in which we were made in Adam. We are but repetitions of the first pair, according to laws which were located in them. We take our whole being, body and soul, from and through Adam. And there is no mere humanity but what has grown out of him. The whole race was once included in him. It is easy, therefore, to see, that whatever damage may have befallen human nature when yet in its parent root or fountain, must needs show itself more or less in all the branches and streams issuing from it. "Like begetteth like." As is the seed, so is the tree; and as is the tree, so is the fruit. "A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit."

You may plant a good seed, and surround it with all the conditions necessary to a goodly plant; but it may put forth so eccentrically, or meet with some mishap in the incipient stages of its development, in consequence of which all its subsequent growth will be marred, and all its fruits give evidence of the adversities that befell it in the beginning. You may open a pure fountain, giving forth nothing but pure good water; yet, the issuing stream may touch upon poison, and take up turbid commixtures at its first departure from its source, and so carry and show pollution whithersoever it goes. And so it has been with humanity. It was created pure and good; but by that power of free choice, which necessarily belongs to a moral being, some of its first movements were eccentric and detrimental to its original qualities. It absorbed vileness at its very beginning. It was hurt when it was yet all in its germ. And hence all its subsequent developments have upon them the taint of that first mishap and contagion. It is worse in some lines than in others. The operations of Divine grace in the parent doubtless help to enfeeble it in the child. And if all men could be at once reclaimed to complete holiness, it would no doubt disappear altogether in the course of generations. But, as things are, it to some extent taints every one that is engendered and born of human kind.

Now it is just to this universal taint of human nature, derived from the defection of Adam, that the whole outgrowth of this word’s iniquity is to be traced. By virtue of our relation to an infected parentage, we come into the world with more or less affinity for evil. There is an innate inclination to wrong. The presentation of the objects to which this proclivity leans, awakens those biases into activity. This awakening of the power of lust is what we call temptation. And when the force of temptation has once set the heart upon an object of base desire, and gained the consent of the will to it, the man moves toward evil, and actual sin is born. There is an innate taint or bias, the presentation to which of the objects of evil desire involuntarily excites lust; and from this has flown out the flood of evil which has deluged all the earth.

It would be easy to amplify these views by passages of Scripture, and to trace them in the impressive picture contained in the chapter before us; but I will detain you to make but one other remark in reference to the general subject. And that is, that this native taint that is upon humanity is not a mere venial defect, of no serious account in the eye of the divine law, but a thing so evil as to demand purgation by blood. It unfits for heaven just as much as actual sin. No being upon whom it is could ever be saved, except by the mediation of Jesus. It is that "sin of the world" which requires the Lamb of God to take away. The Jewish mother’s uncleanness could only be removed by a lamb, or a pair of doves, offered as a burnt-offering; and even then, it continued for seven days—an entire period of time. And so this original inborn deformity and contamination of our nature, shall not be perfectly rooted out until the period of our appointed time has been completed—until our stay in this world has closed.

We pass now to the thirteenth chapter, in which we have something of a medical treatise, on the subject of leprosy. It is the oldest description extant of any disease. But it is not introduced into this ritual for medical purposes. There were other diseases in the Eastern world more painful, more fatal, more contagious, and equally afflictive; but nothing is said about them. This is specially singled out from all the ills of earth, and made the subject of particular regulations. You will observe that it was to be treated by the priest, not by the physician. It had peculiar disabilities connected with it. Its entire surroundings show that something more than ordinary attaches to it. It is dealt with in a way which cannot be accounted for in the nature of the disease itself. It is therefore to be viewed, like all the other provisions of this law, as a type. It is another parable of sin. It stands here as the illustration of the workings, developments, and effects of inborn depravity.

Sin is a corrupting and disorganizing disease, as well as a brutal degradation and hereditary uncleanness. It is a loathsome putrescence of the whole nature. It is a sickness of the whole head, and a faintness of the whole heart. Deliverance from it is called a cure and a healing, as well as a pardon. He who relieves us of it is called a Physician. It is a disturbance, corrosion, disorder, and cancerous fretting in all the composition of the man. And to signify and picture all this, is the real object of this chapter, and of all the laws respecting leprosy. The Jews called this disease "the finger of God"—"the stroke." In it, and the regulations concerning it, God has pointed out the most vivid and impressive exhibition of the nature and consequences of sin that has ever come under the contemplation of mortals. Under this view, then, let us study and apply it.

Notice its beginnings. Leprosy was, for the most part, hereditary. After doing its work in the parent it was very apt to break out in the child. Sin began in Adam, and having wrought nine hundred years in him, he died; but the taint of it was left in all who sprang from him. But leprosy was not always hereditary. Hence the necessity of a special symbol on the subject of innate depravity, such as we have just considered in the preceding chapter. The germ of all human sin is derived from our connection with a fallen parentage.

But leprosy, whether hereditary, or contracted by contagion or otherwise, began far within. Its seat is in the deepest interior of the body. It is often in the system as many as three or a dozen years before it shows itself. How exactly this describes sin! Nero and Caligula were once tender infants, apparently the very personifications of innocence. Who that saw their sweet slumbers upon the bosoms of their mothers, would ever have suspected, that in those gentle forms were latent seeds which finally developed into bloody butchery, and tyranny, and vice, at which the world for ages has stood amazed! Who that beheld Judas Iscariot in the duties of his evangelic mission among the citizens of Judea, would ever have suspected the treachery which lurked in his soul unknown even to himself! Who would have thought, that in the bold and daring Peter, when he volunteered to die for his master, there existed the root of those oaths and lies which broke from his lips in the porch of the high-priest’s palace! And little do we know of those depths of deceit which we carry in ourselves, or to what enormities of crime we are liable any day to be driven. "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall." The taint of leprosy is within, and nothing but watchfulness and grace can keep it from breaking out in all its corrosive and wasting power.

The first visible signs of leprosy are often very minute, and inconsiderable, and not easily detected. A small pustule or rising of the flesh—a little bright red spot like that made by a puncture from a pin—a very trifling eruption, indentation, or scaliness of the skin—or some other very slight symptom, is usually the first sign which it gives of its presence. And from these small beginnings the whole living death of the leper is developed. How vivid the picture of the fact, that the worst and darkest iniquities may grow out of the smallest beginnings! A look of the eye, a desire of the heart, a thought of the imagination, a touch of the hand, a single word of compliance, is often the door of inlet to Satan and all hell’s troops. All the guilt that ever stained the earth may be traced to a look—the admiring look of Eve upon the forbidden fruit. No man can tell to what an issue the smallest sins may lead. Take but a brick from your pavement, and you have opened the way for the loosening of them all. Bore but an auger hole through the breast of a dam, or the bank of a canal, and you have arranged for a breach that may extend to the foundations, and carry the work of years to ruin in a day. Start but a little stone upon the precipice of the mountain, and other and greater ones will follow it, until the hill smokes and the valley trembles with the thunder of rolling rocks. Touch but a spark to the fuse, and it will multiply itself, until the very earth rends before it. Open but one small artery in your arm, and you have done enough to let in speedy death. Utter but one sinful word, and it may bring after it a train of consequences which will give your name to the court, and link your fame with infamy. Just start an ardent youth upon peccadilloes, and it is like starting a loose wagon on an inclined plane; there is no calculating where he will stop, or how awful is the ruin which awaits him. "Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!"

Leprosy is also gradual in its development. It does not break out in its full violence at once. It works for a while unseen. Its first manifestations are so trifling, that one who did not understand it would consider it nothing at all. It is only by degrees, running through the course of years, that it transmutes its victim into a living embodiment of putrefaction and death. How exact the correspondence between type and antitype! No man is an outbreaking and confirmed villain at once. The devil did not become a devil in a day. Character, whether good or bad, is a growth. It will grow faster in some circumstances and in some persons than in others; but there always is gradation and progress from the less to the greater. If we were to trace the histories of delinquency and crime through which our brazen sinners have reached their eminence in guilt, we should be surprised to find in what a small way they began—how very slight were their first divergencies from rectitude—how very timid and restrained were their first experiments in wrong. Sin wrought in them long before it showed itself at all, and its first manifestations were of comparatively small account. But, having started in the way of evil, one easy transgression made it easier for the next; and so, by an ever increasing momentum, never once checked by repentance, they came to be the impersonations of vileness. An affection apparently lawful, excited by an unintentional curiosity, by little and little turns the mind upon some object of sensual desire; and this is the beginning of voluptuousness. Inquietude follows. Vague wishes form in the soul. Base adventures and familiarities ensue. And before the man is aware of it, a restless and fatal passion takes dominion of him, and he hurries on to the deepest infamy and the blackest hell. No man ever started out with the deliberate resolve, or even the remotest suspicion of becoming a drunkard. There is not a victim of rum in all our gangs of debauchees who at first ever dreamed of becoming the degraded object he now is. A little cheery indulgence because it was the fashion, or contributed to convivial enjoyment, or a little tippling for medicinal purposes, or no quicken the wits and raise the spirits on special occasions, is what laid the foundation of his ruin. And from these small beginnings, harmless in themselves, but serving to beget appetite and fixing into habit, there came that insatiable passion, which has made him a blear-eyed, foul-mouthed and disgusting wretch, a disgrace to his name, a pest to his neighborhood, a mill-stone on the neck of his family, and a blot upon the earth.

People are shocked, and hold up their hands in horror, at great and scandalous crimes; but they forget that these are only the necessary and easy sequences of little indulgences and sins of which they take no account. They forget that the bright spot and the little livid pustule are just as much the signs of leprosy as all the languor and putrescence which follow after. They need to be told, that these little scales and tumors are the things of which comes all the abominable corruption at which they show so much feeling of abhorrence. They need to be told, that there is a close interior brotherhood and cohesion between sins, and that he who takes one to his favor is at once beset with all the rest. David, looking where he should not have looked, was already far on the way to his adultery; and out of that, by a sort of necessary consequence, proceeded his murder of Uriah. Pharaoh the king, easily becomes Pharaoh the tyrant; and out of this, by natural consequence, proceeds one more step, and he is Pharaoh the defiant blasphemer. Judas becomes the money-lover, and thence by easy transition becomes his Lord’s perfidious betrayer. The Cæsar who mingles in the strifes of petty warfare, will soon find no refuge left, but must also cross the Rubicon. The boy who disobeys his mother, is already far on his way to be the man who tramples his country’s laws under his feet The young man who loves the theatre, and the ballroom, and the conversations of the lewd and profane more than his books and his home, is already started with vigorous headway upon the track of prostitution, crime, and infamy. And the professed member of the Church who visits the beer-house and the gamingtable, and begins to feel religious duty irksome, is even now far down the rapids which make for the cataract of ruin. Any one sin, however small it may seem, is a seed and root for another. And by the same easy steps by which a man commits his first little sins, he may go on to the most gigantic iniquities. Sin is progressive; and if we give ourselves to it at all, there is no telling to what deeds of wickedness we may come.

Again, leprosy is in itself an exceedingly loathsome and offensive disorder—a kind of perpetual smallpox, only more deeply seated, and attended with more inward corruption. Every vein in every limb of a developed leper, runs down with putrid blood. His head is heavy, sick, and painful. His whole countenance is sallow, death-like, and disgusting. His hair hangs dry, lank and sapless on his blistered brow. The very nails on his bony fingers are discolored and tainted. His gait is slow, tottering and feeble. He is an object of abhorrence to every eye. He is a living parable of death! Nor is it otherwise with sin. It is a filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit—a tainted clog to all the currents of life—a degrading deformity and corruption of the whole man. A developed sinner is a being covered and pervaded with putrid uncleanness. As Isaiah describes the case, "From the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in it; but wounds and bruises, and putrefying sores, they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither molified with ointment." Every vital impulse is enfeebled, every sinew of the soul shrunk and corrupted, every spiritual activity palsied. The soul itself has become a fountain bursting out with corruption. The eye is sickly and vacant, reflecting no more the light of smiling heaven. The heart pulsates only with offensive humors. The hue of death is upon the entire nature. There is a sort of life; but it is clothed with all the uncleanness and putrescence of the grave. From such a soul God turns away his face, and cannot allow himself to look upon it. Words cannot tell how offensive it is to his pure eyes.

Some may think all this extravagance; but I have not gone one hair’s-breadth beyond the plain statements of God’s own word. Sin is a foulness which cannot be told. All the cancers, and leprosies, and consumptions, and scrofulas, and horrible diseases, and ugly deaths, and graveyard putrefactions, in the world, are but the outward effects and shadows of sin—the visible manifestations of the moral corruption that is in man. What then must it be in its principle and interior essence! Could the sinner but have his eyes opened to see, and feel, and know it, as it is known in heaven, he would abhor himself, and cry out in Bartimean earnestness, "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Again, leprosy, under this law, carried with it a most melancholy condemnation. A Jewish leper was not only horribly diseased, but also fearfully cursed in consequence of his disease. He was pronounced unclean by the law and by the priest. That alone cut him off from all the holy services, and from free communication with the congregation of his brethren. But it is the intensest of all uncleanness that is upon him, and he is doomed to a special affliction. The law says, "The leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering on his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be." Had he a home? He must leave it. Had he friends? He must be wholly separated from them. Had he wife and children? they were henceforward to think of him as dead. Had he hopes and prospects of distinction and greatness on earth? all are suddenly and forever cut off. His joys all turn to mourning. His covering of honor is stripped off to give place to desolation. His lips are covered as shut to all friendly intercourse. He was like one cut off from the assembly of living men, lingering about the gates of death, and hanging about its door-posts, impatient for entrance there. Nobody thought of him any more with any love or favor. He had to dwell alone. He might come up and at a distance view the camp, but he could not approach, and not one would ever come near to him. With all the horribleness of his disease, it excited no sympathy, and loaded him with additional woes, themselves almost unbearable. Such is the type, and it is the same with the antitype. Every sinner is condemned as well as diseased; and condemned for the very reason that he is diseased. There is a sentence of uncleanness and exclusion upon him. He has no fellowship with the saints, and no share in the holy services of God’s people. He is as one dead to all sacred joy, and all spiritual good. He may distantly gaze upon happy Israel, and their peaceful tents; but he cannot enter them, or partake of the blessings within. He is a spiritual outcast—a moral leper—unclean, and ready for the realms of everlasting banishment and death. And yet, the picture is not quite complete. It remains to be said, that there was no earthly cure for leprosy. The prophet of God, by his miraculous power, could remove it; but no human power or skill could. It was beyond the reach of physician or priest. And so is it with sin. It is a consumption which cannot be cured—a cancer which cannot be extracted—a leprosy which cannot be cleansed—except by the direct power of divine grace. All the waters of Damascus—all the balm in Gilead—all the penance and suffering in the world, cannot remove it. Once in the system, God must purge it out, or it will remain there to fester and rot into the soul for ever and for ever. And without this cleansing from God, all the corruptions and woes of the present, are but preludes and shadows of a decay that never ceases, and an exile which knows no end.

Much has been said about the condition of the lost. Some tell us with great assurance that there is no future hell—no lake of fire—no outpoured wrath of God on the souls of men in another life. Be it so. The text opens up a picture on this subject more awful than that of an ocean of flame, or any tempest of fire. It is the simple incurableness of the finally impenitent. They are corrupt and sick; and they shall continue corrupt and sick. Their souls are just so many fountains gushing out streams of corrosive and disgusting corruption, which shall never be stayed or dried up. They are without heavenly communion, and they shall never have heavenly communion. They are without friends and tender sympathy, and they shall continue without them. They are as good as dead, unclean, condemned, cut off from the camp of God, and without hope of being ever any better. They are gloomy and putrid wanderers about the regions of death; and they shall wander there for ever. They are miserable lepers on their way to the lazar-house of eternal decay.

Yes, and I have some of these very infected people listening to me to-day. Though much stupefied to sacred things, they have caught up the words that I have been uttering. They are sitting with their Mends in the pews; but spiritually they are as unclean and disordered outcasts, lingering around the outskirts of the camp, and now and then casting in a sad glance. I have a word for them. Ho, ye leprous ones! The great prophet and priest of God is passing through your country. He is healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, and binding up the brokenhearted. The tread of his footsteps is near you now. Come out from your lonely haunts, and ask that his healing hand be laid upon you. He is not afraid of your uncleanness. His invitation is to all, "Come." He sees you sadly looking in through gates which you feel you dare not enter. He has come down through this land, just to save and heal such afflicted ones as you. And he can do it. His simple touch is healing. His mere look is life. But call to him, and he will hear you. Only bring your case before him, and he will undertake it at once. Now is your time. This is the period of your gracious visitation. Look to Jesus now while he is at hand, and he will relieve you. Call upon him while he is near, and he will save you. Delay not in unbelief, for his stay is limited. Your time is short. Your opportunities will soon pass away. The possibility of cure will soon be for ever gone. The shades of evening are gathering around us. The day is rapidly fading away. The night of death is near. Time is growing short. To-morrow may begin eternity. We know not how soon the final words may drop from heaven—"It is done!" Haste you then to Jesus, Fall down upon your knees before him. Let the deep fountains of your spirit be poured out in this one prayer: "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean!" And where that prayer exists in real soul-earnest, there is also the effective response, "I will; be thou clean."

Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!

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Bibliographical Information
Seiss, Joseph A. "Commentary on Leviticus 12". Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sei/leviticus-12.html.