Psalm 19:12-14 “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
There is something very attractive about men who are honest and open about their own shortcomings. The first thing that David acknowledges in our text is his ignorance. We know he was able to discern many things – the weakness in Goliath’s armour plating and again, the importance of not retaliating against King Saul’s murderous intentions towards him. He could certainly discern how marvelous was the word of God. He has just extolled its perfections to us in the previous six verses. He has almost ransacked his Thesaurus to describe the Bible as perfect and trustworthy and right and radiant and pure and sure and precious and sweet and rewarding. These are the adjectives David uses to describe Scripture. David, I say, could be a very discerning man. However, when he turns to the subject of his own heart and soul and how his inner life might be in the sight of Almighty God David confesses his ignorance. “Can I give you a full record of my sins? No, I cannot, for the more I see then the more there are to see.” Every man’s sins are greater than the accounts he keeps of them. There is no way he can give an adequate list of them, just think, for example, of our sins of omission – what you should have done but failed to do throughout your life – and that seals the matter. Yet men think they can list them.
Forty years ago in July Campus Crusade’s European leaders came to Aberystwyth for a training month, and I went to some of the meetings. I heard its founder, the late Bill Bright, give a talk on how to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Pieces of paper and pencils were given out and all the staff workers and myself were asked to make a list of all our sins and writing them down. It was a bizarre occasion, people writing six or seven and then stopping and chewing their pencils and looking up into the air, scratching their heads trying to think of another sin they had committed. After five minutes of silence and pencils being passed to those who had broken their points we were told to crush the lists we had made into a ball and put them into a waste paper bin that was passed around. We were then told that that gesture of writing and disposing of them was to help us see that Jesus Christ had indeed dealt with all our sins. Then we were to yield ourselves afresh to God. That was how to be filled with the Spirit.
The whole exercise was futile in its superficiality if only for what our text says, “Who can discern his errors?” We are sold under sin, says Paul. Many sins I see in myself, but there are far more that I cannot see. I cannot find them out. They cannot be listed. The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know them? Then the next thing that David asks in our text is a prayer that his hidden faults will be forgiven. I want to spend more time on this theme.
- HIDDEN FAULTS EXIST IN THE BEST OF CHRISTIANS.
What is a hidden fault? You can answer that question two ways.
i] A fault is hidden when the person himself is unaware that what he’s doing is sinful. It is hidden from him through ignorance and insensitivity. Peter did not know he was sinning when he rebuked Jesus for thinking of gong to the cross. The mother of James and John did not know she was sinning when she asked Jesus if her sons could sit on his right hand and left hand in the kingdom. Saul of Tarsus thought his outward life was blameless. He breathed out threatenings and slaughters against the church, arresting both men and women and forcing them to blaspheme. This was a period of great ignorance in his life. He didn’t realise that what he was doing was wicked. He thought it was justifiable zeal. He thought he was serving God by killing Christians. Consider the conscience of a cannibal. He has been taught from the first stirrings of his life that eating your enemies is good. It is a fault hidden from him, but it is still a terrible sin. Young Christians are especially guilty of hidden faults. They have not been exposed to the Bible’s teaching.
ii] There are even more serious hidden faults, the sins no one knows about but the person involved. These are faults he has succeeded in hiding even from those who know him best, or those he depends on the most. His friends and fellow Christians would be shocked to discover that he is guilty of such attitudes. Secret sins are like a fire in the chimney. You have a fire in the grate, and you can see it and feel its warmth, but now the chimney itself has caught fire; no one can see it; there is a slight suspicion from a strange noise and odour but nothing to make any comment about, yet it is burning away. You see the analogy? A lust is there, burning away inside you though no one can see it. They could hear you if you were phoning a call girl; they could see you if you were buying a copy of a porn magazine; they could watch you if you were entering a massage parlour or a pole-dancing club; they could print out a copy of the record of your visits to obscene websites, but the hidden imaginations and desires in your heart no man in the world can see. Ezekiel speaks of those who commit abominations in secret and no one knows
. An apparently upright man is actually doing what another sinner does who’s been photographed and reported in such act, so that his name is in the newspapers and on TV. But the other man, the hypocrite, is doing exactly the same in his heart. He has hidden his sins from the whole world. He doesn’t admit he’s a sinner; he strikes the pose of an upright moral man, but the convicted man, confronted with the evidence bows his head and acknowledges he has fallen.
Here I hold a book in my hand. It is open and you can read every word on every line. Now I close the book. Has any word or line been obliterated? No. Every page contains the same sentences as ever, but no one can read them because they are hidden. They are still there, but they are hidden from our eyes. That is a secret sin. It is entertained in the heart where no mortal eye can see it. A man may speak in his heart what he would never dare to speak with his tongue. He will think things there he would never dream of doing with his hands. Faults are hidden there where none but God and conscience can spectate. Inner sin is like a virus slowly getting stronger and affecting every part of a man so that he is growing weak and delirious occasionally behaving quite out of character. No one knows why. The cause is quite hidden. You see it in preachers who begin to act in some bizarre way. They disappear from home for a day or so. They call from a distant destination. They tell you they don’t know how they come to be there. You notice they have stopped singing the hymns in the pulpit. They say that they are having a breakdown, but in fact there are hidden faults that are growing in strength and they are giving in to them, but no one at all has seen them or suspects these men of evil behaviour. So those are the kind of hidden faults David refers to here.
- HIDDEN FAULTS ARE WICKED.
Our Saviour opens up the meaning of the law of God in Matthew chapter five (vv.21-30), and in doing so deals a devastating blow against the lie that claims keeping a good image is everything. Our Lord taught repeatedly there that hidden faults, kept under wraps, concealed from everyone else’s view, which actually break the same law of God and grieve the same Spirit of God as that sin that explodes into the worst forms of ungodly behaviour. Do you understand what I am saying? Those who hate others in their hearts are as guilty of sinning as those who actually express their hatred by physically attacking someone. They may not indicate by any change of expression on their faces that they hate this person in their hearts. They never say a word; they never make a single gesture that shows the disdain they feel for them, but if violence is tolerated in their hearts then it is sin and it breaks the law of God. The same is true of lust in the heart; those who indulge their imaginations are as culpable of breaking the seventh commandment as wanton adulterers. So Christians are not to think of hidden faults as somehow unsinful and safe.
Let me explain this more clearly. Is every sin equally heinous? Is every fault just as wicked as any other? Is a hidden sin as heinous as a revealed sin? You ask Christians that question and you are surprised to discover how many give the wrong answer and say solemnly, “Yes, every sin is equally heinous.” That is not true. Every sin is not equally heinous. Hidden lust for a person is not as wicked as actually going to bed with that person. The Bible does not suggest that there is no difference in degree between sin that takes place in the mind and sin that is acted out. Scripture does not teach that all sins are of equal enormity. That some sins are worse than others is both patently obvious and thoroughly biblical. Scripture plainly teaches this, for example, when it tells us the sin of Judas was greater than the sin of Pilate (John 19:11).
The Westminster Longer Catechism Question 150 asks, “Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God?” Christians without thinking nod their heads and say, “Aaaah yeah . . . self evidently it is so . . . a sin is a sin is a sin.’ That is not the answer that the Longer Catechism gives. Listen; “All transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.”
Some sins are aggravated sins and are more wicked. You think of a group of preachers sitting in a conference at the end of the day and they start to discuss this very point. One says, “What would be some of the aggravations that make a sin we committed more heinous in the sight of God than others?” So there is a bit of thought, and then one preacher breaks the silence, “Well we are preachers of the word of God to start with. We stand before men representing God to them and when we sin we are not teenagers who have just been converted. That sin is an aggravated sin” Yes, they all agree with that. We preachers are privileged men. Judas was a privileged man to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and so his sin was worse than Pilate’s sin. Then another preacher opens his mouth, “Then if we commit the sin on the Lord’s Day it is more heinous than if we do it on a weary Monday.” Right. Again, general agreement. Again someone suggests, “If we commit the sin in the service, in the pulpit, at the Lord’s Supper, at a baptism, then it is more heinous than if we did it on a Thursday evening at home.” Right. Then another preacher says, “We are surgeons of man’s hearts. We know the subtlety of sin, all the excuses it can raise to behave as it wants to behave. My little boy was dressed up for a party, and he was told not to go out into the garden and get mud all over himself in the next half hour. When my wife went looking for him where did she find him but in the garden covered in mud. ‘What did I tell you to do? Not to go into the yard and not get dirty?’ ‘Yes, I know Mom,’ he said, ‘but I did it with a heavy heart.’ That was no excuse was it for his sin. It was an aggravated sin because he had been told plainly not to do that, and his conscience, his heavy heart, bore testimony with him not to do it.” So the preachers spoke to one another about how some sins were aggravated sins and were worse than other sins . . . do you see where that conversation was heading? It was pointing at me! It was a bow from heaven with an arrow in it and that arrow was aimed at me! It was directed at every preacher there. It is pointing at every office holder here, at every mature old Christian. My sins as a man of God and as a spokesman for God are more heinous than the same sins done by someone who became a Christian during the last year.
So a hidden fault in your heart is not as heinous as an outward action though the same law of God is being broken. I am saying that sins of imagination are not as bad as deeds actually done in space time history and in the space time history of another person. You have got half way to curbing sin if you keep them hidden. Only half way, but they are still sins.
i] They don’t come to expression in your outward life, thank God, because you know they are sinful. For example, you know the difference between the belly and the body. I am referring to I Corinthians 6 where we get a couple of loud slogans from a group in the Corinth congregation who were trumpeting their liberty in Jesus Christ. They had these watchwords and
Paul answers them as tersely as they shouted them out; “‘Everything is permissible for me’ – but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’ – but I will not be mastered by anything. ‘Food for the stomach (the belly) and the stomach (the belly) for food’ – but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” (I Cors. 6:12&13). The ‘stomach’ (or the belly) refers to all the desires of the flesh. This is what you restrain and keep under control. It is your enemy, not the body itself which was made by Almighty God and is good and is to be redeemed and glorified. You present your body as a living sacrifice to God each day. You sit on the edge of your bed and you appropriate your great High Priest and you present your body to God. This day all that is in me is to be for the Lord as the Lord is for me.
ii] It is a hidden fault but it does not show itself in your life because you have some devotion to your Saviour. You know that he suffered and died bearing that sin in his body on the tree and so you keep it in your heart and you long that it would vanish away. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul my life, my all. Your love for the Lord Jesus helps to restrain your sin.
iii] It is a hidden fault tucked away in your heart but never coming to expression because you remember all the mercies that you’ve received from God throughout your long life as a Christian. You are grateful to God for all he has done for you. You dare not repay the Lord for all his goodness to you by opening wide the door of your heart and giving these hidden faults plenty of scope to come out and do whatever they please. You confess your sin to God and ask him for restraining grace.
iv] It is still a hidden fault deep down in your heart and there it stays because you know what sin is. You are taught by the word of God about its inwardness and wickedness. Your conscience is a biblically educated conscience and so you don’t let that abominable thing out. “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (I Cor. 9:27).
v] It is still a hidden fault which is there in one of the dark caverns of your heart and mind because you have been chastened for that sin by God. You have fallen there before and the consequences of that were not pleasant. You still grieve over it. You don’t want to go there again. God’s rod of correction has been upon you and you have smarted because of this sin. You know you are a brand plucked from the burning and so, although you are conscious of what sins are in your heart; you keep the lid on them and will not let them out. They are hidden sins, and I am glad of that. But I want those hidden sins to be mortified and put to death by the power of the Spirit. Hidden sins are foolish.
- HIDDEN FAULTS ARE FOOLISH.
You are a pleasant, agreeable, moral man. You are known to the people of our town as generous and religious, but you may be engaged in some sin which is hidden from every eye in this congregation. Perhaps you are taking drugs. Or you are a secret drunkard. Or you visit unmentionable sites on the world wide web. Or you are stealing from your employer. Or you, as a married person, are seeing a member of the opposite sex. Or you are cheating in your studies. You may be lying to the tax authorities. You may be giving an impression of greater godliness and love for God than you possess. There may be some other vice; there are plenty of those about in this world. It is not for me to make a long list here but you are a fool to think that you can harbour a hidden fault for ever. You know why hidden faults are abhorrent:
i] God sees the heart. Scripture tells us “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). No sin – not even a curse under your breath or a fleeting evil thought – is hidden from the view of God. The Lord Jesus knew the whole history of the much married Samaritan woman and the man she was living with at the time. No detail of her life was hidden from God, in fact, if we realized that God himself is the only audience for our hidden faults, we might be less inclined to write them off so lightly. The Bible declares that God will one day judge the secrets of every heart (Rom. 2:16). He “will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Eccl. 12:14).
There is a stirring poem written by Thomas Hood, called The Dream of Eugene Aram. Aram was a man from the north of England who murdered a man and threw his body into a river – ‘a sluggish water, black as ink, the depth was so extreme.’ The next morning he visited the place;
“And sought the black accursed pool with a wild misgiving eye;
And he saw the dead in the river bed for the faithless stream had run dry.”
Next he covered the corpse with heaps of leaves, but a powerful wind swept through the wood and left the secret exposed to the sun;
“Then down I cast me on my face, and first began to weep,
For I knew my secret then was one that earth refused to keep;
On land or sea though it should be ten thousand fathoms deep.”
Hidden sins won’t remain hidden; “The Lord will bring to light the things hidden in the darkness” (1 Cor. 4:5). Jesus said, “There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3). Those who think they can evade shame by sinning in secret will discover one day that open disclosure of their secrets before the very throne of God is the worst shame of all. How can I live with that thought? Only thus, that the Judge on that throne will be the Saviour who has died for me and tells me that there is no condemnation to those who are in him. I can only live with it with the confidence that on that day my mind will be wholly brought into harmony with the mind of God, and I will see my sins as God sees them and magnify his grace for what he has done for me in pardoning and healing and restoring and forgiving me for such sins.
It is folly to think we can mitigate our sin by going on and keeping it secret. It is the height of folly to convince ourselves that we can get away with sin by covering it up. “He who conceals his transgressions will not pr
osper” (Prov. 28:13). Tell them to God. Each day tell your hidden sins to him and ask that they be covered by the blood of Christ. You know that all sin is an assault against our holy God, whether it is done in public or in secret. Another reason why hidden faults are abhorrent:
ii] Sin in the heart produces fruit in the life.There’s been a terrible leak of raw oil from a well in the Gulf of Mexico and thousands of gallons are gushing forth every day polluting the sea and affecting fish and birds and the livelihoods of thousands of people and the very existence of British Petroleum and the many who have invested in it. What caused all this? They are not sure. It is a hidden fault and what consequences have come from it!
I have reminded you that Jesus said how hatred broke the same commandment as murder, and lust broke the same commandment as adultery. In other words, anger arises from the same moral defect as murder; and the one who lusts suffers from the same character flaw as the adulterer. They share the same root but one fruit is small while the other is big and vile. So the lustful preacher has no right to feel morally superior to a fornicating church member.
You remember how Paul tells the Christian leaders in Galatia in what spirit they are to restore the fallen brother or sister? Let’s read these words in the light of what I have been saying. Here is the case of a secret sin breaking out and making a Christian fall. But the people now having to deal with him are also those who’ve gone through exactly the same experience in their own lives. They’ve also fallen, and they’re also battling with the very same sins that have tripped up this brother or sister. So all this is in Paul’s mind as the Holy Spirit causes him to write these words; “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Gals 6:1&2). You whose task it is to restore that person are just as capable of doing what that person did, maybe more so!
Do you think that a Christian can hate his brother? You say, “I don’t think that a Christian could hate his brother,” but why does the apostle John on four occasions in three chapters of his first letter warn Christians about hating their brothers? He is writing to a church in revival times pastored by apostles and yet he tells them that if they hate their brothers they’re showing that they are still in darkness, or that they are murderers, and if they protest and say, “But I do love God” then they are liars. Because there is hatred in their hearts – a hidden fault. The Lord Christ teaches us to view our own secret sins with the same moral revulsion we feel for wanton acts of public sin. Another reason why hidden faults are abhorrent:
iii] Hidden faults involve the compounding sin of hypocrisy. There is a famous verse in Psalm 66 that says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (v.18). That is a good translation. In the A.V. it says “if I had regarded sin in my heart,” and that is a little less clear because all of us know the fact that we have sin in our hearts. Does that mean us that God won’t hear us when we have sin in our hearts? Then we would never have an answered prayer. It is not saying that; the psalmist tells us, “If we possess some regard for our hidden sins then don’t expect God to hear you. You understand? If I’m admiring my greed – my ability to drink 6 pints of beer – if I cherish my sharp tongue – my ability to give a withering retort and put a person in his place – if I’m cherishing sinful attitudes of mine then I can’t expect God to give his blessing to my tongue or my mind or my hands or my career. In fact you’ve added another sin to the sins you are committing. You’ve added the sin of hypocrisy to those offenses. A hypocrite is someone who tells people off for some minor misbehaviour of which he disapproves while he himself is a real stinker! The Pharisees insisted on giving a tenth of the herbs in the garden to God but these same men shrugged their shoulders at nailing to the cross the Son of God. Hypocrites hide their own sin and boss other people about for no sins at all.
Hypocrites are strangers to genuine repentance. That’s why Jesus referred to hypocrisy as “the leaven of the Pharisees” (Luke 12:1). Hypocrisy works directly against the conscience. There’s no way to be hypocritical without searing the conscience. Hypocrisy is the fertilizer for hidden faults. How they grow in a hypocrite’s heart. So watch your heart because out of it come all the issues of life. Your secret life is the real litmus test of your character: “As he thinks within himself, so he is” (Prov. 23:7). What are you really like? Take a hard look at your private life – especially your innermost thoughts.
Spurgeon says, “But I have here some true Christians who indulge in a secret sin. They say it is but a little one, and therefore do they spare it. Dear brethren, I speak to you, and I speak to myself, when I say this—let us destroy all our little secret sins. They are called little and if they be, let us remember that it is the foxes, even the little foxes, that spoil our vines; for our vines have tender shoots. Let us take heed of our little sins. A little sin, like a little pebble in the shoe, will make a traveller to heaven walk very wearily. Little sins, like little thieves, may open the door to greater ones outside. Christians, recollect that little sins will spoil your communion with Christ. Little sins, like little stains in silk, may damage the fine texture of fellowship; little sins, like little irregularities in the machinery, may spoil the whole fabric of your religion. The one dead fly spoils the whole pot of ointment. That one thistle may seed a continent with noxious weeds. Let us, brethren, kill our sins as often as we can find them. One said— ‘The heart is full of unclean birds; it is a cage of them.’ ‘Ah, but,’ said another divine, ‘you must not make that an apology, for a Christian’s business is to wring their necks.’ And so it is; if there be evil things, it is our business to kill them. Christians must not tolerate secret sins. We must not harbour traitors; it is high treason against the King of Heaven. Let us drag them out to light, and offer them upon the altar, giving up the dearest of our secret sins at the will and bidding of God. There is a great danger in a little secret sin; therefore avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it and shun it, and God give thee grace to overcome it!”
- HIDDEN FAULTS ARE A SIGN OF HIDDEN ATHEISM.
I have this also from Charles Haddon Spurgeon. This is what he says; Now, I hold that secret sin, if anything, is the worst of sins because secret sin implies that the man who commits it has atheism in his heart. You’ll ask how that can be. I tell you, he may be a professing Christian, but I shall tell him to his face that he is a practical atheist, if he
labours to keep up a respectable profession before man, while in secret he transgresses. Why, isn’t he an atheist, who’ll say, “There is a God,” and yet at the same time thinks more of man than he does of God? Isn’t that the very essence of atheism – isn’t that a denial of the divinity of the Most High when men lightly esteem God and think more of the eye of a creature than of the Creator seeing them? There are some who wouldn’t for the life of them say a wicked word in the presence of their minister, but they can do that when he’s not there, even though they know that God is looking at them. They’re atheists. There are some who wouldn’t for all the world cheat at work if they thought they’d be discovered, but they can do it if they are sure no one will find them out even while God alone is with them. Do you understand, that they think more of the eye of man than of the eye of God; and they think it worse to be condemned by man than to be condemned by God? Call it by what name you will, the proper name of that is practical atheism. It’s dishonouring to God; it is dethroning him; it is putting him down below his own creatures; and what is that, but to take away his divinity? Men and women, do not, I beseech you, incur the fearful guilt of secret sins. No man can sin a little in secret, it will certainly engender more sin; no man can be a hypocrite and yet be moderate in guilt; he will go from bad to worse, and still proceed, until the great day when his guilt shall be published, he shall be found to be the very worst and the most hardened of men. Take heed of the guilt of secret sin.
So, men and women, what’s it to be? What is your hidden fault? Bring it out into the daylight; perhaps it will die in the light of the sun. These things love to be hidden. Tell your own conscience now, what is it? Look it in the eye; confess it before God, and may he give you grace to remove that sin and every other, and turn to him with full purpose of heart! But know this, that your guilt is guilt before God – discovered or undiscovered, and that if there’s any difference it is worse, because it’s been hidden. God save us from the guilt of secret sin! “Forgive my hidden faults.” Cry to him as David does here, “Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression” (v.13).
- HIDDEN FAULTS MUST BE REPLACED BY MEDITATIONS PLEASING TO GOD.
So the great psalm ends with this familiar prayer, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer” (v.14). David longed that not a word on his lips – not an “Ouch!” – or even a single imagination in his heart should be displeasing to God his Rock and Redeemer. It didn’t matter if people on earth thought him narrow-minded and fanatical just as long as God was pleased with him in everything. There is no other way we can be saved from secret sins than by filling our hearts and souls to the very brim with a consciousness of the living God who is our Redeemer.
2nd May 2010 GEOFF THOMAS