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This classic study is a reflection on a verse found in this month's psalm. It is a sermon by one of the best: Charles Haddon Spurgeon. This sermon has been abridged very slightly. The entire text can be found in Spurgeon's Sermons, Vol. III; pg. 164, or in New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. III; pg. 73. -- Ed.
"Cleanse thou me from secret faults" (Psalm 19:12; KJV).
Self-righteousness arises partly from pride, but mainly from ignorance of God's law. It is because men know little or nothing concerning the terrible character of the divine law, that they foolishly imagine themselves to be righteous. They are not aware of the deep spirituality, and the stern severity of the law, or they would have other and wiser notions. Once let them know how strictly the law deals with the thoughts, how it brings itself to bear upon every emotion of the inner man, and there is not one creature beneath God's heaven who would dare to think himself righteous in God's sight in virtue of his own deeds and thoughts. Only let the law be revealed to a man; let him know how strict the law is, and how infinitely just, and his self-righteousness will shrivel into nothing--it will become a filthy rag in his sight, whereas before he thought it to be a goodly garment.
Now, David, having seen God's law, and having praised it in [Psalm 19]..., is brought by reflecting on its excellency to utter this thought, "Who can understand his errors?" (Psalm 19:12),[Footnote #5] and then to offer this prayer, "Cleanse thou me from secret faults." . . .
O! if we had eyes like those of God, we should think very differently of ourselves. The sins that we see and confess are but like the farmer's small samples which he brings to market, when he has left his granary full at home. We have but a very few sins which we can observe and detect, compared with those which are hidden to ourselves and unseen to our fellow creatures. I doubt not it is true of all of us who are here, that in every hour of our existence in which we are active, we commit tens of thousands of unholinesses for which conscience has never reproved us, because we have never seen them to be wrong, seeing we have not studied God's laws as we ought to have done. Now, be it known to us all that sin is sin, whether we see it or not--that a sin secret to us is a sin as truly as if we knew it to be a sin, though not so great a sin in the sight of God as if it had been committed presumptuously, seeing that it lacks the aggravation of wilfulness. Let all of us who know our sins, offer this prayer after all our confessions: "Lord, I have confessed as many as I know, but I must add an et cetera after them, and say, `Cleanse thou me from secret faults.'"
That, however, will not be the pith of my sermon this morning. I am going after a certain class of men who have sins not unknown to themselves, but secret to their fellow creatures. Every now and then we turn up a fair stone which lies upon the greensward of the professing church, surrounded with the verdure of apparent goodness, and to our astonishment we find beneath all kinds of filthy insects and loathsome reptiles, and in our disgust at such hypocrisy, we are driven to exclaim, "All men are liars; there are none in whom we can put any trust at all." It is not fair to say so of all; but really, the discoveries which are made of the insincerity of our fellow creatures are enough to make us despise our kind, because they can go so far in appearances, and yet have so little soundness of heart. To you, sirs, who sin secretly, and yet make a profession; who break God's covenants in the dark and wear a mask of goodness in the light--to you, sirs, who shut the doors and commit wickedness in secret--to you I shall speak this morning. O may God also be pleased to speak to you, and make you pray this prayer, "Cleanse thou me from secret faults."
I shall endeavor to urge upon all pretenders present to give up, to renounce, to detest, to hate, to abhor all their secrets sins. And, first, I shall endeavor to show the folly of secret sins; secondly, the misery of secret sins; thirdly, the guilt of secret sins; fourthly, the danger of secret sins; and then I shall try to apply some words by way of remedy, that we may all of us be enabled to avoid secret sins.
I. First, then, THE FOLLY OF SECRET SINS.
Pretender, thou art fair to look upon; thy conduct outwardly upright, amiable, liberal, generous, and Christian; but thou dost indulge in some sin which the eye of man has not yet detected. Perhaps it is private drunkenness. Thou dost revile the drunkard when he staggers through the street; but thou canst thyself indulge in the same habit in private. It may be some other lust or vice, it is not for me just now to mention what it is. But, pretender, we say unto thee, thou art a fool to think of harboring a secret sin; and thou art a fool for this one reason, that thy sin is not a secret sin; it is known, and shall one day be revealed; perhaps very soon. Thy sin is not a secret; the eye of God hath seen it; thou hast sinned before his face. Thou hast shut to the door, and drawn the curtains, and kept out the eye of the sun, but God's eye pierceth through the darkness; the brick walls which surrounded thee were as transparent as glass to the eye of the Almighty; the darkness which did gird thee was as bright as the summer's noon to the eye of him who beholdeth all things. Knowest thou not, O man, that "all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4:13). As the priest ran his knife into the entrails of his victim, discovered the heart and liver, and what else did lie within, so art thou, O man, seen by God, cut open by the Almighty; thou hast no secret chamber where thou canst hide thyself; thou hast no dark cellar where thou canst conceal thy soul. Dig deep, ay, deep as hell, but thou canst not find earth enough upon this globe to cover thy sin; if thou shouldst heap the mountains on its grave, those mountains would tell the tale of what was buried in their bowels. If thou couldst cast thy sin into the sea, a thousand babbling waves would tell the secret out. There is no hiding it from God. Thy sin is photographed in high heaven; the deed when it was done was photographed upon the sky, and there it shall remain, and thou shalt see thyself one day revealed to the gazing eyes of all men, a hypocrite, a pretender, who didst sin in fancied secret, observed in all thine acts by the all-seeing Jehovah. O what fools men are, to think they can do any thing in secret. This world is like the glass hives wherein bees sometimes work; we look down upon them, and we see all the operations of the little creatures. So God looketh down and seeth all. Our eyes are weak; we can not look through the darkness; but his eye, like an orb of flame, penetrateth the blackness, and readeth the thoughts of man, and seeth his acts when he thinks himself most concealed. O it were a thought enough to curb us all from sin, if it were truly applied to us-- "Thou, God, seest me!" Stop thief! Drop thou that which thou hast taken to thyself. God seeth thee! No eye of detection on earth hath discovered thee, but God's eyes are now looking through the clouds upon thee. Swearer! scarce any for whom thou carest heard thy oath; but God heard it; it entered into the ears of the Lord God of Sabaoth. Ah! thou who leadest a filthy life, and yet art a respectable merchant, bearing among men a fair and goodly character, thy vices are all known; written in God's book. He keepeth a diary of all thine acts; and what wilt thou think on that day when a crowd shall be assembled, compared with which this immense multitude is but a drop of a bucket, and God shall read out the story of thy secret life, and men and angels shall hear it. Certain I am there are none of us who would like to have all our secrets read, especially our secret thoughts. If I should select out of this congregation the most holy man, should bring him forward and say, "Now, sir, I know all your thoughts, and am about to tell them," I am sure he would offer me the largest bribe that he could gather if I would be pleased to conceal at least some of them. "Tell," he would say, "of my acts; of them I am not ashamed; but do not tell my thoughts and imaginations--of them I must ever stand ashamed before God." What, then, sinner, will be thy shame when thy privy lusts, thy closet transgressions, thy secret crimes shall be gazetted from God's throne, published by his own mouth, and with a voice louder than a thousand thunders preached in the ears of all mankind. O renounce the foolish hope of secrecy, for thy sin is this day recorded, and shall one day be adverised upon the walls of heaven.
II. In the next place, let us notice THE MISERY OF SECRET SINS.
Of all the sinners, the man who makes a profession of religion, and yet lives in iniquity, is the most miserable. A downright wicked man, who takes a glass in his hand, and says "I am a drunkard, I am not ashamed of it," he shall be unutterably miserable in worlds to come, but brief though it be, he has his hour of pleasure. A man who curses and swears, and says, "That is my habit I am a profane man," and makes a profession of it, he has at least, some peace in his soul; but the man who walks with God's minister, who is united with God's church, who comes out before God's people, and unites with them, and then lives in sin, what a miserable existence he must have of it! Why, he has a worse existence than the mouse that is in the parlor, running out now and then to pick up the crumbs, and then back again to his hole. Such men must run out now and then to sin; and O! how fearful they are to be discovered! One day, perhaps, their character turns up; with wonderful cunning they manage to conceal and gloss it over; but the next day something else comes, and they live in constant fear, telling lie after lie, to make the last be appear truthful, adding deception to deception, in order that they may not be discovered...If I must be a wicked man, give me the life of a roystering sinner, who sins before the face of day; if I must sin, let me not act as a hypocrite and a coward; let me not profess to be God's and spend my life for the devil. This way of cheating the devil is a thing which every honest sinner will be ashamed of. He will say, "Now, if I do serve my master I will serve him out and out, I will have no sham about it; if I make a profession I will carry it out; but if I do not, if I live in sin, I am not going to gloss it over by cant and hypocrisy." One thing which has ham-stringed the church, and cut her very sinews in twain, has been this most damnable hypocrisy. O! in how many places have we men whom you might praise to the very skies, if you could believe their words, but whom you might cast into the nethermost pit if you could see their secret actions. God forgive any of you who are so acting! I had almost said, I can scarce forgive you. I can forgive the man who riots openly, and makes no profession of being better, but the man who fawns, and cants, and pretends and prays, and then lives in sin, that man I hate, I can not bear him, I abhor him from my very soul. If he will turn from his ways, I will love him, but in his hypocrisy he is to me the most loathsome of all creatures. 'Tis said the toad doth wear a jewel in her head, but this man hath none, but beareth filthines about him, while he pretends to be in love with righteousness. A mere profession, my hearers, is but painted pageantry to go to hell in: it is like the plumes upon the hearse and the trap pings upon the black horses which drag men to their graves, the funeral array of dead souls. Take heed above every thing of a waxen profession that will not stand the sun; take care of a life that needs to have two faces to carry it out; be one thing, or else the other. If you make up your mind to serve Satan, do not pretend to serve God; and if you serve God, serve Him with all your heart. "No man can serve two masters" (Matt. 6:24); do not try it, do not endeavor to do it, for no life will be more miserable than that. Above all, beware of committing acts which it will be necessary to conceal.
Guilt is a "grim chamberlain," even when his fingers are not bloody red. Secret sins bring fevered eyes and sleepless nights, until men burn out their conscences, and become in very deed ripe for the pit. Hypocrisy is a hard game to play at, or it is one deceiver against many observers; and for certain it is a miserable trade, which will earn at last, as its certain climax, a tremendous bankruptcy. Ah! ye who have sinned without discovery, "be sure your sin will find you out" (Num. 32:23); and bethink you it may find you out ere long. Sin, like murder, will come out; men will even tell tales about themselves in their dreams. God has sometimes made men so pricked in their consciences, that they have been obliged to stand forth and confess the story. Secret sinner! if thou wantest the foretaste of damnation upon earth, continue in thy secret sins; for no man is more miserable than he who sinneth secretly, and yet trieth to preserve a character. Your stag, followed by the hungry hounds, with open mouths, is far more happy than the man who is followed by his sins. Your bird taken in the fowler's net, and laboring to escape, is far more happy than he who hath weaved around himself a web of deception, and labors to escape from it day by day by making the toils more thick and the web more strong. O! the misery of secret sins! Truly, one may pray, "Cleanse thou me from secret faults."
III. But now, next, the guilt, THE SOLEMN GUILT OF SECRET SIN.
Now, John, you do not think there is any evil in a thing unless some body sees it, do you? You feel that it is a very great sin if your master finds you out in robbing the till; but there is no sin if he should not discover it--none at all. And you, sir, you fancy it to be a very great sin to play a trick in trade, in case you should be discovered and brought before the court; but to play a trick and never be discovered, that is all fair--do not say a word about it, Mr. Spurgeon, it is all business; you must not touch business; tricks that are not discovered, of course you are not to find fault with them. The common measure of sin is the notoriety of it. But I do not believe in that. A sin is a sin, whether done in private or before the wide world. It is singular how men will measure guilt. A railway servant puts up a wrong signal, there is an accident; the man is tried and severely reprimanded. The day before he put up the wrong signal, but there was no accident, and therefore no one accused him for his neglect. But it was just the same, accident or no accident: the accident did not make the guilt, it was the deed which made the guilt, not the notoriety nor yet the consequence of it. It was his business to have taken care; and he was as guilty the first time as he was the second, for he negligently exposed the lives of men. Do not measure sin by what other people say of it; but measure sin by what God says of it, and what your own conscience says of it.
Now, I hold that secret sin, if any thing, is the worst of sin; because secret sin implies that the man who commits it has Atheism in his heart. You will ask how that can be. I reply, he may be a professing Christian, but I shall tell him to his face that he is a practical Atheist, if he labors to keep up a respectable profession before man, and then secretly transgresses. Why, is not he an Atheist, who will say there is a God, yet at the same time thinks more of man than he does of God? Is it not the very essence of Atheism--is it not a denial of the divinity of the Most High when men lightly esteem him and think more of the eye of a creature than of the observation of their Creator? There are some who would not, for the life of them, say a wicked word in the presence of their minister, but they can do it, knowing God is looking at them. They are Atheists. There are some who would not trick in trade for all the world if they thought they should be discovered, but they can do it while God is with them; that is, 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 is dishonoring God; it is dethroning Him; putting Him down below His own creatures; and what is that, but to take away His divinity? Brethren, 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 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... I would...that I could make every man look to himself, and find out his secret sin. Come, my hearer, what is it? Bring it forth to the daylight; perhaps it will die in the light of the sun. These things love not to be discovered. Tell thine own conscience, now, what it is. Look it in the face; confess it before God, and may He give thee grace to remove that sin and every other, and turn to Him with full purpose of heart! But this know--that thy guilt is guilt discovered or undiscovered, and that, if there be any difference, it is worse, because it has been secret. God save us from the guilt of secret sin! "Cleanse thou me from secret faults."
IV. And note, next, THE DANGER OF SECRET SIN. One danger is that a man can not commit a little sin in secret, without being by-the-by betrayed into a public sin. You can not, sir, though you may think you can, preserve a moderation in sin. If you commit one sin, it is like the melting of the lower glacier upon the Alps; the others must follow in time. As certainly as you heap one stone upon the cairn to-day, the next day you will cast another, until the heap, reared stone by stone, shall become a very pyramid. Set the coral insect at work, you can not decree where it shall stay its work. It will not build its rock just as high as you please, it will not stay until it shall be covered with weeds, until the weeds shall decay, and there shall be soil upon it, and an island shall be created by tiny creatures. Sin cannot be held in with bit and bridle. "But I am going to have a little drink now and then. I am only going to be intoxicated once a week or so. Nobody will see it; I shall be in bed directly." You will be drunk in the streets soon. "I am only just going to read one lascivious book; I will put it under the sofa-cover when any one comes in." You will keep it in your library yet, sir. "I am only going into that company now and then." You will go there every day, such is the bewitching character of it; you cannot help it. You may as well ask the lion to let you put your head into his mouth. You cannot regulate his jaws, neither can you regulate sin. Once go into it, you cannot tell when you will be destroyed. . . Again, you may labor to conceal your vicious habit, but it will come out, you cannot help it. You keep your little pet sin at home; but mark this, when the door is ajar the dog will be out in the street; wrap him up in your bosom, put over him fold after fold of hypocrisy to keep him secret: the wretch will be singing some day when you are in company; you cannot keep the evil bird still. Your sin will gad abroad; and what is more, you will not mind it some of these days. A man who indulges in sin privately, by degrees gets his forehead as hard as brass. The first time he sinned, the drops of sweat stood on his brow at the recollection of what he had done; the second time no hot sweat on his brow--only an agitation of the muscles; the third time there was the sly, sneaky look, but no agitation; the next time, he sinned a little further; and by degrees he became the bold blasphemer of his God, who exclaimed, "Who am I that I should fear Jehovah, and who is he that I should serve him?" Men go from bad to worse. Launch your boat in the current--it must go where the current takes it. Put yourself in the whirlwind--you are but a straw in the wind: you must go which way the wind carries you--you cannot control yourself. The balloon can mount, but it cannot direct its course; it must go which ever way the wind blows. If you once mount into sin, there is no stopping. Take heed, if you would not become the worst of characters, take heed of the little sins, which, mounting one upon another, may at last heave you from the summit and destroy your soul for ever. There is a great danger in secret sins.
But I have here some true Christians who indulge in secret sins. 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 traveler 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 spoileth 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 harbor 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!
V. And now I come, in finishing up, to plead with all my might with some of you whom God has pricked in your consciences. I have come to entreat you, if it be possible, even to tears, that you will give up your secret sins. I have one here for whom I bless God; I love him, though I know him not. He is almost persuaded to be a Christian; he halteth between two opinions; he intendeth to serve God, he striveth to give up sin, but he findeth it a hard struggle, and as yet he knoweth not what shall become of him. I speak to him with all love: yes friend, will you have your sin and go to hell, or leave our sin and go to heaven? This is the solemn alternative; to all awakened sinners I put it; may God choose for you, otherwise I tremble as to which you may choose. The pleasures of this life are so intoxicating, the joys of it so ensnaring, that did I not believe that God worketh in us to will and to do, I should despair of you. But I have confidence that God will decide the matter. Let me lay the alternative before you:--on the one hand there is an hour's merriment, a short life of bliss, and that a poor, poor bliss; on the other hand, there is everlasting life and eternal glory. On the one hand, there is a transient happiness, and afterward overwhelming woe; in this case there is a solid peace and everlasting joy, and after it overflowing bliss. I shall not fear to be called an Arminian, when I say, as [Joshua and] Elijah did, "Choose you this day whom you will serve. . . If God be God, serve Him; if Baal be God, serve him" (Josh. 24:15; I Kings 18:21). But, now, make your choice deliberately; and may God help you to do it! Do not say you will take up with religion, without first counting the cost of it; remember, there is your lust to be given up, your pleasure to be renounced; can you do it for Christ's sake? Can you? I know you cannot, unless God's grace shall assist you in making such a choice. But can you say, "Yes, by the help of God, earth's gaudy toys, its pomps, pageantries, gewgaws all these I renounce?
"`These can never satisfy;
Give me Christ or else I die.'"
Sinner, thou wilt never regret that choice, if God help thee to make it; thou wilt find thyself a happy man here, and thrice happy throughout eternity.
"But," says one, "sir, I intend to be religious, but I do not hold with your strictness." I do not ask you to do so; I hope, however, you will hold with God's strictness, and God's strictness is ten thousand times greater than mine. You may say that I am puritanical in my preaching; God will be puritanical in judging in that great day. I may appear severe, but I can never be so severe as God will be. I may draw the harrow with sharp teeth across your conscience, but God shall drag harrows of eternal fire across you one day. I may speak thundering things; God will not speak them, but hurl them from his hands. Remember, men may laugh at hell, and say there is none; but they must reject their Bibles before they can believe the lie. . . Sir, will you keep your secret sins, and have eternal fire for them? Remember, it is of no use, they must all be given up, or else you cannot be God's child. You cannot by any means have both; it cannot be God and the world, it cannot be Christ and the devil; it must be one or the other. O, that God would give you grace to resign all; for what are they worth? They are your deceivers now, and will be your tormentors for ever. O! that your eyes were open to see the rottenness, the emptiness and trickery of iniquity. O! that God would turn you to himself. O! may God give you grace to cross the Rubicon of repentance at this very hour; to say, "Henceforth it is war to the knife with my sins; not one of them will I willingly keep, but down with them, down with them; Canaanite, Hittite, Jebusite, they shall all be driven out
"`The dearest idol I have known,
Whate'er that idol be;
Help me to tear it from its throne,
And worship only thee.'"
"But, O! sir, I cannot do it; it would be like pulling my eyes out." Ay, but hear what Christ says: "It were better for thee to enter into life with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire" (see Matt. 5:28). "But it would be like cutting my arm off." Ay, and it would be better for thee to enter into life maimed, than to be cast into hell fire for ever. O! when the sinner comes before God at last, do you think he will speak as he does now? God will reveal his secret sins: the sinner will not then say, "Lord, I thought my secret sins so sweet, I could not give them up." I think I see how changed it will be then. "Sir," you say now, "you are too strict;" will you say that when the eyes of the Almighty are glowering on you? You say now, "Sir, you are too precise;" will you say that to God Almighty's face? "Sir, I mean to keep such-and-such a sin." Can you say it at God's bar at last? You will not dare to do it then. Ah! when Christ comes a second time, there will be a marvelous change in the way men talk. Methinks I see Him; there He sits upon His throne. Now, Caiaphas, come and condemn Him now! Judas! come and kiss Him now! What do you stick at, man? Are you afraid of Him? Now, Barabbas! go; see whether they will prefer you to Christ now. Swearer, now is your time; you have been a bold man; curse Him to His face now. Now, drunkard; stagger up to Him now. Now, infidel; tell Him there is no Christ now--now that the world is lit with lightning and the earth is shaken with thunder till the solid pillars thereof do bow themselves--tell God there is no God now; now laugh at the Bible; now scoff at the minister. Why men, what is the matter with you? Why, can't you do it? Ah! there you are; you have fled to the hills and to the rocks-- "Rocks, hide us! mountains, fall on us, hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne." Ah! where are now your boasts, your vauntings, and your glories? Alas! alas! for you, in that dread day of wonders.
Secret sinner, what will then become of thee? Go out of this place unmasked; go out to examine thyself, go out to bend thy knee, go out to weep, go out to pray. God give thee grace to believe! And O, how sweet and pleasant the thought, that this day sinners have fled to Christ, and men have been born again to Jesus! Brethren, ere I finish, I repeat the words at which so many have caviled--it is now or never, it is turn or burn. Solemnly in God's sight I say it; if it be not God's truth I must answer for it in the great day of account. Your consciences tell you it is true. Take it home, and mock me if you will; this morning I am clear of your blood; if any seek not God, but live in sin, I shall be clear of your blood in that day when the watchman shall have your souls demanded of him; O, may God grant that you may be cleared in a blessed manner! When I went down these pulpit stairs a Sabbath or two ago, a friend said to me words which have been in my mind ever since-- "Sir, there are nine thousand people this day without excuse in the day of judgment." It is true of you this morning. If you are damned, it will not be for want of preaching to you, and it shall not be for want of praying for you. God knoweth that if my heart could break of itself, it would, for your souls, for God is my witness, how earnestly I long for you in the bowels of Christ Jesus. O, that He might touch your hearts and bring you to Him! For death is a solemn thing, damnation is a horrible thing, to be out of Christ is a dreadful thing, to be dead in sins is a terrific thing. May God lead you to view these things as they are, and save you, for His mercy's sake: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved."
5. All Scriptures cited in this article are taken from the King James
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