1. The Nineteenth Psalm is one of those which are called Psalms of Nature. The thoughts, at any rate in part, belong apparently to the early shepherd life of him who was promoted by God from the sheep-folds to feed Jacob His people and Israel His inheritance. In his wanderings on the hills and in the valleys around Bethlehem the bold, romantic, thoughtful youth had ample leisure to meditate upon the wonders of the natural world, and in this contemplation his mind rises from the everlasting order to the God who is there revealed; and is inspired with a sense of that unseen Presence which guides and directs the whole. As he sees the sun break forth in the morning from his couch of cloud, “as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,” until his radiance spreads over the whole clear sky, and “there is nothing hid from the heat thereof,” he beholds in this a figure of the pure, and enlightening, and cheering law of Jehovah; and the desire comes for that sinlessness which can bear the full light of this Sun of Righteousness, and the words well up from his heart, “Who can discern his errors? Clear thou me from hidden faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be perfect, and I shall be clear from great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer.”
2. The Psalmist stands perplexed before the mystery of his own being; he is at once ignorant of himself and yet mistrustful of himself; he does not know himself, yet knows himself sufficiently well to suspect himself; therefore he appeals to the Spirit who searcheth all things. How true it is that we are mainly unknown to ourselves; that within us are unexplored regions; that our heart is substantially undiscovered! Schopenhauer one day strayed into the Royal Gardens of Berlin; and when an officer inquired of him, “Who are you, sir?” the philosopher responded, “I don’t know; I shall be glad if you can tell me.” The officer reported him for a lunatic; but he was far from that—he was one who had deeply pondered the mystery of personality, and was accordingly puzzled by it.
The exclamation of the Psalmist hits off a universal fact. “Who can discern his errors?” It is the cry of a man who almost despairs of ever coming to know and understand his actual inner condition, of ever coming to see himself as God sees him. There is a touch of pensive surprise in the words, as if he had just had an unwonted revelation of himself, as if he had just made discovery of faults and sins hitherto hidden from him. The sight fills him with astonishment and alarm. He had no idea there was so much lingering mischief within. He is not quite sure that he has seen the worst yet. “If there be this, there may be more.” “Who can discern his errors?”1 [Note: J. Thew, Broken Ideals, 110.]
Bishop Perowne renders the text, “As for errors—who can perceive” (them)? The word “error” here is analogous to the Greek word for “sin,” which gives the notion of missing the mark. It means straying, wandering from the path. There are sins of ignorance and of infirmity unconsciously, unintentionally done through lack of self-knowledge, or of jealous vigilance against the deceits of the world and the snares of Satan. There are also sins of presumption, done with deliberateness and hardened pride, and a sort of insolence against God. There are also sins which do not usually come earliest in the moral history, but which are the inevitable result and penalty of sins of carelessness and infirmity; and which imply, nay, sooner or later create, that awful insensibility which is the sure symptom of spiritual death, and for which no forgiveness, because no repentance, is possible.2 [Note: A. W. Thorold, Questions of Faith and Duty, 56.]
Nothing is more common than the confession, on the part of eminently holy men, that every day of their lives gives them some new understanding of the sinfulness of their own hearts; that the guilt which once seemed slight and easily covered now rises before them in such mountainous proportions that nothing but infinite power and infinite love can remove it. These confessions of sin recur continually in the hymnology of the Church and constitute no small part even of the sacred Word. Is it not one of the greatest of wonders, while the holiest men esteem themselves so great sinners, while progress in goodness is marked most clearly by an increasing knowledge and abhorrence of personal sin—is it not, I say, one of the greatest of wonders that those who make no pretensions to religion, and have no aspirations after holiness, are scarcely conscious that they are sinners at all, and the greatest transgressors are least troubled by the accusations of conscience? It was the humble consciousness of his own sinfulness that gave such power to the preaching of Robert M‘Cheyne, whom God took to Himself in the fulness of his youth and promise. With incomparable modesty he said one day: “The reason, I think, why so many of the worst sinners of Dundee come to hear me is that they discover so much likeness between their hearts and mine.” And this is the secret of the Psalmist’s power over us; this is the reason why we can hear from his lips such sad descriptions of human nature and yet, instead of cherishing an instinctive feeling of repulsion toward them, can yield our assent and make our penitent confession of their truth.1 [Note: A. H. Strong, Miscellanies, ii. 360.]
Our Hidden Faults
1. What is the meaning of these words of the Poet-King, when he prays to be cleared from his hidden faults? It might seem at first to be simple and clear, to be an entreaty that he may be preserved from those sins which we commonly speak of as secret, because they are unknown to our fellow-men; as distinguished from the open and presumptuous offences which are a shameless and notorious breach of the Divine law. We are all conscious of much in that inner life, known only to ourselves and to God, that is inconsistent with our outward profession of morality and religion, in direct antagonism to His revealed will. But this very consciousness excludes all such offences from the list of those of which David is speaking. There is a further and more subtle analysis of character here implied than that which contrasts itself with an exhaustive division of sins into those which are openly exhibited, and those which are secretly indulged. There is a more awful truth to be learned here than that of an inner life of falsehood and impurity and unbelief, which we shrink from disclosing to our fellows. There are sins which are unknown to ourselves, there are evil influences in our hearts of which we are absolutely unconscious, until they have become stereotyped into habits, or suddenly startle us by breaking forth in unmistakable wickedness. There are offences which we cannot confess, or repent of, because we are ignorant of their existence; which we may vaguely include in our conception of a heart that is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, in our general petitions for a clean heart and a right spirit; but which we cannot recognize or discriminate, so as to keep a special guard against them or resolve on a detailed renunciation of them. “Who,” says the Psalmist, “can understand, or who can mark his errors?” It is a condition of our finite power of apprehension, that we cannot thoroughly comprehend even our own nature, or penetrate the mysteries of our own sinfulness. From wilful blindness or want of spiritual perception, or the superficial analysis of conduct, which declines to probe down to the intent and motive, or the casuistry which seeks to reconcile things which are irreconcilable, none can reckon how oft he offendeth.
We are all a supreme mystery to ourselves; the mystery of creation in general, profound as it is, is as nothing to the mystery of our own existence and personality. Is there anything we know less about than the entity that says “I” whenever we speak? The chemist can take up a piece of ore, or a glass of water, and tell you what is in it to its ultimate atoms of oxygen and hydrogen. But he cannot get behind his own consciousness. He experiences states of feeling and perceives successions of ideas, but of the percipient soul he knows nothing. A man may lose his soul; but, even though he be a philosopher, he cannot find it.1 [Note: J. Halsey, The Spirit of Truth, 278.]
It is with our characters as with our faces. Few of us are familiar with our own appearance, and most of us, if we have looked at our portraits, have felt a little shock of surprise, and been ready to say to ourselves, “Well! I did not know that I looked like that!” And the bulk even of good men are almost as much strangers to their inward physiognomy as to their outward. They see themselves in their looking-glasses every morning, although they “go away and forget what manner of men “they were. But they do not see their true selves in the same fashion in any other mirror.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, The God of the Amen, 78.]
The ancient precept, “Man, know thyself!” was recognized as so wise and good that it was thought to be of Divine origin. The best of the ancients regarded self-knowledge as the very beginning of wisdom, just as they regarded self-mastery as the very beginning of practical virtue. It is said that Socrates, on one occasion, excused himself from giving attention to some important questions, on the ground that he could not possibly come to know such things, as he had not yet been able to know himself. There, the grand old heathen felt, was the true starting-place of all true knowledge. Wisdom, like charity, began at home. And he could not bring himself to admire those who carried on their researches at the ends of the earth, ignorant of what was proceeding in their own domains.2 [Note: J. Thew, Broken Ideals, 107.]
2. Though we may be unconscious of it, sin is always sin. The principle of evil is the same whether it be hand-murder or heart-murder. Sin is not confined to the outward act; it lies also in the thoughts and motives behind the act. “The thought of the foolish is sin.” The desire to injure your neighbour is sin, though it may never result in outward action. The plan to sin is sinful whether you carry it out or not. Human judges have nothing to do with inward desires, for all these are beyond their reach; but the Divine Judge reads the reins and hearts of men. The heart makes the man, and if the heart is wrong, all is wrong.
In the Book of Leviticus different sacrifices are required for the sin of ignorance in the priest, the ruler of the people, and the private individual and proselyte. The priest stood at the head of the chosen people, and, in virtue of his exceptional position, might justly be expected to possess superior knowledge and a more than average sense of the authority and penetrating power of the Divine law. For a sin of inadvertence in the priest, the sacrifice of a bullock, the most costly offering known to the Levitical law, was required. The inadvertence was scarcely excusable in one living in the heart of the daily sanctities. The light of the holy place was about the man’s footsteps, and in this case a sin of ignorance crept up almost to the margin of conscious sin. It demanded a costlier atonement than in others. Again, when the ruler of the people had committed a sin of ignorance, he was required to offer a he-goat. His position was not quite so sacred as that of the priest, nor were his religious opportunities so rich and inspiring. But still his life was devoted to high tasks of moral discrimination. He occupied a representative position, and ought to stand out from the rank and file of the congregation in quick perception and sensitive religious tone. When the private individual or proselyte had unwittingly sinned, a she-goat only, a still less costly form of sacrifice, was required. The lowliest were members of the elect congregation and worshippers of Jehovah, and could not be quite absolved from all responsibility, although the opportunities of others might be higher.1 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Imperfect Angel, 144.]
3. Hidden sin is a great peril, and if unchecked will manifest itself in overt deed. Every man has two lives—the inward and the outward. Christianity directs its chief attention to the inner man, and the “inwardness” of its teachings renders it unique. Of old, murder was a thing of the hand—an outward act; but Christ speaks of murder as a thing of the heart—an inward thought or feeling. You may commit murder without shedding one drop of blood, for a man who is “angry with his brother without a cause” is a murderer. In the Sermon on the Mount there are two voices—the one an ancient voice dealing with the outward, and the other a new Voice from heaven dealing with the inner empire of the spirit. Christianity is not a painted paganism, but a condition of soul. Its great question is this, “How is it with thine heart? What is the state of thy spirit? What of the man within the man?” The Bible is the heart-book, par excellence. The human race is suffering, not from skin-disease, but from heart-disease; and if man is to be lifted up he must be lifted up from the very root of his being. It is the glory of the Gospel that its master-purpose is to subject every thought to the obedience of Christ.
These secret faults are like a fungus that has grown in a wine-cask, whose presence nobody suspected. It sucks up all the generous liquor to feed its own filthiness, and when the staves are broken, there is no wine left, nothing but the foul growth. Many a Christian man and woman has the whole Christian life arrested, and all but annihilated, by the unsuspected influence of a secret sin. I do not believe it would be exaggeration to say that, for one man who has made shipwreck of his faith and lost his peace by reason of some gross transgression, there are twenty who have fallen into the same condition by reason of the multitude of small ones. “He that despiseth little things shall fall by little and little”; and whilst the deeds which the Ten Commandments rebuke are damning to a Christian character, still more perilous, because unseen, and permitted to grow without check or restraint, are these unconscious sins. “Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.”1 [Note: A. Maclaren, The God of the Amen, 81.]
A large oak-tree was cut down in a grove, and near the heart of it was found a small nail surrounded by twenty-nine concentric circles of wood, the growth of as many years. And did that little nail injure the oak? Alas! it did, for the sap carried with it the oxide from the metal, until a space of three or four feet in length and four or five inches in diameter was completely blackened. The hidden nail in the heart proved injurious to the mighty oak. And the secret sin in your heart, my brother, will injure your manhood. Even when it does not develop into an act, it will blacken the noblest part of your nature. It will convert your soul into a macadamized road for the foulest of satyrs. Your moral perception will be obscured, your moral sensibility will be blunted, your moral appetite will be vitiated, your conscience will be impaired, and all the vitalities of your soul will be brought low.2 [Note: J. Ossian Davies.]
4. The influence of our hidden sins reaches out to our fellow-men. What injury unknown to ourselves we may have inflicted on others! Like the widening circles on the surface of the water when the child throws the pebble into the pool, so the sins of our childhood and of other days have spread we know not whither. It is possible (we must remember) to lead others into sins which we have never committed ourselves. Arguments for mere love of amusement or display of skill may raise doubts in the mind of another which we have never felt and cannot answer. An expenditure which to us may not be worse than waste may lead another into embarrassments which will destroy the peace of years and break the hearts of those who denied themselves to provide what should have been more than enough. Our thoughtlessness may lead another to break a heart which we have never known—but it is through our fault that this heart is broken.
A sanitary officer noticed how a young woman who had come up to London from the country, and was living in some miserable court or alley, made for a time great efforts to keep that court or alley clean. But gradually, day by day, the efforts of that poor woman were less and less vigorous, until in a few weeks she became accustomed to, and contented with, the state of filth which surrounded her, and made no further efforts to remove it. The atmosphere she lived in was too strong for her.1 [Note: E. J. Hardy.]
A light-hearted lad passes through a wood, and thoughtlessly strikes a young oak sapling. The scar heals over, but when that tree is cut down a thousand years afterwards, that blow is written on its heart. As heedlessly he puts the first thought of impurity into the soul of another, innocent up to that moment; and, owing to that thought perhaps, that soul is lost. “I’ve seen pretty clearly,” says Adam Bede in George Eliot’s story, “ever since I could cast up a sum, that you can never do what is wrong without breeding sin and trouble, more than you can ever see. It’s like a bit of bad workmanship; you never see the end of the mischief it will do.”2 [Note: Ibid.]
1. One hidden and mysterious source may be found in heredity. Over and above the animal nature that we all possess, and that too often possesses us, are acquired tendencies to certain forms of evil which we have inherited from our ancestors. No man knows what hereditary predispositions are flowing in his veins. Peculiar appetites and sensibilities are transmitted from generation to generation; and here is the secret explanation of many a man’s lapse into evil courses. The taint is in his blood. Many a man is a very powder magazine of violent passions stored up within him from forgotten progenitors. And when he goes where sparks are flying there is a sudden and fearful explosion, and everybody wonders!
You may carry in your system the germs of certain diseases for years without suspecting the fact. The germs lie dormant until conditions favourable to their vitalization and development arise, and then comes the outbreak. So there are latent in many men’s blood susceptibilities to the power of drink and lust which no one suspects, and which they themselves suspect least of any. But when they are thrown into certain society, or placed under certain conditions, the fever that was in their veins breaks out and runs its course, and the end is collapse and death. It is sad to reflect that the drunkard or the libertine may transmit to his children and his children’s children his passions, but that he cannot transmit his remorse.1 [Note: J. Halsey, The Spirit of Truth, 288.]
2. Another cause of hidden sin is a blunt conscience. Secret sins arise from inadequate religious knowledge, and neglect of religious thought and instruction not infrequently explains this defect of knowledge. Secret sins arise from the fact that passions which are antagonistic to keen intellectual and religious susceptibility are cherished, and passion is always more or less under the control of the will. Secret sins arise through association with men whose common frailties blind us to our own; and it is at our own choice that we enter into these associations, or, at least, that we suffer ourselves to be so completely absorbed by them.
The Arctic fox, it is said, assumes a white fur in the winter months, so that it may pass undetected over the snows. When the spring comes, and the brown earth reappears, it sheds these white hairs and assumes a fur the colour of the earth over which it moves. Many fishes have markings that resemble the sand or gravel above which they make their haunts. You may watch for hours, and till they move you are unable to recognize their presence. The bird that broods on an exposed nest is never gaily coloured. However bright the plumage of its mate, it is always attired in feathers that match its surroundings, if it has to fulfil these dangerous domestic duties. Large numbers of insects are so tinted as to be scarcely distinguishable from the leaves and flowers amidst which they live. One insect has the power of assuming the appearance of a dried twig. And is there not something very much like this in the sphere of human conduct? Our sins blend with the idiosyncrasies of the age and disguise themselves. Of course we do not sin in loud, flashing colours, if we make any pretension to piety at least. Our sins always perfectly compose with the background of our surroundings. As a rule, they are sins into which we fall in common with men we esteem, men who have established a hold upon our affections, men whose sagacity we trust, and who by their excellence in some things lead us to think very lightly of the moral errors they illustrate in other things.2 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Imperfect Angel, 150.]
3. Still more, self-love too often conceals from conscience the sins it ought to judge and to condemn. Conscience is a judicial and not an inquisitorial faculty, and it pronounces judgment only on what it sees and knows. If we choose deliberately to cover over or to disguise the real state of our hearts, conscience will certainly fail to judge us as we ought to be judged.
It is said that Catherine of Russia, when journeying through some of the most desolate and miserable parts of her dominion, ordered painted villages to be erected on certain points of the road in which she was travelling, so that the country might not look so cheerless and deserted. And just in like manner self-love deludes us by hiding the reality from us, so that we seem to be better than we really are. It will call sin by another name, so that it no longer seems to be sin. The saddest imperfections often masquerade in stolen garments, so as to disguise their own evil nature. Avarice, for example, ceases to be regarded as a sin when self-love declares it is thrift.1 [Note: G. S. Barrett, Musings for Quiet Hours, 25.]
4. Sin is hidden, because the restraints of society hold it in check. Anger, pride, malice, selfishness, deceit of our hearts are checked in their manifestations by the influences of society and of early habit. Therefore we do not estimate them in their true light.
The traveller in the White Mountains remarks that the valley at the foot of Mount Washington is strewn with enormous boulders of granite, which have been loosened from year to year from the great overhanging cliff, and, carrying destruction in their course, have tumbled to the very spot where they now lie. If you inquire what force has separated these immense masses from the parent rock you find that behind the green fringe of foliage which waves so luxuriantly in summer, and hidden in the crevices of the mountain, are pools of water which the winter frosts change to ice. Expanding as they freeze, these little pools of limpid water have power to tear the solid rock asunder, and hurl its gigantic fragments down the mountain-side. So there are destructive powers lurking in the soul—powers which are latent during the short summer of life, but which are competent, when all restraint upon them is removed, to make the fairest seeming nature a shattered wreck. The real destructive power of sin is in great part hidden now, but it will be felt when the sunshine of God’s grace comes to an end, and eternal winter settles down upon the soul.2 [Note: A. H. Strong, Miscellanies, ii. 366.]
1. We must realize that God sees the things to which we are blind.—All our latent defects are open to the eye of the Searcher of hearts. The awful beam from His presence strikes across our self-purified and self-sifted life, and detects thoughts and solicitations and unwholesome sympathies that are the hidden and deeply-folded cells in which sin conceives itself. Divine law is sent forth to enlighten all who are docile to its monitions, to search into the deep places of action, and to create a perfect inward as well as outward righteousness. Its “going forth,” like that of the sun, with which the Psalmist links it in his comparison, “is from the end of the heaven,” and its “circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.” And as this clear and ever-growing light from God is projected across our souls, we come to feel that we are full of secret corruptions,—corruptions fraught with peril both to ourselves and to others; corruptions which, unless cleansed by continuous and immeasurable grace from God, must prevail at last over the things that are lovely and of good report. Under this widening horizon of penetrating light, we come to suspect that there may yet be undisclosed corruptions within us, and we are constrained to cry that the purifying power of God may go deeper than our own knowledge,—deep as God’s knowledge, deep as a beam of that mysterious light which, unapproachable itself, yet approaches and enters into the soul of all things. “Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.”
My smile is bright, my glance is free,
My voice is calm and clear;
Dear friend, I seem a type to thee
Of holy love and fear.
But I am scann’d by eyes unseen,
And these no saint surround;
They mete what is by what has been,
And joy the lost is found.
Erst my good Angel shrank to see
My thoughts and ways of ill;
And now he scarce dare gaze on me,
Scar-seam’d and crippled still.1 [Note: Cardinal Newman, Verses on Various Occasions, 68.]
When in 1896 the engineers were planning the foundations for the Williamsburg Bridge, New York, the deepest of their twenty-two borings was a hundred and twelve feet below high water. Steel drills had indicated bed-rock from twelve to twenty feet higher than was the actual case; the diamond drill, however, showed the supposed bed-rock to be merely a deposit of boulders. So the diamond drill of God pierces our self-delusions, detects the fallacy of our assumptions, proves what we thought sterling to be only stones of emptiness, discloses the very truth of things far down the secret places of the soul.2 [Note: W. L. Watkinson, The Fatal Barter, 103.]
So rapidly can the human body be radiographed that snapshots can be taken with the rays, and Dr. Rosenthal, of Munich, has photographed the heart of a living person in one-tenth of a second. Now, this lightning picture of a human heart fairly represents those flashes of insight we occasionally get into our essential self, of which the physical organ is a metaphor. At the back of our reasonings, feelings, and volitions is a world unknown, except as it is revealed by glimpses and expressed in guesses. But He who made us in the lowest parts of the earth comprehends us and knows us altogether. “For thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men.” As the whole physical universe is known to the Almighty Spirit, as He calls every star by name, and inhabits every province; so the rational universe is displayed to the Divine gaze, and there is no mystery of body, brain, or spirit to Him. “There is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”3 [Note: Ibid. 98.]
2. We must welcome the light of His presence.—The spaces between the windows of one of the rooms of a famous palace are hung with mirrors, and by this device the walls are made just as luminous as the windows through which the sunshine streams. Every square inch of surface seems to reflect the light. Let our natures be like that, no point of darkness anywhere, the whole realm of the inward life an unchequered blaze of moral illumination.
It is said that all organic germs found in the atmosphere cease a few miles out at sea. Air taken from the streets or the warehouses of the city yields large numbers of these germs. The air circulating through the ship in dock is charged with them. After the shore has been left behind, the air taken from the deck is pure, but they are still found in air taken from the hold. After a few days at sea the air on deck and in the hold alike yields no trace of these microscopic spores that are closely connected with disease. Let us be ever breathing the spirit of God’s love. Let us get away from the din and dust and turmoil of life, out upon that infinite sea of love that is without length or breadth or depth, and our secret faults will vanish away, and we shall by and by stand without offence in the presence of God’s glory.1 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Imperfect Angel, 157.]
3. We must educate the conscience.—One of the surest ways of making conscience more sensitive is always to consult it and always to obey it. If you neglect it, and let it prophesy to the wind, it will stop speaking before long. Herod could not get a word out of Christ when he “asked him many questions” because for years he had not cared to hear His voice. And conscience, like the Lord of conscience, will hold its peace after men have neglected its speech. You can pull the clapper out of the bell upon the rock, and then, though the waves may dash, there will not be a sound, and the vessel will drive straight on to the black teeth that are waiting for it. Educate your conscience by obeying it, and by getting into the habit of bringing everything to its bar.
Within recent times we have heard of the elaboration of instruments that may reveal new worlds of sound to us, as marvellous as the worlds of form revealed by the microscope. It is said that no man ever knows what his own voice is like till he hears it in Mr. Edison’s phonograph. We are told of another instrument by which the breathings of insects are made audible. The medical expert may yet be able to detect the faintest murmur of abnormal sound in the system that indicates the approach of disease. Ingenious appliances will register for us variations of temperature that are too fine for our dull senses to perceive. We have stepped from time to time into new realms of interest and knowledge and sensation, and undiscovered realms yet lie before us. To the eye and to the ear of the Maker all these worlds have been open from the beginning. They are just coming into our horizon with the development of science. And in the same way there must be the growth within us of a fine moral science, that will bring home to our apprehension the most obscure of our secret faults.1 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Imperfect Angel, 141.]
A lady missionary in Algiers heard this prayer from a little Arab girl one day, “O God, take away all the ugly weeds from my heart, and plant lovely flowers there, that it may be always a garden green and beautiful for Jesus.” This is just what we all want—the weeds of evil uprooted, and the flowers of good adorning the soul.2 [Note: J. Ossian Davies.]
4. We must practise vigilance.—“What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.” Let us guard well the ingoings and outgoings of life. Let us “keep our hearts with all diligence,” and double-sentry the “door of our lips.” Let us turn our fear into a prayer, and our prayer into a purpose. “Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Let us indite our 19th Psalm, that we may never have to write our 51st. That we may avoid error, let us learn to discriminate error; and that we may discriminate error—for to discern our faults is half the battle in correcting them—let us cultivate conscience and set before us the most perfect ideals; ever considering Him who, bearing our nature, yet “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.”3 [Note: J. Halsey, The Spirit of Truth, 290.]
Great were his fate who on the earth should linger,
Sleep for an age and stir himself again,
Watching thy terrible and fiery finger
Shrivel the falsehood from the souls of men.
Oh that thy steps among the stars would quicken!
Oh that thine ears would hear when we are dumb!
Many the hearts from which the hope shall sicken,
Many shall faint before thy kingdom come.
Lo for the dawn, (and wherefore wouldst thou screen it?)
Lo with what eyes, how eager and alone,
Seers for the sight have spent themselves, nor seen it,
Kings for the knowledge, and they have not known.
Times of that ignorance with eyes that slumbered
Seeing he saw not, till the days that are,
Now, many multitudes whom none had numbered,
Seek him and find him, for he is not far.1 [Note: F. W. H. Myers, Saint Paul.]
Slight Ailments is the title of a work by a distinguished physician. Its design is to describe the symptoms of incipient maladies, to show how serious ailments arise out of slight ones, and to direct the treatment that these ominous signs demand. It is unnecessary to say that this work is popular; that it has gone through many editions. If we have the slightest reason to suspect ourselves of being unsound, if we discover any tendency in our constitution toward one or another malady, we at once take the matter in hand, whatever may be the cost or inconvenience. “Despise no new accident to your body, but take opinion of it,” writes Lord Bacon. How readily we accept his advice! We do not delay until the disturbing symptoms give place to decided maladies like cancer or consumption. We are admonished by the novel weakness, the unusual pain, the nebulous sign, and satisfy ourselves as to what the “accident” signifies, and how it may best be dealt with. Did we not act thus, we should before long bitterly reflect upon ourselves. Ought we not to follow the same course touching the appearance of sinister signs in our spiritual and moral life? to note any new accident of the soul, and ask opinion of it?2 [Note: W. L. Watkinson, The Fatal Barter, 131.]
5. We must ask God to cleanse us.—“Clear thou me from secret faults.” And there is present in that word, if not exclusively, at least predominantly, the idea of a judicial acquittal, so that the thought of the first clause of this verse seems rather to be that of pronouncing guiltless, or forgiving, than that of delivering from the power of. But both, no doubt, are included in the idea, as both, in fact, come from the same source and in response to the same cry. And so we may be sure that, though our eye does not go down into the dark depths, God’s eye goes, and that where He looks He looks to pardon, if we come to Him through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Psalmist’s sense of the fact that there could be no indiscriminate salvation through Church or human organization or external and vicarious service was just as clear as that of St. Paul himself. He felt that he could not be effectually cleansed by his relation to the theocracy, or the national sacrifices, or the visible system and service of religion, in connexion with which he was perhaps already a leading figure. The ceremonial offering did not necessarily bring the purification of the spirit. He must be cleansed by a virtue coming down from God and through God’s unknown sacrifice, and not by a power going up from himself and through his own trespass-offering. The law, with its frequent and curiously graded sacrifices, had been but a remembrancer of certain selected sins, and had led him to see that all corruption, in its wider ravage and more insidious penetration, must be purged by a Divine process.
The only way for us to be delivered from the dominion of our unconscious faults is to increase the depth and closeness and constancy of our communion with Jesus Christ; and then they will drop away from us. Mosquitoes and malaria, the one unseen in their minuteness, and the other, “the pestilence that walketh in darkness,” haunt the swamps. Go up on the hill-top, and neither of them is found. So if we live more and more on the high levels, in communion with our Master, there will be fewer and fewer of these unconscious sins buzzing and stinging and poisoning our lives, and more and more will His grace conquer and cleanse.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, The God of the Amen, 84.]
The consummate ability of Stas, the Belgian chemist, is celebrated because he “eliminated from his chemicals every trace of that pervasive element, sodium, so thoroughly that even its spectroscopic detection was impossible.” But such is the efficacy of Divine grace that it can eliminate so thoroughly every trace of that pervasive and persistent element known as sin that we may be presented before the throne holy and unreprovable and without blemish. That the sincere may attain this purification, they are prepared to pass through the hot fires of bitter and manifold discipline.2 [Note: W. L. Watkinson, The Fatal Barter, 105.]
Barrett (G. S.), Musings for Quiet Hours, 23.
Binnie (W.), Sermons, 187.
Caird (J.), Aspects of Life, 33.
Halsey (J.), The Spirit of Truth, 276.
Hodge (C.), Princeton Sermons, 110.
Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year: Lent to Passiontide, 95.
King (E.), The Love and Wisdom of God, 97.
Maclaren (A.), The God of the Amen, 77.
Newman (J. H.), Parochial and Plain Sermons, i. 41.
Selby (T. G.), The Imperfect Angel, 136.
Spurgeon (C. H.), New Park Street Pulpit, iii. (1857) No. 116.
Strong (A. H.), Miscellanies, ii. 359.
Thew (J.), Broken Ideals, 106.
Thorold (A. W.), Questions of Faith and Duty, 55.
Trench (R. C), Westminster and other Sermons, 249.
Voysey (C.), Sermons, xiv. No. 20; xvi. No. 39; xxvii. No. 9; xxx. No. 43.
Watkinson (W. L.), The Fatal Barter, 127.
Watkinson (W. L.), Studies in Christian Character, i. 21.
Wilson (J. M.), Sermons Preached in Clifton College Chapel, 60.
Christian World Pulpit, lxiv. 146 (Ossian Davies).
Churchman’s Pulpit: The Lenten Season, v. 54 (Jackson), 181 (Stokoe).