The Law of God, as Contained in the Ten
Commandments, Explained and Enforced
By William S. Plumer, 1864
How May We Know Our Sins?
One of the most difficult attainments is such a knowledge
of our own defects, errors and sins--as shall lead us to right apprehensions
of Christ and his salvation. Self-delusion is natural to man. He is wedded
to self-righteousness. He naturally denies the charge of guilt. Like the
Jews of old, men cry out, "What have we spoken and done so much against
you?" Even those who are somewhat enlightened from above, when they fall
into error, are ready to say, "We are rich and increased in goods and have
need of nothing," while they are poor, and miserable, and blind and naked.
This self-justifying spirit keeps men from a knowledge of sin and from
accepting Christ. It destroys tens of thousands. Those who indulge it reject
mercy because they do not feel any need of mercy. Benjamin and all his
brethren declared that none of them had the silver cup. They thought they
were telling the truth. But they had not looked to see whether they had it
or not. When they searched, they found it right in the mouth of Benjamin's
sack. So if men would honestly search their lives and hearts by the light of
the law, they would find out that they were undone. "By the law is the
knowledge of sin."
Take these rules for knowing your own hearts.
1. Diligently compare them with the law of God. Study the
letter of the law. Acquire a knowledge of its true spirit and scope. Let it
be your daily business to go through the dark chambers of the soul with
these ten lighted candles and see what is wrong.
2. Consider what your friends say of you. It is a pity
that some convert a friend into a foe if he suggests that they are in error.
Such must be let alone. They will probably work out their own destruction
with greediness. When one is disposed to seek the truth, however, he may get
useful hints and suggestions from pious and judicious friends. Psalm 141:5.
And as friends are prejudiced in our favor, we may give full credit to what
they say, unless we have positive proof that they are mistaken. David was
bound to receive Nathan's reproof. Peter would have acted foolishly, if he
had flared up against Paul for reproving him.
3. Weigh well what those say who are unfriendly to you.
"It is lawful to learn from an enemy." Bitter enemies sometimes fabricate
statements and frequently exaggerate and misrepresent. Sometimes they nearly
hit the nail on the head, and sometimes they tell the plain truth, which
others are afraid to speak. A shrewd enemy commonly attacks the weak points
of character. What do your enemies say of you? Do they charge you with
pride, or malignity, or covetousness, or vanity, or ingratitude, or hardness
of heart? Improve what they say.
4. Observe what that is, which always comes to your mind
when inclined to pensiveness or melancholy. Some indeed are so beset with a
sense of guilt that they dare not reflect. They fly from scene to scene and
from place to place. They avoid solitude, and seek merriment that their own
thoughts may not disturb their peace. But even in the midst of laughter,
their heart is sad. If they would sit alone, and keep silence, and not call
off their minds from sober reflection, they would soon get a profitable
insight into their defects.
5. Notice your thoughts when you are sick or in peril of
death. At such times the mind sometimes gets a ready insight into personal
faults. Men generally are more disposed to be honest when they feel that
their life is in danger. How did you regard your moral character when you
were sick? Did no special sin present itself to your view? Probably your
alarm was well founded.
6. When you are in distress and inclined to think your
affliction a judgment or a punishment for some sin, you may be pretty sure
that there is guilt in that affair. When the web of distress had perfectly
entangled the sons of Jacob, and one calamity but opened the door for
another, they well said, "We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in
that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not
hear; therefore is this distress come upon us." And afterwards when in still
greater distress, Judah as a mouth for the rest, said, "How shall we clear
ourselves! God has found out the iniquity of your servants." Gen. 42:21,
45:16. So if you suspect that any distress has come on you for any
particular sin, you may be quite sure that guilt attaches to you in that
7. When you suppose a preacher is personal, it is pretty
good evidence that you are guilty. No right-minded man under the influence
of Christian feelings will hold up personal character to the scorn of an
audience. Therefore if anything seems especially to suit you, do not be
offended; do not refuse to listen to the voice of warning. The fact that it
suits you is reason enough for letting it come with all its force and edge.
8. When you are afraid that others suspect you of a sin,
though they have said nothing, it is pretty good evidence that you are
guilty. In their conversation some men are always fending and defending
themselves. They feel that their conduct is liable to serious reprehension,
and the chief aim of their lives is to keep others, from finding them out.
Why is this, if they are innocent?
9. When you do not like to hear a particular sin preached
against, you may suspect that you are guilty of it. If it were chargeable
only to others, you would probably not care how much it was reproved. The
wicked themselves seldom object to rebukes administered to their neighbors.
10. When in conversation, a sin is spoken of and you
would gladly change the subject, you are probably guilty on that point. When
Paul reasoned of temperance, righteousness and judgment to come, Felix told
him that he would hear him at another time. When Christ charged the woman of
Samaria with wickedness in her marital relations, she immediately called his
attention to an old controversy between the Jews and Samaritans.
11. When a sin is mentioned in general terms of
disapprobation, and you begin to excuse it, or try to make it appear small,
then probably you are guilty in that matter.
12. So when in pleading exemption from any fault, you
lose your temper and fall into passion, you are hardly innocent. Thus Hazael
seems to have been quite vexed with the prophet. He said, "Is your servant a
dog, that he should do this great wickedness?" Yet as soon as he had the
opportunity, he did it all. He knew not the depths of iniquity in his own
13. When one is so sure of his innocence that he will not
examine his own heart, he may be sure there is sin there. He is afraid to
look, lest he should see frightful sights in his own bosom. His persuasions
of innocence are not well founded, and he suspects as much.
14. We are guilty of a sin, when the prevailing tendency
of our mind is towards that conclusion. Suspicion of guilt ought to awaken
and alarm us, 1 John 3:21.
15. We are chargeable with all the sins which the Bible
imputes to the same class, to which we belong. If we are unconverted, then
all that God's word alleges against such lies against us--as unbelief,
impenitence, forgetfulness of God, enmity against the Most High, blindness
of mind, ingratitude, destitution of holiness, etc. Any right view of our
case will make us see that we are undone.
One who had studied the law with some care might use this
soliloquy: "I am sick. O, I am very sick. I am sick at my very heart. I know
I am sick. God's word says so. My own feelings declare as much. I have pain,
and fever, and delirium, and restlessness, just like a madman. I am
wretched. There is no soundness in me. There is a rottenness in my bones.
Without relief I must die. Cannot I be saved? Must I linger on a while and
then perish? Blessed be God, I need not die. There is a Physician. His name
is Jesus Christ. He is able. He is willing. He is full of grace and truth.
He is just such a friend as I need. He is very skillful. He never mistakes
symptoms. He knows the malignancy of diseases. Flattering appearances never
deceive him. He knows the difference between depression of spirits and a
penitent heart; between natural frankness and godly sincerity; between the
humility of Ahab and that of Paul; between the repentance of Judas and that
of Peter. His skill is divine, because He is divine. He knows my case
perfectly, because he knows all things perfectly. My case is not hidden from
him in any particular. He knows the remedies I need. He knows I cannot be
sound without his blood and righteousness, his word and Spirit, his grace
and power. If He will but undertake my case, I am sure it will be treated
aright. I shall never perish, if I make Him my Physician. He has been chosen
of God; appointed and ordained to this very work. Whatever He has done has
been by the choice and commandment of his Father. He was approved of God in
all he did and in all he suffered. He was no impostor, or vain pretender.
The seal of God was on His commission. The great Physician is also very
tender and loving. He was once hit by the archers himself. One object of his
incarnation was that he might be a merciful and kind Savior, and sympathize
with us in all things. He was tempted as we are. He is the most gentle and
most approachable being that ever walked this earth. He was often reviled,
but he never resented it. He suffered, but he never threatened. He was
mocked, but he never showed bitterness. The great Physician cured the first
case He ever undertook, and He has had great experience since. He has cured
millions. The realms of glory are filled with the wonders of mercy which He
has wrought. He never wounds where cordials are called for. He never heals
slightly the hurt of his people. He probes deeply every wound. He loves his
people too well to let them die rather than cut off the gangrene. He gives
wine and oil to the faint and wounded. He gives no peace to those who add
drunkenness to thirst. To the truly penitent and godly Jesus is very tender
and gracious. He never breaks the bruised reed, nor will he quench the
smoking flax. He also goes where He is most needed and sought unto. Our
poverty is nothing, for He does all without money and without price. Our
wretchedness is nothing, for the first word of his ministry was, Blessed.
Our unworthiness is nothing, for His merits are infinite. Our necessities
may be great, but His riches are unsearchable. O wondrous Physician To you I
submit my case, my whole case. I know nothing. I reserve nothing. I deserve
nothing. I am nothing but a poor lost sinner. Unless You undertake, I shall
be forever undone. Savior, be patient with me. Spare me. Heal my diseases.
Then will I give you glory forever, and spread your fame through heaven and