The Way of Safety
J. R. Miller
"Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression." Psalm 19:12, 13
The first sins mentioned here, are "hidden faults." "Cleanse me from hidden faults." They are secret sins which men commit, and of which they know. They think no one else knows of them. Perhaps their friends do not suspect that they are guilty of any secret sin. They wear the white garment of a fair reputation, while under it are foul spots they would not have anyone see. But such sins are not really secret. No sin can be hidden from God. Hidden sins are open to the eye of God. The worst thing any man can do with his sins—is to try to cover them up, to keep on committing them—but concealing them. The only safe thing to do—is to confess them and put them out of your life. "The one who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy." Proverbs 28:13
There is a Scripture warning which says, "Be sure your sins will find you out." It is not said that your sins will be found out—they may never be in this world—but they will find you out, will plague and torment you, will poison and spoil your life. The only way to deal with sins is to have God cover them, as He does in His forgiveness. Then they never will trouble you again. But no one should ever rest with any secret sin cherished, hidden. Bring it out, repent of it, give it up, and begin a life that is sincere and true. "Cleanse me from secret faults" is a prayer for one who is doing anything secretly—which he would be ashamed to do openly.
But the words in this little prayer do not refer to sins we are committing knowingly, and trying to conceal them from others. They refer to evil things in us of which we ourselves are not aware. "Cleanse me from hidden faults." There are in all of us many hidden evil things. There is in everyone of us a region which our own eyes cannot see, a desert of our life we never have explored, where evil lurks and hides undiscovered. "Who can discern his errors?" We sometimes say, when we hear of one who has done some evil thing, some dark deed of shame, some hideous crime, perhaps, which brands him with dishonor, "I could never do that! There is no possibility of such evil in me."
But we would better not say this. We do not know what hidden possibilities of evil there are in us. You remember what our Lord's disciples replied when the Master said to them, at the last Supper, "One of you shall betray Me." They did not accuse one another. They did not deny vehemently: "It is not me! I could never commit such a crime!" Each of the disciples was repulsed and overwhelmed at the thought of the terrible announcement that one of them should do this vile thing. "Lord, is it I?" Not one of us dares to say, that it is not possible for us to do such wicked things.
We cannot discern the depths of our own hearts—to see what black things are there. Evil lurks in the dark recesses of our nature. It is not enough for us to seek to be cleared of the sins we are aware of, the sins of our habits, the sins of our appetites and passions and lusts, the sins we are conscious of doing. It is necessary for us to have our hearts cleansed of the tendencies to evil that are in us, the evil dispositions of which we are not conscious. Pride is full of hidden faults. Ambition has its unsuspected perils. Love is the noblest, the divinest of all the qualities of our life. God is love, and to love is Godlike; but love, too, carries in itself possibilities of evil. Think of the envies, the jealousies, the bitterness, the anger, the strife, the hatred, and all the degradation and ruin which may come from love. Home is earth's picture of heaven—but in the sweetest home there are hidden possibilities of peril. We may forget God in the joy and satisfaction of the ideal home. Home's perfections may shut out heaven from our vision.
The hidden, undiscovered evil in our lives, our hearts and in our environments, is most dangerous because it is unsuspected and therefore can not easily be guarded against. There is no prayer that godly people, those who desire to live a pure, clean, white, spotless life, need to pray more continually and more earnestly than this: "Cleanse me from secret faults!"
These hidden faults are our greatest peril. They lie unsuspected in our path. They are enemies that we suppose to be friends, until suddenly they appear with their hurt for our lives. They are tares among the grain, which at first are thought to be wheat, not revealing their true nature until they have done their evil work. We cannot guard ourselves against these hidden evils—we can only ask God to keep us from the harm they may work in us. Every day we should ask God, who sees into our heart's deepest recesses, and knows all the hidden evil in us—to search us and find every flaw and fault, every tendency to wrong, the evil in our motives and desires, the peril lurking in our affections, in our appetites and passions, and to keep guard on us continually.
There is also here a prayer to be kept from presumptuous sins. In the Mosaic law, a difference was made between sins of ignorance, sins not intended; and those committed with knowledge and with a high hand. Atonement was provided for the former—but not for presumptuous sins. The prayer of Jesus on His cross for those who were putting Him to death was, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
Here the Psalmist prays to be kept from committing presumptuous sins. He knows the danger there is in such sins—and so pleads to be held back from them, that is, from willful, conscious, high-handed sins.
Mark the teaching, too, that these presumptuous sins spring out of the minute hidden faults referred to in the previous words. From hidden, obscure, undiscovered faults—come presumptuous sins. Medical men tell us that some of the gravest ailments, ofttimes come from very slight causes. In the spiritual life the same is true. A slight moral weakness, grows into an evil tendency; and the evil tendency indulged, develops into a loathsome vice; and the loathsome vice, ripens into a presumptuous sin.
Sow a thought—and you will reap an act;
sow an act—and you will reap a habit;
sow a habit—and you will reap a character;
sow character—and you will reap a destiny!
We need to guard against carelessness concerning 'little sins'. We may not suppose that because our life is sweet and pure and innocent, in the joy and gladness of youth, of boyhood or girlhood, there is no danger that ever we can be hurt by sin. We have seen many a beautiful dream of young life spoiled. The hidden fault lurking in the nature—may grow into a presumptuous sin. Young people do not begin to know the peril of little sins, and how soon they may disfigure and destroy all their moral beauty.
There are some people who are always courting danger. Sin seems to have a fascination for them. One of the petitions of the Lord's Prayer is, "Lead us not into temptation." We have to meet temptation ofttimes in our paths of duty. The men cannot go through a day of business without being tempted many times. The women cannot live a day amid their holiest home duties and among their truest friends, without temptation. But we should never dare to meet temptation unless it comes in the path of our divine guidance—unless it must be passed through in duty. To expose ourselves needlessly to temptation, is presumption. Yet there are many who do this. They play with fire—and wonder why they are burned! They dally with "little sins", and end in shameful degradation at the last! They pay the penalty in moral and spiritual ruin.
One of the temptations of Jesus, was to presumption. The tempter suggested that He cast Himself down from a lofty pinnacle into the street, depending upon the divine protection and claiming a divine promise of angel guardianship. But God had never bidden Him do this, and there really was no promise for such uncalled-for risk. "You shall not tempt the Lord your God," answered Jesus. We dare not presume to ask God's help in any venture or risk—unless we have God's command to make the risk. If you needlessly run in the way of contagious disease, if you insist on entering a room where a child is sick with diphtheria, when you have no duty there as physician or nurse—you cannot claim divine protection. But if your duty calls into the presence of the most contagious diseases, you dare not refuse to go. Then God will keep you.
The same is true of moral contagion. You may not dally with danger!
"Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins" is a prayer we need to have always on our lips and in our hearts. We can have God's shelter and help—only when God unmistakably sends us into the danger. We dare not go into danger—unless we are divinely sent. If it is our duty, we dare not withhold ourselves. No earthly danger can touch us if God sends us, for then we are panoplied in steel and no harm can come to us. But unless we are led by the Spirit, as our Master was when He went into the desert to be tempted by the Devil, we dare not go!
After the prayers, "Cleanse me from secret faults," and "Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins," comes this expression of confidence, "Then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression." The course of sin is terrible. The little beginnings of sin—grow into appalling consequences! If we do not have our hidden faults, the undiscovered evils of our natures, cleared, guarded—they will develop into presumptuous sins. But if we are shielded and led in true ways, our lives shall be kept upright, clean, and pure.
So we have here the secret of a beautiful life. The world is full of evil—but we may pass through it all so sheltered, so protected, that not a breath of harm shall touch us. When He sent His disciples forth, Jesus said of them, "They shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them." Wherever God sends us, whatever the perils may be, we are as safe as if we were in heaven.
This is one side of the truth. But if we pay no heed to the law of God, if we rush into perils unsent, we go without divine protection. Be afraid of sin and temptation. Pray continually, "Cleanse me from secret faults." God discerns these hidden and obscure faults in you—ask Him to keep them under His omnipotent protection, to cleanse the evil He sees in them and make you pure and holy throughout. Pray also, "Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins." Do not allow these seeds of sin, these hidden evils in me—to develop into actual sins, into open wickedness! Living thus, you will be immune and may pass through the world safe and unharmed—with dangers ever about you. Through divine enfolding you are as secure as though you were in heaven itself!