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PSALMS xix. 12.-Cleanse thou me from secret faults.
Most men have intimate friends, or rather intimate companions ; for we may not call those friends who have never been tried-and who would forsake you at the hour of trouble. Now, how would you feel towards the preacher, who should rise up and tell you that he was going to talk about your most intimate friends-was going to expose their characters, and show you that by associating with such companions, you are ruining yourself? Would you like to have these companions named and described, when you were conscious that they are vile and unworthy of you ?
You all have such companions; and it is about these that I am going to speak at this time. They have long been associated with you, -and the intimacy has become close.
When the Psalmist prays to be cleansed from "secret faults,” I understand him to ask to be delivered from the dominion of all secret sins.
Some men have one particular sin which easily besets and conquers them : some have another : but when the hearts of all come at last to be revealed, I suppose it will be seen that every one had some particular sin into which he easily fell :-a sin which was seen Vol. XIII. No. 6.
only by the omniscient eye,-known only to the great Searcher of hearts.
These secret sins, too, are peculiarly dangerous. They probably harden more hearts, sear more consciences, and ruin more souls, than do open, day-light sins. Shall I tell you why they do? Why are secret sins so dangerous ?
1. Change of place and circumstances does not aid vou to break away from them.
You know that if you have fallen into open sins, a change of place may aid you to break from them. Men sometimes leave their home--go abroad, mingle in other scenes, in other occupations, with other companions, for the very purpose of forming new habits, and breaking away from old sins. And they are successful too.
A man who is tempted to be intemperate, may, by going to a spot where others do not drink, and where liquors are not to be had, become a temperate man. Another who is in the habit of using profane language, may, by going among society where this vice is discountenanced, break himself away from the habit. So you may by going to a new place, easily stop violating the Sabbath ;--for you can break away from tempting companions by going to another place. Young men frequently are benefitted by going to another place of residence. They can leave all their old habits behind them; they can easily begin anew. Not so with secret sins. These you carry with you : they live in any soil, they flourish under any clime. They are not destroyed by going away from home --by change of residence--by forming new acquaintances--they cling to the soul. They abide with you wherever you go. Many a one has been exceedingly disappointed in this respect. He thought by a change of place, he was to change his character. But no,--the spots abide with the leopard, the darkness of the Ethiop's skin will not be washed out.
You may mingle in new scenes,--form new acquaintances,--enter new business, follow new amusements--but if you are under the habit and power of secret sins, you meet them alone,-just as you always have done. You have no new weapons of defence,-no new means of conquering them, and they come like an armed man, and conquer you, as they always have done.
The sinner has taken his staff and gone away on the hard pilgrimage,--but his secret sins find him even on the mount of Calvary, and conquer him still. He flees to the mountains and shuts himself up in the walls of the monastery, and hopes that the thick walls will shut out sin. Alas! he finds that they will scale the highest walls, ---find him in the remotest cell, and there slay him still. He calls for the scourge and the lash, and by self-torture hopes to drive away these secret sins ! Alas! they nestle deep within, and no scourgings will reach them. The sinner may toss on his pillow, unable to sleep, and they are not wearied; he may fast, and they are not starved out. He may cry, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this sin and death ?" and the groanings do not bring deliverance. The leprosy of the soul still remains, uuabated, undestroyed.
2. Secret sins produce a continual warfare between the conscience and the desires of the heart.
Did you never see men becoming more and more irritable in their temper, ---more morose, and apparently dissatisfied with every thing around them? The reason, in very many cases is, (I do not say in all,) that they are dissatisfied with themselves. They are at war with themselves. They live in secret sin, and the conscience stings and clamors,--and having this painful, constant dissatisfaction with themselves, every thing without seems to go wrong. Hence they are irritable, hence they become soured and morose.
Many a face which now seldom smiles, would look very differently were the soul delivered from the dominion of secret sin, so that the conscience might be at rest. Are there none here who can understand what I am saying?
Did you never see men who seemed to be laboring under a premature old
visible cause? The hair becomes gray, the eye sunken, the limbs feeble, and the house of clay falling into decay in very manhood ? The reason is, in very many cases, that there is such a painful, constant warfare between the conscience and the inclinations, that the man is worn out. He lives in secret sins. He tries to break away,--his conscience upbraids him with ingratitude,-- with inconsistency--with breaking his vows; and then come his sins, rushing in like a torrent, driving out thought,--banishing reflection, leading the soul captive,--and making it a slave to sin. The passions subside,--the temptations conquer and retire, when the conscience begins to grind the soul. In this way premature old age, irritability, misanthropy, are brought on--the soul groaning in agony--but still in heavy chains !
3. Secret sins return often.
Let it ever dwell in the memory that what returns often, forms the habits, controls the soul, and makes the man. It is not the fever-fit, which returns once in a great while, that is so dreadful. But that which comes often will burn and destroy the patient. Let temptations come upon the soul only once or twice in a year, and it can recover from the shock,--it can brace itself up, it can set a double guard—it can be ready the next time. But if it comes frequently, giving the conscience no time to recover her power--the soul no time to form new and contrary habits ;---then, those temptations are awful indeed. Other temptations can occur only occasionally. You can be tempted to dishonesty only when you are making a bargain ; to slander only when you are in conversation; to dissipation only when in company,--to break the Sabbath only when it returns ; but at all times you carry your heart with you: at all times you can turn your thoughts within, and indulge in secret sins.
In the morning you will, or will not worship God in the closet; you will, or will not read his word; you will, or will not examine the heart, and repeat this worship at evening. The morning and the evening return every day,--you will have the temptation to sin return every day, and, if not very careful, you will fall every day.
Peter had a temptation come--it was a new one--it overwhelmed him ; he sinned; but he repented and recovered. Judas indulged in secret sins-he carried the bag constantly, and sinned constantly : and it made him so covetous that he could sell his Lord for money; it turned his heart into the heart of a devil, and it would have been good for that man had he never been born.
These sins which return often, destroy the soul. Could you read the heart, the aching heart of the Christian, who is striving to conquer his sins, you would find that he is the most deeply burdened with those sins and habits which he formed before his conversion. They had so eaten into the soul,--so become a part of the fixed habits of the man, that he still groans under their dominion !
4. Secret sins counteract and destroy the means of grace !
It is sometimes a wonder to many, why it is that this and that child of pious parents is not converted from sin and brought to God; --why this and that one can read the word of God, and receive it as his truth, and yet not by it be made wise unto salvation ; and especially is it a matter of wonder and surprise that so many can regularly come to the house of God,--hear the gospel faithfully preached, and yet remain still under the dominion of sin. Perhaps you have wondered how it is that you are still as you are, notwithstanding all the means of grace which you enjoy. The reason is very plain : you may not commit open sin,--sin seen by the cye of man,-but you may be under the dominion of secret sin. The Bible is a dead letter to such a person.
The preached gospel is foolishness to such a person. Why, you might have the cloud of God, and the pillar of fire hang over you,--you might stand at the foot of Sinai, when God came down and preached, you might hear Isaiah, or the divine Redeemer, or the eloquent Paul, or the vehement Peter ; or any preaching, and all preaching, and if you live in secret sin, you are not converted ! The reason is, the spirit of God does not come to set home truth upon your heart,—does not seal the soul to the day of redemption. Nothing is more loathsome to the pure spirit of God, than the heart which is constantly indulging in secret sins. He does, and will leave such a heart. And then, the means of grace will do no good. Probably this is the great reason why the blessed spirit of God visits us so seldom,—why he tarries so short a time. Oh! if the sins of this audience, as they rise up in the heart, should be whispered back from the listening heavens, you would be amazed at their number,--their frequency,--but you would not be amazed that the spirit of God does not abide with us, nor that the means of grace are so inefficient! Ah! you may find fault with the doctrines of the Bible, you may blame the preacher that you are not converted; but your blood, dear hearer, be on thine own head. The deep-rooted sins of the heart,--those dear sins which you cherish in secret,--they palsy your heart, they stop your ears,--they blind the eyes,--they are the damning sins of the soul !
5. Secret sins give the tempter great power over you.
The great adversary of souls, as a roaring lion goeth about seeking whom he may devour. And he lays his plans wisely. He suits his temptations to the circumstances of those whom he would tempt. When he finds that he can lead a man to hardness of heart in any one way, his temptations on other points seem to be few and trifling. For example, if he can tempt a man to become a hypocrite, and to feel self-righteous, he will let him alone on other points, while he keeps this fire continually burning. If he finds a man who is relying on his morality and good life for salvation, he will tempt him very little to be dishonest or immoral. You will frequently see men who rely on their morality for salvation, --who seem to have few or no temptations to be dishonest; they really have but few; and the reason is, the great tempter sees them safe : sees them building up a hope on their own righteousness, and he has no disposition to tear it away by tempting them to open sins ! He will tempt you less to open noon-day sins, if he sees that you live in secret sins. And it is secret sins which he specially loves to have you cherish. For they do not alarm you,- do not startle you,—and he can whisper them in the ear when you are alone and off your guard. There is nothing which will give the tempter such power over you, as to indulge in secret sins. The secret doors of the heart are thus always open, and