« PreviousContinue »
ON INSENSIBILITY TO OFFENCES.
PSALM XIX. 12, 13.
Who can tell how oft he offendeth ? O cleanse thou me from my secret faults. Keep thy servant also from presumptuous sins, lest they get the dominion over
These words express a rational and affecting prayer, according to the sense which they carry with them at first sight, and without entering into any interpretation of them whatsoever. Who is there, that will not join heartily in this prayer? for who is there that has not occasion to pray against his sins ? We are laden with the weight of our sins. “ The remembrance of them is grievous to us; the burden of them is intolerable.” But beyond this, these same words, when they come to be fully understood, have a still stronger meaning, and still more applicable to the state and condition of our souls; which I will endeavour to set before you.
You will observe the expression, “ my secret faults : O cleanse thou me from my secret faults.” Now the question is, to whom are these faults a secret ? to myself, or to others ? whether the prayer relates to faults which are concealed from mankind, and are in that sense secret ; or to faults which are concealed from the offender himself, and are therefore secret, in the most full and strict sense of which the term is capable? Now, I say, that the context, or whole passage taken together, obliges us to understand the word secret in this latter sense. For observe two particulars. The first verse of the text runs thus: “ Who can tell how oft he offendeth? O cleanse thou me from my secret faults." Now, to give a connexion to the two parts of this verse, it is necessary to suppose, that one reason, for which it was so difficult for any man to know how oft he offended was, that many of his faults were secret; but in what way and to whom secret ? to himself undoubtedly: otherwise the secrecy could have been no reason or cause of that difficulty. The merely being concealed from others would be nothing to the present purpose : because the most concealed sins, in that sense, are as well known to the sinner himself, as those which are detected or most open ; and therefore such concealment would not account for the sinner's difficulty in understanding the state of his soul and of his conscience. To me it appears very plain, that the train of the Psalmist's thoughts went thus :—He is led to cast back his recollection upon the sins of his life; he finds himself, as many of us must do, lost and bewildered in their number and frequency; because, beside all other reasons of confusion, there were many which were unnoticed, unreckoned, and unobserved. Against this class of sins, which, for this reason, he calls his secret faults, he raises up his voice to God in prayer. This is evidently, as I think, the train and comexion of thought ; and this requires, that the secret faults here spoken of be explained of such faults as were secret to the person himself. It makes no comexion, it carries with it no consistent meaning, to interpret them of those faults which were concealed from others. This is one argument for the exposition contended for; another is the following. You will observe in the text that two kinds of sins are distinctly spoken of under the name of “ secret faults, and presumptuous sins.” The words are “O cleanse thou me from my secret faults; keep thy servant also from presumptuous sins." Now it will not do to consider these secret faults as merely concealed faults ; because they are not necessarily distinguished from, nor can be placed in opposition to, presumptuous sins. The Psalmist is here addressing God; he is deeply affected with the state of his soul, and with his sins, considered in relation to God. Now, with respect to God, there may be, and there often is, as much presumption, as much daring, in committing a concealed sin, as in committing a sin which is open to the world. The circumstance of concealment, or detection, makes no difference at all in this respect ; and therefore they could not properly be placed in different classes ; nor would it be natural so to place them : but offences which escape the sinner's own notice at the time, may certainly be distinguished from those which are committed with a high hand, with a full knowledge of the guilt, and defiance of the consequences; and that is, as I believe, the distinction here intended : and the one the Psalmist called his secret faults, the other his presumptuous sins. Upon the whole, therefore, I conclude, that the secret sins against which the Psalmist prayed, were sins secret to himself.
But here, therefore, comes the principal question--How there can be any sins of this sort ? how that can be a sin, which is neither observed, nor known to be so by the person who commits it ? And then there
comes also a second consideration, which is, if there be such, what ought to be done with respect to them? Now, as well upon the authority of the text, as upon what is the real case with human nature, when that case is rightly understood, I contend, first, that there are many violations of God's laws, which the men who are guilty of them, are not sensible of at the time ; and yet, secondly, such, as that their want of being sensible of them, does not excuse, or make them cease to be sins. All this, in truth, is no other than the regular effect of sinful habits. Such is the power of custom over our consciences, that there is, perhaps, hardly any bad action which a man is capable of committing, that he may not commit so often, as to become unconscious of its guilt, as much as of the most indifferent thing which he does. If some very great and atrocious crimes may be thought exceptions to this observation, and that no habit or custom can by any possibility reconcile them to the human conscience; it is only because they are such as cannot, from their very nature, be repeated so often by the same person, as to become familiar and habitual: if they could, the consequence would be the same; they would be no more thought of by the sinner himself, than other habitual sins are. But great, outrageous crimes, against life, for instance, and property, and public safety, may be laid out of the question, as not falling, I trust and believe, within the case of any one who hears me; and as in no case whatever capable of being so common, as to be fair experiments of the strength of our observation. These are not what compose our account with God. A man may be (as indeed most men are) quite free from the crimes of murder, robbery, and the like, and yet be far from the