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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Psalms 19:12



Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.

Adam Clarke Commentary

Who can understand his errors? - It is not possible, without much of the Divine light, to understand all our deviations from, not only the letter, but the spirituality, of the Divine law. Frequent self-examination, and walking in the light, are essentially necessary to the requisite degree of spiritual perfection.

Cleanse thou me from secret faults - From those which I have committed, and have forgotten; from those for which I have not repented; from those which have been committed in my heart, but have not been brought to act in my life; from those which I have committed without knowing that they were sins, sins of ignorance; and from those which I have committed in private, for which I should blush and be confounded were they to be made public.

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These files are public domain.

Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Who can understand his errors? - The word rendered errors is derived from a verb which means to wander, to go astray; then, to do wrong, to transgress. It refers here to wanderings, or departures from the law of God, and the question seems to have been asked in view of the purity, the strictness, and the extent of the law of God. In view of a law so pure, so holy, so strict in its demands, and so extended in its requirements - asserting jurisdiction over the thoughts, the words, and the whole life - who can recall the number of times that he has departed from such a law? A sentiment somewhat similar is found in Psalm 119:96, “I have seen an end of all perfection; thy commandment is exceeding broad.” The language is such as every man who has any just sense of the nature and the requirements of the law, and a just view of his own life, must use in reference to himself. The reason why any man is elated with a conviction of his own goodness is that he has no just sense of the requirements of the law of God; and the more anyone studies that law, the more will he be convinced of the extent of his own depravity.

Hence, the importance of preaching the law, that sinners may be brought to conviction of sin; hence the importance of presenting it constantly before the mind of even the believer, that he may be kept from pride, and may walk humbly before God. And who is there that can understand his own errors? Who can number up the sins of a life? Who can make an estimate of the number of impure and unholy thoughts which, in the course of many years, have flitted through, or found a lodgment in the mind? Who can number up the words which have been spoken and should not have been spoken? Who can recall the forgotten sins and follies of a life - the sins of childhood, of youth, of riper years? There is but one Being in the universe that can do this. To Him all this is known. Nothing has escaped His observation; nothing has faded from His memory. Nothing can prevent His making a full disclosure of this if He shall choose to do so. It is in His power at any moment to overwhelm the soul with the recollection of all this guilt; it is in His power to cover us with confusion and shame at the revelation of the judgment-day. Our only hope - our only security - that He will not do this, is in His mercy; and that He may not do it, we should without delay seek His mercy, and pray that our sins may be so blotted out that they shall not be disclosed to us and to assembled worlds when we appear before Him.

Cleanse thou me from secret faults - The word here rendered secret means that which is hidden, covered, concealed. The reference is to those errors and faults which had been hidden from the eye of him who had committed them, as well as from the eye of the world. The sense is, that the law of God is so spiritual, and so pure, and so extended in its claims, that the author of the psalm felt that it must embrace many things which had been hidden even from his own view - errors and faults lying deep in the soul, and which had never been developed or expressed. From these, as well as from those sins which had been manifest to himself and to the world, he prayed that he might be cleansed. These are the things that pollute the soul; from these the soul must be cleansed, or it can never find permanent peace. A man who does not desire to be cleansed from all these “secret faults” cannot be a child of God; he who is a child of God will pray without ceasing that from these pollutions of the soul he may be made pure.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

Psalms 19:12

Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.

The tenacity and sophistry of sin

The vulgar vices reappear subtly disguised in cultured circles. The grossness of the vices has been purged, but the viciousness is not extinct. Is there not something like this in the saintly life as compared with the old life? All the vices to which the soul is heir strive to reassert themselves in the Christian believer, and too often succeed in disturbing his peace and injuring his character. They are not now gross, offensive, violent; they are smooth and subtle, filmy and tenuous; they may even fail to provoke the notice and criticism of those who know us best. Yet we recognise in them, through their profoundest disguises, the deadly vices which, seen in their nakedness, all men loathe. All the bad passions insinuate themselves into our life unless we steadily detect and reject them. Anger, covetousness, indulgence, pride, self-will, vanity, all these motions and outgoings of unrighteousness are ever striving to assert themselves in the Christian soul and life. The tenacity of sin is marvellous, so is its sophistry. These evil thoughts and imaginations of the saintly heart may appear faint and inoffensive sins when compared with the crimson transgressions of the actual world; but the true disciple will not think so, nor will he treat them tenderly. The desires, weaknesses, and sins of the natural life are greatly diminished in the spiritual life; they have altogether lost their alarming aspect; their capacious jaws seem no longer fringed with teeth; but they are none the less of the breed of monsters, and we must show them no mercy. (W. L. Watkinson.)


There is no kind of knowledge which it is so important for a man to possess as knowledge of himself. No man can be blind to himself without sooner or later having to pay serious penalty for such blindness. 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. There are few things, judging at first sight, of which a man might be supposed to have fuller and more accurate knowledge, than he has of his own mind and character. The subject of study is always within his reach. To avoid self-thought is impossible. To the great majority of men the subject is one of perennial and engrossing interest. Nature has so ordained it that, in many important respects, the object of greatest concern to every one of us is himself. History may be a blank to a man, science a name, literature and art dark and mysterious as the grave; but himself!--here surely the man is at home, or he is at home nowhere. The Psalmist, however, is of a widely different opinion. Of course, a certain amount of self-knowledge is thrust upon us all. Much ignorance of self, too, is corrected by our contact with men and things. Many a false and foolish notion is thus ruthlessly swept away as the years pass on. Life and God are great teachers; and, unless a man be a hopeless fool, they compel him to learn something of himself. Still, the exclamation of the Psalmist hits off an universal fact. “Who can understand his errors?” 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. He had no idea that there was so much lingering mischief within. He is not quite sure that he has seen the worst yet. By “secret faults” the Psalmist does not mean guilty things, that is, things of actual wickedness done in secret. Open transgression is the path of death. Secret transgression is more deadly still. By “secret faults’ he means faults hidden away, not from others, but from ourselves. And it is more than probable that such “faults” exist in all of us. It is no uncommon thing to see a man blind as a bat to some infirmity of temper, some coarseness of manner, some infatuation or rooted prejudice, conspicuous as the sun at noonday to his friends, and not quite so pleasant! Another evidence of this lack of self-knowledge is to be found in the grave discoveries we sometimes make of our actual character and condition. The matter is sometimes brought home to us by the faithfulness of a friend. It may come through the home thrust of an enemy. Our hope is in God. The head need not have turned grey before we discover that, in a world like this, “it is not in man to order his steps aright.” Happy he who once and forever abandons the fruitless task, finds his way to a Saviour’s side, shelters beneath the Rock that is higher than he. (J. Thew.)

The difficulty of understanding our errors

At this point the Psalmist pauses. He has been looking at his life in the light of the holy law, and, realising how full of imperfection it was, he resumes again in a penitential strain, “Who can understand his errors?” There is not only the acknowledgment that life is full of error; there is corruption at the very spring of life. He also acknowledges the difficulty of understanding our errors. Sin destroys the power by which we detect it. It creates a false standard, by which we judge ourselves. There is a personal touch in this acknowledgment. “Who can understand his own errors?” The sinner is sometimes sharp in discerning the errors of other people, although blind to his own. Thus it was with David himself. We are all too ready to acknowledge sin in a general way, without trying to note the particular sins we are most guilty of. There follows the prayer, “Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.” These include--

1. Faults unknown to ourselves. If we are trying to follow Christ, and live a straight and honest and pure life, we find difficulties at every turn. Temptations are strewn thickly around on every path. Unknown sins are the most dangerous to the soul. Sins noted and marked upon our memories are less likely to be ruinous to the soul than those secret sins which elude the observation.

2. Faults known to ourselves, but known only to ourselves. Each lives three lives: the life by which we are known to the world, the life by which we are known to our household, and the life known only to ourselves. All sins are, to a certain extent, presumptuous. Sins of presumption, properly speaking, are sins of will, knowingly and wilfully committed. It is a sin of presumption to act as if we needed no mercy. (T. Somerville, M. A.)

The deceitfulness of sin

The sense of sin, the joy of pardon, and the yearning for goodness are essential features in the religion of Christ. If the sense of sin gives the deepest pain, the joy of pardon is the sweetest joy. The thought of the Psalmist in this passage is the difficulty for each man of understanding his sins. Error means straying, wandering from the path. There are sins of ignorance and of infirmity, unconsciously, unintentionally done through lack of self-knowledge, or of zealous 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. The sinfulness of sin consists in its being done against the majesty and holiness, and authority and love, of God. The more we know of God the more shall we feel the depravity, the wickedness of sin. The incessancy of it is a very painful and humbling, but incontestable truth. Our sins of omission, which perhaps come most home to us in the riper years of the Christian life; the sins of commission, in which we actually violate the law of God--were they to be brought up against us at the end of a single day, might turn our hair white with shame and sorrow. Its deceitfulness is one of its most malignant and dangerous features. To call good evil is not to make it evil, and to call evil good is not to make it good. Yet we love to have it so, and God answers us according to the multitude of our idols. Nevertheless, when the moral sense is darkened it is on the way to be extinguished. How then shall we keep alive in our hearts the instinct of righteousness, and the sorrowful consciousness of having come short of it? This Psalm shows us that the key of the secret, and the instrument for each of us to use, is the Word of God.

1. Would we feel about sin as God would have us feel, let us pray earnestly and constantly for the Holy Spirit.

2. Let us be on our guard against an artificial, hysterical, self-inspecting, pusillanimous remorse. Let penitence come rather through the habitual contemplation of God in Christ, than by swelling the swamps of our own corrupt nature.

3. The sense of sin, if we would avoid unreality and a sort of complacency in our humbleness, should ever be accompanied with a continuous and strenuous effort to overcome it.

4. St. Paul never forgot his past. We need not forget that we have sinned, if only we have cause to believe that we are forgiven. We may be perfectly clean, though imperfectly holy. (Bishop Thorold.)

A man’s errors

1. Man’s ignorance of himself is the result of man’s ignorance of God; and the knowledge of God comprehends the knowledge of man. If a man would “understand his errors,” he must first know Him who can forgive, correct, and prevent them. A capacity of spiritual discernment is essential to man knowledge of himself.

2. Man’s knowledge of his ignorance is the first stage in his educational progress towards the possession of wisdom, and the first expression of that knowledge is prayer.

3. A tendency to err in thought, in word, and in action, combined with the inherent deceitfulness of sin, is the secret of the unfathomable mystery of human error,--unfathomable, that is, by any sounding line of mere human intellect or human conscience. A tendency to err produces error. A biassed ball cannot run straight. The deceitfulness of sin, however, rather than this tendency, is the preponderating element in the unknowableness of one’s own errors. Sin usually wears a disguise, and often a man does not know his own sin. The sinful heart is a cunning logician.

4. To “understand one’s errors,” one must know the fact of the universal defilement of sin consequent upon the fall.

5. The “errors” of a man include “secret faults” and “presumptuous sins.” To sin knowingly is to sin presumptuously. A secret fault is one unknown to others or ourselves--to either or to both. It is a mockery for a man who has not searched himself to ask God to search him.

6. All true wisdom, possessed or attainable by any one of the human race on earth, involves constant self-scrutiny and constant prayer. Men must be advised to look both within and without. It is because we look within that we also look without.

7. All true wisdom is increasing wisdom, for it involves increasing sanctification, and included in sanctification ,is the joy of a heavenly fellowship. (T. Easton.)

The searching power of God’s law

Notice David’s holy perplexity.

1. The occasion of it. David was now looking into the law of God, and a beam of that light had darted into his conscience. The Word of God has a secret, unavoidable power upon the soul to convince it of sin. In the Scripture is presented a transcendent rule of holiness, the infinite purity and sanctity which is in God Himself. The soul, seeing this, is at once convinced of infinite impurity. In Scripture there is an exact rule of holiness prescribed. The law forbids all sin, and enjoins all holiness. It is a spiritual rule, not resting only in an outward conformity. It keeps secret thoughts under awe. The law of God is operative, not as a dead letter: it has an active power to work upon the heart. The Spirit of God goes along with it, and makes it quick, and powerful, and sharp, and mighty in operation. As to the--

2. Nature and purpose of David’s perplexity; it may be resolved into these three expressions.

Knowledge of one’s sins

I. To acquire a knowledge of our sinfulness is exceedingly difficult. This may be inferred from the fact that very few acquire this knowledge, and that none acquire it perfectly. We learn, both from observation and from the Scriptures, that of those sins of the heart, in which men’s errors or sinfulness principally consist in the sight of God, they are all by nature entirely ignorant. Men will not come to the Saviour because they do not feel their need of Him. It is difficult to get a knowledge of our sin, for the influences of the Divine Spirit are represented as necessary to communicate this knowledge. But it would be needless to convince men of sin if they were not ignorant of their sins. Mankind are so blind to their own sinfulness, so ignorant of their true characters, that the Spirit of God alone can remove this blindness.

II. Show why it is so.

1. Because men are ignorant of the Divine law. By the law is the knowledge of sin. St. John says, sin is a deviation from the law. But mankind are naturally ignorant of the Divine law. They are alive without the law. He who would understand his errors must understand the Divine law.

2. Another cause is the nature of the human mind. It is like the eye which, while it perceives other objects, cannot see itself (save in a mirror). Men find it difficult to examine themselves.

3. Another cause is the prevalence of self-love. Every man is extremely partial ill judging himself, and exceedingly unwilling to discover his own faults.

4. The deceitfulness of sin is another cause.

5. Another is the effects which sin produces upon men’s understandings and consciences. These faculties are the eyes of the soul, without which he can discern nothing. Just so far as sin prevails in the heart and life, so far it puts out or darkens these eyes of the mind with respect to all spiritual objects; so that the more sinful a man really is, so much the less sinful does he appear to himself to be. (E. Payson, D. D.)


It is no supposition, but an unquestionable fact, that to not a few of us, from the first moment of existence, there has been present, not beneath the roof but within the breast, a mysterious resident, an inseparable companion, nearer to us than friend or brother, yet of whom, after all, we know little or nothing. Many are the reasons why we should be acquainted with our moral nature. Other portions of self-knowledge we may with comparative harmlessness neglect, but to neglect this is full of peril. And we can never depute the work to another. Unnoticed error in the heart, unlike intellectual deficiencies, not merely affects our temporal condition or our social reputation, but may issue in our eternal ruin. Yet a man’s moral defects are most likely to elude his own scrutiny. There is a peculiar secrecy, an inherent inscrutability, about our sins. It is the peculiar characteristic of moral disease, that it does its deadly work in secret. Sin is a malady which affects the very organ by which itself is detected. One reason why the sinful man does not understand his errors is--

I. That sin can be truly measured only when it is resisted. So long as evil reigns unopposed within it will reign m a great degree unobserved. Resistance m the best measure of force. Sin’s power is revealed only in the act of resistance. When the softening principle of Divine love and grace begins to thaw the icy coldness of a godless heart, then it is that the soul becomes aware of the deadly strength of sin. Then comes the feeling of an hitherto unrealised burden.

II. Sin often makes a man afraid to know himself. A man often has a latent misgiving that all is not right with his soul, yet, fearing to know the whole truth, he will inquire no further. Most men prefer the delicious tranquillity of ignorance to the wholesome pains of a self-revelation. Easily alarmed in other cases, men become strangely incurious here. With many, life is but a continuous endeavour to forget and keep out of sight their true selves.

III. The slow and gradual way in which, in most cases, sinful habits and dispositions are acquired. There is something in the mere fact of the gradual and insidious way in which changes of character generally take place, that tends to blind men to their own defects. Everyone knows how unconscious we often are of changes that occur by minute and slow degrees, as in the case of the seasons. How imperceptibly life’s advancing stages steal up on us! Analogous changes equally unnoted, because equally slow and gradual, may be occurring in our moral nature, in the state of our souls before God. Character is a thine of slow formation. Each day helps to mould it. In a thousand insignificant sacrifices of principle to passion, of duty to inclination, a man’s moral being has been fashioned into the shape it wears.

IV. As character gradually deteriorates, there is a parallel deterioration of the standard by which we judge it. As sin grows, conscience declines in vigour, and partakes of the general injury which sin inflicts on the soul. Sin, in many of its forms, has an ugly look at first, but its repulsiveness rapidly wears off by familiarity. The danger of self-ignorance is not less than its guilt. Of all evils a secret evil is most to be deprecated,--of all enemies a concealed enemy is the worst. However alarming, however distressing self-knowledge may be, better that than the tremendous evils of self-ignorance. (Principal Caird, D. D.)

Sin unmeasurable

What we know is as nothing compared with what we do not know. This is true of our errors.

I. Explain the question. We all own that we have errors, but who of us can understand them? They mingle with our good, and we cannot detect them so as to separate them. And this not only in our feelings, but in our actions. And their number, guilt, aggravation--who can understand this? Let each one think of his own errors and their peculiar wickedness.

II. Impress it on the heart. In order to a man’s understanding his errors he must understand the mystery of--

1. The fall. Here is a piece of iron laid upon the anvil. The hammers are plied upon it lustily. A thousand sparks are scattered on every side. Suppose it possible to count each spark as it falls from the anvil; yet who could guess the number of the unborn sparks that still lie latent and hidden in the mass of iron? Now your sinful nature may be compared to that heated bar of iron. Temptations are the hammers; your sins the sparks. If you could count them (which you cannot do), yet who could tell the multitude of unborn iniquities--eggs of sin that lie slumbering in your souls. And so we are not to think merely of the sins that grow on the surface, but if we could turn our heart up to its core and centre we should find it as fully permeated with sin as every piece of putridity is with worms and rottenness. The fact is, that man is a reeking mass of corruption. His whole soul is by nature so debased and so depraved that no description which can be given of him even by inspired tongues can fully tell how base and vile a thing he is.

2. God’s law especially in its spiritual application. It is exceeding broad.

3. The perfection of God.

4. Hell.

5. The Cross. George Herbert saith very sweetly--“He that would know sin, let him repair to Olivet, and he shall see a Man so wrung with pain that all His head, His hair, His garments bloody be. Sin was that press and vice which forced pain to hunt its cruel food through every vein.” You must see Christ sweating, as it were, great drops of blood. You must drink of the cup to its last dregs, and like Jesus cry--“It is finished,” or else we cannot know the guilt of our sin.

III. The practical application.

1. The folly of hoping for salvation by our own righteousness.

2. Or by our feelings.

3. What grace is this which pardons sin! Blessed be God, the spotless flood of Jesus’ merit is deeper than the height of mine iniquities. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The soul’s error

Error, what a word, what a thing! It is the foundation stone of Satan’s kingdom in the world; ay, and by it be builds up and sustains his empire in the world. Two things are suggested here concerning the soul’s errors--

I. They are mysterious. “Who Call understand his errors?”

1. They are mysterious in their origin. Wire can explain the genesis of error?

2. They are mysterious in their number. Who can count them? They baffle all human arithmetic.

3. They are mysterious in their working. How Wondrously they work!

4. They are mysterious in their influence. Who shall tell the influence of one error, on one individual, on society, on the universe?

II. They are polluting. “Cleanse Thou me.” Errors stain the conscience and the heart, they are moral filth.

1. The cleansing of the soul from error is a work of supreme urgency. “Cleanse Thou me.” Without this cleansing there can be no true liberty, dignity, or happiness, no fellowship with God, no heaven.

2. The cleansing of the soul from error is the work of God. “Cleanse Thou me.” We cannot cleanse ourselves, though our agency in the matter is indispensable. “Create ill me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Homilist.)

The difficulty of attaining to a knowledge of our sin

We have here a question put and a prayer offered. But the implied answer to the question must be taken with some limitations; for--

I. Some knowledge of one’s errors is essential to salvation. Such as--

1. Will awaken the soul of man.

2. Drive him out of all the refuges of lies to which he will betake himself for salvation.

3. Convince him that he is utterly helpless and deserves to perish.

4. Make him come to Christ and accept the Gospel. But when men are brought to all this, then they ask--

II. Who can understand his errors? For--

1. He cannot understand the errors that he knows--their nature, their variety, their number, their aggravation, their demerit.

2. Of many of his errors he has no knowledge at all. See how long men remain in sin and are not disturbed by it. Conclusion: How humbled should we be. How forbearing is God. How precious Christ’s redemption. How mighty the work of the Holy Spirit. How thorough in its working true faith is. But how little of it there is. (J. R. Anderson.)


The foundation of all spiritual wisdom must be ]aid in self-knowledge. Yet men neither desire nor seek such knowledge. There is nothing that they desire less. Yet without there can be no true religion. The form may be maintained but the power will be unknown. But the good man will seek this knowledge, though he will not fully attain it.

I. The humiliating confession implied in the Psalmist’s question. It is implied that no man can understand his errors. And reasons for this are--

1. The infinite purity of God’s law, surpassing our comprehension.

2. Self-love, which makes him tender and partial in estimating his own faults.

3. The impossibility of recollecting every instance, even of undoubted transgression. They are so many, so varied, so secret.

II. The humble petition which follows this confession. David knew that none of his sins were hidden from God, though they might be from himself. And he knew that they defiled and polluted his soul. Hence his prayer. It is the blood of Jesus Christ which alone can cleanse us. Turn, therefore, in confession and penitence to Him. (J. Jowett, M. A.)

Difficulty of knowing our faults

A small portion of light, it is said, only serves to render darkness more visible; so, when the light of truth begins to penetrate the mind, it shows that there is within us a dark abyss; and every additional ray discovers more of the intricate windings of the human heart. For there is not only dense darkness, but many false and deceitful appearances which turn out upon investigation very different from what they seemed to be. David felt this, and hence our text.

I. Inquire why it is so difficult to know our own faults. We may know an act to be a sin, and yet not know all the moral evil that is in it. But--

1. One reason why we know so little of ourselves is, that so few reflect.

2. Another is, our thoughts are so fugitive.

3. Our feelings are so mixed as to their character.

4. Pride and self-love.

5. Our dislike of that which excites, as our sins do--painful feelings. Remorse is an intolerable pain. And so is the “looking for of judgment.”

6. We judge ourselves by the flatteries of others;

7. And by the ordinary conduct of men.

8. Failure to apply to ourselves the true standard of rectitude. “I was alive without the law once.” How, then, ought we to watch our hearts and continually seek the grace of God.

II. The import of this prayer. It is for deliverance not only from known, but from hidden sins also. And there is a two-fold cleansing--

1. That of expiation.

2. That of sanctification. Not only do we need pardon, but the continual purification of our souls.


1. The best evidence of the existence of a holy nature is the sincere and prevailing desire of perfect holiness. A gracious state is not proved by the persuasion that we have attained it, but by the ardent, habitual desire after it.

3. When on account of sin the conscience is again burdened, we must turn again to the blood of Christ.

4. Remember many of our sins are hidden, but they lead on to presumptuous sins. (A. Alexander, D. D.)

Thy heart’s ignorance of itself

I. The question. “Who can understand his errors?” “Error” is one of the mildest words we use to describe wrong-doing. Sin, guilt, wickedness, iniquity, seem to be terms that carry heavy blame along with them; but when we say of a man merely that he is “in error,” we consider we are speaking leniently. And yet “error” really conveys, perhaps, a clearer idea of what sin in its essence is than any of the other words. For what is error but the straying out of a path, the wandering from a way? There is no better definition of sin. The soul has a way, a path, designed for it, just as a planet has an orbit. The difference between the star and the soul is, that the one keeps to its appointed course while the other wanders; but when we ask why this is so, when we try to find out the cause of such unlikeness of behaviour, we touch one of the deepest senses in which it is possible to ask the question, Who can understand his errors?

1. Who can understand error as such? Why should that be true of the human soul which is true of nothing else that is or lives, so far as we know, namely, that it is able to break the law?

2. Who can understand his errors, in the sense of understanding the way in which the principle of sin works in the heart, and manifests itself in the life?

II. The prayer. “Cleanse Thou me,” etc. Here is the help, just here. Invite the Saviour of the soul to enter in through the gateway of the soul, and to take up His dwelling there. There is no one who comprehends a piece of mechanism so well as the inventor and the maker of it. You may call this a rough figure of speech, and yet, up to a certain point, it is a just one. The soul is, indeed, something much better than a watch; but still the watch and the soul have this much at least in common: each has had a maker, and it is only reasonable to say that no one can possibly understand the thing made so thoroughly as the one who made it. But note carefully the precise point where the soul has the advantage of the watch. It is here; the watchmaker touches the wheels and springs from without. He handles them with most marvellous dexterity, to be sure, but still, after all, it is only handling. The Maker of the soul can do more than handle His workmanship. He has the added power of entering in and dwelling within it, yes, actually within it, as intimately as the life power dwells within the very juices of the plant, making it lily or carnation, anemone or violet, each after its kind. Those cures are the most effectual that heal the man from within. Surface remedies are proverbially disappointing. Defects of constitution, deeply concealed flaws of nature, yield only to healing forces that, like an atmosphere breathed in, penetrate to the very inmost sources of life. It is so with the secret faults, the hidden flecks, the unnoticed weaknesses which mar the wholeness and sap the strength of the spiritual man. We need to breathe in more of God if we would breathe out more of goodness. We need to have within our veins and bounding in our pulses more of the blood of Christ if we would have the blood of Christ save us indeed, for it is not by an outward washing that God is making ready a people for Himself, but by that inward cleansing which begins at the heart. (W. R. Huntington, D. D.)


By errors he means his unwitting and inconsiderate mistakes. There are sins, some which are committed when the sun shines, i.e. with light and knowledge, and then, as it is with colours when the sun shines, you may see them, so these a man can see and know, and confess them particularly to be transgressions; there are other sins, which are committed either in the times of ignorance or else (if there be knowledge) yet with inobservance: either of these may be so heaped up in the particular number of them that, as a man did (when he did commit them), take no notice of them, so now after the commission, if he should take the brightest candle to search all the records of his soul, yet many of them would escape his notice. And, indeed, this is a great part of our misery, that we cannot understand all our debts: we can easily see too many, yet many more, he as it were dead, and out of sight; to sin is one great misery, and then to forget our sills is a misery too: if in repentance we could set the battle in array, point to every individual sin, in the true and particular times of acting and re-acting, oh how would our hearts be more broken with shame and sorrow, and how would we adore the richness of the treasure of mercy which must have a multitude in it, to pardon the multitude of our infinite errors and sins. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

Errors discovered to the heart

Nevertheless, though David saith, Who can understand his errors? as the prophet Jeremiah spake also, The heart of man is desperately wicked, who can know it? yet must we bestir ourselves at heaven to get more and more heavenly light to find out more and more of our sinnings: so the Lord can search the heart; and though we shall never be able to find out all our sins which we have committed, yet it is possible, and beneficial, for us to find out yet more sins than yet we do know: and you shall find these in your own experience, that as soon as ever grace entered your hearts you saw sin in another way than ever you saw it before, yea, and the more grace hath traversed and increased in the soul, the more full discoveries hath it made of sins: it hath shown new sins as it were, new sins, not for their being, not as if they were not in the heart and life before, but for their evidence, and our apprehension and feeling: we do now see such ways and such inclinations to be sinful which we did not think to be so before: as physic brings those burnouts, which had their residence before, now more to the sense of the patient: or as the sun makes open the motes of dust which were in the room before, so doth the light of the Word discover more corruption. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.--

Secret faults

Temptation comes to all men everywhere, and St. Bernard roundly says, “All life is a temptation,” which means that it is a history of attacks and resistances, victories and defeats, in spiritual things. How could we ever expect to hear the praise, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” if we had gained no victories over self? And how shall we gain them without effort? Temptation has various sources--our own weakness, Satan’s plots, and God’s purposes. Examination shows that temptation is allowed for in God’s plan. Still, we are not to think God is Himself the author of temptation. The fact is, temptation has different meanings and objects, according to the different sources from which it comes. It was from mere malignity Satan tempted Job. It was from party spirit and self-sufficiency the lawyers questioned Christ, tempting Him. It is from coveting that those who would be rich fall into temptations; but when God allows us to be tempted, His trials are for our good, to disclose our weakness, to increase our strength, to rebuke our waywardness, or bring back our wandering steps. Even in their fails God’s love pursues and overtakes His children. The first thing for us to do is to discover what is our temptation and our tempter. There are inveterate habits of thought, speech, and conduct which are chronic temptations one has hardly a knowledge of, and no will to resist. And here, in these, are the great battlefields for us; and the discovery of these to us is a special occasion of God’s grace to us. When you have found out your special sin, the next thing is to enter the lists against it in a solemn way, a solemn and prepared way. We want the Holy Spirit’s help to know what cannot otherwise be known, the sin which doth most easily beset us. This is to be prayed for, and waited for, and worked for, and part of the prayer must be the attitude of the praying life, a watching soul, a secretly self-questioning soul, a retirement into a sort of inner oratory in one’s own self, there expecting and asking that God may show us ourselves, and enable us to discover, judge, and disapprove ourselves. (T. F. Crosse, D. C. L.)

Secret sins

In the Lateran council of the Church of Rome a decree was passed that every true believer must confess his sins, all of them, once a year to the priest, and they affixed to it this declaration, that there is no hope, else, of pardon being obtained. How absurd. Can a man tell his sins as easily as he can count his fingers? If we had eyes like those of God we should think very differently of ourselves. The sins that we see and confess are but like the farmer’s small samples which he brings to market when he has left his granary full at home. Let all know that sin is sin, whether we see it or not: though secret to us, it is as truly sin as if we had known it to be so, though not so great as a presumptuous sin. But we want to speak to those whose sins are not unknown to themselves, but still are secret from their fellow men. Every now and then we turn up a fair stone which lies upon the green mound of the professing Church, surrounded with the verdure of apparent goodness, and we are astonished to find beneath it all kinds of filthy insects and loathsome reptiles. But that would not be just. Let me speak to you who break God’s covenant in the dark and wear a mask of goodness in the light, who shut the doors and sin in secret.

I. What folly you are guilty of. It is not secret, it is known. God knows it. This world is like the glass hives wherein bees sometimes work: we look down upon them, and we see all the operations of the little creatures. So God looketh down and seeth all.

II. The misery of secret sins. They who commit them are in constant fear of discovery. If I must be a wicked man, give me the life of a roystering sinner, who sins before the face of day: let me not act as a hypocrite and a coward. A mere profession is but painted pageantry, to go to hell in, the funeral array of dead souls; guilt is a “grim chamberlain,” even when his fingers are not bloody red. Secret sins bring fevered eyes and sleepless nights. Hypocrisy is a hard game to play at.

III. Its solemn guilt. You do not think there is any evil in a thing unless somebody sees it, do you? If somebody did see, then there would be evil. But to play a trick and never be discovered, as we do in trade, that is all fair. I do not believe that. A railway servant puts up a wrong signal, there is an accident, the man is tried and punished. He did the same thing the day before, but there was no accident, and so no one accused him. But it was just the same; the accident did not make the guilt, but the deed. It was his business to have taken care. Secret sin is the worst of sin, because in his heart the man is an atheist.

IV. The danger of secret sin. It will grow into a public one. You cannot preserve moderation in sin. The melting of the lower glacier in the Alps is always followed by that of the higher. When you begin to sin you go on. Christians, you dare not spare these secret sins; you must destroy them.

V. I beseech you give them up. You who are almost persuaded to be a Christian. Will you have your sin and go to hell, or leave your sin and go to heaven? Some say, “You are too precise.” Will you say that to God at the last? Secret sinner, in the great day of judgment what will become of thee? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The cry from the chasm

The Tay Bridge fell because of “secret faults,”--a few little blisters on a girder or two. David fell through “secret faults.” Three lives we live, concentric circles they are, within one another, connected yet separate.

1. The outside life, in society, among our fellow men. This outside life, comparing with the other inner lives, is lived with a dangerous facility. Society life is lived very easily. And yet it may be one seething mass of rottenness and hypocrisy. Yes, this outside life is easily lived, profession easily made, and easily and spotlessly acted up to, and because of that we find this prayer of the Psalmist does not refer in particular to this outmost circle, although, of course, to this outmost circle all the eddying movements for fouler or cleaner must in time extend.

2. An inner life we live when the door flings to its hinges on the world, the life in our home group, in our family circle. Here we manage to raise a little the society mask; we can almost lift it up and lay it down, and let our eyes look on our real selves. Our surroundings at home are more favourable to the revealing of our true character. The inspection of our home privacy is prejudiced in our favour. But here again there is a Pinchbeck imitation. A saint abroad, they say, may be a devil at home; true, but a devil abroad may be a saint at home. And a saint abroad and a saint at home too may be a devil at heart. The whole role of the saint we can easily act to minutest detail as a member or office bearer of the Church, and the “pious fraud” can be carried through without a hitch in our home circle. The imitation may defy detection from the search of the strongest household microscopes.

3. The inmost life, the region of David’s prayer for cleansing, is heart life. Into this privacy not another being is admitted. Here is solitude unbroken. If unbosom we would, we could not. God has walled round the spirit world with the walls unclimbable and unwingable. Nobody knows but Jesus--the battles of the soul, the halting, the stumbling, the fainting, the falling, the fleeing, the thoughts hard, the thoughts bad, the thoughts harsh and hateful, the temptings, the struggles, the sins, the uncleanness--the black poisoned streams pouring from the old death jets of the fountain day by day. Why does David pray for cleansing? What is prayer? It is the appeal to power from powerlessness, the strong cry from helplessness to help. Here in this inmost life faults are truly “secret”--secret from the man himself. That is the bidden plague-spot, and well may we wince when we touch the place. We cannot play the hypocrite here. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” No mask here. Entirely helpless; if we seek cleansing, we must get it outside ourselves. For it we must pray to God. Why, O burdened psalmist heart, needest thou pray for cleansing of secret faults? In most folk’s vocabulary “secret” is comfortable, quieting, secure, and safe. Well dost thou know that faults secret to others, and secret to thee, are not secret to God. The prayer is from David’s helplessness before the secret faults of his own soul; but the agonising timbre of the petition is from the overpowering sense of this inward depravity and corruption, secret and unknown to him, yet spread out in a terrible roll before Him who cannot look upon the shadow of sin. This staggering thought is one reason for the earnestness of this prayer. (J. Robertson.)

Secret faults

The Psalmist is thinking of the errors that we don’t understand, and of which we are not conscious.

1. There are faults which are secret, because they are bound up with our dispositions and characters. We see every day how blind men become to their own habitual faults.

2. There are secret faults which are due to the influence of our surroundings. There is a law known to naturalists as the law of protective colouring, according to which animals grow into the likeness of their environment. There is such a law in society. Human beings tend to assimilate themselves to the customs and opinions of the world around them. In the business world men do, without hesitation, what they could not do if they applied the law of Christ to the regulation of their daily calling. The society in which we live affects us. It tends to bring us down to its level, and imbues us with its opinions.

3. There are secret faults which consist of undeveloped germs and possibilities of evil that lie lurking in our hearts.

How are we to be delivered from these secret faults?

1. Set about the work of self-examination. Careful and judicious self-examination lies at the bottom of all progressive Christianity. It may be done in a morbid, introspective way, but it need not be.

2. We must apply ourselves to the study of the Word of God.

3. We should bring ourselves into the holy presence of Jesus Christ.

4. We must learn to pray the Psalmist’s prayer. We cannot cleanse ourselves, we need to be cleansed. Christ must live in us by His Holy Spirit if we are to be cleansed from our secret faults, and to become pure even as He is pure. (J. C. Lambert.)

Secret faults

Unless we have some just idea of our hearts and of sin we can have no right idea of a Moral Governor, a Saviour, or a Sanctifier. Self-knowledge is at the root of all real religious knowledge. Self-knowledge admits of degrees. No one, perhaps, is entirely ignorant of himself Most men are contented with a slight acquaintance with their hearts, and therefore a superficial faith. Men are satisfied to have numberless secret faults. They do not think about them either as sins or as obstacles to strength of faith, and live on as if they had nothing to learn.

1. A ready method of convincing ourselves of the existence in us of faults unknown to ourselves is to consider how plainly we see the secret faults of others.

2. Now reflect on the actual disclosures of our hidden weakness, which accidents occasion. Integrity on one side of our character is no voucher for integrity on another. We cannot tell how we should act if brought under temptations different from those which we have hitherto experienced.

3. This much we cannot but allow; that we do not know ourselves in those respects in which we have not been tried. But further than this: What if we do not know ourselves even where we have been tried, and found faithful? The recorded errors of Scripture saints occulted in those parts of their duty in which they showed obedience most perfect.

4. Think of this too: No one begins to examine himself, and to pray to know himself, but he finds within him an abundance of faults which before were either entirely, or almost entirely, unknown to him. That this is so we learn from the written lives of good men, and our own experience of others. And hence it is that our best men are ever the most humble.

5. But let a man persevere in prayer and watchfulness to the day of his death, yet he will never get to the bottom of his heart. Though he know more and more of himself as he becomes more conscientious and earnest, still the full manifestation of the secrets there lodged is reserved for another world.

Call to mind the impediments that are in the way of your knowing yourselves or feeling your ignorance.

1. Self-knowledge does not come as a matter of course; it implies an effort and a work. The very effort of steadily reflecting is painful to some men, not to speak of the difficulty of reflecting correctly.

2. Then comes in our self-love. We hope the best; this saves us the trouble of examining. Self-love answers for our safety.

3. This favourable judgment of ourselves will especially prevail if we have the misfortune to have uninterrupted health and high sprats and domestic comfort.

4. Next consider the force of habit. Conscience at first warns us against sin; but if we disregard it, it soon ceases to upbraid us; and thus sins, once known, in time become secret sins.

5. To the force of habit must be added that of custom. Every age has its own wrong ways.

6. What is our chief guide amid the evil and seducing customs of the world? Obviously the Bible. These remarks may serve to impress upon us the difficulty of knowing ourselves aright, and the consequent danger to which we are exposed of speaking peace to our souls when there is no peace. Without self-knowledge you have no root in yourselves personally; you may endure for a time, but under affliction or persecution your faith will not last. (J. H. Newman, B. D.)

Concealing faults

Various causes contribute to conceal from a man his faults.

I. A defect of knowledge. Many sin against God without being conscious of it. Where ignorance is unavoidable there sin may be excusable; but a man who would avail himself of this plea must make it appear that his ignorance was not owing to any want of care on his part to find out the law. One principal cause that our sins are so much concealed from our view is, that we form our standard of what is right, not from the pure and holy law of God, but from the general opinion of our fellow sinners. The custom of the world is our guide.

II. The want of a right disposition of mind. While we were flattering our pride with the hope of having done everything right, we may have deceived ourselves in the very idea of right. The want of right dispositions is a subject little considered. We are often under the influence of desires and tempers positively evil, without knowing it, through the deceitfulness of sin and of our own hearts. Consider this subject as the means of rendering us humble. And let it make us watchful. (Christian Observer.)

Secret faults

Look at this two-fold deliverance asked for--grace to cleanse from secret or presumptuous faults. All sins come under the category of secret sins, or those of presumption. The conscience of David was becoming more sensitive; secret sins could be secret no longer. We may perhaps compare that development of moral sensitiveness which the law is always promoting within every right-minded man with those advances of physical science by which unknown worlds above and beneath us have been brought into view, and disease detected in stages in which its presence was unsuspected by our forefathers. A century ago man’s observations had not got very far beyond the range of his unassisted senses. Our astronomers have scarcely completed the sum of the stars brought into view by the newest telescopes. The biologist has discovered just as many new worlds as the student of the heavens. He finds sphere of marvellous life within sphere, and yet other spheres more deeply bidden within these, like ball within ivory ball in Oriental carving. An Italian doctor brings his microscope to bear, and, floating within a foot of the soil of the Campagna, finds the malignant bacillus which is at the root of the malarial fever of Rome. Our forefathers knew only the superficial facts of disease, corruption, decay. The biologist brings his concentrated lenses and his polarised light to bear, and he watches every movement of the tiny armies of iconoclasts as they undermine and break up the structure of the body at points where the ordinary observer did not suspect their presence. He projects an electric beam through tubes filled with stifled air, and the air is found to teem with spores that are undeveloped epidemics, with potentialities of worldwide disaster in them. 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. 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. But of all the sciences it is the most primitive and the most neglected. All that we should know is known to the Searcher of our heart long before we become conscious of it. He not only detects the flagrant faults, but the hidden blight that poisons the vitality of religion. But how can there be responsibility for sins of which we are ignorant? And how can there be guilt without responsibility? If ignorance is fated and inevitable, there can be no responsibility. But ignorance is often self-caused. Many of our sins are secret because we insist upon judging ourselves by human rather than Divine standards of life and righteousness. Our sins assume popular forms and ramifications. No more striking illustration of what the naturalists call the “law of protective colouring” can be found than that which presents itself in the realm of ethics. You know what that law is. 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 those 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 recognise 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. Oh, the blinding tendency of this judgment by popular standards to which we are so prone! All this was sure to be illustrated in the history of the Psalmist. In the rough and tumble of his wandering life and coarse associations he would be prone to forget the inner and more delicate meanings and obligations of the law. The moral atmosphere pervading the Cave of Adullam was not more wholesome than that pervading our unreformed bankruptcy courts. The cave was not the best possible place in which to school a man in the finer shades of right and wrong. Most of David’s sins in after life seem to have been lurid reflections of the brutality, the unthinking ruthlessness, the impetuous animalisms of his former companions in arms. He evidently felt the danger he was in of falling to the level of his surroundings and of forgetting by how much he had fallen. Let us beware of gliding into an unconfessed habit of testing ourselves by human standards, when God has given to us higher and holier standards by which to measure ourselves. It is said that all organic germs 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 traces 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. Passion, prejudice, ambition often blind men to their faults. When great passionate forces hurry us on we are not more apt to see the shortcomings and specks of corruption in the motives and actions of the passing moment, than the traveller by a racing express to see the little ring of decay in the lily of the wayside garden past which he is flying. During the Franco-Prussian War a regiment of Prussian soldiers was deploying from the shelter of a wood, in full face of French fire. The appearance of the regiment as seen from a distance, said one of the war correspondents, was like that of some dark serpent creeping out from beneath the wood. The far-stretching figure seemed to leave a dark trail in its path. The correspondent looked carefully through his glass, and this trail resolved itself under close inspection into patches of soldiers who had fallen under French fire. Some of them were seen to get on to their feet, stagger on a few paces, and fall again. The passion of battle was upon them, and they were scarcely conscious of their wounds. And is it not thus with us? We are intoxicated by the passion of life’s battle, the battle for bread and place and power and conquest of every kind; and we stagger on, unconscious of the fact that we are pierced with many a hidden wound. The excitements that are in the air whirl us along, and we are all but insensible to the moral disaster He sees who watches the battle from afar. Our slowness to recognise the hurt that has overtaken us may be the sign that the pulse of vitality is fluttering itself out. “Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins.” It is restraint, not purification, from presumptuous sin that the Psalmist asks in the second portion of his prayer. Presumptuous sin has no place in a true child of God. “He that is born of God doth not commit sin.” Cleansed by the forgiving grace of God, we ought to need only deliverance from errors of inadvertence and infirmity. “He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet.” No hallowing process, however complete, can remove susceptibility to the temptation even to presumptuous sins. The work of cleansing from secret fault sometimes creates a new peril. We need to be kept back from it, as the restive horse needs the curb. David felt this, and therefore prayed this prayer. (Thomas G. Selby.)

On the duty of examining into our secret faults

The faculties of the human mind are never acknowledged to be more imperfect, or at least more inadequate, to the object proposed, perhaps, than when applied to estimate the real merit, or demerit, of men’s actions; for, in order to form an opinion on this subject that might have the sanction of strict justice, we must know the motives and intentions of the heart. The generality of men divide their service between two masters, and hence are neither wholly good nor wholly bad. And as we cannot fully understand or appreciate the real character of others, so neither can we our own. Hence the petition before us. Yet we can do something towards the understanding many of our errors and secret faults; and this is our duty. Therefore I would--

I. Recommend the important duty of examining into our latent imperfections. And this because the growth of character is so gradual. Not all at once do we become vicious, and certainly not all at once do we attain the summits of virtue. We are in a great measure the children of discipline, and therefore the sooner this begins the better. Our great perils are not from the temptations of the open day, but those which are from within. These are the parents, of almost every evil deed. How important, then, to attend to these “secret faults.

II. Specify some of those secret faults to which we are apt to be inattentive. They assume all manner of disguises, and the mind will throw false glosses over its own deformity. The mean rapacious wretch will call his conduct prudence, temperance, and provident wisdom. The gloomy bigot will despise the warm, steady devotion of the rational Christian. Pride will call itself independence of spirit; and meekness and gentleness will be branded as meanness and pusillanimity. But above all things, we should attend to the nature and the grounds of our satisfactions and pleasures, our griefs and vexations, in the intercourse we carry on with the world.

III. Point out secret faults which, though conscious of them ourselves, we industriously keep from the eyes of the world. There is hypocrisy in these, and hence they are worse than others. As, for instance, courtesy in order to deceive, a wicked affectation of Christian gentleness. These are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Such are religious from mere worldly motives. They are hypocrites. Yet those who take no care to cleanse themselves from errors of this sort must live and act under a state of the most wretched bondage to the world. All is sacrificed to appearance. The passions, indeed, may be often mortified and suppressed, though not from a sense of religious duty (for then it would be virtue), but from “respect of persons,” or the fear of losing some advantage. Men who are thus wedded, as it were, to sin are often as cruel and oppressive as they are selfish and hypocritical. Though they cringe to power, and flatter to deceive; yet they will frequently retire from the insults and vexations of the world within the circle of their respective authority, and there vent their angry and malignant passions with redoubled vehemence and malice.

IV. The correction of these evils. Live as in the sight of God, before whom the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed. We may deceive men, but we cannot deceive Him. A time will shortly come when we shall be convinced that there is but “one thing needful,” which is the mercy and protection of God, through the merits and atonement of Christ our Lord. The fashion and the appearance of this world will then be so strangely reversed that, among many good and faithful servants who are worthy to enter into the joy of their Lord, we shall see some whose merits we thought highly of shrink from the awful trial of the last day, and vanish like smoke before the wind; while the meek and humble virtues of those whom we might have overlooked and neglected, or perhaps despised, shall shine forth like the sun in His kingdom. (J. Hewlett, B. D.)

Secret faults

I. What are they?--They stand opposed to open and presumptuous sins. They relate particularly--

1. To the secret bias of the heart to evil. There is what may be called latent guilt; a propensity of the soul never yet developed, but which new circumstances may call forth.

2. To unholy thoughts which we intend no other person shall know.

3. To those sinful emotions and affections which rise up in the best hearts almost involuntarily, and against which the pure mind struggles. Old habits of evil will torture for a long while the renewed soul.

4. To these plans of evil which are not prosecuted to their completion. Providence hinders them, or else they would be carried out.

5. Those crimes which are perpetrated in darkness or under disguise.

II. Some of the ways in which sin is concealed.

1. Men design to conceal them. And we have the power to conceal our purposes. Society could not exist if we had not such power. The body becomes the shield of the soul, to guard our plans from the observation of all other minds but that of God. But this power of concealment may be abused for purposes of evil, and often is so. But such concealment of guilt is difficult. God has placed in the human frame by nature certain indications of secret guilt; and He meant that where that guilt existed it should betray itself for the well-being of society. He designed not only that the conscience should check the offender, but He implanted in the frame itself certain indications of guilt which He intended also to be a safeguard of virtue. Now, one great art in this world is to obliterate the natural marks of guilt from the human frame, and to counterfeit the indications of innocence. The object is so to train the eye that it will not reveal the secret conviction of crime; so to discipline the cheek that it will not betray the guilty by a sudden rush of blood there; so to fortify the hand and the frame that they will not by trembling disclose the purposes of the soul. But he drills and disciplines himself, and his eye is calm, and his countenance is taught to be composed, and he speaks and acts as if he were an innocent man, and buries the consciousness of the crime deep in the recesses of the soul. Soon the brow is like brass, and the frame is schooled not to betray, and the living indexes of guilt which God had affixed to the body are obliterated, and the conscience is seared, and the whole man has departed from the beautiful form which God made, and has become an artificial and a guilty thing. Again. The arts of polished and refined life, to a melancholy extent, have the same object. They are so arranged as to conceal rancour, and envy, and hatred, and the desire of revenge. They aim not to eradicate them, but to conceal them.

2. Many secret sins are concealed because there is no opportunity of carrying the purpose into execution.

3. Others, because the man has never yet been placed in circumstances which would develop his character. Were they so placed it would be seen at once what they were.

III. Some reasons why we should adopt this prayer.

1. Because we specially need the grace of God to overcome them. If only by the grace of God we can be kept in the paths of external morality, what protection is there in the human heart against secret sins?

2. Such secret faults are peculiarly offensive to God, and we should therefore pray to be cleansed from them. The guilt of the wicked plan is not annihilated or diminished in the view of the Searcher of hearts, because He chooses to arrest it by His own Providence or because He never allows the sinner the opportunity of accomplishing it.

3. And I add, finally, that we should pray for this, because if secret faults are indulged they will sooner or later break out like smothered fires, and the true character of the heart will be developed. Fires uncap a mountain, because they have been long accumulating, and can be confined no longer. A judge on the bench, like Bacon, shocks the world by the undisputed fact that he has been bribed. The community is horror-stricken, and we feel for the moment like distrusting every man, and doubting all virtue and all piety, and we are almost led to conclude that all our estimates of human character on which we have heretofore acted are false, and we begin to distrust everybody. But such painful disclosures are not departures from the great principles of human nature. There is a maxim that no one suddenly became eminently vile. These lapses into sin are but the exponents of the real character of the man, the regular results of a long course of guilt. And so our cherished faults will one day manifest themselves, unless they are checked and removed by the grace of God and the blood of atonement.

IV. In conclusion.

1. Distrust yourself, for “Who can understand his errors?”

2. Be humble. Others have fallen, so may you.

3. We have much to dread at the revelations of the day of judgment. With no consciousness of sinfulness but such as I believe common to man, with the recollection of the general aim of my life to do right, with great occasion for thanksgiving that I have been preserved from the open vices that have ruined so many who began the career of life with me, yet I confess to you that if there is anything that I should more than all other things dread, it would be that the record of all my thoughts and feelings should be exhibited to the assembled universe in the last day. That the universe would acquiesce in my condemnation on such a revelation I have no manner of doubt, And if there is any one thing for which I desire to give unfeigned thanks more than others, it is that through the blood of Christ those sins may be blotted out; and that through the infinite mercy of God the secret sins of which I am conscious may never--no never--be disclosed to assembled worlds. (A. Barnes, D. D.)

Secret faults

Jesus Christ when on earth was sneered at by persons who considered themselves highly respectable, and on the whole very good sort of people. It is so now. As long as we are careless and well pleased with ourselves, so long must His message of loving forgiveness appear “foolishness” unto us. We cannot greatly desire to have the burden of sin taken from us if we never have felt it at all. The first thing to be done in order to appreciate the message of forgiveness of sin is to try and understand our errors. And do not be content with mere general confessions. It is easy to say vaguely, “I am a miserable sinner”; it is not quite so easy to say, “Last Monday I told that lie, on Tuesday I was guilty of that mean action, and neglected my duty on this or that occasion,” and so on. Those who feel most free from secret faults are just those who have most of them. The best men are the most humble. It is no easy matter to understand our errors, and to know ourselves even as other men know us, much less as God does. How clearly we can see failings in others which they do not see. Be sure that others see faults in us which we do not see. Ah, if some power would give us the gift of seeing ourselves as others see us. Help herein is to be found by keeping a steady eye on the suspicious part of our character. Ask yourself, “What in me would my enemy first fix on if he wished to abuse me, and what fault would my neighbours be most ready to believe that I had? One cannot but be touched by that story which some wise sanitary observer made known to the public. He 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 the 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. The same difficulty is felt in resisting our errors and secret faults; but not to resist is fatal. A man is tempted to lie, to steal, to wrong his neighbour, to indulge some bad passion, and resolves to do it only once, and thinks that “just once” cannot matter. Oh, pause! That one sin is the trickling rill which becomes the bounding torrent, the broad river, the waste, troubled, discoloured sea. Frequently during Lent we should ask ourselves what are the bad habits that are beginning to be formed in us? We should take the different spheres of life, and examine our conduct as regards each of them. Let us judge ourselves, that we be not judged of the Lord in reference to our business, our home, our pleasures. Our duty to God and our neighbour is so and so, how have we done it? Above all, do we think of Christ as our King and personal Saviour, or is all we really know of Him the sound of His name and the words about Him in the Creeds? But some will ask, Why should I be troubled about my errors, why should I seek to be cleansed from my secret faults? Such thoughts do come to men. Help against them will be found in these facts--First, you have not to fight the battle alone. Christ is your very present help. Then next, struggle after self-improvement, because “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Our future destiny, our eternal life, depends on what we do now. (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)

Kinds of sin

The terms used in the Word of God to describe the life of the Christian believer show that it is not a path of ease, nor one of self-indulgence. Gurnall says, “The Christian’s work is too delicate and too curious to be done well between sleeping and waking, and too important to be done ill and clambered over, no matter how. He had need to be awake that walks upon the brink of a deep river, or that treads on the brow of a steep hill. The Christian’s path is so narrow, and the danger is so great, that it calls both for a nimble eye to discern and a steady eye to direct; but a sleepy eye can do neither.”

I. Confession of sin. There are--

1. Secret faults. The heart is deceitful above all things: who can know it? Amazed at the inward corruptions you discover, again and again in wonder you well may ask, “Who can understand his errors?--who can count the number of the one-fourth part of his secret faults?” Some persons think there is no harm in what they in their ignorance call “errors,” or “little sins.” But “little sins, suppose them to be so, are very dangerous. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. A little staff may kill a giant. A little leak will sink a man-of-war. A little flaw in a good cause mars it. So a little sin, if unforgiven, will bar up the doors of heaven, and set wide open the gates of hell. Though the scorpion be little, it will sting to death a lion; and so the least sin will destroy you forever, if not pardoned by the blood of Christ.” Watching, therefore, your heart, you will resist every kind of sin, and bring it into subjection to the obedience of Christ. But secret faults, if indulged, will break forth ere long into open sins. These are what David here confesses as--

2. Presumptuous sins. David knew what he said when he thus spake. He knew that lust, when it is conceived, bringeth forth sin, and that sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. David had not forgotten the deceit, the lying, the murder, the adultery, most awful sins of presumption, of which he himself had been guilty in the matter of the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

II. Supplication of pardon. He prays to be delivered--

1. From the guilt of sin.

2. The power of sin. “Keep back from presumptuous sins.” David knew that, were it not for the restraining grace of God, there was no sin which he might not be tempted to commit. 0h, what a scene of sin and misery this fallen world of ours would become were it not for this preventing power of God! See the ease of Abimelech in regard to Sarah. Laban in regard to Jacob. And yet more does He hold back His people; David from destroying Nabal.

III. Devotedness of life. He singles out two things.

1. Edifying discourse. “Let the words of my mouth,” etc.

2. Devout reflection.

3. He recognises the mainspring of all true religion. “O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” We all need a Redeemer. (C. Clayton, M. A.)

On insensibility to offences

These words express a rational and affecting prayer without entering into any interpretation of them. For who has not need to pray against his sins?

I. “Secret faults,” what are they? Not those which are concealed from mankind, but those which are secret from the offender himself. That these are meant is evident from the opening of the verse, “Who can tell how oft he offendeth?” There would be no reason in the question if the sins were only those which other people did not know of. He must mean those which he himself knew not off Looking back upon the sins of his past life, David finds himself, as many of us must do, lost and bewildered in their number and frequency. And besides these, there were many which were unnoticed, unreckoned, and unobserved. Against these he prays.

II. But can there be any such secret sins? Yes, because habit makes us so familiar with them by repetition, that we think nothing at all of them. These are not notorious crimes but ordinary sins, both of omission and of commission. We may neglect any duty till we forget that it is one. And so with sins of commission. Serious minds are shocked with observing with what complete indifference and unconcern many forbidden things are practised.

III. But are they not, therefore, sins? If there be no sense and perception of them, are they yet sins? If it be denied that they are, then it is only the timorous beginner who can be brought to account. It is not that the reasons against the sin have lessened or altered, but only that they, by frequent commission of the sin, have become insensible of it. If the sense be the measure of the guilt of sin, then the hardened sinner is well off indeed. These secret sins, then, are sins. Then--

1. Let us join in this prayer, “Oh, cleanse,” etc.; and

2. See the exceeding great danger of evil habits of all kinds. (Archdeacon Paley, D. D.)

Secret faults

We read in books about the West Indies of a huge bat which goes under the ugly name of the vampire bat. It has obtained this name, sucking as it does the blood of sleepers, even as the vampire is fabled to do. So far, indeed, there can be no doubt; but it is further reported, whether truly or not I will not undertake to say, to fan them with its mighty wings, that so they may not wake from their slumbers, but may be hushed into deeper sleep while it is thus draining away the blood from their veins. Sin has often presented itself to me as such a vampire bat, possessing, as it does, the same fearful power to lull its victims into an ever deeper slumber, to deceive those whom it is also destroying. It was, no doubt, out of a sense of this its deceiving power that the royal Psalmist uttered those memorable words, “Who can understand his errors?”

I. How is it that sin is able to exercise this cheating, deluding power upon us? Oftentimes great faults seem small faults, not sins but peccadilloes, and small faults seem no faults at all to us; or, worse than this, that men walk altogether in a vain show, totally and fatally misapprehending their whole spiritual condition, trusting in themselves that they are righteous, with a lie in their right hand, awaking only when it is too late to the discovery that they have fallen short altogether of the righteousness of God.

1. Sin derives its power altogether from ourselves. It has a friend and partisan in us all. Hence we are only too ready to spare it and to come to terms with it, and not to extirpate it root and branch as we should. Our love of ease leads to this. Obedience is often hard and painful. But compliance with sin is almost always easy. Then, again, there is our love of pleasure. The Gospel of the grace of God says, Mortify your corrupt affections; do not follow nor be led by them. They war against the soul; and you must kill them or they will kill you. Hard lesson to learn! unwelcome truth to accept! And then, there is our pride. Every natural man has a certain ideal self which he has set up, whether he knows it or not, in the profaned temple of his heart, for worship there--something which he believes himself to be, or very nearly to approach to being. And this ideal self, as I have called it, is something which he can regard with complacency, with self-satisfaction, and, on the whole, with admiration. Will a man willingly give this up, and abhor himself in dust and ashes?

II. How shall we deliver ourselves from these sorceries of sin, these delusions about ourselves?

1. And as a necessary preliminary to any such endeavour, I would say, Grasp with a full and firm faith the blessed truth of the one sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction made for your sins. You will never dare to look your own sins full in the face till you have looked up to the Cross of Calvary, and seen a Saviour crucified there for those sins of yours. Till then you will be always seeking cloaks, palliations, excuses for sin, playing false with your conscience, and putting darkness for light. You will be open to the thousand suggestions that it is not that horrible thing which indeed in God’s sight it is.

2. Then remember, that He who made the atonement for your sins, the same is also the giver of the Spirit which convinces of sin and of righteousness and of judgment. Throw open the doors and windows of the house of your soul. Let the light of God, the light of the Holy Ghost, search every nook, penetrate every recess, find its way into every chamber. Ask of God, ask earnestly and continually, for this convincing Spirit. There is nothing else which will ever show us to ourselves as we really are. Those Pharisees of old whom He who reads the secrets of all hearts denounced as whited sepulchres, do you suppose they knew themselves to be hypocrites, actors of a part, wearers of a mask, wholly different in the sight of God from that which they were in one another’s sight and in the sight of an admiring world? Ab, no! he is but a poor hypocrite who only deceives others; the true hypocrite has managed also, and first, to deceive himself. So it was, no doubt, with those whom I speak of. Probably nothing seemed more unjust to them than this charge of hypocrisy which the Lord persisted in bringing against them; so deceitful and desperately wicked are these hearts of ours. (R. Chenevix Trench, D. D.)

Secret sins

Self-examination is most necessary to the knowledge of our sins, but it of ten happens that with all our search some sins may escape our notice. As in temporal concerns, men often know that by a long course of prodigality, and many expensive vanities, they have contracted a great debt upon their estates, and have brought themselves to the very brink of poverty and distress, and yet, when they try to consider of their condition, find themselves utterly unable to state their accounts, or to set forth the particulars of the debt they labour under; but the more they endeavour to recollect, the more they are convinced that they are mere strangers at home, and ignorant of their own affairs. So in spiritual concerns likewise. Such was David’s feeling as expressed in the text. Whenever men doubt their own sincerity and due performance of religious acts it is extremely difficult to reason with their fears and scruples, and to dispossess them of the misapprehensions they have of their own state and condition. Such suggestions as bring ease and comfort to their minds come suspected, as proceeding from their own or their friends’ partiality; and they are afraid to hope, lest even to hope in their deplorable condition, should prove to be presumption, and assuming to themselves more than in reason or justice belongs to them. But when we can show them men of approved virtue and holiness, whose praise is in the Book of Life, who have struggled with the same fears and waded through even the worst of their apprehensions to the peaceful fruits of righteousness, it helps to quicken both their spirits and their understanding, and at once to administer knowledge and consolation. And for this reason we can never sufficiently admire the wisdom of God, in setting before us the examples of good men in their lowest and most imperfect state. Had they been shown to us only in the brightest part of their character, despair of attaining to their perfection might incline us to give over the pursuit, by throwing a damp upon our best resolutions. But when we see how God raised them up from their low estate, then heavenly joy and peace often spring from the lowest depth of sorrow and woe. Now let us observe--

I. That the security and efficacy of repentance do not depend upon a particular recollection of all our errors. What are secret sins? They are--

1. Negligences. These often surprise us in our devotions, for we find our fervour and attention gone. We are not conscious of it at the time; the fault is secret to us.

2. Ignorances also. There is no conscious intent, as in sins of presumption.

3. But our sins may partake of the malice of the will, and yet escape the notice of the understanding. For habit, custom, long usage in sin will so deaden conscience that we lose the very sense and feeling of sin.

4. Being partakers in other men’s sins, which we are when by our ill example they have been led to sin. Then we share with them in the guilt of their iniquity. How far our influence spreads, to what instances and what degrees of vice, how many we seduced by our example, or hardened by our encouragement, is more than we can tell, and yet not more than we shall answer for. Those who are thus entered in our service, and sin under our conduct, are but our factors. They trade for us, as well as for themselves; and whatever their earnings are, we shall receive our due proportion out of the wages of their sin. This is a guilt which steals upon us without being perceived; it grows whilst we sleep, and is loading our account even when our bodies are in the possession of the grave. The higher our station and the greater our authority the more reason have we to fear being involved in this kind of guilt; because in proportion to our authority will the infection of our example spread; and as our power is great, our encouragement will be the more effectual. But then, on the other side, the good men have done shall live after them, and be placed to their account. It shall be part of their joy to see how others have been blessed through their means.

II. The guilt we contract by them. There is guilt, else David had not prayed, “Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.” They are sometimes the most heinous of all. The guilt of sin does not arise from the power of our memory, nor is it extinguished by the weakness of it. The consequence from the whole is this. That since many of our sins are secret to us, they can only be repented of in general; and since many of our secret sins are very heinous, they must seriously and solemnly be repented of. (T. Sherlock, D. D.)

Secret faults

Undiscovered sins. The Psalmist is thinking that, beyond the range of conscience and consciousness, there are evils in us all.

I. In every man are sins of which the doer is unaware. Few of us are familiar with our own appearance. Our portraits surprise us. The bulk of good men do not know themselves. Evil has the strange power of deceiving us, and hiding from us our acts’ real character. Conscience is loudest where it is least needed, and most silent where most required. Conscience wants educating. We bribe our consciences as well as neglect them. Down below every life there lies a great dim region of habits and impulses and fleeting emotions, into which it is the rarest thing for a man to go with a candle in his hand, to see what it is like. Ignorance diminishes criminality, but ignorance does not alter the nature of a deed.

II. The special perilousness of hidden faults. As with a blight upon a rose tree, the little green creatures lurk on the under side of the leaves, and in all the folds of the buds, and, because unseen, they increase with alarming rapidity. The very fact that we have faults in our characters, which everybody sees but ourselves, makes it certain that they will grow unchecked, and so will prove terribly perilous. Those 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.

III. The discipline, or practical issues, to which such considerations should lead.

1. They ought to take down our self-complacency, if we have any. It should give us a low estimate of ourselves.

2. It should lead us to practise rigid self-inspection.

3. We should diminish as much as possible the merely mechanical and instinctive part of our lives. The less we live by impulse the better. A man’s best means of knowing what he is is to take stock of what he does. If yon will put your conduct through the sieve you will come to a pretty good understanding of your own character.

4. 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.

5. Compare yourselves constantly with your model. Do as the art students do in a gallery--take your poor daub right into the presence of the masterpiece, and go over it, line by line and tint by tint. Get near Jesus Christ, that you may learn duty from Him, and you will find out many of the secret sins.

6. Ask God to cleanse us. Revised Version has, “Clear Thou me from secret faults.” And there is present in the word, if not exclusively, yet at least predominantly, the idea of a judicial acquittal. So we may be sure that, though our eye does not go down there 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. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The anatomy of secret sins

I. In what respect are sins called secret? For the resolution of thin know that sins hath a double reference. Either to God, and so really no sin nor manner of sinning is secret. Can any hide himself in secret places, that I shall not see him? saith the Lord; do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord (Jeremiah 23:24); it is true, that wicked men with an atheistical folly imagine to hide themselves and their sinful ways from God, they seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us? (Isaiah 29:15) But really it is not so, though the cloud may somewhat eclipse the light of the sun, and though the dark night may shut it forth altogether, yet there stands no cloud, nor curtain, nor moment of darkness or secrecy twixt the eyes of God and the ways of man. The ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He pondereth all his goings (Proverbs 5:21). Or to man, and thus indeed comes in the division of sin into--

1. Open; and

2. Secret. Now, in this reset sin may be termed secret diversely--

1. In respect of the person sinning: when his very sinning is (formally considered) hidden from himself; he doth a thing which is really sinful, but to him it is not apprehensively so. What outrages did Paul breathe out against the Church in times of his ignorance which he did not know to be acts of sin.

2. In respect of the manner of sinning, and thus sins may be termed secret.

II. But what is that to be cleansed? There be two expositions of it.

1. One is that he desires to be justified, to be pardoned those sins. And indeed, the blood of Christ which justifies is a cleansing thing, it wipes off the guilt.

2. Another is that he desires more to be sanctified, and that inward actings or motions might be subdued. And observe, he doth desire to be cleansed, he doth not desire to be dipped only into the water, or sprinkled; he doth not desire only to be a little rinsed.

Where observe by the way three things.

1. First, he who hath received true grace needs more grace: our lives need to be still reformed, and our hearts still to be cleansed.

2. Again, the progress and perfection of cleansing the soul appertains to God as well as the beginning. The physician must go through with his cure, or else the patient will relapse.

3. Lastly, persons truly holy and sensible desire yet further measures of holiness.

III. But why should we desire to be cleansed from secret sins?

1. Because secret sins will become public sins if they be not cleansed. It is with the soul as it is with the body, wherein diseases are first bred and then manifested; and if you suppress them not in their root, you shall shortly see them to break out in the fruit: or as it is with fire catching the inside of the house first, and there if you do not surprise it, it will make way for itself to get to the outside. Lust, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin (James 1:15). But when they come to public and visible actings, then they are a copy, they are exemplary sins; and like the plague infecting Other persons, others are capable to imitate them, and so more souls are tainted; and God now receives a common dishonour.

2. Secret sins are apt to deceive us most, and therefore cleanse these.

The strength of a sin--

1. Lies in its nearness to the fountain, from whence it can take a quick, immediate, and continual supply; and so do our secret sins, they are as near to original sin as the first droppings are to the springhead.

2. It lies in the acceptance of the affections: love and liking set sin upon its throne.

3. It lies in the confidence of commission: now a man doth take more heart and boldness to commit secret sins than open.

4. It lies in the iteration and frequency of acting, for sin often repeated and acted is like a cable double in strength by the manifold twistings.

5. The principal object of God’s eye is the inward and secret frame of the soul, therefore labour to be cleansed from secret sins (Psalms 66:16). If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me (Psalms 51:6). Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

True holiness hath a contrariety to all sin

1. That true holiness hath a repugnancy and a contrariety to all sins. It is not contrary to sin, because it is open and manifest; nor to sin, because it is private and secret, but to sin as sin, whether public or whether private, because both the one and the other is contrary to God’s will and glory, as it is with true light, though it be but a beam, yet it is universally opposite to all darkness: or as it is with heat, though there be but one degree of it, yet it is opposite to all cold; so if the holiness be true and real, it cannot comply with any known sin; you can never reconcile them in the affection; they may have an unwilling consistence in the person, but you can never make then, to agree in the affection.

2. That sanctification is not perfect in this life; he who hath most grace hath yet some sin. Grace, though it may be sound and saving, yet is it not absolute and perfect.

3. Here you may understand the grounds and reasons of the many troubles and heavy complaints of Christians. The main battle of a Christian is not in the open field; his quarrels are most within, and his enemies are in his own breast. When he hath reformed an ill life, yet it shall cost him infinitely much more to reform an ill heart; he may receive so much power from grace at the beginning as in a short time to draw off from most of the former gross acts of sinnings, but it will be a work of all his days to get a thorough conquest of secret corruptions.

4. Then all the work of a Christian is not abroad, if there be secret sins to be cleansed. There are two sorts of duties. Some are direct, which are working duties; they are the colours of grace in the countenance and view of the conversation, setting it forth with all holy evenness and fruitfulness and unblameableness. Some are reflexive, which are searching duties; they appertain to the inward rooms, to the beautifying of them, and reforming of them; for not only the life, but the heart also is the subject of our care and study. I am not only to labour that I do no evil, but also that I be not evil, not only that sin do not distain my paths, but also that it doth not defile my intentions: not only that my clothes be handsome, but also that my skin be white, my inboard parts be as acceptable to God as my outward frame is plausible with man. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

Sin destroyed in the cause

Now, as a man may deal with a tree, so he may deal with his sins; the axe may be employed only to lop off the branches, which yet all live in the root, and he may apply his axe to the very root, to the cutting of it up, and so he brings an universal death to the tree: so it is possible for a man to bestow all his pains to lop off sin only in the visible branches in the outward limbs of it, and it is also possible for a man to be crucifying the secret lust, the very corrupt nature and root of sinfulness. Now, this! say, he who bestows his study, his prayers, his tears, his cares, his watchings, his strength to mortify corruption in the root, in the nature, in the cause, how unquestionable is it that he doth desire to be cleansed from secret sins. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

Beware of secret sins

I. Motives to enforce our care. There be many arguments which may justly stir us up to take heed of and to cleanse from secret sins.

1. The Lord knoweth our secret sinnings as exactly as our visible sinnings (Psalms 44:21).

2. The Lord will make manifest every secret thing (Mark 4:22). There is a two-fold breaking out of a secret sin or manifestation of it. One is natural: the soul cannot long be in secret actings, but some one part of the body or other will be a messenger thereof. Another is judicial; as when the judge arraigns, and tries, and screws out the close murder, and the dark thefts: so God will bring to light the most hidden works of darkness.

3. Thy secrets shall not only be manifested, but shall also be judged by God (Romans 2:16).

4. Secret sins are more dangerous to the person in some respects than open sins.


1. A man doth by his art of sinning deprive himself of the help of his sinfulness: like him who will carry his wound covered, or who bleeds inwardly; help comes not in because the danger is not descried nor known.

2. If a man’s sin breaks out, there is a minister at hand, a friend near, and others to reprove, to warn, to direct.

II. The aggravations of secret sins.

1. The more foul the sin naturally is, the worse is the secret acting of it.

2. The more relations are broken by secret sinning, the worse they are, and more to be wared.

3. The more profession a man makes, the worse are his secret sinnings; forasmuch as he carrieth not only a badge, but also a judge on his shoulders.

4. The more light a man hath meeting him in the dark, and secret actings of sin, the more abominable is the sin.

5. The more frequent a man is in secret sinnings, the deeper is his guilt; when he can drive a trade of sin within doors: when it is not a slip, but a course.

III. The means which help against secret sins.

1. If thou hast been guilty of secret sins, be humbled and repent.

2. Take heed of secret occasions and provocations.

3. Crush the temptations which come from the roots.

4. Get an hatred of sin, which will oppose sin in all kinds, and all times, and in all places.

5. Get the fear of God planted in thy heart. There are three sorts of sins which this fear will preserve a man against. First, pleasant sins, which take the sense with delight. Secondly, profitable sins, which take the heart with gain, but what shall it profit me to win the whole world and to lose my soul. Thirdly, secret sins of either sort.

6. Believe God’s omniscience and omnipresence.

7. Get thy heart to be upright. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)

The peril of secret sins

In some waters a man may drive strong piles, and build his warehouses upon them, sure that the waters are not powerful enough to undermine his foundations; but there is an innumerable army of minute creatures at work beneath the water, feeding themselves upon those strong piles. They gnaw, they bore, they cut, they dig into the poled wood, and at last a child might overthrow those foundations, for they are cut through and eaten to a honeycomb. Thus by avarice, jealousy, and selfishness men’s dispositions are often cut through, and they don’t know it. (H. W. Beecher.)

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 19:12". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible


"Who can discern his errors?

Clear thou me from hidden faults."

We should have expected such a prayer here. The contemplation of God's commandments always results in one's being conscious of the need of prayer.

"Clear thou me from hidden faults." This is not a reference to the faults, or sins, that are hidden from others, but from ourselves, as indicated by the first line. As an apostle stated it, "I know nothing against myself; but that does not prove that I am justified."

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James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Who can understand his errors?.... Sin is an error, a wandering out of the way of God, swerving from the rule of his word; and many mistakes are made by the people of God themselves; even so many that they cannot number them; they are more than the hairs of their head; they cannot understand, find out and express, neither their number, nor their evil nature, nor the many aggravating circumstances which attend them: this the psalmist said, upon a view of the large extent, glory, and excellency of the word of God; and upon comparing himself with it, in which, as in a glass, he saw how far short he came of it, and what a disagreement and want of conformity there was in him unto it; see Psalm 119:97; and he suggests, that though the word he had been describing was perfect, pure, and clean, he was not; nor could he expect any reward of debt, but merely of grace, for his observance of it; and that it was best, under a sense of sin, to have recourse, not to works of righteousness done by men; but to the grace and mercy of God in Christ, as follows:

cleanse thou me from secret faults; by which are meant not such sins as are done in secret, and are unknown to men; such as David's sin with Bathsheba, 2 Samuel 12:12; nor the inward motions of sin in the heart, to which none are privy but God, and a man's own soul; not but that each of these may be properly enough included in such a petition; but sins, which are unknown to a man himself are meant: there are some actions, which, though known when committed, are not known to be sinful ones; and there are some sins which are committed unadvisedly, and through carelessness, and pass unobserved; not only many vain and sinful thoughts pass to and fro uncontrolled, without being taken notice of; but many foolish and idle words are spoken, and many evil actions, through infirmity and inadvertency, are done, which, when a good man, at the close of a day, comes to reflect upon the things that have passed in it, are quite hidden from him, are unknown to him, being unobserved by him; wherefore such a petition is highly proper to be inserted in his address at the throne of grace: and which also supposes the person sensible of the defiling nature of sin, and of his own impotency to cleanse himself from it; and that God only can do it, who does it by the application of the blood of his Son, which cleanses from all sin; for this respects not regenerating and sanctifying grace, but pardoning grace; a manifestation of it, a view of acquittance from sin by Christ, and of freedom from obligation to punishment for it.

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Gill, John. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

Who can understand [his] l errors? cleanse thou me from secret [faults].

(l) Then there is no reward of duty, but of grace: for where sin is, there death is the reward.

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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.

Who — Thy law, O Lord, is holy and just and good. But I fall infinitely short of it.

Cleanse — Both by justification, through the blood of thy son; and by sanctification thro' thy holy spirit. Though the first may seem to be principally intended, because he speaks of his past sins.

Secret — From the guilt of such sins as were secret either, from others; such as none knows but God and my own conscience: or, from myself; such as I never observed, or did not discern the evil of. Pardon my unknown sins, of which I never repented particularly, as I should have done.

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

12.Who can understand his errors? This exclamation shows us what use we should make of the promises of the law, which have a condition annexed to them. It is this: As soon as they come forth, every man should examine his own life, and compare not only his actions, but also his thoughts, with that perfect rule of righteousness which is laid down in the law. Thus it will come to pass, that all, from the least to the greatest, seeing themselves cut off from all hope of reward from the law, will be constrained to flee for refuge to the mercy of God. It is not enough to consider what the doctrine of the law contains; we must also look into ourselves, that we may see how far short we have come in our obedience to the law. Whenever the Papists hear this promise,

“He who doeth these things shall live in them,”
Leviticus 18:5,)

they do not hesitate at once to connect eternal life with the merit of their works, as if it were in their own power to fulfill the law, of which we are all transgressors, not only in one point, but in all its parts. David, therefore, being involved as it were in a labyrinth on all sides, acknowledges with astonishment that he is overwhelmed under a sense of the multitude of his sins. We ought then to remember, in the first place, that as we are personally destitute of the righteousness which the law requires, we are on that account excluded from the hope of the reward which the law has promised; and, in the next place, that we are guilty before God, not of one fault or of two, but of sins innumerable, so that we ought, with the bitterest sorrow, to bewail our depravity, which not only deprives us of the blessing of God, but also turns to us life into death. This David did. There is no doubt that when, after having said that God liberally offers a reward to all who observe his law, he cried out, Who can understand his errors? it was from the terror with which he was stricken in thinking upon his sins. By the Hebrew word שגיאות, shegioth, which we have translated errors, some think David intends lesser faults; but in my judgment he meant simply to say, that Satan has so many devices by which he deludes and blinds our minds, that there is not a man who knows the hundredth part of his own sins. The saints, it is true, often offend in lesser matters, through ignorance and inadvertence; but it happens also that, being entangled in the snares of Satan, they do not perceive even the grosser faults which they have committed. Accordingly, all the sins to the commission of which men give themselves loose reins, not being duly sensible of the evil which is in them, and being deceived by the allurements of the flesh, are justly included under the Hebrew word here used by David, which signifies faults or ignorances. (466) In summoning himself and others before the judgment-seat of God, he warns himself and them, that although their consciences do not condemn them, they are not on that account absolved; for God sees far more clearly than men’s consciences, since even those who look most attentively into themselves, do not perceive a great part of the sins with which they are chargeable.

After making this confession, David adds a prayer for pardon, Cleanse thou me from my secret sins. The word cleanse is to be referred not to the blessing of regeneration, but to free forgiveness; for the Hebrew verb נקה, nakah, here used, comes from a word which signifies to be innocent. The Psalmist explains more clearly what he intended by the word errors, in now calling them secret sins; that is to say, those with respect to which men deceive themselves, by thinking that they are no sins, and who thus deceive themselves not only purposely and by expressly aiming at doing so, but because they do not enter into the due consideration of the majesty of the judgment of God. It is in vain to attempt to justify ourselves under the pretext and excuse of ignorance. Nor does it avail any thing to be blind as to our faults, since no man is a competent judge in his own cause. We must, therefore, never account ourselves to be pure and innocent until we are pronounced such by God’s sentence of absolution or acquittal. The faults which we do not perceive must necessarily come under the review of God’s judgment, and entail upon us condemnation, unless he blot them out and pardon them; and if so, how shall he escape and remain unpunished who, besides these, is chargeable with sins of which he knows himself to be guilty, and on account of which his own conscience compels him to judge and condemn himself? Farther, we should remember that we are not guilty of one offense only, but are overwhelmed with an immense mass of impurities. The more diligently any one examines himself, the more readily will he acknowledge with David, that if God should discover our secret faults, there would be found in us an abyss of sins so great as to have neither bottom nor shore, as we say; (467) for no man can comprehend in how many ways he is guilty before God. From this also it appears, that the Papists are bewitched, and chargeable with the grossest hypocrisy, when they pretend that they can easily and speedily gather all their sins once a year into a bundle. The decree of the Lateran Council commands every one to confess all his sins once every year, and at the same time declares that there is no hope of pardon but in complying with that decree. Accordingly, the blinded Papist, by going to the confessional, to mutter his sins into the ear of the priest, thinks he has done all that is required, as if he could count upon his fingers all the sins which he has committed during the course of the whole year; whereas, even the saints, by strictly examining themselves, can scarcely come to the knowledge of the hundredth part of their sins, and, therefore, with one voice unite with David in saying, Who can understand his errors? Nor will it do to allege that it is enough if each performs the duty of reckoning up his sins to the utmost of his ability. This does not diminish, in any degree, the absurdity of this famous decree. (468) As it is impossible for us to do what the law requires, all whose hearts are really and deeply imbued with the principle of the fear of God must necessarily be overwhelmed with despair, so long as they think themselves bound to enumerate all their sins, in order to their being pardoned; and those who imagine they can disburden themselves of their sins in this way must be persons altogether stupid. I know that some explain these words in a different sense, viewing them as a prayer, in which David beseeches God, by the guidance of his Holy Spirit, to recover him from all his errors. But, in my opinion, they are to be viewed rather as a prayer for forgiveness, and what follows in the next verse is a prayer for the aid of the Holy Spirit, and for success to overcome temptations.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary


‘Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.’

Psalms 19:12

David does not merely mean what are hidden from other people, secret from the eye of the world. He means those which he himself is ignorant of. This is the gist of the prayer. It is like the petition in our Litany when we call upon God to forgive us our sins, negligences, and ignorances. But how is it possible that when a man does wrong without knowing that it is wrong, God can be so very angry? Does not the very fact that he is ignorant take away the guilt? One often hears people speak so. Yet, surely it must be from want of thought. If we do a wrong act, the act is wrong all the same whether we know it or not. It is a different kind of sin from what it would have been if we had done it presumptuously and of full choice—but it is wrong all the same. Do not such things as these want forgiving? Is there no guilt here?

There is yet another consideration which comes in upon this subject: namely, that we might know better; the very ignorance which some people fancy excuses their doing wrong is itself a sin. Nobody need be ignorant. Many of those who profess and call themselves Christians seem to forget this. David knew it. This psalm shows that he knew it. What is God’s Word given us for but for this very purpose, that we should not be ignorant? Ignorance means neglect of God’s Holy Spirit; and neglect of the Spirit is a sin. The sins which we do without knowing them not only show what we are, they also show that we have refused God’s help to make us better. It was a sin of ignorance that crucified the Lord of Glory. That shows what sins of ignorance may come to. After that let no one say there can be no harm in what we do wrong if only we did not know it.

Are there no Christians now that need this prayer? Brethren, do not we need it? The Jews of old had their Sin-offering to bring it home to them day by day that sins of ignorance were of all others the sins which most showed how much they needed repentance and forgiveness. Christ, our Sin-offering, brought to His Cross by the most stupendous sin of ignorance the world has seen, sets before us the awful deadly nature of sins of ignorance. There upon that Cross we see the height which our sins of ignorance may reach to—secret sins—sins we do not even know are sins at all. David had learned the lesson, when he prayed ‘Cleanse Thou me from my secret faults.’ God grant that we may learn it, and daily say that prayer in our Litany with deeper earnestness—‘Forgive us our ignorances.’—Amen.

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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Psalms 19:12 Who can understand [his] errors? cleanse thou me from secret [faults].

Ver. 12. Who can understand his errors?] This David speaketh doubtless out of a deep sense of his own imperfections and defects in what the law (so much by him commended) requireth; and to prevent mistakes, lest any man, hearing him speak of great reward, should think that heaven may be merited and salvation attained by a man’s own righteousness. No such matter, believe it, saith holy David, I have neither done the law nor deserved the reward, but do fly to God by prayer; and three things I have to beg of him: First, That he would graciously pardon my secret sins and errors, unknown to myself, or at least to others. Secondly, That he would keep me from proud and presumptuous sins, Psalms 19:13. Thirdly, That he would bridle my tongue and mind from speaking, or but thinking, aught that may be offensive to his majesty, Psalms 19:14. For the first of these, Humanum est, errare et ignorare suum, It is incident to every man to err, and then to be ignorant of his errors (Jun.). Certain it is, that our lives are fuller of sins than the firmament is of stars, or the furnace of sparks. And if the best man’s faults were written in his forehead, it would make him pull his hat over his eyes, as the proverb hath it. David here seeth such volumes of corruptions in his heart, and so many foul erratas in his life, that he cannot but cry out, Who can understand, &c., O cleanse, &c. The most perfect saints are the most sensible of their imperfections; as the more delicate the senses are the more sharply are they affected with what offends them, Romans 7:14, 1 Corinthians 15:9-10. Alas for us (saith one good man)! Ipsae lachrymae sunt lachrymabiles; we had need to weep over our tears, sigh over our sobs, mourn over our griefs, &c. Look how when we have swept a room never so clean (saith Spinaeus, De Instit. Christian.), if the sun do but come into it at the windows, we soon espy abundance of filthy motes, mingled with the beams thereof; so is it with our hearts, when once enlightened. What a blind buzzard then was he that said, Non habeo, Domine, quod mihi ignoscas, Lord, I have nothing for thee to pardon! And no wiser was Bellarmine, that great scholar, but ill read in his own heart, if that be true that is reported of him, viz. that when the priest came to absolve him, he could not remember any particular sin to confess till he went back in his thoughts as far as his youth. Of Philip III, king of Spain, it is said, that he lived so strictly that he never committed any gross crime or wilful wickedness; yet coming to die, he cried out, Oh that I had never reigned! Oh that I had lived a private life in the wilderness, that I might not have now to answer for not doing the good or hindering the evil that I might have done in my government! (Val. Max. Christ. 263).

Cleanse thou me from secret faults] Secret from myself, many of them (sins of ignorance and of inadvertency), secret from the world, more of them, heart sins, but not secret from the Lord, Psalms 90:8, Hebrews 4:13. These are of daily and hourly incursion, involuntary and unavoidable infirmities, yet are they sins properly so called; and we must be cleansed from them by the merit and Spirit of Christ; they must be repented of in general at least; and then there is a pardon of course for them, and they do not usually distract and plunge the conscience.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Sermon Bible Commentary

Psalms 19:12

I. How is it that sin possesses the power of deceiving; that, being foul, it can often look so fair, or where it cannot conceal altogether, can yet conceal to so large an extent, its native hideousness? I need hardly answer that it derives this power altogether from ourselves. There is that in every one of us which is always ready to take the part of sin, to plead for sin, to be upon sin's side, sin having a natural correspondence and affinity with everything which is corrupt and fallen within us. There is (1) our love of ease; (2) our love of pleasure; (3) our pride. All the pride as well as all the passions of man are enlisted on the side of sin.

II. How shall we deliver ourselves from these sorceries of sin? How shall we understand our errors, or at least understand that we can never understand them to the full, and thus seek of God that He would cleanse us from them? (1) Grasp with a full and firm faith the blessed truth of the one sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction made for your sins. (2) Remember that He who made that atonement for your sins, and so enabled you to look them in the face—for they are sins not imputed any more—is also the Giver of the Spirit, of that Spirit which convinces us of sin, of righteousness, of judgment to come. Ask of God, and ask earnestly, and ask continually, for this convincing Spirit.

R. C. Trench, Sermons Preached in Ireland, p. 36.

I. The most ready method of convincing ourselves of the existence in us of faults unknown to ourselves is to consider how plainly we see the secret faults of others.

II. Consider the actual disclosures of our hidden weakness which accidents occasion. We cannot tell how we should act if brought under temptations different from those which we have hitherto experienced. This thought should keep us humble. We are sinners, but we do not know how great. He alone knows who died for our sins.

III. What if we do not know ourselves even where we have been tried and found faithful? Faithful Abraham, through want of faith, denied his wife. Moses, the meekest of men, was excluded from the land of promise for a passionate word. The wisdom of Solomon was seduced to bow down to idols.

IV. No one begins to examine himself and to pray to know himself, like David in the text, but he finds within him an abundance of faults which before were either entirely or almost entirely unknown to him.

V. But let a man persevere in prayer and watchfulness to the day of his death, yet he will never get to the bottom of his heart. Doubtless we must all endure that fiery and terrifying vision of our real selves, that last fiery trial of the soul before its acceptance, a spiritual agony and second death to all who are not then supported by the strength of Him who died to bring them safe through it, and in whom on earth they have believed.

VI. Call to mind the impediments that are in the way of our knowing ourselves. (1) Self-knowledge requires an effort and a work. (2) Self-love answers for our safety. (3) This favourable judgment of ourselves will specially prevail if we have the misfortune to have uninterrupted health, and high spirits, and domestic comfort. (4) The force of habit makes sins once known become secret sins. (5) To the force of habit must be added that of custom. The most religious men, unless they are specially watchful, will feel the sway of the fashion of their age, and suffer from it, as Lot in wicked Sodom, though unconsciously. (6) Our chief guide amid the evil and seducing customs of the world is obviously the Bible. "The world passeth away; but the word of the Lord endureth for ever." How much extended then, and strengthened, necessarily must be this secret dominion of sin over us when we consider how little we read Scripture! (7) To think of these things, and to be alarmed, is the first step towards acceptable obedience; to be at ease is to be unsafe. We must know what the evil of sin is hereafter if we do not learn it here.

J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. i., p. 41.

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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Psalms 19:12. Who can understand his errors? While we praise and adore God for his mercies, it seems impossible to forget one great circumstance which affects both them and ourselves; I mean, how undeserved they are: It is a reflection which, like the pillar of the cloud that waited on the Israelites, casts light and beauty upon the mercies of God, and darkness and confusion of face upon ourselves. Can we help thinking, that, notwithstanding God has thus secured and hedged us about with a law which is perfect, with commandments that are pure, yet still our own weakness is perpetually betraying us into error; our folly or our wickedness driving us into sins more in number than either we can or, too often, care to remember? The royal Psalmist saw the justness of this reflection; and, while his heart glowed with the sense of God's unbounded mercies, he turned short upon himself with this complaint, Who can understand his errors? This complaint is followed by a fervent prayer to God for pardon and protection: From the prospect of the power and goodness of God, and our own weakness and misery, the soul

[through divine grace] easily melts into sorrow and devotion; lamenting what it feels, and deploring what it wants, from the hand which only is able to save and to redeem. Cleanse thou me from secret faults. He calls his faults secret, not with design to extenuate his crimes, or as if he thought the actions he had now in view of so doubtful a nature, that it was not easily to be judged whether they should be placed among the sinful or the indifferent circumstances of his life; and therefore, if they were faults, they were secret ones, such as stole from him without the consent and approbation of his mind; but secret he calls them, with respect to their number. So often had he offended, that his memory was too frail to keep an exact register of all his errors. But though they were secret to him, yet well he knew that God had placed them in the light of his countenance; and therefore, though he could neither number nor confess them, he begs that they might not be imputed to, or rise up in judgment against his soul. This sense is well expressed in our old translation: Who can tell how oft he offendeth? Oh cleanse thou me from my secret faults! Bishop Sherlock.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary

This forms a most beautiful break and interruption to the Psalmist's devout contemplation. It comes in with a striking demand upon the heart, as if under a consciousness that having such discoveries made of Jesus and his preciousness, how inexcusable it must be in any soul to overlook and forget him. And hence he cries out, Who can tell, in the multiplied instances of his own transgressions, these particulars? Reader! recollect, how secret soever or unknown in numberless occasions to ourselves, yet our sins are all open and naked to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Oh! what a relief to the soul is that scripture, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth from all sin. 1 John 1:7.

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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". 1828.

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture



Psalms 19:12.

The contemplation of the ‘perfect law, enlightening the eyes,’ sends the Psalmist to his knees. He is appalled by his own shortcomings, and feels that, beside all those of which he is aware, there is a region, as yet unilluminated by that law, where evil things nestle and breed.

The Jewish ritual drew a broad distinction between inadvertent-whether involuntary or ignorant-and deliberate sins; providing atonement for the former, not for the latter. The word in my text rendered ‘errors’ is closely connected with that which in the Levitical system designates the former class of transgressions; and the connection between the two clauses of the text, as well as that with the subsequent verse, distinctly shows that the ‘secret faults’ of the one clause are substantially synonymous with the ‘errors’ of the other.

They are, then, not sins hidden from men, whether because they have been done quietly in a corner, and remain undetected, or because they have only been in thought, never passing into act. Both of these pages are dark in every man’s memory. Who is there that could reveal himself to men? who is there that could bear the sight of a naked soul? But the Psalmist is thinking of a still more solemn fact, that, beyond the range of conscience and consciousness, there are evils in us all. It may do us good to ponder his discovery that he had undiscovered sins, and to take for ours his prayer, ‘Cleanse Thou me from secret faults.’

I. So I ask you to look with me, briefly, first, at the solemn fact here, that there are in every man sins of which the doer is unaware.

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. It is the very characteristic of all evil that it has a strange power of deceiving a man as to its real character; like the cuttle-fish, that squirts out a cloud of ink and so escapes in the darkness and the dirt. The more a man goes wrong the less he knows it. Conscience is loudest when it is least needed, and most silent when most required.

Then, besides that, there is a great part of every one’s life which is mechanical, instinctive, and all but involuntary. Habits and emotions and passing impulses very seldom come into men’s consciousness, and an enormously large proportion of everybody’s life is done with the minimum of attention, and is as little remembered as it is observed.

Then, besides that, conscience wants educating. You see that on a large scale, for instance, in the history of the slow progress which Christian principle has made in leavening the world’s thinkings. It took eighteen centuries to teach the Church that slavery was unchristian. The Church has not yet learned that war is unchristian, and it is only beginning to surmise that possibly Christian principle may have something to say in social questions, and in the determination, for example, of the relations of capital and labour, and of wealth and poverty. The very same slowness of apprehension and gradual growth in the education of conscience, and in the perception of the application of Christian principles to duty, applies to the individual as to the Church.

Then, besides that, we are all biassed in our own favour, and what, when another man says it, is ‘flat blasphemy,’ we think, when we say it, is only ‘a choleric word.’ We have fine names for our own vices, and ugly ones for the very same vices in other people. David will flare up into generous and sincere indignation about the man that stole the poor man’s ewe lamb, but he has not the ghost of a notion that he has been doing the very same thing himself. And so we bribe our consciences as well as neglect them, and they need to be educated.

Thus, down below every life there lies a great dim region of habits and impulses and fleeting emotions, into which it is the rarest thing for a man to go with a candle in his hand to see what it is like.

But I can imagine a man saying, ‘Well, if I do not know that I am doing wrong, how can it be a sin?’ In answer to that, I would say that, thank God! ignorance diminishes criminality, but ignorance does not alter the nature of the deed. Take a simple illustration. Here is a man who, all unconsciously to himself, is allowing worldly prosperity to sap his Christian character. He does not know that the great current of his life has been turned aside, as it were, by that sluice, and is taken to drive the wheels of his mill, and that there is only a miserable little trickle coming down the river bed. Is he any less guilty because he does not know? Is he not the more so, because he might and would have known if he had thought and felt right? Or, here is another man who has the habit of letting his temper get the better of him. He calls it ‘stern adherence to principle,’ or ‘righteous indignation’; and he thinks himself very badly used when other people ‘drive him’ so often into a temper. Other people know, and he might know, if he would be honest with himself, that, for all his fine names, it is nothing else than passion. Is he any the less guilty because of his ignorance? It is plain enough that, whilst ignorance, if it is absolute and inevitable, does diminish criminality to the vanishing point, the ignorance of our own faults which most of us display is neither absolute nor inevitable; and therefore, though it may, thank God! diminish, it does not destroy our guilt. ‘She wipeth her mouth and saith, I have done no harm’: was she, therefore, chaste and pure? In all our hearts there are many vermin lurking beneath the stones, and they are none the less poisonous because they live and multiply in the dark. ‘I know nothing against myself, yet am I not hereby justified. But he that judgeth me is the Lord.’

II. Now, secondly, let me ask you to look at the special perilousness of these hidden faults.

As with a blight upon a rose-tree, the little green creatures lurk on the underside of the leaves, and in all the folds of the buds, and because unseen, they increase with alarming rapidity. The very fact that we have faults in our characters, which everybody sees but ourselves, makes it certain that they will grow unchecked, and so will prove terribly perilous. The small things of life are the great things of life. For a man’s character is made up of them, and of their results, striking inwards upon himself. A wine-glassful of water with one drop of mud in it may not be much obscured, but if you come to multiply it into a lakeful, you will have muddy waves that reflect no heavens, and show no gleaming stars.

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.’

III. Notice the discipline, or practical issues, to which such considerations should lead.

To begin with, they ought to take down our self-complacency, if we have any, and to make us feel that, after all, our characters are very poor things. If men praise us, let us try to remember what it will be good for us to remember, too, when we are tempted to praise ourselves-the underworld of darkness which each of us carries about within us.

Further, let me press upon you two practical points. This whole set of contemplations should make us practise a very rigid and close self-inspection. There will always be much that will escape our observation-we shall gradually grow to know more and more of it-but there can be no excuse for that which I fear is a terribly common characteristic of the professing Christianity of this day-the all but entire absence of close inspection of one’s own character and conduct. I know very well that it is not a wholesome thing for a man to be always poking in his own feelings and emotions. I know also that, in a former generation, there was far too much introspection, instead of looking to Jesus Christ and forgetting self. I do not believe that self-examination, directed to the discovery of reasons for trusting the sincerity of my own faith, is a good thing. But I do believe that, without the practice of careful weighing of ourselves, there will be very little growth in anything that is noble and good.

The old Greeks used to preach, ‘Know thyself.’ It was a high behest, and very often a very vain-glorious one. A man’s best means of knowing what he is, is to take stock of what he does. If you will put your conduct through the sieve, you will come to a pretty good understanding of your character. ‘He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls,’ into which all enemies can leap unhindered, and out from which all things that will may pass. Do you set guards at the gates and watch yourselves with all carefulness.

Then, again, I would say we must try to diminish as much as possible the mere instinctive and habitual and mechanical part of our lives, and to bring, as far as we can, every action under the conscious dominion of principle. The less we live by impulse, and the more we live by intelligent reflection, the better it will be for us. The more we can get habit on the side of goodness, the better; but the more we break up our habits, and make each individual action the result of a special volition of the spirit guided by reason and conscience, the better for us all.

Then, again, I would say, set yourselves to educate your consciences. They need that. 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.

And, still further, compare yourselves constantly with your model. Do as the art students do in a gallery, take your poor daub right into the presence of the masterpiece, and go over it line by line and tint by tint. Get near Jesus Christ that you may learn your duty from Him, and you will find out many of the secret sins.

And, lastly, let us ask God to cleanse us.

My text, as translated in the Revised Version, says, ‘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.

He will deliver us from the power of these secret faults, giving to us that divine Spirit which is ‘the candle of the Lord,’ to search us, and to convince of our sins, and to drag our evil into the light; and giving us the help without which we can never overcome. 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 hilltop, and neither of them are 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.

They will all be manifested some day. The time comes when He shall bring to light the hidden things and darkness and the counsels of men’s hearts. There will be surprises on both hands of the Judge. Some on the right, astonished, will say, ‘Lord, when saw we Thee?’ and some on the left, smitten to confusion and surprise, will say, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name?’ Let us go to Him with the prayer, ‘Search me, O God! and try me; and see if there be any wicked way in me; and lead me in the way everlasting.’

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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Who can understand? this may be here added, either,

1. As a further proof of the excellency and necessity of God’s law, because men’s errors are so many and hard to be discovered and prevented, that they indispensably need such a friend and counsellot as the law is, to give them the true knowledge of themselves and of their sins. Or,

2. As a just and sorrowful censure of himself, upon the consideration of the exact purity of God’s law, and the comparing of his life with it. Thy law, O Lord, is holy, and just, and good. But I am a poor sinful wretch, falling infinitely short of it, and condemned by it. Or,

3. As a signification of the insufficiency of God’s law, strictly so called, for the healing and saving of men’s souls, and of the necessity of further supplies of the gospel and grace of God; whereby the eyes of their minds may be enlightened to see that light which shines in God’s law, and their hearts may be renewed to yield universal obedience to it, for which therefore he prays in the following words. And withal, he implies that he did not expect that reward which he last mentioned as a just recompence to his obedience, which he confesseth to need a pardon more than to deserve a reward, but only as an effect of God’s grace and goodness.

His errors; either,

1. His sins of ignorance, of which this word is used, Leviticus 4:2,22,27 Ec 5:6. Or rather,

2. His sins in general, (which afterwards he divides into secret and presumptuous sins,) or all deviations from God’s law, which are thus called, 1 Samuel 26:21 Psalms 119:67,118 Heb 9:7 James 5:20. The sense is, I cannot comprehend the numbers, or the several kinds, or all the heinous aggravations of my sins.

Cleanse thou me; both by justification, or the pardon of my sins, through the blood of thy Son, which is to be shed for me; and by sanctification through thy Holy Spirit, co-working in and with thy word, to the further renovation of my heart and life for these are the two ways of cleansing sinners most frequently mentioned both in the Old and New Testament: though the first may seem to be principally, if not only, intended, because he speaks of his past sins, which could be cleansed no other way but by remission.

From secret faults, i.e. from the guilt of such sins as were secret, either,

1. From others; such as none knows but God and my own conscience: or,

2. From myself; such as I never observed, or did not discern the evil of. Pardon my unknown sins, of which I never repented particularly, as I should have done.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

‘Who can discern his errors?

Clear me from hidden faults.’

But the Psalmist admits that although he delights in Yahweh’s Instruction there are still errors and sins in his life that he is not easily aware of. For he is so sinful that even God’s Instruction cannot cover all his sins. So he prays that he may be cleansed from what is hidden, his faults of which he is not aware. He wants God to put him in the right before Him because he himself, as far as he is able, looks to Him and lives according to His word.

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

12. Errors—The radical idea of the word is, to wander, go astray, rove; used often of unconscious sins, (sins of ignorance,) as Leviticus 4:2. These are difficult to detect. The Hebrew is very emphatic: As to his wanderings, who can know them?

Secret faults—Sins of ignorance. The law of Moses prescribed atonement for such, after they should come to the knowledge of the person. Leviticus 4; Leviticus 5:15-19; Numbers 15:25. They belonged to the lowest class of offences; yet, if persisted in after knowledge, they became wilful transgressions.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Psalms 19:12. Who can understand his errors? — Upon the consideration of the perfect purity of God’s law, and the comparing of his spirit and conduct with it, he is led to make a penitent reflection upon his sins. Is the commandment thus holy, just, and good? then who can understand his errors? Lord, I am a sinful creature, and fall infinitely short of the demands of thy law, and am condemned by it. Cleanse thou me — Both by justification, or the pardon of my sins, through the blood of thy Son, which is in due time to be shed for me; and by sanctification through thy Holy Spirit, working in and with thy word, to the further renovation of my heart and life. For these are the two ways of cleansing sinners most frequently spoken of, both in the Old and New Testament: though the first may seem to be principally, if not only intended, because he speaks of his past sins, from which he could be cleansed no other way but my remission. From secret faults — From the guilt of such sins as were secret, either from others, such as none knows but God and my own conscience; or from myself, such as I never observed, or did not discern the evil of. Pardon my unknown sins, of which I never repented particularly, as I should have done.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

understand = discern.

his. Not in Hebrew text.

errors = wanderings. Like those of the "planets" (= wanderers).

Cleanse = clear, or acquit. Hebrew. nakah.

secret = hidden things; things that are not discerned.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.

His errors , [ sh

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(12) His eulogium on the Law was not Pharisaic or formal, for the poet instantly gives expression to his sense of his own inability to keep it. If before we were reminded of St. Paul’s, “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good,” (Romans 7:12), his own spiritual experience, contained in the same chapter, is here recalled: “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil that I would not, that I do.”

Who can understand.—In the original the abruptness of the question is very marked and significant. Errors who marks? From unconscious ones clear me, i.e., pronounce me innocent, not cleanse, as in Authorised Version.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.
40:12; Job 6:24; Isaiah 64:6; 1 Corinthians 4:4; Hebrews 9:7
51:5-10; 65:3; 1 John 1:7
90:8; 139:2,23,24; Leviticus 4:2-35; Jeremiah 17:9

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

Ver. 12. Errors, who can mark them? From those which are secret, acquit me. The first clause discloses the depth of human depravity, which draws even believers into many failings. Berleb. Bible: "Who can mark them? Who knows them all, and is able to number them? Who can keep so sharp a watch, as to mark how often something of the old proud disposition springs up against the new nature of the spirit of faith?"

The second clause grounds upon this the prayer for forgiveness; the necessity for which rests upon the fact, that sin everywhere cleaves to us, appearing in the subtlest forms, scarcely discernible by the human eye, in many ways disguises itself, and assumes the appearance of good. Did sin possess only a gross character, we might satisfy ourselves with a simple "Lead us not into temptation;" but as it is able also to assume a refined shape, and become invisible, we need besides to pray, "Forgive us our transgressions."

It is not sins generally, but a special kind of sins, for which David begs the Divine forgiveness,—those which cleave even to believers, and consequently persons well-inclined,—sins of infirmity. שגיאה is= שְׁגָגָה of the law,—for ex. Leviticus 4:2, error, peccatum per imprudentiam commissum,—and נסתרית, concealed sins, are such as have no gross corpus delicti connected with them, belong mainly to the sphere of the spirit, to thought or feeling, and withdraw themselves from the observation of others, and more or less also from one's own. That these are mainly to be thought of, is evident from the relation in which נסתרית stands to מי יבין,—equivalent to, "since the failings are so numerous and delicate that no one can mark them all, do Thou acquit me of those concealed sins, which, by their very subtlety, render their entire extirpation impossible." נקני, according to Stier and others, must signify not only forgiveness, but also internal purification. But it was justly remarked even by S. Schmidt, that "it is a judicial term, and means acquittal. For original sin is not extirpated in this world, but forgiven." נִקָּה always signifies, "to declare innocent, to acquit," never, "to make innocent;" nor can it possibly do so, for one may well indeed be blameless (Psalms 19:13), but cannot be made so otherwise, than in the sense of being acquitted.

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 19:12". Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.

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