Taken and adapted from a sermon delivered on Sabbath morning, February 8, 1857, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.
Written by, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)
“Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.”
I AM going after a certain class of men who have sins not unknown to themselves…
…but secret to their fellow creatures. Every now and then, we turn up a fair stone that lies upon the green earth of the professing church, surrounded with the healthiness of apparent goodness; and to our astonishment, we find beneath it all kinds of filthy insects and loathsome reptiles. In our disgust at such hypocrisy, we are driven to exclaim, “All men are liars; there are none in whom we can put any trust at all!” It is not fair to say so of all, but really, the discoveries that are made of the insincerity of our fellow-creatures are enough to make us despise our kind because they can go so far in appearances, yet have so little soundness of heart. To you, sirs, who sin secretly and yet make a profession: you break God’s covenants in the dark and wear a mask of goodness in the light—to you, sirs, who shut the doors and commit wickedness in secret—to you I shall speak this morning. O may God also be pleased to speak to you and make you pray this prayer: “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” I shall endeavor to urge upon all pretenders present to give up, to renounce, to detest, to hate, to abhor all their secret sins.
FIRST, THEN, THE FOLLY OF SECRET SINS.
Pretender, thou art fair to look upon—thy conduct outwardly upright, amiable, liberal, generous, and Christian. But thou dost indulge in some sin that the eye of man has not yet detected. Perhaps it is private drunkenness. Thou dost revile the drunkard when he staggers through the street; but thou canst thyself indulge in the same habit in private. It may be some other lust or vice. It is not for me just now to mention what it is. But, pretender, we say unto thee, “Thou art a fool to think of harboring a secret sin, and thou art a fool for this one reason: thy sin is not a secret sin. It is known and shall one day be revealed—perhaps very soon. Thy sin is not a secret: the eye of God hath seen it. Thou hast sinned before His face. Thou hast shut-to the door, drawn the curtains, and kept out the eye of the sun. But God’s eye pierceth through the darkness: the brick walls that surrounded thee were as transparent as glass to the eye of the Almighty. The darkness that did gird thee was as bright as the summer’s noon to the eye of Him Who beholdeth all things. Knowest thou not, O man, that “all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13)?
As the priest ran his knife into the entrails of his victim, discovered the heart and liver and what else did lie within, so art thou, O man, seen by God, cut open by the Almighty. Thou hast no secret chamber where thou canst hide thyself. Thou hast no dark cellar where thou canst conceal thy soul. Dig deep, ay, deep as hell, but thou canst not find earth enough upon the globe to cover thy sin. If thou should heap the mountains on its grave, those mountains would tell the tale of what was buried in their bowels. If thou could cast thy sin into the sea, a thousand babbling waves would tell the secret out. There is no hiding it from God! Thy sin is photographed in high heaven. The deed, when it was done, was photographed upon the sky; and there it shall remain. Thou shalt see thyself one day revealed to the gazing eyes of all men—a hypocrite, a pretender who didst sin in fancied secret, observed in all thine acts by the all-seeing Jehovah. O what fools men are to think they can do anything in secret! This world is as the glass hives wherein bees sometimes work: we look down upon them, and we see all the operations of the little creatures. So God looks down and sees all our eyes are weak: we cannot look through the darkness. But His eye, like an orb of fire, penetrates the blackness, reads the thought of man, and sees his acts when he thinks himself most concealed. Oh, it is a thought enough to curb us from all sin if it were truly applied to us: “Thou God seest me” (Gen 16:13)!
Stop thief! Drop thou that which thou hast taken to thyself. God sees thee! No eye of detection of earth hath discovered thee, but God’s eyes are now looking through the clouds upon thee. Swearer! Scarce any for whom thou carest heard thy oath; but God heard it. It entered into the ears of the Lord God of Hosts. And [thee] who leads a filthy life and yet art a respectable merchant bearing among men a fair and goodly character: thy vices are all known, written in God’s book. He keeps a diary of all thine acts. What wilt thou think on that Day when a crowd shall be assembled, compared with which this immense multitude is but a drop of a bucket? God shall read out the story of thy secret life, and men and angels shall hear it! Certain I am there are none of us who would like to have all our secrets read, especially our secret thoughts. If I should select out of this congregation the most holy man, should bring him forward, and say, “Now, sir, I know all your thoughts and am about to tell them,” I am sure he would offer me the largest bribe that he could gather if I would be pleased to conceal at least some of them. “Tell,” he would say, “of my acts; of them I am not ashamed; but do not tell my thoughts and imaginations—of them I must ever stand ashamed before God.” What then, sinner, will be thy shame when thy privy lusts, thy closet transgressions, thy secret crimes shall be trumpeted from God’s throne, [and] published by His own mouth with a voice louder than a thousand thunders preached in the ears of an assembled world? What will be thy terror and confusion then, when all the deeds thou hast done shall be published in the face of the sun, in the ears of all mankind? O renounce the foolish hope of heresy; for thy sin is this day recorded and shall one day be advertised upon the walls of heaven.
IN THE NEXT PLACE, LET US NOTICE THE MISERY OF SECRET SINS.
Of all sinners, the man who makes a profession of religion and yet lives in iniquity is the most miserable. A downright wicked man who takes a glass in his hand and says, “I am a drunkard. I am not ashamed of it,” shall be unutterably miserable in worlds to come. But brief though it be, he has his hour of pleasure. A man who curses and swears and says, “That is my habit. I am a profane man,” and makes a profession of it, he has, at least, some peace in his soul. But the man who walks with God’s minister, who is united with God’s Church, who comes out before God’s people and unites with them, and then lives in sin—what a miserable existence he must have of it! Why, he has a worse existence than the mouse that is in the parlor, running out now and then to pick up the crumbs, and then back again to his hole. Such men must run out now and then to sin. Oh! How fearful they are to be discovered! One day, perhaps, their character turns up; with wonderful cunning, they manage to conceal and gloss it over. But the next day something else comes, and they live in constant fear, telling lie after lie to make the last lie appear truthful, adding deception to deception in order that they may not be discovered…
If I must be a wicked man, give me the life of a roistering sinner who sins before the face of day. But, if I must sin, let me not act as a hypocrite and a coward! Let me not profess to be God’s and spend my life for the devil. That way of cheating the devil is a thing that every honest sinner will be ashamed of. He will say, “Now, if I do serve [the devil], I will serve him out and out. I will have no sham about it. If I make a profession [of Christ], I will carry it out. But if I do not—if I live in sin—I am not going to gloss it over by cant and hypocrisy.” One thing that has hamstrung the Church and cut her very sinews in twain has been this most damnable hypocrisy. Oh! In how many places have we men whom you might praise to the very skies, if you could believe their words, but whom you might cast into the nethermost pit if you could see their secret actions! God forgive any of you who are so acting! I had almost said, “I can scarce forgive you.” I can forgive the man who riots openly and makes no profession of being better. But the man who fawns, cants, pretends, prays, and then lives in sin, that man I hate—I cannot bear him, I abhor him from my very soul. If he will turn from his ways, I will love him. But in his hypocrisy, he is to me the most loathsome of all creatures…A mere profession, my hearers, is but painted pageantry to go to hell in! It is like the plumes upon the hearse and the trappings upon the black horses that drag men to their graves, the funeral array of dead souls. Take heed above everything of a waxen profession that will not stand the sun. Take care of all that needs to have two faces to carry it out: be one thing or else the other. If you make up your mind to serve Satan, do not pretend to serve God! If you serve God, serve Him with all your heart. “No man can serve two masters” (Mat 6:24). Do not try it; do not endeavor to do it, for no life will be more miserable than that. Above all, beware of committing acts that it will be necessary to conceal…
Secret sins bring fevered eyes and sleepless nights until men burn out their consciences and become in very deed ripe for the pit. Hypocrisy is a hard game to play at: it is one deceiver against many observers; [certainly] it is a miserable trade that will earn at last, as its certain climax, a tremendous bankruptcy. Ah! Ye who have sinned without discovery, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23); and bethink you, it may find you out ere long. Sin, like murder, will come out. Men will even tell tales about themselves in their dreams. God has sometimes made men so pricked in their consciences that they have been obliged to stand forth and confess the story. Secret sinner! If thou wantest the foretaste of damnation upon earth, continue in thy secret sin! For no man is more miserable than he who sins secretly and yet tries to preserve a character. Yon stag, followed by the hungry hounds with open mouths, is far happier than the man who is followed by his sins. Yon bird, taken in the fowler’s net and laboring to escape, is far happier than he who hath weaved around himself a web of deception and labors to escape from it day by day by making the toils more thick and the web stronger. Oh! The misery of secret sins! Truly, one may pray, “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.”
BUT NOW…THE SOLEMN GUILT OF SECRET SIN.
Now, John, you do not think there is any evil in a thing unless somebody sees it, do you? You feel that it is a very great sin if your master finds you out in robbing the till; but there is no sin if he should not discover it—none at all! And you, sir, you fancy it to be very great sin to play a trick in trade, [if] you should be discovered and brought before the court. But to play a trick and never be discovered—that is all fair. “Do not say a word about it, Mr. Spurgeon! It is all business.” You must not touch business. Tricks that are not discovered, of course—you are not to find fault with them. The common measure of sin is the notoriety of it. But I do not believe in that. A sin is a sin, whether done in private or before the wide world…Do not measure sin by what other people say of it. Measure sin by what God says of it and [by] what your own conscience says of it…
Brethren, do not, I beseech you, incur the fearful guilt of secret sins. No man can sin a little in secret: it will certainly engender more sin. No man can be a hypocrite and yet be moderate in guilt. He will go from bad to worse and still proceed until his guilt shall be published. He shall be found to be the very worst and the most hardened of men. Take heed of the guilt of secret sin…“Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:24). I would…that I could make every man look to himself and find out his secret sin. Come, my hearer, what is it? Bring it forth to the daylight. Perhaps it will die in the light of the sun. These things love not to be discovered. Tell thine own conscience now what it is. Look it in the face! Confess it before God! And may He give thee grace to remove that sin and every other. Turn to Him with full purpose of heart. But know that thy guilt is guilt, [whether] discovered or undiscovered. If there be any difference, it is worse because it has been secret. God save us from the guilt of secret sin! “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.”
AND NOTE, NEXT, THE DANGER OF SECRET SIN.
One danger is that a man cannot commit a little sin in secret without being by-and-by betrayed into a public sin. You cannot, sir—though you may think you can—preserve a moderation in sin. If you commit one sin, it is like the melting of the lower glacier upon the Alps: the others must follow in time. As certainly as you heap one stone upon the grave today, the next day you will cast another, until the heap, reared stone by stone, shall become a very pyramid…Sin cannot be held in with bit and bridle. “But I am going to have a little drink now and then; I am only going to be intoxicated once a week or so. Nobody will see it; I shall be in bed directly.” You will be drunk in the streets soon. “I am only just going to read one lascivious book; I will put it under the sofa-cover when any one comes in.” You will keep it in your library yet, sir. “I am only going into that company now and then.” You will go there every day—such is the bewitching character of it. You cannot help it. You may as well ask the lion to let you put your head into his mouth. You cannot regulate his jaws; neither can you regulate sin. Once go into it, you cannot tell when you will be destroyed…You may labor to conceal your vicious habit, but it will come out. You cannot help it. You keep your little pet sin at home, but mark this: when the door is ajar, the dog will be out in the street. Wrap him up in your bosom, put over him fold after fold of hypocrisy to keep him secret, and the wretch will be singing some day when you are in company…
A man who indulges in sin privately gets his forehead as hard as brass by degrees. The first time he sinned, the drops of sweat stood on his brow at the recollection of what he had done. The second time, no hot sweat [stood] on his brow, only an agitation of the muscle. The third time, there was the sly, sneaky look, but no agitation. The next time, he sinned a little further. And by degrees, he became the bold blasphemer of his God, who exclaimed, “Who am I that I should fear Jehovah, and who is He that I should serve Him?” Men go from bad to worse. Launch your boat in the current: it must go where the current takes it. Put yourself in the whirlwind: you are but a straw in the wind; you must go which way the wind carries you, for you cannot control yourself. The balloon can mount, but it cannot direct its course: it must go whichever way the wind blows. If you once mount into sin, there is no stopping. Take heed if you would not become the worst of characters! Take heed of the little sins: they, mounting one upon another, may at last heave you from the summit and destroy your soul forever. There is a great danger in secret sins.
But I have here some true Christians who indulge in secret sins. They say it is but a little one, and therefore do they spare it. Dear brethren, I speak to you, and I speak to myself when I say this: Let us destroy all our little secret sins. They are called “little”; and if they be, let us remember that it is the foxes, even the little foxes that spoil our vines (Song of Solomon 2:15). For our vines have tender shoots. Let us take heed of our little sins. A little sin, like a little pebble in the shoe, will make a traveler to heaven walk very wearily. Little sins, like little thieves, may open the door to greater ones outside. Christians, recollect that little sins will spoil your communion with Christ. Little sins, like little stains in silk, may damage the fine texture of fellowship. Little sins, like little irregularities in the machinery, may spoil the whole fabric of your religion. The one dead fly spoileth the whole pot of ointment. That one thistle may seed a continent with noxious weeds. Let us, brethren, kill our sins as often as we can find them. One said, “The heart is full of unclean birds; it is a cage of them.” “Ah, but,” said another divine, “you must not make that an apology, for a Christian’s business is to wring their necks.” And so it is: if there be evil things [in the heart], it is our business to kill them. Christians must not tolerate secret sins. We must not harbor traitors. It is high treason against the King of Heaven. Let us drag them out to light and offer them upon the altar, giving up the dearest of our secret sins at the will and bidding of God. There is a great danger in a little secret sin. Therefore avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it and shun it (Pro 4:15); and God give thee grace to overcome it.
Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892): English Baptist preacher; his sermons fill 63 volumes and include 20–25 million words, the largest set of books by a single author in the history of Christianity; born at Kelvedon, Essex, England.
Take heed of secret sins. They will undo thee if loved and maintained: one moth may spoil the garment; one leak drown the ship; a penknife stab will kill a man as well as a sword. So one sin may damn the soul.—Jeremiah Burroughs