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Online Text Sermon - Knowing Our Own Faults, Psalm 19 v.12

PreacherMr. Matthew Vogan, Edinburgh
Sermon TitleKnowing Our Own Faults
TextPsalm 19 v.12
Sermon ID174

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"Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults" (Psalm 19, 12).





Do you know the truth about yourself? The Word of God tells us that the only way to know the truth about ourselves is to know the truth about God. Isaiah found this when he entered into the temple of God and he saw the thrice-holy God exalted in majesty and glory. In the face of such knowledge, he found the true knowledge of himself and he had to cry out, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6, 5). Peter too found this knowledge when he saw an insight into the glory and the majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ. He had to say, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man" (Luke 5, 8).

We might ask: is this true knowledge only to be found in the actual presence of God? Scripture tells us that we may find the true knowledge of God, and therefore the true knowledge of ourselves, in the Word of God as we find God Himself revealed to us. The apostle Paul found that in Romans 7 - where he had to cry out in the face of the law of God, seeing the holiness of God in the law as the transcript of God's character - he had to cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7, 24). Indeed, David too found this knowledge in the Word of God - in the law of God. He too had to cry out, perhaps not so much in despair but in painful knowledge of himself, "Who can understand his errors?" (text)

"Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults" (Psalm 19, 12). David has been looking at the glory of God in the heavens and he finds the glory of God and His holiness in His Word and in His law. He finds that it exposes himself and that the light of God's glory reflects upon himself, upon his own soul. He finds this principle and this truth:


If you were to test the truth of God's Word upon your friends and neighbours by showing them faithfully from Scripture their sinfulness and that they are sinners; they would rather reject the law of God and the Word of God and call God a liar than expose themselves as sinful. This shows us that without God's Word you surely cannot understand your errors. Without God's Word and without the ministry of God's Word and His Spirit, it is impossible to understand our errors. Paul says that he was alive once without the law, he was living. He felt that he was righteous but then the law came and the law smote him in his conscience and he died (Romans 7:8-11).

There was once a French soldier in the awful horror of the trenches during the 1st World War. He decided to write down many sayings and portions of philosophers, that they might comfort him and keep him throughout the tragedy of that time. He kept this little notebook throughout the war. When peacetime came and he sat down again in the cold light of day to read the book which was supposed to mean much to him, he found it brought him no comfort. It left him cold. However, that same day, by God's providence, his wife was in the town and, hastening away from the heat and bustle of the market place, she sought a place of rest. She went up a side alley, and then up a staircase and entered into a room. She realised that she had entered into a Protestant church. There was a man there whom she asked for a Bible. Nervously, she took the Bible home and told her husband about it. He said "Show it to me! I have neve seen a Bible before." As he read it, and continued in reading it he found that he could throw away his notebook of philosophers' sayings. He said, "This is the Book that understands me. Not my notebook, not the wisdom of men but this Book which is the wisdom of God, this is the Book that understands me." We must say to ourselves: "I am a creature of the day and life is very short. My life may be compared to the brief journey it takes to go out of one door then down a corridor and out of another door at the end; my life is as short as that. I have an immortal soul. One Book reveals the truth about God and me - I must have that Book! Give me that Book! I must understand it and give myself to it. I must have my life and myself exposed by it. I must know myself as it reveals myself to me." This is the ministry of the Word as we have it in this Psalm - "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul" (verse 7): bringing it back from its errors. Remember, the alarm of king Josiah when he heard the law read. It had been discovered after lying hidden in the temple for a long time. It was opened and read, and he tore his clothes because it exposed him, and his and the nation's sin.


There is a sense in which, even with God's Word, you cannot fully understand your errors. This may seem a contradiction, but we cannot understand the full depth, mystery and contradiction of our sinfulness and of the sins which we commit. The spirituality and perfection of the law is too much even for the fallen sons of Adam. "That which I do I allow not" (Romans 7, 15). Literally, I do not know, recognise or give authority to it. I do not love it. "What I hate, that I do" (Romans 7, 15), "the evil which I would not, that I do" (Romans 7,19). Our sin is so gross and deep that we cannot understand it fully - "Who can understand his errors? (text) As much as we are responsible for our sins, we cannot understand them fully. We are a walking contradiction. Paul says, "Sin that dwelleth in me" (Romans 7, 17) but then he can also say, "Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2, 20). How is it possible that two such great contradictory elements dwell within us? Augustine said, "I have become a mystery to myself" - because of the conflict and power of sin and yet the mind acknowledging and glorying in the law of God. We deny what we love. When we sin, we deny God and His Word and all the things we love. We deny what we treasure in our hearts and minds: holiness and grace. We come to kiss the cheek of Christ but we come also with the dagger of sin and our supremely deceitful hearts betray us in so many ways.

The text shows us someone looking into the perfect law of liberty and understanding themselves in relation to the sin offerings and trespass offerings of the old covenant; we find them in Leviticus 4 and 5. There are offerings which cover the sins of ignorance, negligence, inadvertency, and all those sins fully described in Leviticus 4 and 5 with their circumstances. These were situations in which one may sin without being fully aware of the consequences: not foreseeing what would happen; perhaps touching uncleanness and becoming ceremonially unclean without knowing it. They are sins of commission and not of omission. They are sins of actual guilt in which the subject is ignorant in some way but certainly guilty. Indeed, we read of the sin in terms of holy things; "If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, in the holy things of the Lord; then he shall bring for his trespass unto the Lord a ram without blemish out of he flocks..." (Leviticus 5, 15). It says, "It is a trespass offering: he hath certainly trespassed against the Lord" (Leviticus 5, 19).

Although it is called the sin of ignorance, the Word of God does not exonerate and say that the man has not sinned. "He hath certainly trespassed" (Leviticus 5, 19). There was an important distinction under the old covenant between presumptuous sins and these sins of ignorance. We find that distinction again in Numbers 15: 25 & 30. Those sins of presumption were sins in which the person knew the law and the sinfulness of their actions. It was a wilful and high-handed sin - sins such as murder, blasphemy or adultery for which there was no sacrifice. Hebrews 10 tells us that under the new covenant those sins of presumption are the sin of apostasy. There is a sin there for which there is no longer any sacrifice: "For if we wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" (Hebrews 10, 26). The Psalmist here says, "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me" (verse 13). He is afraid that the hardening and deceitful power of sin may mean that he may become so embroiled in sin that he will not notice the sins of ignorance developing and hardening into presumptuous sins and the great transgression. We must, therefore, beware of regarding sin in our hearts. We must beware of sinning against light knowing what the law of God says. We must beware of hypocrisy: of secretly enjoying sin, of secretly seeking to trade grace for sin. We must beware that gross lie of hell that may, in the moment of temptation, cause us to presume we will have forgiveness. This temptation says to us "Why not? Why not go ahead? Forgiveness will not be denied to you" That is presumptuous. We forget that repentance is a grace. How do we know that we will get that repentance that we need? Repentance and forgiveness is no easy slot-machine business. We cannot expect these gifts mechanically. These are the graces of God and we do not control God.

Without God's Word, you cannot understand the enormity of your errors. This is seen particularly in this issue of the sins of ignorance. The natural wisdom of man and the sinfulness of his heart would say that these are small sins and of no consequence. They are not really sins at all, or if thet are they are not worth considering. Surely, God cannot be bothered with such small sins? However, the truth is, as we come to find the truth in God's Word, that there is no such thing as a small sin. If you would have and keep and cherish small sins, you must find for yourself a small god - for God is too great, holy and infinite to overlook or sweep these sins 'under the carpet'. Ignorance is not innocence; ignorance is that in which there is definite guilt. It is an infinite guilt because it is against the infinite glory and holiness of God. You have infinite guilt because of the infinite Person against Whom it is committed.

David cried out, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight" (Psalm 51, 4). The only thing that mattered to David was that his sin was done in the sight and presence of God; this was the great guilt and enormity of his sin: it was against God's own presence, against God's own character, in the face of God. Our so-called, small sins, our errors, our ignorance is against the omniscience or all-knowingness of God. Surely, God knows it. Surely, God has understood it. Surely, God has seen it even though we conceal it from everyone else.

Our sins are committed against the omnipresence of God: He is present in all places. When we sin, it is always in God's presence. Don't be misled into thinking that we only sin in God's presence when we sin in the place of public worship; indeed, that is an aggravation of our sins and it is a more serious sin. However, we never sin outwith God's presence - it is always before His face and His glory.

We sin also against the omnipotence of God every time we sin. Even while that mighty hand holds us up in providence and grace, granting us breath and life, we sin. We sin against that almighty power that upholds all things. We sin against God in all His attributes. We sin against His justice, mercy, goodness, kindness and truth. We sin against all His ways and this is the infinite guilt of our sins, even in our thoughts and secret faults.

Moses tells us "Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance" (Psalm 90, 8). The Lord in judging us by His grace and mercy sets forth our secret sins in His countenance against His glory, justice, mercy, tenderness and holiness. There we may see them as exceeding sinful, an assault against Him and an insult to His face. It is as though we have a darkroom of our souls, a place where we are busy, secretly developing our negatives - our sins. The sunlight of God's face and holiness bursts in to that darkroom and exposes the whole operation to His light. God's elect are judged in this life that we may not be judged with the world. God is now chastening us: showing us our sins, exposing us to ourselves that we may confess and repent that we may be prepared for that final Judgement Day.

Have you heard of the great preacher Robert Bruce? He was one of the greatest preachers Scotland ever had. He lived in the time of King James VI and he had many trials in connection with that tyrannical king. For his godliness and his testimony, he was sentenced to exile twice in Inverness. In those days, Inverness was very small and removed from the rest of Scotland - comparatively untouched by the Gospel. That was a great blessing in the providence of God to Inverness and the surrounding Highlands. The preaching of the Gospel began to see revival and the conversion of souls. They flocked from Sutherland, the Black Isle and across the Firth to hear Robert Bruce preach, and many were converted. The seed for later ministers of the Gospel was sown at that time. Before Robert Bruce was called to the ministry, he had serious and sore convictions of sins. With a wounded conscience, he was under conviction for ten years. There came a night in which God kept him from sleep and in which God was pleased to "cite him judicially - inwardly" in his soul and in his heart. God held a court of justice in his soul where he saw the Lord bring before him his sins from the past. He brought them before him as clearly as the day in which he had sinned them: time, circumstance, person involved. He brought those sins upon his conscience and Robert Bruce was able to acknowledge those sins and confess, pleading the merits of Christ as that court of justice turned to a court of mercy in which the Lord said "Go free, thou art purged and thou art cleansed of all thy sin." Bruce had the knowledge of his sins set against the countenance of God: set in His presence, in His throne room and against His holiness and majesty. He found that he was able to confess his sins there. Thereafter he was so careful of his conscience that he said he would rather be cast into a cauldron of melted lead than sin against it. How careful we need to be with our consciences. How careful we need to be not to go against or sin against our consciences.


The Lord requires "truth in the inward parts," as David recognises in Psalm 51, 6. There is, as it is in the poet's words, the "deep heart's core." That is where so often, sin can take its root and power - exercising its influence and control upon our lives. Although we are under the reign of grace, although we are under the dominion of grace and not the dominion of sin, sin can have its power. There, as we read in the epistle to the Hebrews 12, 15 there can be the roots of bitterness, the roots of sin. Sin begins in roots. Before we ever see it in its fruits, we see it in its roots. That is where mortification and the pulling up of the weeds of sin must begin.

We are so embarrassed and ashamed when our sins come to our conscious mind. We do not see them so often in their roots - when they are germinating and growing. Sometimes we only want the embarrassment, shame and troublesome nature of our sins removed. Sometimes we need to have this true sincerity that would see the root of all sins and of every sin - not just our troubling or shameful sins or those that make us uncomfortable, but every single sin that is a sin against the infinite glory of God - removed from our hearts. We need to attack those dispositional sins - sins of attitude, motivation; so often, those are the most powerful sins in our lives. Often, those are the sins we do not notice: the sins of habit. Even the sin of discontent, as it germinates and grows, comes into our hearts in the morning and then, later in the day, we find ourselves in a situation where sin breaks out in our words, thoughts or actions. We ask ourselves where "that" came from. It is clear, however, where it came from: it came from the root of sin in our "deep heart's core." Indeed, as the old saying goes and it is so true, "Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny." Therefore, we need to deal with these dispositional sins; we need to search out the depth of our hearts.

How difficult it is, how familiar we are with being in the way of knowing those dispositions and attitudes of envy, resentment and discontent as natural reactions but they are reactions that need to be rooted out if we are to progress in holiness. The Word of God teaches us that without holiness, no man will see the Lord; but it is true and obvious that we must mortify and kill sin before it kills us. We must conquer sin in a continuing sense; it is a progressive work. We must continue to sap its life, energy and vitality. If we do not make progress in killing sin, we will not make progress in holiness. We need to watch our hearts, to see what comes in and goes out, to keep the heart with all diligence for out of it are all the issues of life. Our life depends upon this watch, a universal watch of our hearts and lives in every area. How difficult it is because we tire of it so easily. We are tired at the end of the day and find it impossible to scan ourselves with truth and sincerity. How easy we find it to excuse ourselves. We must watch our hearts and watch sin in its first rising. We must pay attention to the extent and the depth of the law and open our hearts to it.

I never grew up with the Shorter Catechism but I remember reading the exposition of the Ten Commandments that is contained init. I thought I had a grasp of and understood their demands, requirements and prohibitions but found that I had much more to learn about the law from the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism, which are, indeed, the best commentaries you can lay your hands on in searching out the depth and extent of the law. They search out the depth and requirements of God upon us. How broad is the law of God. "I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad" (Psalm 119, 96).


We turn not just to see this side of the text. If we left it here with this phrase- "Who can understand his errors?" (text) - we might be left with despair. We might be left thinking that we could not understand our errors or that, understanding our errors, we were unable to deal with them properly. We have, however, a sweeter and brighter side to this text that says, "cleanse thou me from secret faults" (text). We have the diagnosis of our characters and of ourselves. We know the truth about ourselves but having the diagnosis, we then have the cure - "cleanse thou me from secret faults" (text).

There are two texts in the New Testament that we must keep together. The first is, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7, 1). It enjoins upon us the work of mortification, holiness and of forsaking sin. We must join with it the following text: "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1, 7). On the one hand, we are to cleanse ourselves from every type of sin, filthiness and uncleanness. On the other hand, we have the encouragement and assurance that "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son" is sufficient to cleanse us "from all sin." Not just some sins but from every single sin. It is true that we cannot cleanse ourselves any more than we can change the direction in which the earth spins. We cannot cleanse ourselves without Christ or without the Spirit of God or without grace. But we have this encouragement in the work of holiness and sanctification that with the Spirit of God, there is cleansing in the blood of Christ and through union with the Lord Jesus Christ. And because he has condemned our sin in His body on the tree and is continually working in us that which is pleasing to Himself, we can be cleansed from our sins.

"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1, 7). There is also in this verse great encouragement in that, as those that know the Greek language tell us, the word 'cleanseth' may be translated in a continuous sense: "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son" goes on cleansing us "from all sin". It doesn't stop cleansing us, it has a continual work; it is continually available for the work of cleansing. We make a mistake when we say we will hold back from confessing our sins to God. We say we cannot go to Him, we cannot pray, we cannot come in to His presence and we cannot confess our sin. Rather, we must run to God. We must run to the Lord Jesus Christ because the blood is there for the cleansing of our sin.

Do we think that the contamination of sin will wear off simply through time? No, our guilt is objective; our guilt is there for as long as we leave it. We must go to the Lord Jesus Christ with it and plead - "I am a poor and guilty sinner but Thy blood is available for the cleansing of sin. I am appealing to Thee - cleanse Thou me from secret faults." He is our great High Priest. The High Priests of the old covenant, as the writer to the Hebrews tells us, were able to have compassion on those that sinned ignorantly because they themselves sinned ignorantly. "Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity" (Hebrews 5, 2). Greater compassion is to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ, our High Priest, not only through His knowledge of temptation yet without sin, but in His infinite compassion He is the God Man and He has boundless sympathy for us. How much greater and how much more sufficient is the compassion of the Lord Jesus Christ for His own. Not only because He is our infinite High Priest, but also because He is that perfect Sacrifice in Himself. We can appeal to the One Who has atoned for our sins, "once for all." He has atoned perfectly.

We need to take ten looks to Christ because we are so reluctant to look to Him. We do not expect the mercy and the grace that we find there. There is an all-sufficiency there which we should expect because it is testified to in the Word of God. "He is full of grace and truth (John 1, 14). Jesus is more full of grace than we of sin. How we need to believe that He is able to draw us off our sin and that a look to Him is more powerful to draw us off our sin than even a look into ourselves. We need His union with us: His union quickening us in the work of living more and more unto righteousness, that work of vivification, enabling us to pursue holiness, granting us life. The last Adam is a quickening spirit. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1, 9). "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2, 1).

We have our sin exposed so that we can be cleansed: in order that we don't live a lie; in order that we should have fellowship more and more with God; in order that we should enjoy Christ more; in order that we should behold Him more. Behold Him! Look to Him! Behold, come and see! If only we could testify adequately of His continual cleansing from sin. How merciful He is. How infinite His compassion upon us and how ready He is to cleanse us from our secret faults. We are ignorant, sinning in thought, word and deed and in need of that continual work. May we would know the blessing of cleansing and look to the Lord Jesus Christ as our great Help, Surety and Enabler in this work, going on in greater fellowship with Him.

"Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults" (Psalm 19, 12).

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