A man, when he is awakened to a sense of his condition, sees something of this vast mass of iniquity. But how small a portion he knows! He imagines that it is scarcely possible to conceive of sins more numerous and heinous than those on which his attention is fixed. But it were easy for the Lord by His Spirit to multiply the number a thousandfold and still exhibit only a very small fraction of the sin which lies fully and distinctly before His omniscient eye. He knows, however, that the feeble creature could not endure the sight and therefore in tender mercy He forbears. Even this is not all. To form a complete estimate of the errors with which men are chargeable in the sight of God, they ought to take into account those which they would have committed but for the restraints of divine providence and grace, and those also which their nature is capable of committing and in itself disposed to commit though no occasion should occur to draw out the disposition into actual exercise. Here again we are lost and bewildered and can only exclaim, “Who can understand his errors!” “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”
A true believer is in some measure alive to his spiritual condition and, as we have seen, has such a knowledge of his errors as shuts him up to the faith of Christ for salvation. But how immense is the number of errors which daily escape his observation! It is impossible for him to mark, far less to record, the millionth part of the vain and foolish thoughts that pass through his mind. In his words and actions he has ample reason to believe there are blemishes and corruptions which are known only to the Searcher of hearts. In view of this also we have to exclaim, “Who can understand his errors?” “For we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and we all do fade as a leaf, and our iniquities like the wind have carried us away.”
Whose errors are they that are thus incomprehensible? Not the errors of the human race, not the errors of a whole nation, not the errors of a large city, not even the errors of a single family, but the errors of each individual. By this consideration the matter ought to be brought home to the bosom of every man. For it proves that, vast as is the mass of iniquity of which we have been discoursing, it is one which belongs to him and for which he is responsible. He may indeed forget his errors; he may deny them; but the connection between him and them is established by eternal truth and inflexible justice. No power on earth can dissolve it. He whose eyes are upon the ways of men, and who sees all their goings, has set the iniquities of every man before Him, their secret sins in the light of His countenance. To Him they are all as distinctly and fully known as though they were small in number and slight in aggravation. Most assuredly He will convince them that these errors belong to them, either here in His divine mercy or hereafter in His righteous judgment. “I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thee.”
Who is it that can understand his errors? The ungodly world do not understand them. They will not believe that they are chargeable with any gross crime at all and will not be at pains to enquire into the nature and magnitude of their sins. The mere hearers of the gospel do not understand them. With dreadful perverseness they convert the discovery of their sins into a source of entertainment and often return from the Word preached with as much satisfaction as they would from some scene of amusement. The carnal professors who abound in the church do not understand them. It is indeed part of their religion to confess that they have their errors. No man, they will say, is perfect. But it is easy to see that they know nothing of the subject, for it sits as lightly upon them as though they were guilty only of some venial faults. Even true believers do not understand their errors, and in their best moments they know and acknowledge this. In seasons of indolence and ease they may imagine that their errors are neither very numerous nor very grievous. Let the light of divine holiness shine in upon them and let them see light in His light, and then one of the first exclamations they make is, ” Who can understand his errors?” “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee; wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes”.
3. Some practical inferences from the views that have been illustrated.
(a) The subject before us presents ample cause of abasement before God. We see this even in the errors of which we may have some knowledge. How much is there in them that dishonours God, that is contrary to His law, hostile to the Saviour and grieving to the Spirit. But if we might be humbled for what we know, how much more for what we do not know and are unable to fathom! We may safely conclude that, dark as are the features of our sin which at any time we contemplate, there are darker features hidden from our view. How great then must be the burden of guilt which lies upon a soul that is not a partaker of pardoning mercy! A single error infers eternal condemnation! What then must be the state of him who has infinite errors standing against him?
(b) We may learn something of the riches of the divine forbearance both towards sinners and towards His own people for, though their errors are numerous and aggravated, not one of them escapes His all-seeing eye. He sees each of these errors in its own nature and full demerit. We may therefore wonder that He allows such creatures as we are to live on the face of the earth and to continue to provoke the eyes of His glory to jealousy by our inventions. This is especially so as He sees that the great mass of mankind carry themselves as proudly as though no fault could be laid to their charge. He knows that, of those who do profess to acknowledge their errors, many do it in hypocrisy or self-deception and that, even of the few that confess their sins with some measure of truth and sincerity, there is a vast amount of corruption in their very acknowledgment of sins. We may truly say, “It is of the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not”. “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”
(c) We see how great and how precious is the redemption purchased by Christ. The load of guilt which He bore, as the Surety of sinners, is one which no finite mind can comprehend. If we are bewildered by the errors of a solitary individual, what must have been the guilt of the errors of a world? Yet this is the guilt which was imputed to the Son of God when He stood in the room of His people. “The Lord”, says the Prophet Isaiah, speaking in the name of the Church, “hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” In virtue of this great work, He brings to His chosen a redemption which has a height and a depth, a breadth and a length that passeth knowledge. No wonder then that the angels desire to look into it! But it was such a redemption as they needed, for how absurd is the idea that men can give satisfaction for errors which they do not understand! Yet this absurdity attaches to every method of salvation which has been devised by the folly of men. The whole universe of creatures could not furnish a store of merit to compensate for the errors of men and for the dishonour they had done to God and His law. Therefore God sent His Son who, by reason of the dignity of His person, rendered complete satisfaction to divine justice and thus laid a foundation for the pardon of those whose errors had reached unto the clouds. “For where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
(d) We see how mighty is the work that is wrought by the Holy Spirit in subduing the corruptions of the human heart. In His grace He enters the soul in which numberless errors are found and causes light to shine amidst the dense darkness which prevails. He mortifies the depraved principles by which errors are framed and implants principles which work by love and are productive of true holiness. He subdues errors of thought, affection and will and guides into exercises that are spiritual and heavenly. How thankful ought the people of God to be for this divine gift and how careful not to grieve the Holy Spirit of promise by whom they are sealed unto the day of redemption! “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
(e) We have here presented to us a striking view of the life of faith. While carnal sense and reason detect only slight errors, they put a man upon efforts to make them still more slight so that he may the more easily atone for them and subdue them. But faith teaches a man to take deep and enlarged views of his errors and, instead of diminishing them either in number or enormity, leads him to acknowledge that they far exceed his comprehension. Yet with this immense load of guilt it brings him to Christ as all-sufficient to save. Let a man’s errors be ever so great, there is in Christ an ample store of righteousness to justify, and of grace to sanctify him. He may indeed say that he could go to Christ with greater confidence, and hope in His salvation with greater readiness, were his errors less numerous or less heinous. But this is the desponding language of unbelief and arises from mistaken views of the glory of Christ and of the extent of His redemption. If in the view of his sinfulness a believer should exclaim, “Who can understand his errors?” he may, in the contemplation of Christ, acknowledge that none can comprehend His greatness or His grace. We know that, as it is only in the strong and searching light of divine purity believers can obtain such views of their errors as to lead them intelligently and sincerely to use the language of the text, so it is only in the same divine light that a man can so see Christ as to rely upon Him and to rejoice in Him. A slight view of Christ may suffice for the man who has a slight sense of sin. But he who sees his errors to be infinitely vile and destructive must see Christ to be unmistakably glorious and precious.
(f) We may here learn how little true faith there is in the minds of the damning profession of our day. Few seem to be at all occupied with their errors and fewer still seem to see them in the light in which the Psalmist beheld them. Hence it is that, as men’s knowledge of their errors evaporates in idle talk, so do their notions of Christ. We should regard it as a token for good, were the Lord to break in upon the ease of professors to disturb their false and soul-destroying peace and to bring them to such a sight of their errors that nothing less than a glorious Christ, apprehended by the faith of divine operation, would satisfy them. If men do not awake to this discovery here, they are ripening for a discovery hereafter which will appal and overwhelm them. Through an endless eternity they will learn by the endurance of divine wrath that their errors are infinite. O that you were wise to seek to escape from the coming wrath, for “as I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”
1. This is the second part of a sermon reprinted from The Free Church Pulpit, vol 2, continued from last month. The first head was: “A knowledge of one’s errors is indispensably necessary to salvation”. And the second: “It is the man who is brought into this happy state that feels he cannot understand his errors in the sense in which the Psalmist speaks”. Last month, the first head was printed, and of the second head only the first section: “He cannot fully comprehend the errors which he knows”. The other section of the second head begins on this page, followed by the third and final head.