Obadiah Sedgwick, 1600-1658
"How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart?
Cleanse me from these hidden faults!" Psalm 19:12
It is the desire of a holy person to be cleansed, not only from public sins, but also from private and secret sins. "O wretched man! Who shall deliver me?" (Romans 7:24), said Paul. Why, O blessed Apostle! What is it that bewilders you? What is it that molests you? Your life, you say, was unblamably before your conversion and since your conversion (Philippians 3:4-7). You have exercised yourself to have a conscience void of offence toward God and men (Acts 24:16). Yet you cry out, "O wretched man!" Yet you complain, "Who shall deliver me?"
Truly, brethren, it was not sin abroad, but at home. It was not sin without, but his sin within. It was not Paul's sinning with man, but Paul's sinning with Paul. It was that "law of his members" warring secretly within him against "the law of his mind" (Romans 7:23). This made that holy man to cry out so, to complain so.
As Rebekah was weary of her life—not, as we read, for any external difficulties, but because of domestic troubles—the daughters of Heth within the house made her weary of life (Genesis 27:46)—so the private and secret birth of corruption within Paul, was the cause of his trouble. That was the ground of his complaint, "Who shall deliver me?" I remember that the same Paul advised the Ephesians to put off the former conduct so that they could put on the renewed spirit of the mind—intimating that there are sins that are lurking within, as well as sins walking about (Ephesians 4:22-23).
True Christians must not only sweep the door, but wash the chamber also. My meaning is this: We are not only to mortify sins which lie open in the conduct, but also labor to be cleansed from sins and sinning that remain secret and hidden in the spirit and inner disposition.
In What Respects Are Sins Called Secret?
For the resolution of this, know that sin has a double reference:
It may refer to God. And so no sin or manner of sinning is really secret. "Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him?" said the Lord. "Do not I fill Heaven and earth?" said the Lord in Jeremiah 23:24.
It is true that wicked men with an atheistic folly imagine hiding themselves and their sinful ways from God. "Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the LORD, who do their work in darkness and think: Who sees us? Who will know?" Isaiah 29:15
Yet there stands no cloud, nor curtain, nor moment of darkness or secrecy between the eyes of God and the ways of man. "For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his goings" (Proverbs 5:21). He speaks principally there of the ways of the adulterer, which usually are plotted with the most cunning secrecy—yet God sees all those ways. "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." Hebrews 4:13
Sin may also refer to man. And thus, indeed, comes in the division of sin into first, open sin—and second, secret sin. Now, in this respect, sin may be termed secret in these ways:
1. In respect of the PERSON sinning: when his very sinning, formally considered, is hidden from himself. He does a thing that is really sinful, but he does not apprehend it to be so. We see this in the outrages Paul breathed out against the Church in the times of his ignorance—which he did not know to be acts of sin, but thought to be motions of a warranted zeal. In this sense, all the obliquities that may be fastened, at least upon ignorance, may be called secret sins.
2. In respect of the MANNER of sinning—thus sins may be termed secret either:
(1) When they are colored and disguised, though they fly abroad—yet not under that name of sin, but appareled with some semblances of virtues.
(2) When they are kept off from the stage of the world. They are like fire in the chimney. Though you do not see it, yet it burns. Many people, like those in Ezekiel, commit abominations in secret, as long as the public eye is not upon them. They are sinful and act with the greatest vileness. All the difference between another sinner and him is this: one is a secret sinner, but the other one admits he is a sinner. It is the same with an open book and a shut book. The one that is shut has the same lines and words, but the lines in the one that is opened may be read and seen.
(3) When they are kept not only from the public eye, but also from our own eye. The carnal eye of him who commits the sins, does not see them. He does see them with the eye of conscience, but not with an eye of natural sense. Even those persons with whom he converses and who highly commend his ways, cannot yet see the secret discoursings and actings of sin in his mind and heart.
Brethren, not all the actings of sin are external! They are not all visible. But there are some, yes, the most dangerous sins acting within the soul, where corruption lies as a fountain and a root. The heart of man is a well of wickedness. A man says in his heart, that which he dares not speak with his tongue; and his thoughts will do that which his hands dare not execute. Well then, sin may be called secret, when it is cherished in the heart, where none but God and conscience can see.
Sin is like a candle in a lantern, where the shining is first within and then bursting out at the windows. Sin is like ulcerous, corrupt, putrid boils below the skin. They are first inside the skin, and afterwards they break out to the view on the outside. So it is with sin. It is a malignant internal cancer, diffusing itself into several secret acts and workings within the mind. Often it breaks abroad and dares manifest itself to the eye of the world.
Though that sin may never see the light—it is like a baby who is alive, but buried in the womb. Yet as that baby is a true person there closeted in that hidden womb—so sin is truly sin, though it never gets out beyond the womb that conceived and enlivened it.
But what were those secret sins from which David desired to be cleansed? Nay, that is a secret. He does not name any one of them, because his desire is to be freed from every one of them.
But why should we desire to be cleansed from secret sins, from either secret evil thoughts or secret evil desires? I will give you several reasons for it:
1. Because secret sins will become public sins, if they are not dealt with. It is with the soul as it is with the body, wherein diseases are first bred, and then manifested. And if you do not suppress them in their root, you shall shortly see them break out in the fruit. It is like fire that catches the inside of the house first, and there, if you do not suppress it, will make a way to get to the outside. "Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin!" (James 1:15).
Beloved, remember this: though the first ground of sin is within the heart—yet it is the propensity of sin to come forth into life. The child in the womb does not have stronger throes to get out of its private lodging, than sin secretly wrought to fly into open and manifest action. Amnon was sick with the sinful thoughts of incestuous lust, and what ado was there until he had committed that villainy!
Let a man set up any sin in delightful contemplation and meditation, and that same inward acting of his sins eventually casts him upon the outward actings of them. This is the least that it does. Sins nurtured in the mind, often ripen into open sin in the life.
Besides that, secret sin prepares him for a temptation that suits his evil thoughts. Satan shall not need to tempt him much, who has already tempted himself. He who will work sin in his heart—a weak temptation will draw it out into his life. Thirty pieces of silver will prevail with a covetous Judas, who already had gold as his master in his heart.
2. Secret sins are apt to deceive us most—therefore suppress them. There is deceitfulness in all sinnings whatever—the soul is deceived by sin whenever it sins. But secret sins deceive us most! They are most apt to prevail with us:
FIRST, because we do not have that strict and spiritual judgment of inward sins, like we do of outward sins. Many times we conceive of them as no sins at all, or else as slight sins. To draw a sword and run a man through the heart—O this is a fearful murder! To draw a false word and to pierce through his good name slanderously—we also imagine that this may be bad. But to kill a man with malicious thoughts, with revengeful plots and desires, nay, this is scarcely thought as a sinful matter, or at least very excusable.
Beloved, it is the nature of sins of thought to imagine that they are a mere trifle, and not sins at all. Now, we are apt to think that secret sins are scarcely sins.
SECOND, because most sinners shun sin in outward respects. They do not live in and visibly commit such sins because they fear the shame and are afraid of punishment. No law of man can reach, and no eye of man can search, into our secret sinnings!
Secret sinning, being invisible—therefore escapes all the outward restraints of men. Secret sinning has mainly to attend to what conscience will say—which perhaps is ignorant or drowsy. And if conscience does speak, yet it is not regarded.
Now mark: Of all sins, note them most which most easily deceive you. Those sins which a man commits most, hides most, and continues in longest—are secret sins. Since, therefore, secret sins come under that form, is it not necessary to labor to be cleansed from them?
3. The strength of sin is inward—therefore labor to subdue secret sins. If a man has a fever so that his tongue burns in his mouth and his flesh is even roasting with burning heat—yet the strength of that fever is set on fire by some insidious distemper within.
So it is with sin. Though the outward actings of sin are bad enough, yet the strongholds of sin are within the soul.
4. Know that the principal object of God's eye is the inward and secret frame of the soul—labor, therefore, to be cleansed from secret sins. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Psalm 66:18). "Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts" (Psalm 51:6). Therefore God is often said in Scripture to "search the heart and thoughts," which intimates His special observation of the secrets of the thoughts and the soul.
It is true that God gives charge against open sins. Why? Because He would not have any to be profane.
In the same way, He gives singular charge against secret sins. Why? Because He cannot endure any to be hypocritical. The man is to God, what he is in his thoughts and heart. If you practice wickedness in your heart, God will condemn you.
Plaster your visible parts with all sorts of pious expressions; yet if yet you have a custom of sinning within—then you are notable hypocrites! The Lord sees you to be false and rotten, and He will condemn you.
There are many persons who wallow in secret sins. The Apostle complained of such in his time: "It is a shame to speak of those things which are done by them in secret" (Ephesians 5:12). He speaks of such as lived in secret fornication and impurity.
Brethren, how many are there who practice the secret thoughts of wickedness, as if there were no God to look on them, nor any conscience to spy on them, nor any Judgment Day to damn them!
Oh, how infinitely odious you must be in the eyes of that holy God, who dare to court Him in public—and yet dare to provoke Him to His face by secret sins in private. You are like a whorish strumpet who pretends marvelous affections to her husband—and yet she will violate the marriage covenant in secret.
In the same way, you pretend so much love for God before company, and yet in private you will presume to sin before His face! He sees you, and your conscience knows that right well.
In secret sins, there are at the least three horrible sins that you commit at once:
FIRST, Perhaps that very sin which you would so conceal, may be a sin of the deepest dye. Yes, mark this: the most damnable sins are usually such that are committed in secret, as Sodom's adulteries, and such fearful kinds of pollutions, murders, and blasphemies, etc.
SECOND, hypocrisy, which is a screen to your sin—is a holy cover for an unholy heart! This makes the sinner so much the more vile in God's eyes, by how much the more that he not only sins against God, but wrests, as it were, something from God to cover and palliate his rebellion against Him.
A THIRD is atheism. Even if he is not a formal atheist—yet he is a virtual atheist. It is as if God were not God in secret, but only in public. It is as if God could see in the light, and not in the darkness. It is as if God's eye is as the eye of a man—whereas He is a universal eye and sees everything.
Outward occasions to sin, can incline to secret sinnings. Beloved, there lies a snare against us in almost all society with men. We have such vile natures that as a spark of fire will easily kindle a box of dry tinder—just a word spoken, many times, kindles a world of evil passion, of malice, of revenge within us! Yes, a look often begets in us secret disdain and discontent! Yes, the casting of an eye may inflame the heart with excess of lust. Need we not then, putting all these things together, to search our inward frame to see what care we should have about and against secret sinnings?Isaiah 29:15, "Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the LORD, who do their work in darkness and think: Who sees us? Who will know?"
Psalm 90:8, "You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of Your presence."Psalm 139:1-2, "O LORD, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar!"