The Law of God, as Contained in the Ten
Commandments, Explained and Enforced

By William S. Plumer, 1864

How May We Know Our Sins?

One of the most difficult attainments is such a knowledge of our own defects, errors and sins--as shall lead us to right apprehensions of Christ and his salvation. Self-delusion is natural to man. He is wedded to self-righteousness. He naturally denies the charge of guilt. Like the Jews of old, men cry out, "What have we spoken and done so much against you?" Even those who are somewhat enlightened from above, when they fall into error, are ready to say, "We are rich and increased in goods and have need of nothing," while they are poor, and miserable, and blind and naked. This self-justifying spirit keeps men from a knowledge of sin and from accepting Christ. It destroys tens of thousands. Those who indulge it reject mercy because they do not feel any need of mercy. Benjamin and all his brethren declared that none of them had the silver cup. They thought they were telling the truth. But they had not looked to see whether they had it or not. When they searched, they found it right in the mouth of Benjamin's sack. So if men would honestly search their lives and hearts by the light of the law, they would find out that they were undone. "By the law is the knowledge of sin."

Take these rules for knowing your own hearts.

1. Diligently compare them with the law of God. Study the letter of the law. Acquire a knowledge of its true spirit and scope. Let it be your daily business to go through the dark chambers of the soul with these ten lighted candles and see what is wrong.

2. Consider what your friends say of you. It is a pity that some convert a friend into a foe if he suggests that they are in error. Such must be let alone. They will probably work out their own destruction with greediness. When one is disposed to seek the truth, however, he may get useful hints and suggestions from pious and judicious friends. Psalm 141:5. And as friends are prejudiced in our favor, we may give full credit to what they say, unless we have positive proof that they are mistaken. David was bound to receive Nathan's reproof. Peter would have acted foolishly, if he had flared up against Paul for reproving him.

3. Weigh well what those say who are unfriendly to you. "It is lawful to learn from an enemy." Bitter enemies sometimes fabricate statements and frequently exaggerate and misrepresent. Sometimes they nearly hit the nail on the head, and sometimes they tell the plain truth, which others are afraid to speak. A shrewd enemy commonly attacks the weak points of character. What do your enemies say of you? Do they charge you with pride, or malignity, or covetousness, or vanity, or ingratitude, or hardness of heart? Improve what they say.

4. Observe what that is, which always comes to your mind when inclined to pensiveness or melancholy. Some indeed are so beset with a sense of guilt that they dare not reflect. They fly from scene to scene and from place to place. They avoid solitude, and seek merriment that their own thoughts may not disturb their peace. But even in the midst of laughter, their heart is sad. If they would sit alone, and keep silence, and not call off their minds from sober reflection, they would soon get a profitable insight into their defects.

5. Notice your thoughts when you are sick or in peril of death. At such times the mind sometimes gets a ready insight into personal faults. Men generally are more disposed to be honest when they feel that their life is in danger. How did you regard your moral character when you were sick? Did no special sin present itself to your view? Probably your alarm was well founded.

6. When you are in distress and inclined to think your affliction a judgment or a punishment for some sin, you may be pretty sure that there is guilt in that affair. When the web of distress had perfectly entangled the sons of Jacob, and one calamity but opened the door for another, they well said, "We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us." And afterwards when in still greater distress, Judah as a mouth for the rest, said, "How shall we clear ourselves! God has found out the iniquity of your servants." Gen. 42:21, 45:16. So if you suspect that any distress has come on you for any particular sin, you may be quite sure that guilt attaches to you in that transaction.

7. When you suppose a preacher is personal, it is pretty good evidence that you are guilty. No right-minded man under the influence of Christian feelings will hold up personal character to the scorn of an audience. Therefore if anything seems especially to suit you, do not be offended; do not refuse to listen to the voice of warning. The fact that it suits you is reason enough for letting it come with all its force and edge.

8. When you are afraid that others suspect you of a sin, though they have said nothing, it is pretty good evidence that you are guilty. In their conversation some men are always fending and defending themselves. They feel that their conduct is liable to serious reprehension, and the chief aim of their lives is to keep others, from finding them out. Why is this, if they are innocent?

9. When you do not like to hear a particular sin preached against, you may suspect that you are guilty of it. If it were chargeable only to others, you would probably not care how much it was reproved. The wicked themselves seldom object to rebukes administered to their neighbors.

10. When in conversation, a sin is spoken of and you would gladly change the subject, you are probably guilty on that point. When Paul reasoned of temperance, righteousness and judgment to come, Felix told him that he would hear him at another time. When Christ charged the woman of Samaria with wickedness in her marital relations, she immediately called his attention to an old controversy between the Jews and Samaritans.

11. When a sin is mentioned in general terms of disapprobation, and you begin to excuse it, or try to make it appear small, then probably you are guilty in that matter.

12. So when in pleading exemption from any fault, you lose your temper and fall into passion, you are hardly innocent. Thus Hazael seems to have been quite vexed with the prophet. He said, "Is your servant a dog, that he should do this great wickedness?" Yet as soon as he had the opportunity, he did it all. He knew not the depths of iniquity in his own heart.

13. When one is so sure of his innocence that he will not examine his own heart, he may be sure there is sin there. He is afraid to look, lest he should see frightful sights in his own bosom. His persuasions of innocence are not well founded, and he suspects as much.

14. We are guilty of a sin, when the prevailing tendency of our mind is towards that conclusion. Suspicion of guilt ought to awaken and alarm us, 1 John 3:21.

15. We are chargeable with all the sins which the Bible imputes to the same class, to which we belong. If we are unconverted, then all that God's word alleges against such lies against us--as unbelief, impenitence, forgetfulness of God, enmity against the Most High, blindness of mind, ingratitude, destitution of holiness, etc. Any right view of our case will make us see that we are undone.

One who had studied the law with some care might use this soliloquy: "I am sick. O, I am very sick. I am sick at my very heart. I know I am sick. God's word says so. My own feelings declare as much. I have pain, and fever, and delirium, and restlessness, just like a madman. I am wretched. There is no soundness in me. There is a rottenness in my bones. Without relief I must die. Cannot I be saved? Must I linger on a while and then perish? Blessed be God, I need not die. There is a Physician. His name is Jesus Christ. He is able. He is willing. He is full of grace and truth. He is just such a friend as I need. He is very skillful. He never mistakes symptoms. He knows the malignancy of diseases. Flattering appearances never deceive him. He knows the difference between depression of spirits and a penitent heart; between natural frankness and godly sincerity; between the humility of Ahab and that of Paul; between the repentance of Judas and that of Peter. His skill is divine, because He is divine. He knows my case perfectly, because he knows all things perfectly. My case is not hidden from him in any particular. He knows the remedies I need. He knows I cannot be sound without his blood and righteousness, his word and Spirit, his grace and power. If He will but undertake my case, I am sure it will be treated aright. I shall never perish, if I make Him my Physician. He has been chosen of God; appointed and ordained to this very work. Whatever He has done has been by the choice and commandment of his Father. He was approved of God in all he did and in all he suffered. He was no impostor, or vain pretender. The seal of God was on His commission. The great Physician is also very tender and loving. He was once hit by the archers himself. One object of his incarnation was that he might be a merciful and kind Savior, and sympathize with us in all things. He was tempted as we are. He is the most gentle and most approachable being that ever walked this earth. He was often reviled, but he never resented it. He suffered, but he never threatened. He was mocked, but he never showed bitterness. The great Physician cured the first case He ever undertook, and He has had great experience since. He has cured millions. The realms of glory are filled with the wonders of mercy which He has wrought. He never wounds where cordials are called for. He never heals slightly the hurt of his people. He probes deeply every wound. He loves his people too well to let them die rather than cut off the gangrene. He gives wine and oil to the faint and wounded. He gives no peace to those who add drunkenness to thirst. To the truly penitent and godly Jesus is very tender and gracious. He never breaks the bruised reed, nor will he quench the smoking flax. He also goes where He is most needed and sought unto. Our poverty is nothing, for He does all without money and without price. Our wretchedness is nothing, for the first word of his ministry was, Blessed. Our unworthiness is nothing, for His merits are infinite. Our necessities may be great, but His riches are unsearchable. O wondrous Physician To you I submit my case, my whole case. I know nothing. I reserve nothing. I deserve nothing. I am nothing but a poor lost sinner. Unless You undertake, I shall be forever undone. Savior, be patient with me. Spare me. Heal my diseases. Then will I give you glory forever, and spread your fame through heaven and earth.