What Are They Psalm 90:8

Our secret sins.—Psa_90:8.

Did you ever go into a dark room which had shutters on the window? Everything was black as night, but you knew where to find the bolt of the shutters, and you groped your way to it and drew it and threw the shutters wide, so that the sunshine streamed into the room. Suppose, instead of opening the shutters all the way, you had opened them only a tiny chink, what would have happened? Only a ray of sunlight would have entered the room. Yes, and in that ray what would you have seen? Why, hundreds and hundreds of little motes of dust bobbing and dancing in the bar of light. So busy did they look that you could almost imagine they were tiny live creatures which had danced into the room when the shutters were opened. But of course, being a wise boy or girl, you knew better, you knew that they were just minute particles of dust which had been there all the time though you hadn’t seen them. It was the bright ray of light in contrast with the surrounding darkness that had revealed them.
Today we are going to speak, not of the motes in the air, but of the motes in our heart—motes that we· never know are there till a ray of Christ’s purity streams into our heart and shows them to us. Our text does not call them motes, it calls them secret sins. Now the very mention of “secret sins” makes you stiffen up in the pew and say to yourself, “Oh, if we are going to have the same old story about the little faults and meanness and lies and naughty things that I know I have been guilty of, but that nobody else knows; and if we are going to be told again that no sin is secret, and I’ve to be sure my sin will find me out—why, I think—I really do think—I’m not going to listen, for I’ve heard it all before.”

Boys and girls, you can set your mind at rest on that score. I could have told you that same old story over again, and you might have been none the worse of hearing it either! But the secret sins I am going to speak of today are of another kind. They are sins so secret that we don’t even know them ourselves. For there is a kind of secret sin known to God and yourself, and there is another kind known to God alone. I hear some smart boy or girl saying, “If we don’t know we do them, how can they be sins?” Well, let me see if I can explain.

1. In the first place we don’t know about these sins because we are so accustomed to them. We have grown up with them. We have lived with them all our lives; we have taken them to bed with us at night, and risen with them in the morning; we have carried them to school with us, and invited them to share in our games. They are so mixed up with us that we look upon them as part of ourselves. We have grown so used to living with them that I believe we should hardly know ourselves if we lost them one day. We should actually miss them, but it would be a delightful miss for ourselves and for our friends. Nobody would have to say of us then, “Oh, you've got to be awfully careful with Jean, she’s so easily offended,” or, “You’d better not interfere with Jim; he likes his own way best.” You would think from the way people spoke that these faults were so much a bit of us that they couldn’t be separated from us, but they can. Only we must first see them ourselves. And if only we ask Him, Christ will discover them to us.

2. The second reason why we don’t know our secret sins is that we are judging them by a wrong standard. We must remember that what some people consider very horrible sins indeed, others consider no sins at all. For instance, a native of India thinks it is clever to cheat, or steal, or tell a lie. That is the way he has been taught to look at such things. Yes, and I’m afraid a good many people in our own country think the same. A Sunday school teacher in a mission Sunday school was telling the children what a black thing a lie was, and one little urchin looked up at her in amazement and said, “Eh, Miss, what’s the hairm in a lee? There’s nae hairm in a lee.” The sin, in his mind, lay not in telling the “lee” but in being found out. You see, people judge things differently. What one person thinks white another calls fawn, and a third very dark fawn indeed. It all depends on the background.
Did you ever see a flock of sheep feeding on the slope of a hill? How white and fleecy they looked— just like little patches of snow! Did you ever see the same flock of sheep on the same hillside, but with a background of snow instead of one of green grass? Why, the sheep were nearer fawn than white then, weren’t they? You wondered how you could ever have compared them to patches of snow. It was the background that made the difference—compared with the grass they were white, compared with the snow they were fawn.

It is the same with our sins. We don’t know that they are sins because we don’t compare them with the background of Christ; we compare them with the background of other people. If we took the white light of Christ’s purity as a background we should be astonished to find that what we had called “being careful” was really meanness; what we had called “looking after our rights” was really selfishness, and what we had named “a good appetite” was really greed. Sins, you see, are splendid at dressing up and disguising themselves. But Christ can pierce any disguise, and with His help so can we.

3. The third reason why we don’t know our secret sins is that they are not the sins we actually do, they are the sins that we might do. They are like sleeping volcanoes that may burst into flames one day. Nobody knows what he may do if he has the chance. We have a proverb, “Opportunity makes the thief,” and Shakespeare says—

How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds
Makes deeds ill done!
(King John, IV. 2: 219.)

People cheer us up when we’ve got some difficult task by saying, “You never know what you can do till you try.” That is very true of good things. It is equally true of bad things. You never know what bad deed you may be capable of doing till suddenly one day you find to your horror that you have tried to do it, and have succeeded only too well.

Let us ask Christ to extinguish our sleeping volcanoes. You hear at school about active volcanoes, dormant or sleeping volcanoes, and extinct or dead volcanoes. Let us ask Christ to turn all our sleeping volcanoes into dead volcanoes, all our possible faults into impossible faults. That is the only safe way.

- James Hastings, Children's Great Texts Of The Bible