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Sins Of Ignorance

By J. R. Miller

    The Bible speaks of sins of ignorance. So there are sins which we commit of which we are not conscious. In one of the Psalms there is a prayer to be cleansed of secret or hidden faults: "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse Thou me from secret faults" (Psalm 19:12).

    There are faults, unlovely things, and sins in our hearts of which even we ourselves are unaware. In one place Paul says, "I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but He that judgeth me is the Lord" (1 Cor. 4:4). It is not enough to be innocent of conscious transgression; there are sins of ignorance. Only God sees us through and through.

    We cannot see our faults even as our neighbor sees them. The Pharisee in his prayer, which really was not a prayer at all, spoke much of other people's sins, but saw none in himself. We are all much like him. We are prejudiced in our own favor. We are very charitable toward our own shortcomings. We make all manner of allowance for our own faults, and are wonderfully patient with our own infirmities. We see our good things magnified, and our blemishes in a light that makes them seem almost virtues.

    So true is this, that if we met ourself someday on the street, the self God sees, even the self our neighbor sees, we probably should not recognize it as really ourself. Our own judgment of our life is not conclusive. There is a self we do not see.

    Then we cannot see into the future to know where the subtle tendencies of our life are leading us. We do many things which to our own eyes appear innocent and harmless, but which have in them a hidden evil we cannot see. We indulge ourselves in many things which to us do not appear sinful, but which leave on our soul a touch of blight, a soiling of purity of which we do not dream. We permit ourselves many little habits in which we see no danger, but which are silently twining their invisible threads into a cable which someday shall bind us hand and foot.

    We spare ourselves self-denials and sacrifices, thinking there is no reason why we should make them, unaware that we are lowering our standard of living and permitting the subtle beginnings of self-indulgence to creep into our heart.

Sin Will Deceive Us

    There is another class of hidden faults. Sin is deceitful. No doubt there are many things in most of us--ways of living, traits of character, qualities of disposition--which we consider, perhaps, among our strong points, or at least fair and commendable things in us, which in God's eye are not only flaws and blemishes, but sins.

    Good and evil in certain qualities do not lie very far apart. It is quite easy for devotion to principle to shade off into obstinacy. It is quite easy for self-respect and consciousness of ability to pass over into miserable self-conceit. It is easy for a man to make himself believe that he is cherishing justifiable anger, when in truth he is only giving way to very bad temper. It is easy to let gentleness become weakness, and tolerance toward sinners grow into tolerance toward sin.

    It is easy for us to become very careful in many phases of our conduct, while in general we are really quite careless. For example, a man may be giving his life to the good of his fellowmen in the larger sense, while in his own home he has utter disregard for the comfort and convenience of those nearest to him. Without, he is polite, thoughtful, kind; within, he doesn't care how much trouble he causes, exacting and demanding attention and service, and playing the petty tyrant instead of the large-hearted, generous Christian.

    Who of us does not have little or greater secret blemishes lying alongside his most shining virtues? We do not see them. We see the faults cropping out in our neighbor and we say, "What a pity so fine a character is so marred!" and our neighbor looks at us and says, "What a pity that with so much that is good, he has so many damaging faults!" Sin is deceitful.

    Only God knows all our faults. The substance of it all is that besides the faults our neighbors see in us, besides those our closest friends see, besides those of which we ourselves are aware, all of us have undiscovered errors in our life, hidden faults of which only God knows.

Pray Flaws Be Revealed

    If we are living a God-pleasing life, we want to find every flaw or blemish of whatever kind there is in us. He is a coward who shrinks from the discovery of his own faults. We should always be glad to learn of any hidden unloveliness in ourselves.

    Someone says: "Count yourself richer that day you discover a new fault in yourself--not richer because it is there, but richer because it is no longer a hidden fault; and if you have not yet found all your faults, pray to have them revealed in you, even if the revelation must come in a way that hurts your pride."

    – Taken from The Building Of Character, by J. R. Miller. AGM Publishers, Chattanooga, Tennessee.

    J. R. Miller (1840-1912) was an American Presbyterian clergyman and author.