Who Can Discern His Errors

By Paul K. Williams

“‘Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults” (Psa. 19:12).

David knew he could not, at least not all of them. He had contemplated the great creation of God (Psa. 16:1-6) and the wonderful word of God (Psa. 19:7-11). Both of these wonders made him realize that God was infinitely greater than he was. God could see sins in David’s life which even David himself, with earnest searching of himself and God’s law, could not see.

Every earnest child of God has experienced the humiliating shock of discovering hidden sins in his own life. Poorly considered words have hurt when we did not know it. Our haste to be about our own business or pleasure has deafened us to the need of some brother. Perhaps only when he is an adult does our child tell us how a certain characteristic of our behavior embarrassed or hurt him when he was a child.

When these things come to our attention, we are deeply ashamed and penitent. Oh that we had realized these sins at the time! We might have been able to correct some of the damage. Now we can only pray God for forgiveness.

Other sins result from spiritual immaturity. Hebrews 5:14 says, “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” This means the immature do not yet know how to discern good and evil at least not as well as the spiritually mature. And so we learn, perhaps years after our conversion, that we have been practicing in all good conscience something which is not right in the sight of God.

Many of us who lived through that searching period of the 1950s remember how we discovered that, while we were preaching that the congregation is the only unit of organization for God’s church, we were upholding church-supported orphan homes. When our earnest study of the Scriptures removed our ignorance of this sin, we repented and got our practice in line with our preaching. But we had been sinning as a result of our ignorance.

Paul wrote, “I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord” (1 Cor. 4:4). Moses prayed, “Thou hast placed our iniquities before Thee, Our secret sins(1) in the light of Thy presence” (Psa. 90:8). And again Paul wrote, “on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:16).

Our hidden faults are sins! We will be judged for them. Every deed will be judged by God. How helpless that makes us feel. How then can we ever be justified? The answer is in David’s prayer. He prayed by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Acquit me of hidden faults.” Now this was not the automatic, almost unthinking prayer we hear so often in the assembly: “Lord forgive us of all the sins we have committed since last receiving pardon.”

It was the earnest petition of one who wanted to rid himself of all sin, who wanted to discover the hidden faults so that he could turn from them. It was the cry of one who loved the word of God and searched it diligently. It was the prayer of one who wanted even the words of his mouth and the thoughts of his heart to be acceptable in God’s sight (Psa. 19:14).

Though Paul recognized that he might have committed sins of which he was unaware (1 Cor. 4:4), he was not doubtful of his salvation. In 2 Timothy 4:7-8, he asserts without qualification that the crown of life awaited him. He knew hip was acquitted of all sins, even those he might not have discovered himself. What acquitted him was not his perfect knowledge of all his sins, but his earnest state of penitence for all known and unknown sins.

When children of God love God and His word like David and Paul did, when we search the Scriptures to find our faults and strive always to live in good conscience before God and men (Acts 24:16; 2 Tim. 1:3), when we show our eagerness to turn from every sin when we learn of it (as did the Ephesian brethren in Acts 19:17-19), we can pray the prayer of David and know that God hears. He will acquit us of our hidden faults.


1. On this verse Pulpit Commentary says: “And not only has he done this with the sins which they know of, and whereof their consciences are afraid; but he has set their secret sins also in the fight of his countenance” (p. 255).

(Editor’s Note: The article printed above was submitted to me in May 1982 by brother Williams. At the time, he and I exchanged several letters because of our difference of understanding of the prayer in Psalm 19:12. 1 understood that we both agreed not to publish the article. Brother Williams visited with me shortly before I moved from Dayton in June 1984. He and I discussed the article and I agreed to publish it with a short statement indicating that we have a different understanding of Psalm 19:12. Whether because of my move or some other reason, I forgot about this until I received a letter from him today (19 February 1985). I apologize to him for the delay in printing this. Brother Williams is a faithful gospel preacher who deserves to be heard-even when we disagree. His attitude is charitable and commendable; I hope that I can manifest the same warm spirit as he does.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 6, pp. 165, 184
March 21, 1985