James E. Cooper
In Proverbs 28:13, the wise man said, “He that covereth his transgression shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy.”
This proverb contains a lesson that is badly needed by many individuals today. There is an ever present tendency on the part of man to try to cover up his transgressions. When an individual commits some crime, he tries to conceal the fact from the law. When a man betrays his wife, he tries to keep the fact hidden from her. When an individual commits a transgression against God, or God’s people, he tries to cover it up. Still, the Bible teaches that such an individual “shall not prosper.”
There are many ways by which individuals try to cover their sins. Some have tried to hide themselves from God. The first case of this kind involved the first human pair in the garden of Eden. God had forbidden them to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent came along and persuaded the woman to eat, and she in turn gave to her husband and he did eat. Realizing, for the first time, that they were naked, they fashioned for themselves coverings of fig leaves and hid themselves in the garden, trying to conceal themselves from God. Of course, this did not succeed. God knew where they were, and what they had done. It was impossible for them to hide from God. We know this, and still some people today try to hide from God. They refuse to attend the services of God’s church, as though this would keep God from knowing their sins. Or they refuse to hear the truth of God, for fear that they might learn that they have been in error. Still, this does not hide them from God.
David realized that it is impossible to escape from the presence of God. He wrote in Psalm 139:7-12:
Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, And thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall overwhelm me, And the light about me shall be night; Even the darkness hideth not from thee, But the night shineth as the day: The darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
Yes, David realized that it is impossible to escape from the presence of God. No matter where we go or what effort we make to conceal our transgressions, we cannot escape the eye of him who “will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil” (Ecc. 12:14).
Most of us realize that we cannot hide our sins from God. However, we see evidence on every hand that convinces us that individuals attempt to hide their sins from their fellow men. There are several ways by which this is attempted. First, and possibly the most common, is to simply deny that any transgression has been committed. This was the course pursued by Cain after he had slain his brother. He put on an air of innocency, and asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” He asserted that he knew nothing about the whereabouts of his brother. However, this assertion did not conceal the truth from God. God knew that Cain had slain his brother and punished him for his sin. Cain did not prosper when he tried to cover his sin.
This same method of trying to cover sins is also illustrated in the New Testament. According to the fifth chapter of Acts, Ananias and Sapphira tried to hide their sin by lying about the amount of money they received from the sale of a certain piece of property. They wanted the praise that others were receiving when they sold their property and gave the receipts to provide the needs of poor saints, but they also wanted the money. So, they agreed together and lied about how much they received for the field. They thought that no one would ever be the wiser, but they failed to reckon with the power of God to see within the heart. God revealed to the apostles what Ananias and Sapphira were trying to do, and then destroyed them from among the brethren. They had to pay with their lives for their transgression. Although they tried to cover their sins, they did not prosper. We may lie, and deny that we have sinned, but God knows the real truth about it, and the truth will one day be brought to light.
Another method of trying to cover sins is to try to place the blame on someone else. While this individual does not deny that he has done some wrong, he tries to plead that he is not responsible for his actions. He says that he did what he did because of what someone else did or said. As an example of this, we turn to 1 Samuel, chapter fifteen. Here we find King Saul being rebuked for disobedience. God had sent him to battle against the Amalekites, and had charged him to utterly destroy them. However, Saul saved the best of the flocks, and saved king Agag alive. Samuel, the prophet, rebuked him for his disobedience. The excuse Saul offered was, “the people” wanted to offer the best of the sheep and oxen as a sacrifice before God. He was trying to place the blame for his disobedience on the people. This did not relieve him of the responsibility before God, though. He, too, “did not prosper.” Samuel said to Saul, “Because thou hast rejected the word of Jehovah, he bath also rejected thee from being king” (1 Sam. 15:23).
Still, others try to cover their sins by appearing to be righteous before men. They know within themselves that their lives are not as they should be, but they take a prominent part in religious services, and act as charitable as they can before others to try to cover the secrets or their own sinfulness. Others try to use their money to cover the sin in their lives. They use their money to buy prestige in the sight of men. They make big donations to the church, and make a big to-do about their liberality, but this is not enough to cover their sins in the sight of God. The individual who gets drunk, or engages in shady business dealings during the week, cannot atone for his sins by sitting on the front pew and making a liberal donation to the church on Sunday. Such individuals are described by Jesus when He described the Pharisees. In Matt. 23:5, He said,
But all their works they do to be seen of men; for they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the chief place at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the salutations in the marketplaces, and to be called of men, Rabbi
In verse 14, he says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretence ye make long prayers: therefore ye shall receive greater condemnation.” In verse 25, he says,
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye cleanse the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full from extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup and of the platter, that the outside thereof may become clean also.
Still another way by which some try to cover their sins is by persecuting the preacher who exposes sin, or the congregation that disciplines the sinner. There is a tendency today in some places to fire the preacher because he condemns worldliness, false doctrine, or any other ungodliness. This attitude is not a new one, for we find it illustrated in the New Testament.
John the Baptist was a fearless preacher who exposed and condemned sin wherever he found it. He had strongly condemned Herod for taking his brother Phillip’s wife. Herodias, the woman in question, despised John for his preaching and finally maneuvered matters around where her husband Herod was forced to destroy John or lose face before his political fellows. But, down at the bottom of this murder was the hatred of a woman condemned by the preaching of this man of God. They had John beheaded but this did not sanctify the adulterous marriage in which they were engaged.
Again, we can see this same attitude manifested in the death of Stephen, as recorded in Acts 7. Stephen’s crime was simply that he had the courage and the fear of God in his heart that enabled him to preach the truth to the Jews. When the Jews could not “withstand the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spake,” they “suborned men,” to serve as false witnesses against him. They followed the course of destroying the man if you can’t destroy his logic. In order to do this they first had men tell lies about the preaching done by Stephen. These lies led to his arrest, but this did not stop this man of God from preaching the truth of God. As he came to the close of his sermon, recorded in Acts 7: he said,
Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? and they killed them that showed before of the coming of the Righteous One; of whom ye have now become betrayers and murderers; ye who received the law as it was ordained by angels, and kept it not (Acts 7:51-53).
As a further indication of their wickedness, they took Stephen out and stoned him to death.
This did not cover their sins. It simply multiplied them. They started out by rejecting the preaching of Stephen about Christ. They could not refute the arguments that Stephen made, so they brought false witnesses to accuse him. When they still could not still his righteous tongue, they murdered him. But their sins were still upon them. Getting rid of this righteous preacher did not cover their sins.
Other people try to persuade themselves that time covers sins. When the trespass is first committed, their consciences bother them about it. But, they are able to sear their consciences, and in time think that their sins are covered. Time may cause men to forget about transgressions, but God remembers. Peter said that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (2 Pet. 3:8) Every individual on earth can forget my sins, but God will remember them, unless they are forgiven.
There is but one right way to cover sins, and that is to receive pardon for them. David spoke of God in Psalms 85:2, “Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people; Thou hast covered all their sin.” When man tries to cover his own sins, he fails, but when God covers sins, they are forgiven. Our text said, “He that covereth his transgressions shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy.”
This shows that one must confess and forsake his sins before God will pardon him. If the individual tries to conceal his sins, he will not receive pardon from God. He must be willing to confess his sins, and then be willing to forsake his sins before he can expect pardon from God. John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:9-10). John was here talking to Christians. Christians may sin, but when they confess their sins and forsake them, God will have mercy upon them and forgive them. The erring Christian must repent of his wickedness and pray God that even the thought of his heart might be forgiven him.
In order for the alien sinner to have his sins covered, he must obey the Gospel of Christ, by hearing and believing the truth, repenting of his sins, and confessing his faith in Christ, and being buried in baptism for the remission of his sins.
Have you been trying to cover your sins yourself? If you have, you need to turn to God, confess and forsake your sins, that you may obtain mercy.