January 17, 2024

Can You Keep a Secret?

Sinclair Ferguson
Can You Keep a Secret?

It’s desirable to be people who are kind, welcoming, and friendly. But can we be trusted to keep a secret? Today, Sinclair Ferguson examines the virtue of faithfulness and the damage that an unguarded tongue can cause.


We’ve been talking this week about a letter written by John Newton, the great English hymn writer, about two hundred years ago. It’s a letter about people whose problem is really that they sing about amazing grace, but they haven’t themselves become amazingly gracious.

Newton has some clever Latin names for these people. Yesterday, we talked about Mr. Austerus, the austere Christian who always seems to be right, but in a kind of loveless way. Another person that Newton mentions is almost at the opposite end of the spectrum, and he gives him a Latin name too. He’s called Mr. Humanus. He’s a people person. He’s the kind of person, as is Mrs. Humanus, who is just all over new visitors to the church, welcoming them. So, what is it about Mr. Humanus? He’s gregarious; he’s friendly; but here’s the problem. There’s a kind of seam of inconsistency in his Christian life. John Newton captures it like this. He says, “If you trusted Mr. Humanus with your gold, there would be no risk at all. It would be perfectly safe. With money, he’s a model of integrity. “But,” writes Newton, “entrust him with a secret, and you put your secret into the public domain. He just can’t keep it to himself.”

Some time ago, I was having dinner with some Christian friends, and at one point they were interested in something that had happened in my life when I was a teenager. And I said to them, “I’ll tell you what it is as long as you promise never to tell anyone. Promise me?” None of them promised. They were all mature Christians. Most of them were pastors. And come to think about it, I think most of them had read some of John Newton’s letters. And I wondered if they were thinking, “I don’t think I can trust myself to keep Sinclair’s secret. I think I’d be tempted to share it.”

Now you see, this was the problem with Mr. Humanus. He trusted himself too much, but he had lost control of his tongue. And that means he had actually lost control of his heart because spiritually, the tongue is directly connected to the heart. And the result of it was that eventually his fellow Christians realized they couldn’t share their secrets with him. For all his friendliness, they could never unburden themselves to him. And so, they never told him about their struggles, their problems, their failures, or their deepest needs, and he was left wondering, “Why do they share these things with those other people and never with me?”

Keeping secrets is a small thing. Failing to keep them is a big thing. Because faithfulness isn’t really faithfulness unless it’s faithfulness in everything. Now, being faithful in the big things doesn’t minimize the importance of being faithful in the small things. I wonder if you ever wonder why it is that there are some people in your church family that people tend to go to. One of the reasons is because they know they will keep their secrets, and the reason they know they will keep their secrets is because these people guard their hearts and their lips as though they were Fort Knox. And you and I need to learn to do the same. So remember Jesus’ words, “One who is faithful in very little is also faithful in much.”