The Essential Planks of Christianity, Part One: The Confession of Sin.

Written by J. C. Ryle
Edited for thought, sense and space

“If we confess our sins,

He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

–1 John 1:9.


The question is at all times deeply important. Among the foundation-stones of saving religion few deserve more serious attention than confession of sins. But there are occasions when circumstances give a particular importance to particular doctrines in religion. The assaults of enemies sometimes make it needful to exhibit some special truth with special distinctness. The plausible assertion of some error sometimes requires to be met by more than ordinary carefulness in showing the thing as it is,’ in the Word. A doctrine may perhaps be in the rear-rank to-day, and to-morrow may be thrust forward by the force of events into the very front of the battle. This is the case at the present time with the subject of confession. Many years have passed away since men thought and talked so much as they do now about the confession of sins.

The highest saints are not too high to need confession. The lowest sinners are not too low to be reached by God’s requirement.

From Kings in their palaces, to poor men in their cottages,—preachers and hearers,—teachers and scholars—landlords and tenants,—masters and servants,—all, all are alike summoned in the Bible to confession. None are so moral and respectable that they need not confess that they have sinned. All are sinners in thought, word, and deed, and all are commanded to acknowledge their transgressions. Every knee ought to bow, and every tongue ought to confess to God. Behold, saith the Lord, I will plead with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinned (Jer. 2:35). If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (l John 1:8).

Without confession of sin and our sinfulness there is no salvation.

The love of God towards sinners is infinite. The readiness of Christ to receive sinners is unbounded. The blood of Christ can cleanse away all sin. But we must plead guilty before God can declare us innocent. We must acknowledge that we surrender at discretion before we can be pardoned and let go free. Sins that are known and not confessed, are sins that are not forgiven. They are yet upon us, and daily sinking us nearer to hell. He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy (Prov. 28:13).

Without confession there is no inward peace.

Our conscience will never be at rest so long as it feels the burden of unacknowledged transgression. It is a load of which man must get rid if he means to be really happy. Unacknowledged transgression is a worm eating at the root of all comfort. It is a blight on joy and mirth.

Therefore, there are two points to which I purpose to direct your attention:

First, Who are they that ought to confess sins?

All men and women in the world are all born in sin and children of wrath. All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Before God all are guilty. There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not. There is not a child of Adam that ought not to confess sin. (Eph. 2:3; Rom. 3:23; Eccles. 7:20).

There is no exception to this rule. It does not apply only to murderers, and felons, and the inmates of prisons. It applies to all ranks, and classes, and orders of mankind.

Some people are too proud to acknowledge themselves sinners. Like the Pharisee of old, they flatter themselves they are not as other men. They do not get drunk, like some; or swear, like others; or live profligate lives like others. They are moral and respectable! They perform the duties of their station! They attend church regularly! They are kind to the poor! What more would you have? If they are not good people and going to heaven, who can be saved? But as to habitual confession of sin, they do not see that they need it. It is all very well for wicked people, but not for them. Of course when sin is not really felt, sin will never be confessed.

Some people are too indolent and slothful to take any step in religion so decided as confession. Their Christianity consists in meaning, and hoping, and intending, and resolving. They do not positively object to anything that they hear upon spiritual subjects. They can even approve of the Gospel. They hope one day to repent, and believe, and be converted, and become thorough Christians, and go to heaven after death. But they never get beyond hoping. They never come to the point of making a business of religion. Of course they never confess sin.

In one or other of these ways thousands of persons on every side are ruining their souls. In one point they are all agreed. They may sometimes call themselves sinners in a vague, general way, but they have no real sense, or sight, or understanding of sin. Its guilt, and vileness, and wickedness, and consequences, are utterly hid from their eyes. And the result, in each case, it is one and the same. They know nothing practically of confession of sins. The heart of man is never really easy until he has unburdened himself before God, and obtained pardon and absolution. When I kept silence, says David, my bones waxed old, through my roaring all the day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin (Psalm 32: 3-5). Confession of sin is absolutely necessary to salvation. It is also a habit which is an essential part of the Christian life.

Some people have no thought or feeling about their sins.

The subject is one which hardly crosses their minds. They rise in the morning and go to bed at night. They eat, and drink, and sleep, and work, and get money, and spend money, as if they had no souls at all. They live on as if this world was the only thing worth thinking of. They leave religion to parsons and old men and women. Their consciences seem asleep, if not dead. Of course they never confess.

What is my first and foremost wish for your soul, if you are yet unconverted? I can wish you nothing better than thorough self-knowledge. I should like the veil to be taken from your heart. I should like you to see yourself as you really are in the sight of God. Ignorance of self and sin is the root of all mischief to the soul. There is hardly a religious error or a false doctrine that may not be traced up to it. For want of seeing sin, men do not value salvation. Once let a man get a sight of his own heart, and be will begin to cry, God be merciful to me a sinner!

Friend, if you have learned to feel and acknowledge your sinfulness, you have great reason to thank God. It is a real symptom of health in the inward man. It is a mighty token for good. To know your spiritual disease is one step towards a cure. To feel bad and wicked and hell-deserving, is the first beginning of being really good. Once more I say, you have great reason to thank God.

If you have also learned to feel and confess sin, you may well thank God and take courage. Where did those feelings you find come from? Who told you that you were a guilty sinner? What moved you to begin acknowledging your transgressions? How was it that you first found that your sin is a burden, and made you longed to be set free from it? These feelings do not come from man’s natural heart. The devil does not teach such lessons. The schools of this world have no power to impart them. Reader, these feelings come down from above. They are the precious gift of God the Holy Ghost. It is His special office to convince of sin. Rejoice, I say again, and be exceeding glad. The man who has really learned to feel and confess his sins, has learned that which millions never learn, and for want of which millions die in their sins, and are lost to all eternity.

Second. To whom ought confession of sin to be made?

I enter on this branch of the subject with sorrowful feelings. I approach it as a sailor would approach some rock on which many gallant ships have made shipwreck. I cannot forget that I have arrived at a point on which millions of so-called Christians have erred greatly, and millions are erring at the present day. But I dare not keep back anything that is Scriptural, for fear of giving offence. The errors of millions must not prevent a minister of the Gospel speaking the truth. If multitudes are hewing out broken cisterns that can hold no water, it becomes the more needful to point out the true fountain. If countless souls are turning aside from the right way, it becomes the more important to show clearly to whom confession ought to be made.

Sin, to speak generally, ought to be confessed to God. He it is whom we have chiefly offended. His are the laws which we have broken. To him all men and women will one day give account. His displeasure is that which sinners have principally to fear. This is what David felt: Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight (Psalm 51: 4). This is what David practised: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord (Psalm 32: 5). This is what Joshua advised Achan to do: My son, give glory to God, and make confession to Him (Joshua 7:19). The Jews were right when they said, Who can forgive sins but God only? (Mark 2: 7).

But must we leave the matter here? Can vile sinners like us ever dare to confess our sins to a holy God? Will not the thought of his infinite purity shut our mouths and make us afraid? Must not the remembrance of His holiness make us afraid? Is it not written of God, that He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity? (Hab. 1:13). Is it not said, that He hates all workers of iniquity? (Psalm 5:5). Did He not say to Moses, There shalt no man see My face and live? (Exodus 33: 20). Did not Israel say of old, Let not God speak with us, lest we die? (Exodus 20:19). Did not Daniel say, How can the servant of this my Lord talk with this my Lord? (Dan. 10: 17). Did not Job say, When I consider, I am afraid of Him? (Job 23: 15). Did not Isaiah say, Woe is me, for I am undone; . . . for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts? (Isaiah 6: 5). Does not Elihu say, Shall it be told Him that I speak? If a man speak, surely he shall be swallowed up (Job 37: 20).

These are serious questions. They are questions which must and will occur to thoughtful minds. There are many who know what Luther meant when he said. I dare not have anything to do with an absolute God. But I thank God, they are questions to which the Gospel supplies a full and satisfactory answer. The Gospel reveals One who is exactly suited to the wants of souls which desire to confess sin.

What I am saying is that sin ought to be confessed to God in Christ. I say that sin ought specially to be confessed to God manifest in the flesh,—to Christ Jesus the Lord,—to that Jesus who came into the world to save sinners,—to that Jesus who died for our sins, and rose again for our justification, and now lives at the right hand of God to intercede for all who come to God by Him. He that desires to confess sin, should apply direct to Christ.

Christ is a great High Priest. Let that truth sink down into our hearts, and never be forgotten. He is sealed and appointed by God the Father for that very purpose. It is His peculiar office to receive and hear, and pardon and absolve sinners. It is His place to receive confessions and to grant plenary absolutions. It is written in Scripture, Thou art a priest for ever. We have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens. Having an High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith (Heb. 4:14; 6:20; 10:21-22).

Christ is a High Priest of Almighty power.

There is no sin that He cannot pardon, and no sinner that he cannot absolve. He is very God of very God. He is over all, God blessed for ever. He says Himself, I and My Father are one. He has all power in heaven and in earth. He has power on earth to forgive sins. He has complete authority to say to the chief of sinners, Thy sins are forgiven. Go in peace. He has the keys of death and hell. When He opens, no man can shut. (Rom. 9:5; John 10:30; Matt. 28:18; Matt, 9:6; Luke 7:48 50; Rev.1:18; 3:7).

Christ is a High Priest of infinite willingness to receive confession of sin.

He invites all who feel their guilt to come to Him for relief. Come unto Me, He says, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. When the penitent thief cried to Him on the cross, He at once absolved him fully, and gave him an answer of peace (Matt. 11:28; John 7:37).

Christ is a High Priest of perfect knowledge.

He knows exactly the whole history of all who confess to Him. From Him no secrets are hid. He never errs in judgment. He makes no mistakes. It is written that He is of quick understanding. He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears (Isaiah 11:3). He can discern the difference between the hypocritical professor who is full of words, and the broken-hearted sinner who can scarce stammer out his confession. People may deceive ministers by good words and fair speeches, but they will never deceive Christ.

Christ is a High Priest of matchless tenderness.

He will not afflict willingly, or grieve any soul that comes to Him. He will handle delicately every wound that is exposed to Him. He will deal tenderly even with the vilest sinners, as He did with the Samaritan woman. Confidence reposed in Him is never abused. Secrets confided to Him are completely safe. Of Him it is right.

The man who turns away from Christ to confess to saints and angels is a deluded robber of his own soul. He is following a shadow, and forsaking the substance. He is rejecting the bread of life, and trying to satisfy his spiritual hunger with sand.

Christ is a High Priest who can sympathise with all that confess to Him.

He knows the heart of a man by experience, for He had a body like our own, and was made in the likeness of man. We have not a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). To Him the words can most truly be applied, which Elihu applied to himself, Behold, I am according to thy wish in God’s stead; I also am formed out of the clay. Behold, my terror shall not make thee afraid, neither shall my hand be heavy upon thee (Job 33:6, 7).

Beware of ever losing sight of Christ’s priestly office.

Glory in His atoning death. Honour Him as your substitute and surety on the cross. Follow Him as your Shepherd. Hear His voice as your Prophet. Obey Him as your King. But in all your thoughts about Christ, let it be often before your mind that He alone is your High Priest, and that He has deputed His priestly office to no order of men in the world.3 This is the office of Christ, which Satan labours above all to obscure. It is the neglect of this office which leads to every kind of error. It is the remembrance of this office which is the best safeguard against the plausible teaching of the Church of Rome. Once right about this office you will never greatly err in the matter of the confession of sin. You will know to whom confession ought to be made; and to know that rightly is no slight thing.

And now, reader, I shall give you one simple warning. You will have to confess your sins one day, whether you will want to or not.

When the great white throne is set, and the books are opened, your sins will at last be exposed before the whole world. The secrets of all hearts will be revealed. You will have to acknowledge your transgressions before the eyes of an assembled world, and an innumerable company of angels. Your confession at last will be most public; and, worst of all, your confession will be too late.

If you have neglected confession of sin in times past, and are ashamed of your neglect. I invite you in my Master’s name to begin the habit of confession without delay.

Go this very day to the throne of grace, and speak to the great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, about your soul. Pour out your heart before Him. Keep nothing back from Him. Acknowledge your iniquities to Him, and entreat Him to cleanse them away. Say to Him, in David’s words, For Thy name’s sake pardon mine iniquity; for it is great. Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Cry to Him as the publican did in the parable, God be merciful to me a sinner (Psalm 25:11; 41:9 Luke 18:13).

Let me ask you something personal…

Are you afraid to do this? Do you feel unworthy and unfit to begin? I do entreat you to resist such feelings, and to begin without delay. There are glorious Bible examples to encourage you. There are rich Bible promises to lure you on. In all the volume of Scripture there are no passages so encouraging as those which are about confession of sin. if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1: 9). If any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light (Job 33:27). Father, said the prodigal son, I have sinned against Heaven and in Thy sight, and am no mote worthy to be called Thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry (Luke 15:21-23). Arise, dear reader, and call upon God.

If Christ had never died for sinners, there might be some excuse for doubting.

But Christ having suffered for sin, there is nothing that need keep you back. Only acknowledge your iniquity, and cast yourself wholly at God’s mercy in Christ, and life, eternal life, shall be your own. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow: thought they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isaiah i. 18). But O reader, begin, begin to confess without delay. This very day BEGIN TO CONFESS YOUR SIN.

Confession and the Door of Free Grace

Written by, Joseph Caryl
Taken and adapted from, A Directory for the Afflicted being Select Extracts First Fourteen Chapters  of the Rev. Joseph Caryl’s Commentary on the Book of Job, by John Berrie; Edinburgh, pp. 135-136, 1824.

confess-all-jesus“If we confess our sins,
he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

–1 John 1:9 (ESV)


A saint confesses freely, but it is extorted from a wicked man…  

The saint confesses feelingly; he tastes the bitterness of sin while he confesses whereas it is the fear of punishment that makes a natural man feel.   A good man confesses sincerely, and is in earnest both with God and his soul.  The other casts out his sin as seamen do their goods in a storm, which they would wish back whenever it is over.  A believer mixes faith with his sorrows in his confessions, which no other man ever did.

Observe that the holiest man has cause to continue confessing his sin. 

While the ship leaks, the pump must not stand still.  As the very best are in danger of being lifted up above measure, they have cause daily to engage in the soul-humbling duty of confession.  Every confession of sin is a fresh obligation to do so no more, and as it gives the soul a taste of the bitterness of sin, so of the sweetness of forgiveness through Christ.  Confession of sin exalts Christ in our hearts and affections; for we thereby declare our belief of the riches of Christ, and his ability and willingness to take away our sins.  This at once encourages us to confess our enormous load of debt, and increases our love to him who gave his life a ransom for us and how doth it commend the healing virtue of bis blood, when we open to him such mortal wounds and diseases which he only and easily can cure.

Confession of sin gives glory to every attribute of God…

…as it owns a debt and our inability to make payment and all that we enjoy or ever shall receive, must run us deeper in debt to free grace.  What shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men!  I can neither escape from, nor satisfy thy justice.  Observe, that the holiest man cannot atone for one sin, by either sufferings or obedience.  All that he can do is imperfect and defiled, and besides, it was a debt before; neither has God any where appointed man’s righteousness to be a satisfaction for his sins.

Pardon and forgiveness of sin, must come in at the door of free grace. 

A good work trusted to, is as destructive as sin unrepented of.  None but God has either power, patience, or wisdom, to be the preserver of foolish, helpless, erring man.

Confession; “a Bill of Indictment Against Four Sorts of Persons” …THE DOCTRINE OF REPENTANCE. Part 8.

Written by, Thomas Watson.
Published in 1668.

comeback9[In this series we are looking at all the ingredients for true repentance. In today’s thoughts, we are looking at the ways we can pervert “True Confession.” Once again, observe how Thomas Watson uses scripture with both faith and imagination to bring home his points on Confession. Now, let us look again, at the rest of  the third of these respective ingredients. –MWP]


1. Sight of sin
2. Sorrow for sin
3. Confession of sin
4. Shame for sin
5. Hatred for sin
6. Turning from sin

REMEMBER: If any one ingredient is left out, repentance loses its virtue.

Ingredient 3. CONFESSION of Sin

When considering whether confession a necessary ingredient in repentance, consider this bill of indictment against four sorts of persons:

It reproves those that hide their sins…

…as Rachel hid her father’s images under her (Gen. 31.34). Many had rather have their sins covered than cured. They do with their sins as with their pictures: they draw a curtain over them; or as some do with their bastards, smother them.

But though men will have no tongue to confess, God has an eye to see; he will unmask their treason: He will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes’ (Ps. 50.21). Those iniquities which men hide in their hearts shall be written one day on their foreheads as with the point of a diamond. They who will not confess their sin as David did, that they may be pardoned, shall confess their sin as Achan did, that they may be stoned. It is dangerous to keep the devil’s counsel: ‘He that covereth his Sins shall not prosper’ (Prov. 28.13).

It reproves those who do indeed confess sin but only by halves.

They do not confess all; they confess the pence but not the pounds. They confess vain thoughts or badness of memory but not the sins they are most guilty of, such as rash anger, extortion, uncleanness, like he in Plutarch who complained his stomach was not very good when his lungs were bad and his liver rotten.

But if we do not confess all, how should we expect that God will pardon all? It is true that we cannot know the exact catalog of our sins, but the sins which come within our view and cognizance, and which our hearts accuse us of, must be confessed as ever we hope for mercy.

It reproves those who in their confessions mince and extenuate their sins.

A gracious soul labors to make the worst of his sins, but hypocrites make the best of them. They do not deny they are sinners, but they do what they can to lessen their sins: they indeed offend sometimes, but it is their nature, and it is long of such occasions. These are excuses rather than confessions. I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord: because I feared the people’ (i Sam. 15.24). Saul lays his sin upon the people: they would have him spare the sheep and oxen. It was an apology, not a self-indictment. This runs in the blood.

Adam acknowledged that he had tasted the forbidden fruit, but instead of aggravating his sin he translated it from himself to God: The woman thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat’ (Gen. 3.12), that is, if I had not had this woman to be a tempter, I would not have transgressed. That is a bad sin indeed that has no excuse, as it must be a very coarse wool which will take no dye. How apt we are to pare and curtail sin, and look upon it through the small end of the perspective,’ that it appears but as ‘a little cloud, like a man’s hand’ (i Kings 18.44).

It reproves those who are so far from confessing sin that they boldly plead for it.

Instead of having tears to lament it, they use arguments to defend it. If their sin be passion they will justify it: I do well to be angry’ (Jon.4.9). If it be covetousness they will vindicate it. When men commit sin they are the devil’s servants; when they plead for it they are the devil’s attorneys, and he will give them a fee.

Let us show ourselves penitents by sincere confession of sin.

The thief on the cross made a confession of his sin: ‘we indeed are condemned justly’ (Luke 23.41). And Christ said to him, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23.43), which might have occasioned that speech of Augustine’s, that confession of sin shuts the mouth of hell and opens the gate of paradise. That we may make a free and ingenuous confession of sin, let us consider:

Holy confession gives glory to God:

‘My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him’ (Josh. 7.19). A humble confession exalts God. What a glory is it to him that out of our own mouths he does not condemn us? While we confess sin, God’s patience is magnified in sparing, and his free grace in saving such sinners.

Confession is a means to humble the soul.

He who subscribes himself a hell-deserving sinner will have little heart to be proud. Like the violet, he will hang down his head in humility. A true penitent confesses that he mingles sin with all he does, and therefore has nothing to boast of. Uzziah, though a king, yet had a leprosy in his forehead; he had enough to abase him (2 Chron. 26.19). So a child of God, even when he does good, yet acknowledges much evil to be in that good. This lays all his feathers of pride in the dust.

Confession gives vent to a troubled heart.

When guilt lies boiling in the conscience, confession gives ease. It is like the lancing of an abscess which gives ease to the patient.

Confession purges out sin.

Augustine called it ‘the expeller of vice’. Sin is a bad blood; confession is like the opening of a vein to let it out. Confession is like the dung-gate, through which all the filth of the city was carried forth (Neh. 3.13). Confession is like pumping at the leak; it lets out that sin which would otherwise drown. Confession is the sponge that wipes the spots from off the soul.

Confession of sin endears Christ to the soul.

If I say I am a sinner, how precious will Christ’s blood be to me! After Paul has confessed a body of sin, he breaks forth into a congratulatory triumph for Christ: I thank God through Jesus Christ (Rom. 7.25).

If a debtor confesses a judgment but the creditor will not exact the debt, instead appointing his own son to pay it, will not the debtor be very thankful? So when we confess the debt, and that even though we should for ever lie in hell we cannot pay it, but that God should appoint his own Son to lay down his blood for the payment of our debt, how is free grace magnified and Jesus Christ eternally loved and admired!

Confession of sin makes way for pardon.

No sooner did the prodigal come with a confession in his mouth, I have sinned against heaven’, than his father’s heart did melt towards him, and he kissed him (Luke 15.20). When David said, I have sinned’, the prophet brought him a box with a pardon, The Lord hath put away thy sin’ (2 Sam. 12.13). He who sincerely confesses sin has God’s bond for a pardon: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins’ (1 John 1.9). Why does not the apostle say that if we confess he is merciful to forgive our sins? No; he is just, because he has bound himself by promise to forgive such. God’s truth and justice are engaged for the pardoning of that man who confesses sin and comes with a penitent heart by faith in Christ, )· “

How reasonable and easy is this command that we should confess sin!

  1. It is a reasonable command, for if one has wronged another, what is more rational than to confess he has wronged him? We, having wronged God by sin, how equal and consonant to reason is it that we should confess the offense.
  2. It is an easy command. What a vast difference is there between the first covenant and the second! In the first covenant it was, if you commit sin you die; in the second covenant it is, if you confess sin you shall have mercy. In the first covenant no surety was allowed; under the covenant of grace, if we do but confess the debt, Christ will be our surety. What way could be thought of as more ready and facile for the salvation of man than a humble confession? Only acknowledge thine iniquity’ (]er. 3.13). God says to us, I do not ask for sacrifices of rams to expiate your guilt; I do not bid you part with the fruit of your body for the sin of your soul, Only acknowledge thine iniquity’; do but draw up an indictment against yourself and plead guilty, and you shall be sure of mercy.

All this should render this duty amiable. Throw out the poison of sin by confession, and ‘this day is salvation come to thy house’.

There remains one case of conscience: are we bound to confess our sins to men?

The papists insist much upon auricular confession; one must confess his sins in the ear of the priest or he cannot be absolved. They urge, ‘Confess your sins one to another’ (James 5.16), but this scripture is little to their purpose. It may as well mean that the priest should confess to the people as well as the people to the priest. Auricular confession is one of the Pope’s golden doctrines. Like the fish in the Gospel, it has money in its mouth: ‘when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money (Matt. 17.27). But though I am not for confession to men in a popish sense, yet I think in three cases there ought to be confession to men:

  1. Firstly, where a person has fallen into scandalous sin and by it has been an occasion of offense to some and of falling to others, he ought to make a solemn and open acknowledgment of his sin, that his repentance may be as visible as his scandal (2 Cor. 2:6-7).
  2. Secondly, where a man has confessed his sin to God, yet still his conscience is burdened, and he can have no ease in his mind, it is very requisite that he should confess his sins to some prudent, pious friend, who may advise him and speak a word in due season (James 5.16}. It is a sinful modesty in Christians that they are not more free with their ministers and other spiritual friends in unburdening themselves and opening the sores and troubles of their souls to them. If there is a thorn sticking in the conscience, it is good to make use of those who may help to pluck it out.
  3. Thirdly, where any man has slandered another and by clipping his good name has made it weigh lighter, he is bound to make confession. The scorpion carries its poison in its tail, the slanderer in his tongue. His words pierce deep like the quills of the porcupine. That person who has murdered another in his good name or, by bearing false witness, has damaged him in his estate, ought to confess his sin and ask forgiveness: ‘if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift’ (Matt. 5.23-4). How can this reconciliation be effected but by confessing the injury?

Till this is done, God will accept none of your services. Do not think the holiness of the altar will privilege you; your praying and hearing are in vain till you have appeased your brother’s anger by confessing your fault to him.

Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: Thomas Watson (1620 – 1686) was an English, Nonconformist, Puritan preacher and author.

He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he was noted for remarkably intense study. In 1646 he commenced a sixteen-year pastorate at St. Stephen’s, Walbrook. He showed strong Presbyterian views during the civil war, with, however, an attachment to the king, and in 1651 he was imprisoned briefly with some other ministers for his share in Christopher Love’s plot to recall Charles II of England. He was released on 30 June 1652, and was formally reinstated as vicar of St. Stephen’s Walbrook. He obtained great fame and popularity as a preacher until the Restoration, when he was ejected for Nonconformity. Notwithstanding the rigor of the acts against dissenters, Watson continued to exercise his ministry privately as he found opportunity. Upon the Declaration of Indulgence in 1672 he obtained a license to preach at the great hall in Crosby House. After preaching there for several years, his health gave way, and he retired to Barnston, Essex, where he died suddenly while praying in secret. He was buried on 28 July 1686.

Elements and Characteristics of Confession …THE DOCTRINE OF REPENTANCE. Part 7.

Written by, Thomas Watson.
Published in 1668.

images[In this series we are looking at all the ingredients necessary for true repentance. In today’s thoughts, we are looking at “True Confession.”  Today, observe how Thomas Watson uses scripture with both faith and imagination to bring home his points on Confession. Now, let us look at the third of these respective ingredients. –MWP]

1. Sight of sin
2. Sorrow for sin
3. Confession of sin
4. Shame for sin
5. Hatred for sin
6. Turning from sin

REMEMBER: If any one ingredient is left out, repentance loses its virtue.

Ingredient 3. CONFESSION of Sin

Sorrow is such a vehement passion—that it will have vent. It vents itself at the eyes by weeping, and at the tongue by confession. “The children of Israel stood and confessed their sins (Neh. 9:2). “I will go and return to my place, until they acknowledge their offence” (Hos. 5:15). This is a metaphor alluding to a mother who, when she is angry, goes away from the child and hides her face until the child acknowledges its fault and begs pardon.

Confession “a salve for a wounded soul.”

Confession is self-accusing: “I have sinned!” (2 Sam. 24:17). When we come before God, we must accuse ourselves. The truth is—that by this self-accusing we prevent Satan’s accusing. In our confessions we accuse ourselves of pride, infidelity, passion, so that when Satan, who is called “the accuser of the brethren”, shall lay these things to our charge, God will say, “They have accused themselves already; therefore, Satan, you have no suit; your accusations come too late.”

The humble sinner does more than accuse himself…

…he, as it were, sits in judgment and passes sentence upon himself. He confesses that he has deserved to be bound over to the wrath of God. Hear what the apostle Paul says: “if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment” (1 Cor. 11:31). But have not wicked men, like Judas and Saul, confessed sin? Yes! but theirs was not a true confession. That confession of sin may be right and genuine, these eight qualifications are requisite:

1. Confession must be VOLUNTARY.

It must come as water out of a spring—freely. The confession of the wicked is extorted, like the confession of a man upon a rack. When a spark of God’s wrath flies into their conscience, or they are in fear of death—then they will fall to their confessions! Balaam, when he saw the angel’s naked sword, could say, “I have sinned!” (Num. 22:34). But true confession drops from the lips—as myrrh from the tree, or honey from the comb—freely. “I have sinned against heaven, and before you” (Luke 15:18). The prodigal charged himself with sin, before his father charged him with it.

2. Confession must be with REMORSE.

The heart must deeply resent it. A natural man’s confessions run through him as water through a pipe. They do not affect him at all. But true confession leaves heart-wounding impressions on a man. David’s soul was burdened in the confession of his sins: “as a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me” (Psalm 38:4). It is one thing to confess sin—and another thing to feel sin’s wounds.

3. Confession must be SINCERE.

Our hearts must go along with our confessions. The hypocrite confesses sin—but loves it; like a thief who confesses to stolen goods—yet loves stealing. How many confess pride and covetousness with their lips—but roll them as honey under their tongue. Augustine said that before his conversion he confessed sin and begged power against it—but his heart whispered within him, “not yet, Lord”. He really did not want to leave his sin. A good Christian is more honest. His heart keeps pace with his tongue. He is convinced of the sins he confesses, and abhors the sins he is convinced of.

4. In true confession a man PARTICULARIZES sin.

A wicked man acknowledges he is a sinner in general. He confesses sin by wholesale. A wicked man says, “Lord, I have sinned”—but does not know what the sin is; whereas a true convert acknowledges his particular sins. As it is with a wounded man, who comes to the surgeon and shows him all his wounds—here I was cut in the head, there I was shot in the arm; so a mournful sinner confesses the various sins of his soul. Israel drew up a particular charge against themselves: “we have served Baal” (Judg. 10:10). The prophet recites the very sin which brought a curse with it: “Neither have we hearkened unto your servants the prophets, which spoke in your name” (Dan. 9:6). By a diligent inspection into our hearts, we may find some particular sin indulged—point to that sin with a repentant tear!

5. A true penitent confesses sin in the FOUNTAIN.

He acknowledges the pollution of his nature. The sin of our nature is not only a privation of good—but an infusion of evil. It is like rust to iron or stain to scarlet. David acknowledges his birth-sin: “I was shaped in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). We are ready to charge many of our sins to Satan’s temptations—but this sin of our nature is wholly from ourselves; we cannot shift it off to Satan. We have a root within, which bears gall and wormwood (Deut. 29:18). Our nature is an abyss and seed of all sin, from whence come those evils which infest the world. It is this depravity of nature which poisons our holy things; it is this which brings on God’s judgments. Oh confess sin in the fountain!

6. Sin is to be confessed with all its circumstances and AGGRAVATIONS.

Those sins which are committed under the gospel horizon, are aggravated sins. Confess sins against knowledge, against grace, against vows, against experiences, against judgments. “The wrath of God came upon them and slew the fattest of them. For all this they sinned still” (Psalm 78:31-2). Those are killing aggravations, which enhance our sins.

7. In confession, we must so charge ourselves as to clear God.

Should the Lord be severe in his providences and unsheath his bloody sword—yet we must acquit him and acknowledge he has done us no wrong. Nehemiah in his confessing of sin vindicates God’s righteousness: “Every time you punished us you were being just. We have sinned greatly, and you gave us only what we deserved” (Neh. 9:33). Mauritius the emperor, when he saw his wife slain before his eyes by Phocas, cried out, “Righteous are you, O Lord, in all your ways”.

8. We must confess our sins with a resolution not to commit them over again.

Some run from the confessing of sin—to the committing of sin, like the Persians who have one day in the year when they kill serpents; and after that day allow them to swarm again. Likewise, many seem to kill their sins in their confessions, and afterwards let them grow as fast as ever. “Cease to do evil” (Isaiah 1:16). It is vain to confess, “We have done those things we ought not to have done”, and continue still in doing so. Pharaoh confessed he had sinned (Exod. 9:27)—but when the thunder ceased he fell to his sin again: “he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart” (Exod. 9:34).

Origen calls confession “the vomit of the soul whereby the conscience is eased of that burden which did lie upon it.”

Now, when we have vomited up sin by confession—we must not return to this vomit! What king will pardon that man who, after he has confessed his treason, practices new treason? Thus we see how confession must be qualified.
Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: Thomas Watson (1620 – 1686) was an English, Nonconformist, Puritan preacher and author.

He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he was noted for remarkably intense study. In 1646 he commenced a sixteen-year pastorate at St. Stephen’s, Walbrook. He showed strong Presbyterian views during the civil war, with, however, an attachment to the king, and in 1651 he was imprisoned briefly with some other ministers for his share in Christopher Love’s plot to recall Charles II of England. He was released on 30 June 1652, and was formally reinstated as vicar of St. Stephen’s Walbrook. He obtained great fame and popularity as a preacher until the Restoration, when he was ejected for Nonconformity. Notwithstanding the rigor of the acts against dissenters, Watson continued to exercise his ministry privately as he found opportunity. Upon the Declaration of Indulgence in 1672 he obtained a license to preach at the great hall in Crosby House. After preaching there for several years, his health gave way, and he retired to Barnston, Essex, where he died suddenly while praying in secret. He was buried on 28 July 1686.