Written by, Thomas Watson.
Taken from, “THE DOCTRINE OF REPENTANCE.”
Published in 1668.
[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!
- 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.
- 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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.