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25 March, 2013

The Doctrine of Repentance - Part 5

By Thomas Watson, 1668

The Nature of true repentance

Use 1. Is confession a necessary ingredient in repentance? Here is a bill of indictment against four kinds of people:

(1) It reproves those who hide their sins, as Rachel hid her father's idols under her saddle (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. But though men will have no tongue to confess—God has an eye to see! He will unmask their treason: "But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face!" (Psalm 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 punished. It is dangerous to keep the devil's counsel—to hide our sins. "He who covers his sins shall not prosper" (Proverbs 28:13).

(2) 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, immorality. They are like one who complains that his head aches—when his lungs are full of cancer! 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 catalogue 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.

(3) It reproves those who in their confessions, mince and mitigate 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. These are excuses rather than confessions. "I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord: because I feared the people" (1 Sam. 15:24). 

Saul lays his sin upon the people: they would have him spare the sheep and oxen. It was an excuse, 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 transferred it from himself to God: "The woman you gave me, she gave me the fruit—and I ate" (Gen. 3:12), that is, if I had not had this woman to be a tempter, I would not have transgressed. How apt we are to pare and curtail sin, and look upon it through the small end of the telescope, that it appears but as "a little cloud, like a man's hand" (1 Kings 18:44).

(4) 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 is anger, 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.

Use 2. 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 shall you 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 sincere confession of sin, let us consider:

(1) Holy confession gives glory to God. "Give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel—and make a confession to Him" (Josh. 7:19). A humble confession exalts God. When we confess sin, God's patience is magnified in sparing, and his free grace in saving such sinners.

(2) 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 plumes of pride in the dust.

(3) 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.

(4) Confession purges out sin. Augustine called it "the expeller of vice". Sin is 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 which wipes the spots from off the soul.

(5) 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 thankful triumph for Christ: "I thank God through Jesus Christ" (Romans 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 forever 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!