26 March, 2013
The Doctrine of Repentance Part 6
By Thomas Watson, 1668
The NATURE of true repentance
(6) 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, "Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him" (Luke 15:20). When David said, "I have sinned", the prophet brought him a box with a pardon, "The Lord has put away your sin" (2 Sam. ). 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, God is merciful to forgive our sins? He says that God 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.
(7) How reasonable and easy is this command that we should confess sin!
(a) 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 offence.
(b) 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 your iniquity" ( Jer. ). 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 your 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 your house".
There remains one case of conscience: are we bound to confess our sins to men? The papists insist much upon auricular confession; that is—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 )—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 you have opened its mouth, you shall find a piece of money" (Matt. ). 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 offence 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 carries its poison in his tongue! His words pierce deep like swords. That person who has murdered another in his good name or, by bearing false witness, or has damaged him in his estate, ought to confess his sin and ask forgiveness: "if you are standing before the altar in the Temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there beside the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God" (Matt. -24). How can this reconciliation be effected but by confessing the injury? Until 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, until you have appeased your brother's anger by confessing your fault to him.