Confession: What Is It?

1 John 1
(1 John 1)
It is not God's will that His creatures should be left in uncertainty about anything winch concerns then spiritual welfare. In clear and simple terms He has defined the moral condition of every man by nature: he is a child of wrath, dead in trespasses and sins. Equally clear and simple is His language when, in His grace, He sets before us the way of salvation. " The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." (Rom. 10:8, 98But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; 9That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Romans 10:8‑9).) And this salvation is immediate and complete; for " He that heareth my word," says the Lord Jesus, " and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting fife, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life." (John 5:2424Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24).) He has been brought out of that sphere where death reigns, and in which judgment will be executed.
But the knowledge of salvation is not all that we should desire. God would have His redeemed people to hold communion with Himself. For any of the fallen children of Adam to have fellowship with God two things are requisite: the ground must be prepared on which it can be based; the capacity must be imparted by winch it can be enjoyed. By the atonement, the ground has been prepared; by the new birth, the being begotten of God, the capacity is imparted. The ground once laid, nothing can change it; the new nature once bestowed, none can deprive us of it. Yet, in point of fact, every saint does not experimentally enjoy unbroken communion with God. Set before God, in grace, as a child, the relationship remains unchanged; but the enjoyment of it is another thing. Defective teaching, as to the work of Christ, and the place of nearness into which all who believe on Him are brought, may, and often does, hinder it. But communion is often interrupted by failure in walk. For He with whom we are allowed this intercourse is a holy God—He is light. He cannot act contrary to His nature by having fellowship with evil, so neither can He admit to communion with Him those who do. " In Him is no darkness at all." At the same time John could write, "Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." It was not with him a possibility, but a reality. And knowing what it was, he desired for all believers that they also should enter into it. "That which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." (1 John 1:3, 43That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. (1 John 1:3‑4).) Then follows the condition of walk needful for the desire of the evangelist, and surely of God also, for those to whom he wrote, to be fulfilled. The nature of God, what He is, being concisely stated (ver. 5), the walk of the saint must be in accordance with it. Pretension here will not avail. ' However others may be deceived, God sees all and judges all. "If we say, that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we He, and do not the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin."
At this juncture another question comes up. If we have sinned, what are we to do? How can we be restored to communion? To the word we must go to learn this, for it Is God's prerogative to prescribe the terms; it is our part to observe the conditions.
Here, what grace meets us! We find He has already anticipated our failure. He cannot allow it; yet He has foreseen it. " My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not" (chap. ii. 1), is the word of God to every pardoned sinner. Possessed of a nature which cannot sin, because born of God, indwelt by the same Holy Ghost who descended and rested on the Lord when here on earth; there is no excuse and should be no license for sin. Yet we do sin. So in language, as clear and simple as that which tells us of our condition by nature, and the way of salvation by faith through grace, the word sets forth the provision God has made for our failure, and the directions He has laid down for our observance. The provision is the advocacy of His Son, Jesus Christ, the righteous one, the propitiation for our sins; the direction for His saints is to confess their sins. (1 John 2:1, 2; 1:91My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1‑2)
9If 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)
.) It is the blood of Christ which procures the complete forgiveness of sins. It is by the advocacy of the righteous One the failing saint is restored to the privileges of communion. But the child must acknowledge his fault, for the holiness of God must be maintained. How simple are God's ways; and yet how grossly perverted have been His directions about confession! What confusion still prevails in the Church of God on this point! How have men by their misunderstanding and misuse of His simple directions clouded the truth, till the way of salvation by faith in Christ has been forgotten, and the finished character of His work practically denied.
Confession, it is clear, is God's own institution. The children of Israel (Lev. 5:55And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: (Leviticus 5:5); Numb. 5:77Then they shall confess their sin which they have done: and he shall recompense his trespass with the principal thereof, and add unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him against whom he hath trespassed. (Numbers 5:7)) were commanded to practice it. The godly in Israel were baptized of John, confessing their sins. The believer in the Lord Jesus is told to confess. But for what are we to confess? What should we confess? To whom must we confess? These questions answered from God's word will set the matter clear, and will help souls in a day when doctrinal error abounds, and the teaching of so many is sadly confused.
I. Confession is not for salvation. It is for those who have been saved. For, remark, the apostle includes himself among the number of those who might need it. " If we confess:" yet he wrote when in actual enjoyment of communion with the Father and with the Son. He knew he had eternal life himself, and wrote to assure others of it (ver. 13); and because their sins were forgiven for Christ's sake. (Chap. ii. 12.) It is for the saint who has fallen, not for the sinner yet unconverted, that he here speaks. It is for the restoration of fellowship with God, not for salvation, that he thus writes. Did not David know something of the difference here pointed out, when in Psalm 32, after describing the result of Ms confession to the Lord, he adds, " For this shall every one that is godly make Ms prayer unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found?" His experience would encourage them.
II. What should we confess? Our sins. Before God Μ Christ, new creatures, we are told not to sin. From the old nature we never can be free till death, or the change which takes place at the coming of the Lord into the air for His saints. But the " old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." (Rom. 6:66Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Romans 6:6).) It is the yielding to this nature we have to confess. " If we confess our sins." It is one thing to speak of ourselves as sinful creatures, the common condition by nature of all the human race; it is another thing to confess acts of sin, when the efficacy of the blood of Jesus Christ has been known—a new nature has been received, and the individual has become a temple of the Holy Ghost. If I confess myself a sinner, I am only speaking of what I cannot help. If I confess my sins, I speak of what I ought to abstain from. I have yielded to that to which I had no right to yield; I have done that which I ought not to have done.
III. To whom must we confess? Though not here expressly stated, it is plain it is to God. For against Him have we offended. Acting according to His nature, He must make us feel that the link of communion has been sundered. To Him we must confess, that He may righteously, when the acts have been judged by us according to His judgment of them, receive us again into fellowship with Himself. Saved once and forever, we have not to ask for an atonement to be made, or to be washed in the blood of Christ. Our standing before Him is perfect. His children before we faded, we are still His children when we have failed. Our relations will remain unaltered and unalterable. We need not then an earthly priest to come between us and God—that implies imperfection of standing. It assumes that the individual acting as priest has a nearer place with God than we have. This was the case dispensationally with Israel: there the people could not go where the priest could—they had no place of service at the altar, no ministry in the sanctuary. Our relationship with God is the closest that can be: children of the Father—the undoubted position of every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ—our standing too is in Him before God. If this is forgotten, the thought of confession to an official person is easily taken up, to the grievous dishonor of the Lord, and the great loss of the soul; for confession to an official, call him priest or anything else, is really a relinquishment of the right of access, for the saint who has sinned, to the presence of the Father; a denial of the all-sufficiency of the advocacy of our blessed Lord; and practically an affirmation that man must supply a link which he has not, between the soul and God. It is a return to the position of Israel before the death of the Lord; it is Jewish not christian ground. We have only to look around to see the darkness, ignorance, want of peace and intelligence in the things of God which characterize the professing Church, where this is practiced, to learn its true tendency, and to understand its real origin. The christian standing has been well nigh forgotten, and that in the Church of God.
On the other hand, confession to our fellow creature we may practice. When we have sinned against them, we must confess it to them, ere looking for restoration from God. Have we not this expressed in principle in Matt. 5:23, 2423Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. (Matthew 5:23‑24); Luke 17:44And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. (Luke 17:4)? If we have not injured them, we may confess our faults to them, according to Jas. 5:1818And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. (James 5:18), that prayer being made by them, for us who have sinned, we may be healed. To be anointed with oil, the elders were to be called; for confession of our faults, it is to one another we may resort. How carefully does the word of God guard us against the introduction of an elder, or priest, or any other official, when confession is spoken of!
Confession made, forgiveness follows. " If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." Need we any man to assure us of it when God has so graciously promised it us in His word? Will any word of man make the word of God more sure? Can man's announcement of it give greater confidence to the heart of God's children? His own character is pledged to accord it: He is faithful, He cannot deny Himself—He is just, He cannot act unjustly. What He is, as here set forth, should surely give confidence to the heart, which no word of man can strengthen—no authoritative declaration of a priest can make more sure. On His word we may surely rely. When we confess our sins, He forgives.
If we would rest here God would not. He not only forgives, but cleanses from all unrighteousness. Pure *Him-self, He cleanses His saints from all unrighteousness, that the joy of fellowship with Himself may be restored, and we again be before Him as happy, free, rejoicing children.
Mark how God here does it all. We confess: He forgives and He cleanses. What room then is there for man to come in? Who needs an official person on earth to readmit his soul to communion with God? There is indeed the power of binding and loosing, but the sphere for its exercise is earth. It is given to the assembly to put away from their midst a wicked person, to forgive him, and to receive him again to fellowship at the Lord's table when assured of his repentance. (Compare 1 Cor. 5:1-51It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. 2And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, 4In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Corinthians 5:1‑5) with 2 Cor. 2:6, 76Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. 7So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. (2 Corinthians 2:6‑7).) Discipline in the Church of God must be maintained, yet even in this the word of God lays the responsibility of action on the local assembly, not any person or persons of it. But the subject in John is not discipline on earth, but the restoration of the soul to individual fellowship with God. This is God's own work. Often may we need it where no case for the exercise of discipline by the assembly has arisen. But as often as we need it we find God ready to do it, if only we confess our sins before Him. How unfailing is His grace! Ηοw inexhaustible His love!