The Believer's Confession of Sins

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Q. “R. P.” 1. How is it said in 1 John 1:99If 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 we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”; after it is said in Ephesians 1:77In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; (Ephesians 1:7) and Colossians 1:1414In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: (Colossians 1:14), “In whom we have redemption through His blood; the forgiveness of our sins”?
2. As a believer in Jesus Christ, whose blood has cleansed me from all sin, am I not already forgiven — washed every whit clean — so as to need no repetition of forgiveness, or application of it?
3. To which does this ninth verse apply — to the cleansing efficacy of the blood at the first: or the washing of our feet afterward by the water of the Word? especially as the next verse says, “My little children, these things write I unto you that ye sin not”?
A. 1, 2. I must preface my remarks on these questions by stating, first, that a sin is never forgiven until it is committed; let us be clear as to this: when I, as a poor sinner, believe the gospel, God forgives my sins on the ground of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done; He is just and consistent with Himself in doing so, as a righteous God. He justifies me, and I am pardoned for all the sins I have committed: God remembers them no more forever. But more; I find, after all, that I am still a sinner, and that if God in grace has removed the fruit off a bad tree, the tree is still there, and may produce a new crop. Then I learn another truth, not only that Christ died for me and bore my sins, but that I have died with Him, and thus for faith, as for God, the old tree is gone, that nature which produced the sins, for which there is no forgiveness; and as dead with Christ, I am justified from sin, and the Christ, who has died and risen, is now the true “I” — a new graft on an old tree, which has been cut down; “Christ liveth in me.” The old tree is there, and if I am not watchful it may — alas, it does appear; for “in many things we offend all.” Now I cannot say that I am forgiven for what I never have committed; for forgiveness has reference to actions which have been committed, not to the nature which produced the evil thing. Forgiveness assumes that the sins are in existence to which the forgiveness applies. Neither can I say that I must sin in the future — I may do so if not watchful; and if I do so, it is the allowance of the action of the old nature, which, as long as unconfessed and unforgiven, hinders fellowship and joy. As for imputation that cannot be, because Christ has borne the wrath for me, and is in God’s presence on high. I cannot enjoy the presence of God — and God will not allow me to do so — so long as the sin is unconfessed and unjudged. The righteousness has not changed in which I stand before God, as Christ is there, but the sin is on my conscience. God has said in His Word, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” etc. I lay hold upon that principle by faith, and lay my heart bare before Him; a deep and painful work; much more so than asking forgiveness for which I have no divine warrant after redemption was accomplished, and which is really “taking it easy.” It is easy enough to ask to be forgiven, but a painful work for the heart to take the motive from which the evil action came, and the thoughts which conceived it — (“when lust hath conceived it bringeth forth sin” James 1) — to God, and to tell them out in the presence of a grace that does not impute it to me, and which breaks my heart down more than all else could. My heart thinks of the agony it cost Christ to put away that sin before God’s eye — feels, too, what it is to have a sin on my conscience, and learns the restoring grace of God, who is faithful and just to forgive me my sin; and more — “to cleanse” me — to remove the remembrance of it from my conscience in full restoring grace.
No doubt we have, as quoted, “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins”; but it is to sins that have been committed, to which this and like passages refer: Redemption, Quickening, etc., go much farther than this. The former is the total deliverance of the person out of the condition he was in as a sinner, and introduction into another state before God. Quickening is the impartation of a new life — the life of Christ risen, who had borne the sins away, and in whom I have the redemption. I ought not to sin after having been introduced into such a state, yet, alas, I do. Hence, when John speaks in the verse you quote (1 John 1:99If 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)), he adds, “My little children, these things (that is, the preceding verses) write I unto you that ye sin not.” To have said what he did might have been taken advantage of by flesh, and used as license to sin, thus he guards it, and adds the truth, “If any sin, we have an advocate with the Father,” One who has gone after us, and dealt with our hearts and consciences with His word and Spirit, making us feel the bitterness of sin, and thus has bowed our hearts before God in confession — a thing we would never do unless He exercised this advocacy.
We do not need to be justified again — to be redeemed again — to be quickened again; all that is accomplished once and forever. But we do need the sense of forgiveness when we have allowed the sinful nature in us to act in the slightest form. This is the value of the Priesthood of Christ during our whole course here; Advocacy is an action which flows from Priesthood. The presence of a sinful nature in us never makes the conscience bad. It is only when it acts that the conscience becomes defiled. The sin can never come to God’s presence, because Christ is there. Nor is there imputation for condemnation to me. But the conscience is defiled and the bitterness of sin felt. I cannot go to God and tell Him that I have a sinful nature, and could not help it, because, if I had used His grace which is sufficient for me, I had not failed. But I go and confess my “sins” — not “sinful nature” — and He is faithful and just to forgive me, and to cleanse me, because Christ died; and the righteousness is unchanged, because He is risen and in heaven.
3. 1 John 1:99If 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) is very abstract: that is, it is a divine principle which the apostle states, without applying it to the state of the individual, as believer or sinner. John’s Epistle is full of general abstract statements. He takes things as he finds them, without allowing for the state of individuals. Faith uses the divine principle, and gets the good of it. It would pre-suppose that I must sin in the future, to provide such a resource for believers as such, specially. Yet when a believer does fail his faith seizes the principle, and uses it for his restoration. If a soul comes to God, confessing his sins, believing that God is faithful and just to forgive him, he gets the good of it, but I could not call him a mere sinner now, as grace has wrought in his heart.
The first two verses of 1 John 2 belong to the subject at the end of chapter 1. The apostle has those who have eternal life in Christ specially before his mind in the epistle. He writes these things which relate to communion with the Father and the Son, that their joy might be full. 1 John 1:77But 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. (1 John 1:7) is not an evangelistic statement of the Gospel, although frequently used in that way. It gives three features of Christian position.
1. Walking in the light, we are in the presence of God without a vail, and we walk there before His eye.
2. We have fellowship one with another in doing so: flesh is not at work in us: jealousies are gone: there is mutuality of joy, and all absence of seeking our own.
3. Although we have sin in us, and if we said we had none, the light in which we walk would contradict us: we know that the blood of Jesus Christ has given us a title to be there with God, and God to have us there. The light prevents us saying we have no sin. The blood gives us the consciousness that we can be there with God. It is not repeated cleansing of the blood, as such is done once and is never repeated, but it is the title.
You will say, Were not all my sins future when Christ bore them? True. But bearing wrath, and shedding His blood on account of them before God’s eye, in view of all His people’s sins, is not forgiveness. My forgiveness is on the ground of what He has done, and the application of the good of His work to me appropriated through faith. I object strongly to Calvinistic statements used at times in preaching, namely, “all the believer’s sins, past, present and future, are forgiven”; or the like. No doubt the work was completed full by the Lord Jesus Christ, by which they are put away, and the sense of forgiveness applied to my soul, but the sins must be in existence first, in order that it may be so.