Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 1, 1949

On The Confession Of Sins

R. L. Whiteside

In the Old Testament, confession of sins to Jehovah is mentioned a number of times. David said, in Ps. 32:5:

"I acknowledge my sin unto thee, And mine iniquity did I not hide: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto Jehovah; And thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin."

It seems plain enough that the servant of God, when he sins, must confess that sin to God and pray for forgiveness. Of course, that implies repentance. If only you and the person who sinned with you know of that sin, the public need not know anything about it. In fact, it is far better that they never know. Repent of it, make confession unto God, and pray for his forgiveness, and let that end the matter. Don't be a fool; don't parade your sins before people that otherwise would not know anything about them. But if you have maligned, slandered, and persecuted your brother before the world through every available avenue, you can't make that right with God by sitting in your home crying about it. The mischief of your deed was aimed at your brother, but the sin of it reached high heaven. A public wrong must be publicly corrected, or it is not corrected at all. Of course, to graciously make public amends would be considered very humiliating, but to do so would be such an outstanding example of Christian manhood at its best that every right-thinking person would applaud the deed; and such a deed would ease the conscience and make the one feel more content with himself. "Too much pride for that," do you say? Remember, "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Prov. 16:18.)

And sometimes there are other cases that seem to demand a public confession, though I know of no scripture that requires that a public confession be made. When a member of the church indulges in drunkenness, immoral practices openly, so that people know about it, or if he has engaged in contention and strife, or in any other sin, so that he brings shame upon himself and injury to the church, and then wishes to reform, how can he clear himself without publicly confessing his sins, and praying God for forgiveness, and asking the church to pray for him and to help him?

An evil practice by some preachers has grown out of a wrong application of a part of James 5:16. A part of the verse is quoted and the connection not considered; and it is thus perverted. Then, in a rousing exhortation, brethren are exhorted to come forward and confess their sins; but do they confess any sins? Oh, no; likely each one says, "I have not been living right;" or, "I have not been living as a Christian should," etc. Others do not know what these people, hitherto regarded as upright men and women, have done; and many will wonder what secret meanness they have done. But if you good and faithful Christians feel that you must make public confession of sins, name the sins you are confessing. A blanket confession is really no confession of sins. Besides, people who know you, and have regarded you as faithful Christians, will likely think you have been doing things in secret; and your influence will never be so good any more. And you will notice that the preacher who calls for such confessions never does any confessing himself. Did you ever try to figure out why he does not practice his own preaching on that point?

The Psychological Effect Of Movement

Did you ever note the action of a denominational preacher in a protracted meeting, or the performances of a union meeting preacher? They know the value of getting a movement started, and so they try various schemes to get people to move. A long time ago I saw that worked in getting people to make some move. They had never heard of psychology, but they knew they could get the "Christians" to come to the altar to pray for the unconverted, such a movement would be contagious and would spread to some they wanted to influence to come to the mourner's bench. It worked. But now, since the mourner's bench has been practically abandoned by the more conservative denominations, some of "our brethren" have instituted a sort of mourner's bench for Christians! Yes, "Come forward, confess your sins, and pray for forgiveness, and be prayed for." Great is the denominational garbage can!

But we must wait till another time for a closer examination of James 5:16. In the meantime read carefully verses 14, 15, 16. Note how "therefore" connects verse 16 with what went before, and note also the purpose of the confession of sins.