Chapter 3 – Confession

Another element in true prayer is Confession. I do not want Christian friends to think that I am talking to the unsaved. I think we, as Christians, have a good many sins to confess.

If you go back to the Scripture records, you will find that the men who lived nearest to God, and had most power with Him, were those who confessed their sins and failures. Daniel, as we have seen, confessed his sins and those of his people. Yet there is nothing recorded against Daniel. He was one of the best men then on the face of the earth, yet was his confession of sin one of the deepest and most humble on record. Brooks, referring to Daniel’s confession, says: “In these words you have seven circumstances that Daniel uses in confessing of his and the people’s sins; and all to heighten and aggravate them. First, ‘We have sinned;’ secondly, ‘We have committed iniquity;’ thirdly, ‘We have done wickedly;’ fourthly, ‘We have rebelled against You;’ fifthly, ‘We have departed from Your precepts;’ sixthly, ‘We have not hearkened unto Your servants;’ seventhly, ‘Nor our princes, nor all the people of the land.’ These seven aggravations which Daniel reckons up in his confession are worthy our most serious consideration.”

Job was no doubt a holy man, a mighty prince, yet he had to fall in the dust and confess his sins. So you will find it all through the Scriptures. When Isaiah saw the purity and holiness of God, he beheld himself in his true light, and he exclaimed, “Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips!”

I firmly believe that the Church of God will have to confess her own sins, before there can be any great work of grace. There must be a deeper work among God’s believing people. I sometimes think it is about time to give up preaching to the ungodly, and preach to those who profess to be Christians. If we had a higher standard of life in the Church of God, there would be thousands more flocking into the Kingdom. So it was in the past; when God’s believing children turned away from their sins and their idols, the fear of God fell upon the people round about. Take up the history of Israel, and you will find that when they put away their strange gods, God visited the nation, and there came a mighty work of grace.

What we want in these days is a true and deep revival in the Church of God. I have little sympathy with the idea that God is going to reach the masses by a cold and formal church. The judgment of God must begin with us. You notice that when Daniel got that wonderful answer to prayer recorded in the ninth chapter, he was confessing his sin. That is one of the best chapters on prayer in the whole Bible.

We read: “While I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin, and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God; yes, while I was speaking in my prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give you skill and understanding.”

So also when Job was confessing his sin, God turned his captivity and heard his prayer. God will hear our prayer and turn our captivity when we take our true place before Him, and confess and forsake our transgressions. It was when Isaiah cried out before the Lord, “I am undone,” that the blessing came; the live coal was taken from the altar and put upon his lips; and he went out to write one of the most wonderful books the world has ever seen. What a blessing it has been to the church!

It was when David said, “I have sinned!” that God dealt in mercy with him. “I acknowledge my sin unto You, and my iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Notice how David made a very similar confession to that of the prodigal in the fifteenth of Luke: “I acknowledge my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight!” There is no difference between the king and the beggar when the Spirit of God comes into the heart and convicts of sin.

Richard Sibbes quaintly says of confession: “This is the way to give glory to God: when we have laid open our souls to God, and laid as much against ourselves as the devil could do that way, for let us think what the devil would lay to our charge at the hour of death and the day of judgment. He would lay hard to our charge this and that — let us accuse ourselves as he would, and as he will ere long. The more we accuse and judge ourselves, and set up a tribunal in our hearts, certainly there will follow an incredible ease. Jonah was cast into the sea, and there was an ease in the ship; Achan was stoned, and the plague was stayed. Out with Jonah, out with Achan; and there will follow ease and quiet in the soul presently. Conscience will receive wonderful ease.

“It must needs be so; for when God is honored, conscience is purified. God is honored by confession of sin every way. It honors His omniscience, that He is all seeing; that He sees our sins and searches our hearts — our secrets are not hid from Him. It honors His power. What makes us confess our sins, but that we are afraid of His power, lest He should execute it? And what makes us confess our sins, but that we know there is mercy with Him that He may be feared, and that there is pardon for sin? We would not confess our sins else. With men it is, Confess, and have execution; but with God, Confess, and have mercy. It is His own protestation. We should never lay open our sins but for mercy. So it honors God; and when He is honored, He honors the soul with inward peace and tranquillity.”

Old Thomas Fuller says: “Man’s owning his weakness is the only stock for God thereon to graft the grace of His assistance.”

Confession implies humility, and this, in God’s sight, is of great price.

A farmer went with his son into a wheat field, to see if it was ready for the harvest. “See, father,” exclaimed the boy, “how straight these stems hold up their heads! They must be the best ones. Those that hang their heads down, I am sure cannot be good for much.” The farmer plucked a stalk of each kind and said: “See here, foolish child! This stalk that stood so straight is lightheaded, and almost good for nothing; while this that hung its head, so modestly is full of the most beautiful grain.”

Outspokenness is needful and powerful, both with God and man. We need to be honest and frank with ourselves. A soldier said in a revival meeting: “My fellow soldiers, I am not excited; I am convinced — that is all. I feel that I ought to be a Christian; that I ought to say so, to tell you so, and to ask you to come with me; and now if there is a call for sinners seeking Christ to come forward, I for one shall go — not to make a show, for I have nothing but sin to show. I do not go because I want to — I would rather keep my seat; but going will be telling the truth. I ought to be a Christian, I want to be a Christian; and going forward for prayers is just telling the truth about it.” More than a score went with him.

Speaking of Pharaoh’s words, “Entreat the Lord that He may take away the frogs from me,” Mr. Spurgeon says: “A fatal flaw is manifest in that prayer. It contains no confession of sin. He says not, ‘I have rebelled against the Lord; entreat that I may find forgiveness!’ Nothing of the kind; he loves sin as much as ever. A prayer without penitence is a prayer without acceptance. If no tear has fallen upon it, it is withered. You must come to God as a sinner through a Savior, but by no other way. He who comes to God like the Pharisee, with, ‘God, I thank You that I am not as other men are,’ never draws near to God at all; but he who cries, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner,’ has come to God by the way which God has Himself appointed. There must be confession of sin before God, or our prayer is faulty.”

If this confession of sin is deep among believers, it will be so among the ungodly also. I never knew it to fail. I am now anxious that God should revive His work in the hearts of His children, so that we may see the exceeding sinfulness of sin. There are a great many fathers and mothers who are anxious for the conversion of their children. I have had as many as fifty messages from parents come to me within a single week, wondering why their children are not saved, and asking prayer for them. I venture to say that, as a rule, the fault lies at our own door. There may be something in our life that stands in the way. It may be there is some secret sin that keeps back the blessing. David lived in the awful sin into which he fell for many months before Nathan made his appearance. Let us pray God to come into our hearts, and make His power felt. If it is a right eye, let us pluck it out; if it is a right hand, let us cut it off; that we may have power with God and with man.

Why is it that so many of our children are wandering into the drinking saloons, and drifting away into infidelity — going down to a dishonored grave? There seems to be very little power in the Christianity of the present time. Many Godly parents find that their children are going astray. Does it arise from some secret sin clinging around the heart? There is a passage of God’s Word that is often quoted, but in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred those who quote it stop at the wrong place. In the fifty-ninth of Isaiah we read: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear.” There they stop. Of course God’s hand is not shortened, and His ear is not heavy; but we ought to read the next verse: “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue has muttered perverseness.” As Matthew Henry says, “It was owing to themselves — they stood in their own light, they shut their own door. God was coming toward them in the way of mercy, and they hindered Him. ‘Your iniquities have kept good things from you.'”

Bear in mind that if we are regarding iniquity in our hearts, or living on a mere empty profession, we have no claim to expect that our prayers will be answered. There is not one solitary promise for us. I sometimes tremble when I hear people quote promises, and say that God is bound to fulfill those promises to them, when all the time there is something in their own lives which they are not willing to give up. It is well for us to search our hearts, and find out why it is that our prayers are not answered.

That is a very solemn passage in Isaiah: “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? says the Lord. I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts, and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When you come to speak before Me, who has required this at your hand, to tread My courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto Me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with — it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.”

“Even the solemn meeting!” — think of that. If God does not get our heart services, He will have none of it; it is an abomination to Him.

“Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble unto Me; I am weary to bear them. And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, when you make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well, seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

Again we read in Proverbs: “He that turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.” Think of that! It may shock some of us to think that our prayers are an abomination to God, yet if any are living in known sin, this is what God’s Word says about them. If we are not willing to turn from sin and obey God’s law, we have no right to expect that He will answer our prayers. Unconfessed sin is unforgiven sin, and unforgiven sin is the darkest, foulest thing on this sin-cursed earth. You cannot find a case in the Bible where a man has been honest in dealing with sin, but God has been honest with him and blessed him. The prayer of the humble and the contrite heart is a delight to God. There is no sound that goes up from this sin cursed earth so sweet to His ear as the prayer of the man who is walking uprightly.

Let me call attention to that prayer of David, in which he says: “Search me, O, God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” I wish all my readers would commit these verses to memory. If we should all honestly make this prayer once every day there would be a good deal of change in our lives. “Search ME:” — not my neighbor. It is so easy to pray for other people, but so hard to get home to ourselves. I am afraid that we who are busy in the Lord’s work, are very often in danger of neglecting our vineyard. In this Psalm, David got home to himself. There is a difference between God searching me and my searching myself. I may search my heart, and pronounce it all right, but when God searches me as with a lighted candle, a good many things will come to light that perhaps I knew nothing about.

“Try me.” David was tried when he fell by taking his eye off from the God of his father Abraham. “Know my thoughts.” God looks at the thoughts. Are our thoughts pure? Have we in our hearts thoughts against God or against His people — against any one in the world? If we have, we are not right in the sight of God. Oh, may God search us, everyone! I do not know any better prayer that we can make than this prayer of David. One of the most solemn things in the Scripture history is that when holy men –better men than we are — were tested and tried, they were found to be as weak as water away from God. Let us be sure that we are right. Isaac Ambrose, in his work on “Self Trial,” has the following pithy words: “Now and then propose we to our hearts these two questions: 1. ‘Heart, how dost thou?’ — a few words, but a very serious question. You know this is the first question and the first salute that we use to one another – How do you do? I would to God we sometimes thus spoke to our hearts: ‘Heart, how dost thou? How is it with thee for thy spiritual state?’ 2. ‘Heart, what wilt thou do?’ or, ‘Heart, what dost thou think will become of thee and me?’ — as that dying Roman once said: ‘Poor, wretched, miserable soul, whither art thou and I going — and what will become of thee, when thou and I shall part?’

“This very thing does Moses propose to Israel, though in other terms, ‘Oh that they would consider their latter end!’ — and oh that we would put this question constantly to our hearts, to consider and debate upon! ‘Commune with your own hearts,’ said David; that is debate the matter between you and your hearts to the very utmost. Let your hearts be so put to it in communing with them, as that they may speak their very bottom. Commune — or hold a serious communication and clear intelligence and acquaintance — with your own hearts.”

It was the confession of a divine, sensible of his neglect, and especially of the difficulty of this duty: “I have lived,” said he, “forty years and somewhat more, and carried my heart in my bosom all this while, and yet my heart and I are as great strangers, and as utterly unacquainted, as if we had never come near one another. Nay, I know not my heart; I have forgotten my heart. Alas! alas! that I could be grieved at the very heart, that my poor heart and I have been so unacquainted! We are fallen into an Athenian age, spending our time in nothing more than in telling or hearing news. How go things here? How there? How in one place? How in another? But who is there that is inquisitive? How are things with my poor heart? Weigh but in the balance of a serious consideration, what time we have spent in this duty, and what time otherwise; and for many scores and hundreds of hours or days that we owe to our hearts in this duty, can we write fifty? Or where there should have been fifty vessels full of this duty, can we find twenty, or ten? Oh, the days, months, years, we bestow upon sin, vanity, the affairs of this world, while we afford not a minute in converse with our own hearts concerning their case!”

If there is anything in our lives that is wrong, let us ask God to show it to us. Have we been selfish? Have we been more jealous of our own reputation than of the honor of God? Elijah thought he was very jealous for the honor of God; but it turned out that it was his own honor after all — self was really at the bottom of it. One of the saddest things, I think, that Christ had to meet with in His disciples was this very thing; there was a constant struggle between them as to who should be the greatest, instead of each one taking the humblest place and being least in his own estimation.

We are told in proof of this, that “He came to Capernaum; and being in the house He asked them, What was it that you disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace, for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And He sat down, and called the twelve, and said unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be the last of all, and servant of all. And He took a child, and set him in the midst of them; and when He had taken him in His arms, He said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in My name, receives Me; and whosoever shall receive Me, receives not Me, but Him that sent Me.”

Soon after “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came unto Him, saying, Master, we would that You should do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And He said unto them, What would you that I should do for you? They said unto Him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on Your right hand, and the other on Your left hand, in Your glory. But Jesus said unto them, You know not what you ask; can you drink of the cup that I drink of and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto Him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, You shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall you be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left hand is not Mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared. And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to Him, — and said unto them: You know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you; but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister; and whosoever of you will be the chief, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” The latter words were spoken in the third year of His ministry. Three years the disciples had been with Him; they had listened to the words that fell from His lips; yet they had failed to learn this lesson of humility. The most humiliating thing that happened among the chosen twelve occurred on the night of our Lord’s betrayal, when Judas sold Him, and Peter denied Him. If there was any place where there should have been an absence of these thoughts, it was at the Supper table. Yet we find that when Christ instituted that blessed memorial there was a debate going on among His disciples who should be the greatest. Think of that — right under the Cross, when the Master was “exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;” was already tasting the bitterness of Calvary, and the horrors of that dark hour were gathering upon His soul.

I think if God searches us, we will find a good many things in our lives for us to confess. If we are tried and tested by God’s law, there will be many, many things that will have to be changed. I ask again: Are we selfish or jealous? Are we willing to hear of others being used of God more than we are? Are our Methodist friends willing to hear of a great revival of God’s work among the Baptists? Would it rejoice their souls to hear of such efforts being blessed? Are Baptists willing to hear of a reviving of God’s work in the Methodist, Congregational, or other churches? If we are full of narrow, party and sectarian feelings, there will be many things to be laid aside. Let us pray to God to search us, and try us, and see if there be any evil way in us. If these holy and good men felt that they were faulty, should we not tremble, and endeavor to find out if there is anything in our lives that God would have us get rid of?

Once again, let me call your attention to the prayer of David contained in the fifty-first Psalm. A friend of mine told me some years ago that he repeated this prayer as his own every week. I think it would be a good thing if we offered up these petitions frequently; let them go right up from our hearts. If we have been proud, or irritable, or lacking in patience, shall we not at once confess it? Is it not time that we began at home, and got our lives straightened out? See how quickly the ungodly will then begin to inquire the way of life! Let those of us who are parents set our own houses in order, and be filled with Christ’s Spirit; then it will not be long before our children will be inquiring what they must do to get the same Spirit. I believe that today, by its lukewarmness and formality, the Christian Church is making more infidels than all the books that infidels ever wrote. I do not fear infidel lectures half so much as the cold and dead formalism in the professing church at the present time. One prayer meeting like that the disciples had on the day of Pentecost, would shake the whole infidel fraternity.

What we want is to get hold of God in prayer. You are not going to reach the masses by great sermons. We want to “move the Arm that moves the world.” To do that, we must be clear and right before God.” For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then we have confidence toward God; and whatsoever we ask we receive of Him because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”


“No, not despairingly
Come I to Thee;
No, not distrustingly
Bend I the knee;
Sin hath gone over me,
Yet is this still my plea,
Jesus hath died.

“Ah, mine iniquity
Crimson has been;
Infinite, infinite,
Sin upon sin;
Sin of not loving Thee,
Sin of not trusting Thee.
Infinite sin.

“Lord, I confess to Thee
Sadly my sin;
All I am, tell I Thee,
All I have been.
Purge Thou my sin away,
Wash Thou my soul this day;
Lord, make me clean!” — Dr. H. Bonar.