A Description of Sincere Confession of Sin

This past Sunday we looked together at Genesis 3:1-13, and discovered much concerning the nature of sin and temptation and our fallen condition by nature. Even in a state of grace, we are sinners still, and thus our prayers must always be filled with confession of sin. Benjamin Morgan Palmer, a pastor at First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1856-1902, has written these helpful words concerning confession of sin in his book Theology of Prayer:

1. It begins with a clear perception of the nature of sin, as seen from the inside as well as from the outside. Sin cannot be fully confessed merely in its consequences. These are dreadful enough, but not so dreadful as the thing itself. God looks at sin in its intrinsic vileness. We make a true confession only when the eye has been opened to take the same view; not, of course, as broad or as deep as that of Jehovah, nor marked with the same terrible abhorrence; but a view nevertheless which is true, because it discovers the real deformity of sin as opposed to all that is beautiful and holy and excellent in the character of God.

2. With this conviction of the essential evil of sin, the heart will be aroused to a proper indignation against it. Let us not be afraid of the terms necessary to express a righteous abhorrence of sin, lest we evaporate their strength until nothing is left but a little pious sentiment. There is such a feeling in a good man's breast as a cultivated resentment, which shall pervade his whole being and arouse every faculty. There is in the soul of the true penitent a virtuous and burning hatred of that which robs God of his honor, and himself of peace. Conscience should be educated to look, not only with pity, but with horror and detestation upon what is known to be wrong. And the more robust and sinewy the character, the more will these generous resentments flame forth against sin in all its forms.

3. Following this holy anger against sin, confession involves a judicial pronouncement against it before the tribunal of conscience. God declares against it “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” His justice utters the decree which it deserves; and now the sinner, arraigned before the bar of his own conscience, which is the shadow of the tribunal upon which Jehovah sits, pronounces the same condemnation. He not only perceives the fact of transgression, but feels the wrongness of it; and concurs in the justice of the penalty which the law thunders against it.

4. All this, however, would be vain if confession did not include true repentance and abandonment of the sin which is bewailed. The habit of sin may not easily be broken, and the penitent may find himself again ensnared in the net which he is seeking to rend. Nevertheless, it is the sincere purpose and desire at the time to escape the bondage of sin, or else the confession itself is the thinnest deceit ever attempted upon himself or upon the omniscient God. In true confession all the powers of the soul are engaged. The judgment recognizes the standard of duty, and notes the deviations from it. The conscience feels these deviations to be wrong, and fills the soul with shame. The heart kindles with a holy abhorrence of what is impure within ourselves. And the will turns from its commission “with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.” Thus is the sinner purged from guilt, when his confession has been heard by him who is able to forgive.