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The Duty of Confession.
“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” If these words of inspiration were obeyed, they would lead to such results as are set forth by the apostle Peter: “Seeing ye have puriﬁed your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.”
All are fallible, all make mistakes and fall into sin; but if the wrong-doer is willing to see his errors, as they are made plain by the convicting Spirit of God, and in humility of heart will confess them to God and to the brethren, then he may be restored; then the wound that sin has made will be healed. If this course were pursued, there would be in the church much more child-like simplicity and brotherly love, heart beating in unison with heart.
The ministers of the word, and others who ﬁll responsible positions, as well as the body of the church, need this spirit of humility and contrition. The apostle Peter writes to those who labor in the gospel: “Feed the ﬂock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for ﬁlthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the ﬂock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”
The prophet Daniel was drawing very near to God when he was seeking him with confession and humiliation of soul. He did not try to excuse himself or his people, but acknowledged the full extent of their transgression. In their behalf he confessed sins of which he himself was not guilty, and besought the mercy of God, that he might bring his brethren to see their sins, and with him to humble their hearts before the Lord.
But I am now speaking of actual mistakes and errors that those who really love God and the truth sometimes commit. There is manifested on the part of men in responsible positions an unwillingness to confess where they have been in the wrong; and their neglect is working disaster, not only to themselves, but to the churches. Our people everywhere have great need of humbling the heart before God, and confessing their sins. But when it is known that their ministers, elders, or other responsible men, have taken wrong positions, and yet excuse themselves and make no confession, the members of the church too often follow the same course. Thus many souls are endangered, and the presence and power of God are shut away from his people.
The apostle Paul exhorts, “Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.” What harm has been wrought through neglect to heed this admonition! Suppose that one brother misjudges another. He might have had opportunity to learn whether his suspicions were well founded; but instead of waiting to do this, he repeats to others his surmisings. Thus evil thoughts are stirred in them, and the evil becomes wide-spread. And all the time the one pronounced guilty is not told of the matter; there is no investigation, no inquiry is made directly of him, so that he may have an opportunity either to acknowledge his fault or to clear himself from unjust suspicion. A serious wrong has been done him because his brethren had not the moral courage to go directly to him and talk with him freely in the spirit of Christian love. From all who have thus neglected their duty, confession is due; and none will shrink from it who deem it of any importance for them to seek to answer the prayer of Christ: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”
How can this prayer be answered by one who has wronged his brother, and whose heart is not softened by the grace of Christ so that he will make confession? How can his brethren, who know the facts, still have unshaken conﬁdence in him, while he seems to feel no conviction of the Spirit of God? He is doing a wrong to the whole church, and especially if he occupies a position of responsibility; for he is encouraging others to disregard the word of God, to pass along with sins unconfessed. Many a one will say in heart, if not in words, “There is an elder of the church; he does not make confession of his errors, and yet he remains an honored member of the church. If he does not confess, neither will I. If he feels that it is perfectly safe for him not to show any contrition, I, too, will risk it.”
This reasoning is all wrong; nevertheless it is common. The church is leavened with the spirit of self-justiﬁcation, a disposition to confess nothing, to make no signs of humiliation. Who is willing to bear the responsibility of this state of things? Who has turned the lame out of the way?
My brethren, if you have thus placed a stumbling-stone in the path of others, your ﬁrst duty is to remove it, by doing justice to your brother. You have thought evil of him, you have said things untrue, because you have gathered up hearsay; you worked in blindness of mind, and now, if you would cure the wound, confess your mistake, and seek to be in complete harmony with your brother. This is the only way to correct your errors. Confess to your brother, and bind him close to your heart, so that you can labor together in love and unity. The rules are plainly laid down in God’s word. Whether you have been a minister, the president of a Conference, the superintendent of a Sabbath-school, or a teacher in the Sabbath-school, or have held important positions in any branch of the work, there is but one right course for you to pursue.
If you have misjudged your brother, if you have in the least degree weakened his inﬂuence, so that the message which God has given him to bear has been made of little or no effect, your sin does not rest merely with the individual, but you have resisted the Spirit of God; your attitude, your words, have been against your Saviour. Jesus says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” He identiﬁes his interest with that of every human soul, believer or unbeliever. That God who marks the fall of a sparrow, marks your deportment and your feelings; he marks your envy, your prejudice, your attempt to justify your action in the least matter of injustice. When you misconceive the words and acts of another, and your own feelings are stirred, so that you make incorrect statements, and it is known that you are at variance with your brother, you lead others, through their conﬁdence in you, to regard him just as you do; and the root of bitterness springing up, many are deﬁled. When it is evident that your feelings are incorrect, do you try just as diligently to remove the erroneous impressions as you did to make them? In these matters the Spirit of Christ has been grieved. The Saviour accounts these things as done to himself.
Now God requires that you who have thus done the least injustice to another shall confess your fault, not only to the one you have injured, but to those who through your inﬂuence have been led to regard their brother in a false light, and to make of none effect the work God has given him to do. If pride and stubbornness close your lips, your sin will stand against you on the heavenly record. By repentance and confession you can have pardon registered against your name; or you can resist the conviction of the Spirit of God, and, during the rest of your life, work to make it appear that your wrong feelings and unjust conclusions could not be helped. But there stands the action, there stands the evil committed, there stands the ruin of those in whose hearts you planted the root of bitterness; there are the feelings and words of envy, of evil-surmising, that grew into jealousy and prejudice. All these testify against you. The Lord declares, “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy ﬁrst love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the ﬁrst works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”
The question is not whether you see as your brother does on controverted points; but what spirit has characterized your actions? Have you an experience in close self-examination, in humbling the heart before God? Have you made it a practice of your life to confess your errors to God and to your brethren? All are liable to err; therefore the word of God tells us plainly how to correct and heal these mistakes. None can say that he never makes a mistake, that he never sinned at all; but it is important to consider what disposition you make of these wrongs. The apostle Paul made grievous mistakes, all the time thinking that he was doing God service; but when the Spirit of the Lord set the matter before him in its true light, he confessed his wrong-doing, and afterward acknowledged the great mercy of God in forgiving his transgression. You also may have done wrong, thinking you were perfectly right; but when time reveals your error, then it is your duty to humble the heart, and confess your sin. Fall on the Rock and be broken; then Jesus can give you a new heart, a new spirit.
The words of David are the prayer of the repentant soul: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me. . . . Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free Spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation; and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise. For thou desirest not sacriﬁce; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt-offering. The sacriﬁces of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
Whatever the character of your sin, confess it. If it is against God only, confess only to him. If you have wronged or offended others, confess also to them, and the blessing of the Lord will rest upon you. In this way you die to self, and Christ is formed within. Thus you may establish yourself in the conﬁdence of your brethren, and may be a help and blessing to them.
When, under the temptations of Satan, men fall into error, and their words and deportment are not Christ-like, they may not realize their condition, because sin is deceptive, and tends to deaden the moral perceptions. But through self-examination, searching of the Scriptures, and humble prayer, they will, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, be enabled to see their mistake. If they then confess their sins and turn from them, the tempter will not appear to them as an angel of light, but as a deceiver, an accuser of those whom God desires to use to his glory. Those who acknowledge reproof and correction as from God, and are thus enabled to see and correct their errors, are learning precious lessons, even from their mistakes. Their apparent defeat is turned into victory. They stand trusting not to their own strength, but to the strength of God. They have earnestness, zeal, and affection, united with humility, and regulated by the precepts of God’s word. Thus they bring forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness. The Lord can teach them his will, and they shall know the doctrine, whether it be of God. They walk not stumblingly, but safely, in a path where the light of heaven shines
There must be with all our laborers a spirit of meekness, of penitence. God requires that those who minister in word and doctrine shall serve him with all the powers of body and mind. Our consecration to God must be unreserved, our love ardent, our faith unwavering. Then the expressions of the lips will testify to the quickened intelligence of the mind and the deep movings of the Spirit of God upon the soul.
Men in the highest positions need to realize that they are as dependent upon God as are the humblest of their brethren. The greater their light and the clearer their knowledge of the truth, the greater is their responsibility. If they are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, they will have a humble estimation of themselves. In the worship of God, and in confession of sin, they will be as the lowliest of his creatures, while at the same time they will take the lead and set the example in everything that is pure and noble. They will be despised by many for their piety, humility, and conscientiousness. They will be a by-word and a hissing to those who, while they profess godliness, are not connected with God. But they will be honored by heaven, and by men whose hearts have not been hardened by rejection of light.
Brethren, I see your peril, and again I ask, Do you who err make any effort to correct the wrong? Souls may be stumbling along, walking in darkness, because you have not made straight paths for your feet. If you are in positions of trust, I appeal the more earnestly to you, for your own souls’ sake and for the sake of those who look to you as guides, repent before God for every mistake made, and confess your error
If you indulge stubbornness of heart, and through pride and self-righteousness do not confess your faults, you will be left subject to Satan’s temptations. If when the Lord reveals your errors you do not repent or make confession, his providence will bring you over the ground again and again. You will be left to make mistakes of a similar character, you will continue to lack wisdom, and will call sin righteousness, and righteousness sin. The multitude of deceptions that will prevail in these last days will encircle you, and you will change leaders, and not know that you have done so.
I ask you who are handling sacred things, I ask the individual members of the church, Have you confessed your sins? If not, begin now; for your souls are in great peril. If you die with your mistakes concealed, unconfessed, you die in your sins. The mansions that Jesus has gone to prepare for all who love him, will be peopled by those who are free from sin. But sins that are not confessed will never be forgiven; the name of him who thus rejects the grace of God will be blotted out of the book of life. The time is at hand when every secret thing shall be brought into judgment, and then there will be many confessions made that will astonish the world. The secrets of all hearts will be revealed. The confession of sin will be most public. The sad part of it is that confession then made will be too late to beneﬁt the wrong-doer or to save others from deception. It only testiﬁes that his condemnation is just. He gained nothing by his pride and self-sufﬁciency and stubbornness, for his own life was imbittered, he ruined his own character so that he was not a ﬁt subject of heaven, and by his inﬂuence he led others to ruin.
To your friends you may now so represent your course of action as to make a pretty fair showing for yourselves. To one who does not know the objectionable features of your character, it may be an easy matter for you to present plausible excuses for your indecision, your unwillingness to confess your sins. But how will these excuses stand with Him who judgeth righteously? Will you present the same reasoning when you are brought before the tribunal of God, when the eye of the Lord is ﬁxed upon you, and the angels of heaven are looking on? It is thus that every man’s account must be yielded up. What, then, can any of you gain by being untrue to himself, giving to others a representation which you could not in any case lay before God
The Lord reads every secret of the heart. He knows all things. You may now close the book of your remembrance, in order to escape confessing your sins; but when the judgment shall sit, and the books shall be opened, you cannot close them. The recording angel has testiﬁed that which is true. All that you have tried to conceal and forget is registered, and will be read to you when it is too late for wrongs to be righted. Then you will be overwhelmed with despair. O, it is a terrible thing that so many are triﬂing with eternal interests, closing the heart against any course of action which shall involve confession!
You who have erred and have made crooked paths for your feet, so that others who look to you for an example have been turned out of the way, have you no confession to make? You who have sowed doubts and unbelief in the hearts of others, have you nothing to say to God or to your brethren? Review your course for years in the past, you who have not formed a habit of confessing your sins. Consider your words, your attitude, you whose inﬂuence has counteracted the message of the Spirit of God, you that have despised both the message and the messenger. After seeing the fruit borne by the message, what have you to say? Weigh your spirit, your actions, in the balance of eternal justice, the law of God: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, . . . and thy neighbor as thyself.” Unless your sins are canceled, they will testify against you at that day when every work shall pass in review before God.
Confession would break up the fallow ground of the heart; it would rid you of your pride and self-complacency. While you neglect this work, wonder not that the Holy Spirit has not softened your heart and led you into all truth. God could not have blessed you without sanctioning sin and conﬁrming you in unbelief. You have been deceiving yourselves and deceiving others, and the Holy Spirit will never by its work or witness make God a liar.
Away with your quibbling and caviling! Say not with a smile, “It is not expected that any man can be perfect;” that you do not claim to be inspired. This is a pitiable mask. What is the need of the Holy Spirit, if it teaches you only what your ﬁnite judgment already assents to? In his providence, God has followed up his written word with testimonies of warning to lead you to the truths of his word. He has pitied the ignorance of man, has pitied the proud, rebellious soul, and has presented help to lead you away from unbelief to faith, if you would be led. God has loved you too well to spare your feelings; he has given you warnings and reproofs to save you. But you have made light of the warnings and entreaties, and have refused to heed them.
Will you seek the Lord during this week of prayer? Will you humble the heart before God, confess your sins, and ﬁnd mercy and forgiveness? I beseech you, “seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Look in faith to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.
It is not now too late for wrongs to be righted. Christ invites you to come and take of the water of life freely. Let no man deceive you with the sophistry that excuses sin. Tell every man who makes light of the warnings and reproofs of the Spirit of God, that you dare not do this yourself any longer; that although the eyes of your understanding have been blinded, and you have been misled, and have come to wrong decisions, you will not be deceived and blinded longer. Come out of the cave, and stand with God on the mount, and see what the Lord has to say to you. Have implicit faith in God, and do not depend upon self.
“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. . . . I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.”
“The sacriﬁces of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
And to all who seek him with true repentance, God gives the assurance: “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.” These promises are full of comfort and hope and peace.
E. White, E.
RH, December 16, 1890
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