“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.“
– Proverbs 28:13 –
Commentary by Enduring Word
He who covers his sins will not prosper,
But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.
He who covers his sins will not prosper: Since Adam and Eve, human instinct leads us to cover our sins. Our conscience makes us ashamed of our sin and we don’t want others to see it. We even think we can hide it from God. Yet, this natural instinct to cover sin doesn’t benefit us. It prevents us from being real about our condition before God.
In a sermon on this proverb, Charles Spurgeon described some of the many ways men attempt to cover their sin – all of them in vain.
- Excuses and justifications
- Schemes to evade responsibility
- Ceremonies or sacraments
He who covers his sins: “Out of his sinful pride he pretends before God and people that he has no need to confess; instead, he seeks to deceive.” (Waltke)
“Sin and shifting came into the world together. Sin and Satan are alike in this, they cannot abide to appear in their own colour.” (Trapp)
“God and man each conceal sin—God in free unbounded grace, man in shame and hypocrisy.” (Bridges)
But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy: The path to receiving God’s mercy is to confess and repent (forsake) our sin. This is the way to prosperspiritual and in life in general and receive God’s mercy.
“Confession is to take God’s side against sin. It is the lifting out of one thing after another from heart and life, and holding them for a moment before God, with the acknowledgment that it is our fault, our grievous fault.” (Meyer)
The Biblical practice of confessing sin can free us from the heavy burdens (spiritual and physical, as in James 5:16) of unresolved sin, and it can remove hindrances to the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a tragedy when the confession of sin is neglected or ignored among believers, and a cause of much spiritual weakness and hypocrisy.
“Confess the debt, and God will cross the book; he will draw the red lines of Christ’s blood over the black lines of our sins, and cancel the handwriting that was against us.” (Trapp)
In his commentary on James, Moffatt described how this was practiced in the early church: “Now, in the primitive church this was openly done as a rule, before the congregation. The earliest manual of the church practice prescribes: ‘you must confess your sins in church, and not betake yourself to prayer with a bad conscience’ (Didache iv.).” (Moffatt)
According to Moffatt, the English Prayer Book instructs the the minister is to give this invitation before the communion service: “Come to me or to some other discreet and learned minister of God’s Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God’s holy Word he may receive the benefit of absolution.” There can be great value to opening one’s grief.
The great conviction of sin and the subsequent confession of sin are common during times of spiritual awakening. Charles Finney urged and described the confession of sin. In the North China revivals under Jonathan Goforth, confession was almost invariably the prelude to blessing; one writer describing the significant Korean revivals associated with Goforth wrote: “We may have our theories of the desirability or undesirability of public confession of sin. I have had mine, but I know that when the Spirit of God falls upon guilty souls, there will be confession, and no power on earth can stop it.” (from Calling to Remembrance by William Newton Blair)
Public confession of sin has the potential for great good or bad. Some guiding principles can help.
Confession should be made to the one sinned against. “Most Christians display a preference for confession in secret before God, even concerning matters which involve other people. To confess to God seems to them to be the easiest way out. If offenders were really conscious of the presence of God, even secret confession of private sin would have a good effect. Alas, most offenders merely commune with themselves instead of making contact with God, who refuses their prayers under certain conditions. In the words of our Lord, it is clear that sin involving another person should be confessed to that person.” (J. Edwin Orr)
Confession should often be public. James 5:16 illustrates this principle. A.T. Robertson, the great Greek scholar, says that in James 5:16 the odd tense of the Greek verb “confess” in this verse implies group confession rather than private confession. It is confession “ones to others” not “one to one other.”
Public confession must be discrete. Often the confession needs to be no more than what is necessary to enlist prayer. It can be enough to say publicly, “Pray for me, I need victory over my besetting sin.” It would be wrong to go into more detail, but saying this much is important. It keeps us from being “let’s pretend Christians” who act as if everything is fine when it isn’t. “Almost all sexual transgressions are either secret or private and should be so confessed. A burden too great to bear may be shared with a pastor or doctor or a friend of the same sex. Scripture discourages even the naming of immorality among believers, and declares that it is a shame even to speak of things done in secret by the immoral.” (Orr)
Distinguish between secret sins and those which directly affect others. Orr gives a good principle: “If you sin secretly, confess secretly, admitting publicly that you need the victory but keeping details to yourself. If you sin openly confess openly to remove stumbling blocks from those whom you have hindered. If you have sinned spiritually (prayerlessness, lovelessness, and unbelief as well as their offspring, criticism, etc.) then confess to the church that you have been a hindrance.” (J. Edwin Orr)
Confession is often made to people, but before God. At the same time, we notice that James 5:16 says “confess your trespasses to one another.” One of the interesting things about confession of sin as noted it in the writings of J. Edwin Orr is that the confessions are almost always addressed to people, not to God. It isn’t that you confess your sin to God and others merely hear. You confess your sin before others and ask them to pray for you to get it right before God.
á Confession should be appropriately specific. When open confession of sin is appropriate – more than the public stating of spiritual need, but confessing open sin or sin against the church – it must be specific. “If I made any mistakes I’m sorry” is no confession of sin at all. You sinned specifically, so confess specifically. “It costs nothing for a church member to admit in a prayer meeting: ‘I am not what I ought to be.’ It costs no more to say: ‘I ought to be a better Christian.’ It costs something to say: ‘I have been a trouble-maker in this church.’ It costs something to say: ‘I have had bitterness of heart towards certain leaders, to whom I shall definitely apologise.’ ” (Orr, Full Surrender)
Confession should be thorough. “Some confessions are not thorough. They are too general. They are not made to the persons concerned. They neglect completely the necessary restitution. Or they make no provision for a different course of conduct in which the sin is forsaken. They are endeavours for psychological relief.” (Orr)
Confession must have honesty and integrity. If we confess with no real intention of battling the sin, our confession isn’t thorough and it mocks God. The story is told of an Irishman who confessed to his priest that he had stolen two bags of potatoes. The priest had heard the gossip around town and said to the man, “Mike, I heard it was only one bag of potatoes stolen from the market.” The Irishman replied, “That’s true Father, but it was so easy that I plan on taking another tomorrow night.” By all means, avoid phony confession – confession without true brokenness or sorrow. If it isn’t deeply real, it isn’t any good.
One need not fear that public confession of sin will inevitably get out of hand. Orr tells of a time when a woman was overwrought by deep sorrow for sin and became hysterical. He saw the danger immediately and told her, “Quiet, sister. Turn your eyes on Jesus.” She did and the danger of extreme emotion was avoided.
Those who hear a confession of sin also have a great responsibility. Those who hear the confession should have the proper response: loving, intercessory prayer, and not human wisdom, gossiping, or “sharing” the need with others.
viii. Real, deep, genuine confession of sin has been a feature of every genuine awakening or revival in the past 250 years. But it isn’t anything new, as demonstrated by the revival in Ephesus recorded in Acts 19:17-20. It says, many who believed came confessing and telling their deeds. This was Christians getting right with God, and open confession was part of it.
ix. “Confession is the soul’s vomit, and those that use it shall not only have ease of conscience, but God’s best comforts and cordials to restore them again.” (Trapp)