Confession in Prayer
Read Psalms 32, 51, 130
We owe our God praise and thanksgiving whenever we come to Him in prayer. These subjects ought to form the first part of the prayers we send up to the throne of grace. However, we also express to Him our deepest need. What is the deepest need of everyone, including the child of God? It is his sin! This is being more and more denied. Because Jesus has come and has given His life as a ransom for our sins, many believe that sin is now no longer present in the life of the believer. These have deceived themselves (1 John 1:8). Because we are living in the New Testament time, may we tear out the first part of the Heidelberg Catechism? We must first learn to know our sins and misery. This is not easily learned — in fact — learning it takes more than a lifetime! So the Catechism also teaches us that God is pleased with and will hear the prayer in which we "right thoroughly know our need and misery in order to humble ourselves before the face of His majesty."
Only when we have a true consciousness of sin will we approach God in a spirit of proper humility. Pride never fits man, especially not when he approaches his God in prayer. Man should then realize the awful distance which separates the sinner from the holy God! Only when he sees the majesty of the great God Whom he approaches will he recognize his own sin, his own weakness and frailty. Those who approach God as though He were an equal do not come with true confession.
Many of the Psalms are prayers, but that does not mean that they must then all be Psalms of praise. Psalms of confession — penitential Psalms are found in great number in the Book of Psalms. The three mentioned at the head of this lesson are some of the best known.
It has virtually become a custom in all communities to end our prayers with the words "and forgive our sins." There is, therefore, a realization that sin is present and that forgiveness must be sought. But, how deeply is it felt? This is, of course, impossible to answer in every case. However, the amount of time usually devoted to the various other petitions compared to the time devoted to seeking forgiveness does not compare very favorably. Yet, we must not be too critical on this score. The real penitential prayer can only be uttered in private! Public prayers can only deal with sin in a general manner. Woe to him who leads in public prayer and then bares his inmost soul! Those are the things concerning which Jesus says, "Go into your closet and speak alone with your God!" But, in our private prayers this note of penitence must sound very clearly. There we ought to mention our individual sins before the face of our God. There we are to seek forgiveness for specific sins. Then only can we expect forgiveness.
When David wrote Psalm 51 he had gone through very deep spiritual experiences. It's setting is usually considered to have been the time after he had sinned against Bathsheba. When we read the historic account of that sin (which Scripture does not hide but details) we are under the impression that he has sinned against Uriah and against Bathsheba. But, that is not David's perspective in Psalm 51. "Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned and done that which is evil in Thy sight!" Although fellow men had been deeply hurt by the actions of David, the sin is essentially against his God! Uriah cannot forgive him because he is dead. Perhaps Bathsheba will forgive him quite readily because she is now his wife. But, where can he find forgiveness? He must first realize against Whom he has really sinned. He must realize that he has trampled upon the various commandments of his God. If his peace of mind and heart is to be restored, he must come with his confession before his God and there seek forgiveness.
When this realization dawns on him, he realizes that there is nothing good within him. He cries out that he "was conceived and born in iniquity." Sin has been his companion as long as he has had life. It is therefore not sufficient that this one sin be forgiven; he needs a whole new heart! He needs new life! He pleads with his God to cleanse him from all iniquity. The Dutch versification of this psalm has grasped this truth beautifully in the third verse. His whole being has to be renewed. If this renewal does not come, his sins will continue. The source must be cured. Then there will be restored to him the joy of the salvation which he has found in his God. When this has been accomplished he will tell of all the goodness and loving kindness of his God.
The penitence which we find in David as he has described it in Psalm 51 is not commonly found. More often we find the individual denying his guilt and seeking to excuse his behavior. We were not supposed to be in the wrong — we were created in the image of God! Is it surprising that people speak only of shortcomings and sicknesses in more liberal circles? It is saddening that this same evasiveness is often found in the true church of our Lord Jesus Christ. From this attitude stem many of the church's ills. One cannot forgive another and one does not confess his guilt to his brother! How can one stand on such a spiritual plane as David does in Psalm 51? What helped David to reach that point was the rebuke of the prophet Nathan saying to him "thou art the man"! So must the word be preached — prophetically.
David's attitude was not customarily that which is displayed in Psalm 51. Read Psalm 32. There he shows himself a man like his descendents. He would not confess. Whether the sin in this case is the same as the one of which Psalm 51 speaks is not known. He kept silence before his God for a long time. Pride would not allow him to confess his sin. During that time of silence he was most miserable. He says that his "bones wasted away" and his "moisture was changed as with the drought of summer." God's "hand was heavy upon him." He felt it on him not in favor, but depressing him. He knew the reason for it too. Such a person has no peace. Such a person may receive all the counseling which this world has to offer but it will do no good. He must confess his sin! That is the heart of the matter. As long as sin is not forgiven because it is not confessed life is a burden.
The Psalmist however does not speak only of the dreadful life he lived during the time in which he stubbornly refused to confess his sin. He wants the people to realize how good his God is! "I confessed — Thou forgavest!" That was all there was to it. His own stubbornness had made life difficult. When he finally did that which he knew had to be done, e.g., confess, his God stood ready to forgive. How men rob themselves of the beauty of life! They stand in their own way while they are seeking a life of blessedness. He had begun this Psalm praising the life which is in tune with the will of God.
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom Jehovah imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
That is true blessedness! This gives rise to songs of deliverance. It is noteworthy that the Psalmist concludes this beautiful Psalm by urging the people whom he is seeking to instruct that they "be not as the horse or mule," as he was before he confessed! Why must God's people always stand in their own way? In view of the fact that they know the way to life, why do they not pursue it? Are you saved? is the popular question; the answer is: "Yes, because I confessed my sins and have found forgiveness!"
In Psalm 130 the Psalmist looks at this whole question from a somewhat different point of view. Since the Psalm does not seem to be occasioned by a particular sin, the subject is treated more broadly. But, in this Psalm too he acknowledges the fact that sin is real. He has called "out of the depths" to his God. Being in these "depths" is not an exceptional, but a daily experience. When the consciousness of sin is present in the life of the believer, he calls to his God. He is also aware of the greatness of that sin. If God should enter into judgment with him concerning any of the sins he has committed, who would be able to stand! Such a person would be destroyed. So heinous is sin!
The unbeliever may well fear meeting with the God of heaven and earth in judgment. This is not true of the believer. With God there is forgiveness! Can you imagine that? That is the work of Jesus Christ. He has brought the sacrifice so that "with Thee there is forgiveness." What a tremendous benefit has been bestowed on those who believe, on those who are "covered by His blood." The Psalmist sings of the forgiving love of his God in this Psalm.
Let no one, however, come to the conclusion that because God is ready and willing to forgive, our sins are not serious. He forgives "that He may be feared" (cf. Peter 1:17). Let men recognize that this God is a God Who has given His law and will maintain it. This is a God who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. This is the God of judgment. Let men fear Him even when and because He forgives.
The Psalmist knows his God well. He has called out of the depths. He repeatedly finds life difficult, but will "wait for his God." Waiting can be difficult. Yet the counsel he has often given is to "wait on the Lord." This may be even more difficult than it is for the watchmen to wait for the morning light to come. But, he knows that when his God shall come to him, He will come with loving kindness and "plenteous redemption."
Those who have learned to confess their sins in prayer have made giant strides on the way of sanctification. Those who have not learned to confess have made no progress at all. It is not the enormity of a person's sin which slays him; it is the unconfessed sin which ruins life.
Questions for Discussion:
- Why is confession an important part of prayer?
- Of what does true confession consist?
- Why can there not be a real confession in public prayers? Or can there be?
- Is the redeemed individual still bothered by sin? Has not all his sin been taken away?
- How can we know that we have been forgiven? Or can't we?
- What makes confession difficult? Does it become easier when one becomes older and has progressed farther on the way of sanctification?
- Do you think that our conception of sin and confession of sin color our whole prayer life? In what way?