C.O. Rosenius (1816-1868)
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”—1 John 1:9
S not this a short summary of the whole doctrine of the Scriptures concerning the acceptance of a poor sinner
by God? Both with express words and with innumerable examples God has from the beginning of the world
explained that the children of Adam are in this way to come to the grace of God. Let us therefore meditate
upon these words of the Beloved Apostle. He says: “If we confess our sins.” We understand readily from the
context what is meant by the term “the confession of sin.” The apostle has in the preceding verses spoken of them
who “walk in darkness,” who say that they “have no sin,” but who “deceive” themselves (1Jo 1:6-8). By way of
contrast he adds: “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all
In the first place, we learn from the passage cited that the apostle is not speaking of an external, accidental or
prescribed confession, but rather of the confession made by a poor, troubled sinner. A distinction must be made,
however, between contrition and contrition. There are many who confess their sins with a certain kind of contrition,
who yet continue in sin. We find this contrition in King Saul, who made this confession: “I have sinned: for I have
transgressed the commandments of the Lord, and thy words” (1Sa 15:24). But he never gained reconciliation and peace
with God. Furthermore, King Pharaoh, who said: “I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you” (Exo
10:16). But his confession was impelled by the fact that the Eighth Plague was already terrifying him. It was not
actuated by a contrite heart and a repentant purpose to become reconciled with the God of Israel. Even Cain confessed:
“My iniquity is greater than may be forgiven” (Gen 4:13); but he went away “from the presence of the Lord” and did not
seek His forgiving grace. Judas exclaimed in the bitterness of his soul: “I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent
blood” (Mat 27:4).
From all these examples we see that a true confession of sin can result only from a complete conversion produced by the Holy
Spirit in the heart. Sin, as a crime against God, then causes sorrow and compels the heart to pour out its anguish before
God, confess the sin and pray for forgiveness. Many an impenitent slave of sin may at times confess his sins with bitter
regret. But he confesses from sheer dread of the consequences of his sin. It is not sin itself as a crime against God that
worries him. Neither has he any special desire to be wholly reconciled and united with God. The thing that troubles him
is nothing more than an incidental taste of the bitter fruit of sin. Therefore he remains a slave of sin.
A true confession of sin presupposes first of all the awakening of the conscience by the voice of God and the realization that sin
has brought the soul under the condemnation of God. Then, secondly, true confession premises that the sinner, thanks to the
gracious call of God and the power of the Gospel, has some hope of compassion and therefore throws himself before the
Mercy-seat and begs forgiveness. He who knows nothing of grace, but only of sin and damnation, will never come to
God. As a prime condition of confession, a spark of faith is essential. As long as Adam and Eve knew nothing but their
sin and the penalty, they fled from the face of the Lord. Thus it was for a time with King David. He kept away from God
and would not confess his sin. “When I kept silence,” he says, “my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.
For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.” But then he
continues: “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Psa 32:3-
He who would learn what a true knowledge of sin is, as also a true confession of sin, let him consider the Fifty-first Psalms. We
would note two elements only in this outpouring of David’s heart. Although King David by his notorious sin had caused
great offense to the people, and had committed a grievous sin particularly against Uriah, God and his sin seem
uppermost in his mind, and he, as it were, passes by his sin against men and says to the Lord: “Against thee, thee only
have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight” (Psa 51:4). There you have the picture of a truly contrite heart.
Then again it is not the coarse outbreakings of sin alone which distress him. He sees with sorrow the evil in his very
nature and goes to the deepest root of it, when he says: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother
conceive me” (Psa 51:5). The most important thing is to recognize the evil in our nature and the deep depravity of our
essential being. As long as men look only to the individual outbreaks of sin, and not to the sinfulness of the heart, it is
always possible to construct some false consolation. They never feel that they are lost and condemned sinners.
Consequently they are never made free and happy in Christ. It is therefore the most vital element in a true knowledge of
sin, that we recognize the deep depravity of the heart, the shameless contempt of God, the carnal security, unbelief,
obduracy and hypocrisy, in order that our knowledge of sin may articulate with God’s own description of the heart as
“deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”
Look now and see if this is not precisely the thing that troubles the weak and trembling souls who constantly
complain in this wise: “My heart is desperately wicked. It is hard, cold, hypocritical, deceitful, false, unstable, frivolous
and inclined to evil, yea, even diabolical.” Then you know your heart is as God portrays it. Does it now seem to you that
the judgment of God’s Word concerning your heart is too drastic? On the contrary, you will find no condemnation that
is too strong to fit the case.
“But I do not know my sin,” you say. “I am secure, hard-hearted, frivolous and hypocritical.” Reply: It is a great
wickedness to be thus carnally secure, hypocritical and worldly-minded. That spirit is the fountain of all sin. It is the
natural depravity of the heart itself which you thereby recognize. Such acknowledgment is necessary. You have arrived
at the stage where you sit in judgment upon yourself out of a clear conviction. You believe from a full heart that you are
the meanest and most unworthy of God’s creatures.
“Well, but it is true that I have not a broken, contrite and humbled heart. I am, as a matter of fact, worldly-minded,
vain, obdurate and frivolous.”
Reply: It is indeed true that such are the characteristics of the natural mind. You must recognize this depravity. It
must become a frightful reality to you.
They, however, who confess their unhappy state of sinfulness, should comfort themselves with the blessed assurance
given in the Scripture under consideration: “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all
unrighteousness” (1Jo 1:9). Know, then, that the Law can do no more than make you wretchedly conscious of your sins,
that “sin might become exceeding sinful” (Rom 7:13). God desires only to impart to you the riches of His grace.
The resistance of your mind is now broken. You admit the justice of God’s judgments. You no longer shun the light.
You condemn yourself. You would be glad to accept Christ if only you dared. Hear what this same apostle says in
another connection: “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that
believe on his name” (Joh 1:12). Who are fit recipients of grace and forgiveness if not these wretched souls who condemn
Untamed human nature defends itself. It rouses itself against the judgments of God and becomes embittered. But he
who condemns himself is open to the grace of God. To such all mercy is shown and declared. We should realize that the
punishments referred to in the Scriptures, the judgments and penalties, are not addressed to those who condemn
themselves and long for grace and reconciliation with God through the Savior. They are aimed at the arrogant despisers
and contemners, who either openly resist the Spirit and the Word of God or as hypocrites go about with Judas Iscariot
among the disciples of Jesus, cherishing some pet sin, which they refuse to give up, and even defending it.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” Though you be not born again, and possess not
the power of faith and a renewed life, but permit yourself to be admonished and led by the Word of God, and even
condemn yourself as a violator of the Law of God, then are you already an object of all the grace and comfort of God. But
hear and believe this blessed truth, in order that you may not lose yourself in unbelief. Come confidently to the Mercyseat
and confess to God all your sins and weaknesses, and you shall be born again of God and justified, even though you
may not instantly feel the great rebirth of your heart.
From A Faithful Guide to Peace with God, by C.O. Rosenius. From: Free Grace Broadcaster.