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The Cure of

the Biblical Doctrine

of Confession

Chalcedon/Ross House books

Va l l e c i t o, c a l i f o r n i a
Copyright 2007
Mark R. Rushdoony

Ross House Books

PO Box158
Vallecito, CA 95251

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval

system, or transmitted in any form or by any means —
electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise
— except for brief quotations for the purpose of review or
comment, without the prior written permission of the

Library of Congress: 2007921410

ISBN: 978-1-879998-48-3
Other titles by
Rousas John Rushdoony

The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. I

The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. II, Law & Society
The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. III, The Intent of the Law
Systematic Theology (2 volumes)
Commentaries on the Pentateuch: Genesis,
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers
Chariots of Prophetic Fire
The Gospel of John
Romans & Galatians
Hebrews, James, & Jude
The Death of Meaning
Noble Savages
Larceny in the Heart
To Be As God
The Biblical Philosophy of History
The Mythology of Science
Thy Kingdom Come
Foundations of Social Order
This Independent Republic
The Nature of the American System
The “Atheism” of the Early Church
The Messianic Character of American Education
The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum
Christianity and the State
Salvation and Godly Rule
God’s Plan for Victory
Politics of Guilt and Pity
Roots of Reconstruction
The One and the Many
Revolt Against Maturity
By What Standard?
Law & Liberty

PO Box 158 * Vallecito, CA 95251
This volume is dedicated to
Dr. Ellsworth McIntyre
and the staff members of
Grace Community Schools, Naples, Florida
in great appreciation
for their generous support
of the work of my father.

Rev. Mark R. Rushdoony

President, Chalcedon Foundation
Table of Contents
Foreword . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .i
Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
1. The Confession of Sins . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
2. False Confession. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
3. From Ordeal to Autobiography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
4. Humanistic Confession . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
5. Confession and the Image in Man . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
6. Confession as Praise . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
7. Confession and the Past . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
8. Confession and Covenant . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
9. Absolution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
10. False Absolutions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
11. Confession and Social Order . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69
12. Literary Confessions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
13. Graceless Confession . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81
14. When Confession is not Confession. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
15. Confession and Indulgence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
16. The Cure of Souls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95
17. Confession and Atonement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99
18. The Two Aspects of Confession . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103
19. The Counseling Heresy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107
20. Counseling and Change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
21. Counseling and Goals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117
22. Counseling and Reconciliation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123
23. Confessing Other People’s Sins . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
24. Confessing Perfection. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135
25. Confession versus Psychotherapy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141
26. Dangerous Confessions (Part I) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147
27. Dangerous Confessions (Part II). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153
28. Confession and Culture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159
29. Confession and Communion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165
30. Confession and Grace . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 169
31. Death and Confession . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175
32. Congregational and National Confessions . . . . . . . . . . . . 181
33. Confession and Collection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187
34. Turning Ourselves In . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193
35. Why True, Biblical Confession is Unpopular . . . . . . . . . . 199
36. Confession versus Litigation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 203
37. Confession and Liberation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 209
38. Nothing is Good of Itself . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213
39. The “Sinne Eater” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 217
40. The Need to Confess . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 223
41. Turning Men into Moral Zeroes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 229
42. Confession or Curse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235
43. Marital Counseling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 239
44. Covenant and Confession . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 243
45. Indulgences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 249
46. The Indulgence Society . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 255
47. Confession and Inquisition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 259
48. Confession as Government . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 263
49. The Joy of Confession . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 267
Scripture Index. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 271
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 277

A bandon all preconceived notions that the word confession

might bring to mind. Abandon them all, no matter how
ingrained, and come to this book with an open mind.
Confession is something that must be recovered in its Biblical
fullness, with its importance properly assessed, and its culture-
wide abuse identified, indicted, and rejected. This volume by R. J.
Rushdoony is arguably the most consistently Biblical study yet
published of an oft-neglected, and even more frequently misrepre-
sented, dimension of the Christian faith. In this work, the thick
cobwebs of entrenched traditions (both Protestant and Roman
Catholic) are sundered to reveal the glistening truths hidden
behind them.
For whatever our initial prejudices may be, we all have
adopted various doctrines of confession at the individual, church,
state, and cultural levels. We simply don’t recognize these currents
of thoughts under the name confession, but that obscuring of the
truth doesn’t alter its impact. We are culturally and ecclesiastically
awash in various forms of false confession and have abandoned any
pretense to maintaining a Biblical orientation on the matter. While
Protestantism has distanced itself from Roman Catholic notions of

confession, both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism have dis-
tanced themselves from Biblical teaching concerning confession.
For Protestantism, however, the term confession is so inti-
mately bound up with its views of the Catholic confessional that
the term has become a virtual shibboleth. As the phrase goes, Prot-
estants see nothing but bathwater when they look at anything
related to the idea of confession: there is no Biblical baby in the
Roman Catholic bathwater, so all must be thrown out. Rushdoony
himself comments on the hazards of even touching on this topic:
Another related example of the dereliction of many churches can
be cited. Because portions of this work on confession appeared in
The Chalcedon Report in 1991, I learned second-hand of a pastor’s
opinion that “Rushdoony is on the road to Rome!” If to believe
that sin must be confessed is “Romanism,” then these people are
not reading their Bibles. (p. 201)
Because both Protestant and Roman Catholic branches of Chris-
tendom claim to possess the God-sanctioned perspective on confes-
sion, this book will offend readers in both camps who have
canonized those perspectives so far as to insulate them against Bib-
lical teaching. This is the danger of turning a Biblical issue into an
ecclesiastical one: it can then only be read in ecclesiastical terms,
which is to prejudge the Biblical issue in advance. A wholesale re-
construction of the matter of confession is ruled out a priori: as
we’ve been warned, our traditions make void the law of God.
It takes a very bold writer to take on the sacred cows on both
sides of the aisle. Rushdoony didn’t go forward with this book out
of any interest to stir the pot, but rather to recover the foundations
of the Biblical doctrine that got lost in the tumult of church fisti-
cuffs. This isn’t merely an academic or abstract matter, as the author
fully documents: the repercussions of this loss of the Biblical per-
spective have cut a wide swath of destruction and misery across all
the societies affected by it. Why? Because, first, we’ve lost the ben-
efits of the Biblical perspective and thus suffered the consequent
harm that this loss invariably entails at the individual, church, and
cultural level. Second, we’ve distributed a multitude of false forms of
confession across our individual and corporate mental landscapes,
which have wrought incalculable harm to humanity. Denying the

Biblical doctrine of confession doesn’t remove confession from the

picture: confession merely takes on a different guise, one geared to
gratify man’s sin nature and accommodate his lust for self-justifica-
As if the topic of this volume weren’t controversial enough
(given reigning ecclesiastical biases), its title also tends to make
orthodox Christians uneasy. The Cure of Souls sounds disturbingly
similar to New Age volumes with titles like Soul Healing (one book
bearing this title involving the unearthing of alleged past lives by
hypnosis, another one being focused on spiritualism in psycho-
therapy) or the multitude of books with Healing the Soul in the
title. The term, however, is an old one that has regrettably been too
often hijacked by modern writers. Rushdoony, however, is inter-
ested in recovering its full meaning and importance; he conse-
quently repudiates that cultural hijacking by reaffirming the core
concept without apology:
At one time, pastoral counseling and the confessional were alike as-
pects of what was called “the cure of souls.” The term is an excellent
one and best describes the purpose of both. The most effective cure
of souls, however, is the preaching of the word of God. It is not
only faith that comes by hearing, but also repentance, a change of
heart and life, humility, a submission to correction, and more. If
men will not hear the word of God, why should they hear the pas-
tor? If men will not be corrected by God’s word, will man’s word
correct them? (p. 98)
Merely giving this book such a title won’t go far towards redeeming
the idea behind that title: the book itself must make its case on the
Biblical merits. This is precisely where this volume shines most
brightly. This is doubly important insofar as the Biblical doctrine
of confession is not only struggling to be heard above the noise of
Protestant-Catholic mutual recriminations, but is in head-to-head
competition with aggressive secularist agendas in regard to the mat-
ter of the cure of souls:
Now godly counsel can be very beneficial, and to relate the word
of God to human problems is thoroughly necessary. The therapy
heresy, however, is the adoption of humanistic premises as a means
for the cure of souls. By Freud’s deliberate design, psychological
counseling, psychotherapy, was to replace the work of priests and
pastors as the best means of eliminating religion. (p. 107)
Between the internecine conflicts within Christendom, internal
compromise within the churches, and usurpation and assimilation
of the concept of confession within humanistic frameworks, the en-
tire notion of confession is sown with confusion, a confusion long
since exploited for monetary gain.
The whole area of confession is now a murky abyss. Because the
churches have more or less abandoned confession does not make it
any the less a moral and psychological necessity. Psychoanalysts
and others have built empires on this need. (p. 223)
Rushdoony sets forth a Biblical recovery of the doctrine of
confession within a covenantal Calvinistic context. This is an
important fact, one easily overlooked, a fact having significant ram-
ifications in regard to counseling.
The failure to ground confession in sound theology, in
covenantalism, warps the whole of Christian faith and life into
something man-centered, pietistic, and ineffectual. (p. 247)
Rushdoony does not see Arminianism as being sound theology, but
rather as a man-centered system that renders the cure of souls inef-
fectual. He discusses this in connection with the so-called counsel-
ing heresy, which applies to many forms of so-called Christian
counseling practiced today (although Rushdoony’s criticism below
would not apply to the seminal contributions to the field of coun-
seling pioneered by Dr. Jay Adams). The ineffectiveness of Armin-
ian-based counseling is evident in the perpetual treadmill it creates
due to its foundational presuppositions.
Basic to the heresy of counseling … is this belief that a man can be
changed by human agencies. In many churches, for example, coun-
selors create a dependency syndrome, even as secular counselors
do. If you alone, or as a couple, are counseled, then regular check-
ups, as with a doctor, must follow. These may be weekly, monthly,
quarterly, or annually, but the person remains dependant on the
counselor for balance and perspective. A codependency with the
counselor is created to prop up the person counseled, and to feed
the counselor’s belief in his necessary function.
It is not surprising that this counseling heresy has arisen in connec-
tion with Arminianism. Arminianism reserves to man the power of
determination.… His “free will” is the central fact of the moral
universe.… The world of Arminianism has two means of helping
people save themselves. First, there is the old-fashioned Arminian

revival.… Second, there is counseling, which is in essence revival-

ism reduced to a one-on-one basis. Instead of a mass meeting, the
needy person exercises his free will within a counselor’s office. The
initiative is his; he goes to the office, and he accepts or rejects the
diagnosis. This is not salvation; it is humanistic self-reformation.
The counseling heresy rests on Arminianism. It asserts that, while
God can assist change, the initiative belongs to man. (pp. 112–113)
What, then, do we lose by ignoring the contents of this
volume? Why would restoring a Biblical doctrine of confession be
so important? Hasn’t Protestantism done just fine without
“lurching back in Rome’s general direction” (as the critique tends
to be poisonously phrased)?
The first problem is that unconfessed sin has major theolog-
ical consequences, consequences that are rarely recognized but
which plague the churches that turn their back on the Biblical doc-
trine of confession. Rushdoony, commenting on the cover-up of
church scandals, couches this serious issue in no uncertain terms.
When we uncover our sins in confession, God covers them by
Christ’s atonement. Covering means atoning.… To cover our sins
means to deny Christ’s atonement and to assume that our covering
is the best solution to the problem of sin. Not only are such repro-
bate coverings common, but they are also routinely practiced by
churchmen, clergy and laity alike.
Pastors and people who cover their sins are thereby in effect saying
that they can atone for sin, and this is blasphemy. They place their
humanistic concerns for propriety over the requirement of confes-
sion, confessing our sins to receive God’s grace and mercy. More
important for them than the state of grace is the state of compli-
ance with social surfaces. It is not surprising that such sinners rou-
tinely return to their sin.
When men cover their sins rather than confessing to God, we have
false priorities. More important than a right relationship with God
then, is a good surface in meeting the world of our time. We have
as a result a world of facades, of sinners masquerading as the best
of people. Hypocrisy replaces virtue. (pp. 100–101)
While people become averse to confessing their own sins
within a Biblically sanctioned context, they have been trained well
to confess the sins of others. This distortion of the doctrine of con-
fession is particularly insipid and has thoroughly infected our cul-
ture. The confession of other people’s sins is a form of false
confession, one that has replaced the Biblical form across the board.
Students were encouraged to discuss their family “problems,” by
which was meant whatever they thought was wrong with their par-
ents. This was good training in phariseeism, and it was an incentive
to self-righteousness. With all too many psychiatrists, psycholo-
gists, counselors, and pastors, “good” counseling too often includes
“confessing” other people’s sins, especially our parents’. All this has
fostered an evil generation.
Such false confession marks individuals, and also nationalities and
races. We have developed professional finger-pointers who make a
life’s work of “confessing” the sins of other peoples … There are
enough offenders out there to make it easy to do so. But as Chris-
tians we must believe that grace and growth in sanctification come
from confessing our own sins. The Lord God nowhere pronounces
forgiveness or a blessing on anyone confessing someone else’s sins.
On the ecclesiastical scene, such confessions are a well-practiced
art. In this century, all the churches are so deeply involved in a va-
riety of heresies, immoralities, offenses, and sins that they all need
to be deeply in prayer and self-confession, not in mutual recrimi-
nations. Careful theological analyses and critiques are one thing,
when accompanied by a careful statement of God’s scriptured
truth, but cheap “virtue” gained by “confessing” someone else’s sins
is another matter, a sinful one. (pp. 130–131)
Rushdoony also touches on the topic of inquisition, wherein
confession and coercion meet. This fusing of the two is Biblically
illicit, and Protestants (by and large) have no serious difficulties rec-
ognizing the error of this fusion when they behold the speck in the
eye of the Roman Catholics across the aisle. Rushdoony makes
clear the theological and moral enormity at the core of this fusion:
What we have seen thus far is that confession is a moral necessity;
confession can be made to the church or the clergy; it can be made
to the person offended. Depending on the context, one or another
of these can be morally required, but they cannot be coerced.
It is a great evil to assume that, because a particular goal is good,
any means to it partakes of that good. In fact, evil means create evil
ends. Churches have suffered for their failures here; psychotherapy
is more and more discredited, and the power state is committing
The link between confession and inquisition must be broken mor-
ally, legally, and in practice. The world is moving into terrorism be-
cause its premises are very agreeable to it, civilly and ecclesiastically.

Terrorism justifies itself by pointing to the ostensible evils of its tar-

gets. (p. 262)
But Rushdoony does not leave the matter here: he exhibits a
mode of abuse in which the same fundamental error can crop up
just as easily in Protestant circles, where ecclesiocentrism can
become the beam in the Protestant’s eye. Sporting such optical
lumber readily prevents one from seeing the problem that Rush-
doony has here diagnosed.
Consider the implications of mandatory confession. It requires im-
plicitly a confession not only of sin but also of faith, faith as the
church defines it. This gives enormous powers to the church. It
compels the faithful to make a double confession.
If the church can compel confession, it can logically also compel an
undeviating, unswerving obedience to the church’s confession of
faith. This then vindicates an inquisition. (p. 261)
Additional fallout stemming from the many false views of
confession in circulation over the last several centuries is evident.
Among the most egregious directions such erroneous views have
led to involve man implicitly blaming God for his own moral fail-
ings, as if God were the author of man’s moral woes.
It is common for young males (and older ones as well) to believe
that sex in men is an ungovernable drive and urge. Such a belief is
an indictment of God; it is an insistence that chastity is a physical
impossibility. I recall hearing an arrogant pastor treat male sexual
offenses lightly, insisting it was all due to those “male gonads.”
Today, however, schools, counselors, and pastors are too often
ready to share this view. They trivialize sin, and they trivialize the
Bible. What room is there for confession if a person’s sin is due to
his or her biology? Again, what if the excuse rendered is heredity or
biology, environment, or some like factor? What, then, remains to
be confessed? What need is there then to confess anything other
than God’s “offense” because “He made me so. How can I help it?”
Confession is replaced by the indictment of God.
Sin and confession are both trivialized, and grace as well. Every-
thing is reduced to a matter of words, a simple formula, no restitu-
tion, no penalty for sin, and no thought of sin’s offense to God as
well as to men. (p. 200)
It is for good reason that the author twice (pp. 135 and 139) draws
attention to a book entitled A World I Never Made. Although not
disclosed in Rushdoony’s text, this 1936 volume was written by
James T. Farrell, an American novelist who had migrated from
Trotskyism to the Socialist Party of America and was heading back
towards the Socialist Workers Party before his death in 1979. The
core of socialist thinking such as Farrell’s is identified by Rushdoony
as the environmentalist heresy, that view that man is shaped by the
environmental influences around him and is therefore a perpetual
victim. Soviet apologist Lincoln Steffens famously placed the blame
for the moral catastrophe in the Garden of Eden on an environmen-
tal factor, and not upon Adam, nor Eve, nor the serpent. The blame
was reposed elsewhere in Steffens’s view: “It was, it is, the apple.” To
assert this is to indict the God who created that apple. Man is there-
fore depicted as justified in his rage against the God of Scripture and
His unrealistic expectations after having stacked the deck against
man so unfairly. All such thinking involves the determination “to be
holier than God, a position first held by Satan (Gen. 3:1–6),” as
Rushdoony has pointedly observed (p. 231).
Of course, Steffens and Farrell are also confessing the sins of
others in their works (including the sins of God Himself ). This
approach to confession leads to self-generated virtue, spontane-
ously bestowed when the confessor learns to push the right political
buttons to make his benevolence altogether clear (notwithstanding
his personal moral failings in other areas):
Confess your dedication to civic virtue, to world peace, to helping
the poor with tax funds, to minority rights, to racial brotherhood,
and to other like matters, and you have, in the eyes of many, con-
fessed your virtue. Do it loudly enough in Congress, and you con-
fess near perfection. (p. 138)
In regard to this emphasis, we see a similar substitution of irrespon-
sible tendencies in the place of Biblical confession and humble ac-
ceptance of our status as responsible creatures under God.
One of the characteristics of peoples in the second half of the twen-
tieth century is their desire and lust for instant gratification. This
implies a related outlook: an insistence on no frustration. (p. 199)
Such an outlook makes for a soil that is utterly hostile to the plant-
ing and growth of Biblical notions of sin, grace, responsibility, and

confession. Such perspectives only serve to further alienate modern

man from God’s provision for his personal and corporate guilt.
As in his earlier volume on Sigmund Freud, Rushdoony here
expands on the fundamental error that modernism makes in
regard to guilt: it has misdiagnosed its cause and has done so delib-
erately so that man need not confront the God whose law man has
trampled underfoot. This is most evident in the context of modern
The psychotherapeutic confessional thus led to an “understanding”
in terms of this new philosophy. The process bypassed entirely the
fact of sin to concentrate on the feeling of guilt. (p. 21)
While it is apparent that a misdiagnosis by secular therapists may
well resonate with the serious Christian reader of this volume,
Christians also distort key aspects of the Biblical doctrine of con-
fession in ways tailored to illegitimately indemnify man against the
consequences of his sinful acts. Such distortions also constitute
false forms of confession, and the consequences of various examples
of these distortions are self-evident in Rushdoony’s treatment of the
One distortion involves the Hindu notion of karma, wherein
man is hopelessly enmeshed in paying the consequences of his sins
endlessly. Opposing this excessively rigorous approach is an
extreme casualness in regard to sin, which unlike karma merely triv-
ializes the transgression of God’s laws.
At the other extreme is the kind of sinner described in Proverbs
30:20; “Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and
wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.” Sin is
not seen as having consequences any greater than a little food on
the corner of one’s mouth; it is easily wiped off, with no repercus-
sions. So too sin is regarded as a trifle, not to be taken seriously. To-
day, in many churches, sin is taken very casually; love should
prevail, and love should lead to a forgiveness of sins. This is hu-
manism.… Too many who profess to believe the whole word of
God dismiss sin by saying, “It’s all under the blood,” as though this
means that sin need no longer be taken seriously. (p. 209)
But sin does need to be taken seriously: it was serious enough to re-
quire the Lord Christ to die on the cross. But it should not be dealt
with after the harshness of the karmic view: the choice is not be-
tween two distortions of the Biblical view, but rather the recovery
of the Biblical view. To recover the truth concerning confession, we
must come to understand what is properly involved in the matter.
We must be able to distinguish false confession from true confes-
sion and to understand the proper sphere and limits of confession
to gain its intended benefits and avoid the hazards of distorted ap-
proaches to it.
The first principle that Rushdoony lays down in setting
forth a Biblical approach to confession appears near the beginning
of this book.
Confession without repentance is no confession at all. (p. 20)
With this one statement, Rushdoony atomizes all misconceptions
concerning ritualism, easy-believism, cheap grace, antinomianism,
pietism, environmentalist heresies, and more. This crucial idea is
expanded in more detail by him:
Confession is not merely a verbal act. It is required because an of-
fense is in the background, and the verbal act of confession, under
whatever form of practice, public or private, must conclude in an
act to alter as far as possible the damage done; the harmful act must
be followed by a remedial act as far as is possible.… Without at
least the heartfelt promise of a willingness to remedy one’s act,
there is no forgiveness.… The modern mood seeks to substitute
the verbal confession for the consequent act. (p. 18)
With confession, there can be no name it and claim it, or blab it and
grab it. There must be meaningful, concrete restitution to the max-
imum possible extent. Confession is not some alien idea unrelated
to Christ’s mission concerning the “restitution of all things” (Acts
3:21)—it is part and parcel with it. Restitution and confession are
correlates: they go hand in hand. Rushdoony therefore rightly fo-
cuses his attention on the restitution proclaimed by Zacchaeus and
our Lord’s reaction to it.
The author makes clear that modernism positions its focus
on the wrong thing in regard to confession and therefore misses the
blessings inherent in observing the Biblical principles undergirding
the concept.
The modern perspective puts the focus of attention on the act of
confession, i.e., of revealing one’s secret sins. In the life of the

church, in the various communions, the focus has been on con-

fession as the first step towards healing, restoration, penance, and
restitution. (p. 16)
Let us take stock, then, of the offense of Rushdoony’s posi-
tion: he has linked two unwelcome doctrines together, confession and
restitution. Modern man wants to indulge in various self-justifying,
pharisaically driven false confessions and to forestall and avoid res-
titution. Rushdoony points out that confession is intended not to
end at the verbal act, but to be consummated in a remedial act: in
actual restitution (not to be confused with penance). If there is a
natural enmity against confession, it is this: nobody will undertake
a restitution unless a confession has come first. The eradication of
confession as a Biblical category has undercut restitution in both
the ecclesiastical and secular world. False confessions lead to false or
empty restitutions, to a society at war with itself.
The nature of that war is powerfully summarized in this
book. But Rushdoony doesn’t just diagnose the problem and leave
the reader in intellectual suspense about what the Biblical solutions
to it might be. He clearly depicts what God expects of those He has
created in His image and what blessings will overtake those who
refuse the self-atoning errors incipient in the various false forms of
confession current in our age. We have here, then, both a positive
exposition as well as a cautionary tale, stretching throughout
human history, regarding the loss and ultimate recovery of an
important element of the faith once delivered to the saints.
This volume properly starts at page 11. The preface (pp. 1–
9) that precedes the first chapter is a transcription of an early
sermon delivered by R. J. Rushdoony on the topic of confession,
the salient text being Romans 10:1–11. The historical context for
the doctrine of confession is laid out with clarity in this exposition,
which focuses on confession of Christ as opposed to confession of
personal sin. This critical emphasis resounds throughout the entire
book. It was therefore fitting to begin this volume with this mate-
rial, which providentially came to light during preparation of the
manuscript for printing. The historical development of confession
in the early church narrated by the author makes clear that the
church’s efforts to repair the defects in its practice of confession only
worsened the problems inherent in its chosen confessional practices. The
missteps arose at the very outset of church history. Sadly, the lessons
have yet to be fully learned by many tradition-bound Protestants
and Roman Catholics.
Protestants and evangelicals reading this book with open
minds will be able to finally see the baby heretofore hidden in the
bathwater. Roman Catholic readers will be able to discern the inac-
curacy of the claim that the baby could never drown under that
bathwater. For all, it would be our prayer that those who confess
Christ would embrace the fullness of that foundational confession.

— Martin G. Selbrede

The Meaning
of Confession
A Sermon on Romans 10:1–11
1. Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that
they might be saved.
2. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not ac-
cording to knowledge.
3. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about
to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted them-
selves unto the righteousness of God.
4. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one
that believeth.
5. For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That
the man which doeth those things shall live by them.
6. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say
not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring
Christ down from above:)
7. Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ
again from the dead.)
8. But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and
in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;
9. That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and
shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead,
thou shalt be saved.
10. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with
the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
11. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not
be ashamed.


I n the mind of a Christian, the word confession is commonly asso-

ciated with the confession of sins. A like association is made by
the man in the street, who associates the word with true confession,
criminal confession, etc.—in any case, a confession of sin. There is
a long background to this kind of association that goes back to the
early church of the second century A.D.
There was a concern in the early church with strengthening
the Christian life and character. They were so deeply concerned
with the Christian character that a great deal of attention was given
to sin, and to restitution for sin. As a consequence, a system of
public confession of sin arose in the early church.
The long history of the matter of confession begins in the
second century with the custom of public confession being estab-
lished in the church. Each sinner, each person who had offended
against the laws of the community, against the Christian standard
of conduct, stood up at the service the week following the offense
and made a public confession of his sins.
This custom continued for some time, and became the first
of several systems of confession. The church was concerned about
the sin of the community, the sin of the members of the church,
and wanted to make a witness to the Roman Empire that would be
a telling one. Because the church faced a world deep in sin, a world
characterized by the most vicious practices and immorality, the
church wanted to preserve her character. To preserve her character,
she instituted a rigorous discipline for those who offended against
the faith.
This first system soon manifested its weaknesses. Christians
approached the matter of public confession (which involved public
speaking) in very different ways. On the one hand, most Christians
were hesitant and fumbled for words. They took a great deal of
time to stammer out only a few sentences. On the other hand, some
got up and spoke at great length, going into minute detail about
their sins. In either case, inordinately large amounts of time were
consumed for public confession. The worship services went on
endlessly as person after person took far too long to confess their

As a result, a new method, a second system, was instituted,

whereby confession was made to a presbyter of the church. At the
next service, the presbyter got up and recited the sins of so-and-so,
in a sentence or two, going down the line. Thus the presbyter sum-
marized the sins of the church’s members and publicly proclaimed
Discipline was instituted against all those who sinned. They
were first presented to the local presbyter for imposition of hands,
appearing in his presence wearing sackcloth, with ashes upon their
head, to denote their repentance. Those who made their public
confession of sins either in person or through the presbyter were
obliged to cut off their hair or go veiled as a token of their sorrow
and mourning. They were required to abstain from many of the
innocent diversions of life, including abstention from bathing and
attendance at banquets. They had to observe all the fasts of the
church. They could not marry during the time of their penance,
nor could they perform their marital duties to their spouses.
Moreover, they were required to pray while kneeling (the
custom in the Jewish synagogue and the early church was to pray
while standing). This circumstance was where we get our present
custom, observed in many of the churches (Roman Catholic, Epis-
copal, and others), of kneeling to pray in public worship. Although
the original form of praying in public worship in the early church
was standing to pray, this gradually gave way over the centuries to
a congregation that prayed while kneeling. The reason for the
change was that the sinners soon included virtually the entire con-
gregation, and with everyone being a penitent, all therefore had to
However, as the centuries passed by, it became increasingly
evident that this second system was not the answer. Its flaws were
apparent when the people attended a meeting, a service of worship.
Even hearing a presbyter stand up and read a long recital of the sins
of the members of the congregation was very disruptive to the ser-
vice of the church. For many of the womenfolk, as well as some of
the menfolk, it was hard to remember anything of the sermon
when they went home. It was so much easier to remember the sins
of all the church members and to talk about them at the dinner

table, recounting this or that person’s misconduct, commenting

upon it and upon the punishment that was imposed.
Therefore, Pope Leo the Great, in the fifth century, decreed
that after that period there should be no more public proclamation
of sin, of public confession of the sins of the individual members.
He substituted private confession in its place: the confession of sin
was to be maintained in absolute confidence by the priest to whom
it was confessed. This third system was also instituted to improve
the life of the church.
Each of the earlier systems of confession was instituted in
order to strengthen the Christian life, to improve the character of
the Christian community. Regrettably, each system only deepened
the sin of the Christian community. It was a tragic fact that people
gathered together in the church and actually enjoyed hearing the
presbyter, the confessor, stand up and recite the sins of the various
members who had offended during the previous week.
The public confessions under the earlier systems were disrup-
tive of the life of the church, yet the minute they were ended,
another problem arose. Many of the Christians now felt free to sin,
especially to sin sexually, knowing now that there would be no
more publicity attached to their sinning and to their confessing.
And so the step of reform taken by Pope Leo the Great of the fifth
century only compounded the sin of the community.
As the centuries advanced, the matter remained very much
the same, and Christian life and character, and the community at
large, grew weaker. All the efforts of the developing church, which
soon came to be known as the Roman Catholic Church, as well as
those developed by the Eastern Orthodox churches, failed utterly
to reform the Christian life and the character of the community.
We must take for granted, we must assume, in all fairness,
that all these steps in dealing with the confession of sin flowed out
of a Christian motivation, out of a desire to improve the Christian
witness of the individual Christian, to strengthen his life, give him
a resistance against sin, and to improve his faithfulness to his Lord.
Nonetheless, the end result of all these systems was nothing but
failure. It has been so ever since.

There have been efforts since the Reformation to introduce

new modes of confession of sin, and the same tragic outcomes have
repeated themselves in each instance. For example, not too many
years ago, the Buchmanites, the Moral Re-Armament Movement
(the Oxford Group Movement as it also has been known), revived
public confession of sins. In their meetings the individual members
would stand up and confess their sins. These public confessions
soon had to be stopped because the meetings became so scandalous
in their nature that they increasingly attracted people whose sole
purpose for attending was to hear the scandalous details of the lives
of the group.
We must recognize that every attempt the church has made
throughout its long history to deal with the public confession of
sins has ended in failure. Its attempt to deal with the confession of
sins in privacy has also ended in failure.
At the time of the Reformation, one Protestant group alone
abolished the confession of sins—a circumstance that comes as a
surprise to many Christians. Calvinism alone, and its heirs (the
Presbyterian and Reformed churches), insisted on the total aboli-
tion of the confession of sins, excepting the general confession made
by the congregation in public prayer, which was a formal matter.
Other churches subsequently dropped confession, but only under
the influence of the Presbyterian and Reformed churches.
How are we to understand, then, this matter of the meaning
of confession? Why has the church had so much trouble
throughout the centuries with regard to the confession of sins?
Actually, the New Testament rarely speaks of the confession
of sins. In fact, the whole of Scripture rarely speaks of it, except in
relationship to God. Two things are apparent as we study the
First, confession of sins is almost invariably made to God and
to God alone. The one or two references that deal with confession
to anyone other than God involved a public offense where the life
of the church was directly affected. In order for proper amends to
be made, a confession of sin was made by the person committing

the sin (either to the elders of the church, or to the group or indi-
vidual affected by the offense).
Second, confession of sins is a very minor, incidental meaning
of the word confession in Scripture. The word confession is not pri-
marily associated with the confession of sins but with confessing
Paul clearly says, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the
Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised
him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Our Lord also spoke of
confession in the same manner when He said to His disciples that
all they who confessed Him, He would confess before His Father
in heaven, and all who would deny Him, He would deny before
His Father in heaven. The basic scriptural meaning of confession
then is not confession of sins, but confession of Jesus Christ as our
Lord and Savior.
Confession of sins was introduced into the church because of
a false faith. It was an attempt whereby men sought to atone for
their sins. It was a substitute means of salvation. The mindset that
led to the early church’s confession systems was the very thing Paul
spoke of in the tenth chapter of Romans when he stated that Israel’s
zeal, though undoubted, was not a zeal according to knowledge.
Theirs was a zeal, said Paul, operating in behalf of their own righ-
teousness: they sought to establish their own righteousness before
When men seek to establish their own righteousness before
God, they seek to do it by justifying themselves. One step in justi-
fying themselves is to make atonement for their sins. Therefore, the
Judaizing, legalistic influences working in the church led inexo-
rably to each subsequent system of public confession of sins. The
sinner, in order to put himself in a right relationship with God,
submitted himself to certain acts of penance, and performed cer-
tain ritual duties, in order to make atonement for his sins.
All the rules and regulations concerning the confession of sins
that marked the early church from the second century forward led
inevitably to the Roman Catholic Church, to a system whereby
man worked out his salvation, offering atonement for his sins

through the performance of certain acts of penance. But the Refor-

mation (and John Calvin in particular) clearly saw how Christ’s sal-
vation for us affected our righteousness, and therefore forever
abolished and did away with the whole system of confession of sins.
Paul was dealing with Jews whose trust was in self-
righteousness. Their confession was thus a false one: they witnessed
to themselves and not to the Lord. Men try to save themselves,
either by confessing sins endlessly or by indulging in a confession
of self-righteousness. And so it has been always. Men seek
constantly to establish their righteousness either by confession of
sins and saying “I have absolved myself of them” or by a confession
of self-righteousness.
The confession of sins in the church reveals a repetition of the
old Jewish struggle of the law. Man struggles with sin, fights against
it, tries to gain a personal righteousness, a righteousness that stems
from his own nature. No man is ever saved by confessing sins. No
man ever establishes his righteousness because he has confessed his
sins. More often than not, his confession of sins has only furthered
his sin. Let’s consider a concrete instance of this result.
A case was brought to my attention not too long ago whereby
a dying man called in his wife and confessed to her that he had
through the years been consistently unfaithful to her. He asked her
to forgive him and soon thereafter passed away. When the pastor
of the family had called and spoken to the man, the husband had
made no confession of any such nature to the pastor. Was the
man’s confession a Christian one? Was it done out of any motive
that could be called godly, holy, or righteous? There is only one
conclusion that any Christian could make in any such situation.
The man’s confession of sin was a further act of sin because it was
not made to God. He hadn’t confessed the sin to the pastor (in fact,
he only spoke with satisfaction concerning himself to the pastor).
This man made his confession to his wife, the wife to whom
he had been consistently unfaithful through the years. The woman
whom he had in various ways hurt and offended in life, he had now
further hurt: he now further harmed her with a confession that
robbed her memories of her married life of all peace and happiness.

That confession of sin was motivated only by pride, only by sin,

only by a desire to further hurt the woman who, in spite of his sin,
had been faithful to him.
I have never yet heard any man who, under such circum-
stances, confessed such a sin while simultaneously showing grace or
a truly Christian repentance. This was not a Christian act. It was an
unchristian act because it was an attempt to absolve himself in part,
but in reality it was only a further act of offense against his wife.
Confession of sin, if it be honest, is to God. It seeks then the
righteousness of Jesus Christ, and it does not confess sin to those
whom it has hurt and who are ignorant of it. It primarily seeks to
confess the graciousness of Jesus Christ.
I have never yet found any man who went out of his way to
confess sins to people who were ignorant of them (particularly his
wife) who also showed any signs of grace. This is because our con-
fession basically is not a negative one.
We cannot overlook the fact that confessing sins to God is
something we do daily as we approach Him. We only approach
God on that basis: sinners saved by grace, who approach Him
mindful of our sins and mindful of His grace. But our confession
always is this: that in Christ we have found salvation.
To confess sins, to deal with the confession of sins at length,
is to continue struggling in terms of the law, trying to make atone-
ment by word of mouth, by acts of contribution or penance, trying
to gain a personal righteousness in terms of our own nature. It is an
empty attempt to persuade ourselves that just because we have said
we are sorry, we are now holy. Christ supersedes the law as a way
of salvation, and when we accept Christ, we accept His salvation
and His righteousness and are delivered from the burden of our
sins. Instead of confessing sin and self-righteousness, then, we con-
fess Christ.
Christ is our real righteousness, applied by God to us and
ever near to our hearts. And so Paul declared this great truth to the
Romans as he commented on the fallacy of the Jews. Israel, said
Paul, showed a great deal of zeal; they were ready by acts of pen-
ance, acts of contribution, acts of confession, to strive, to struggle,

with their own nature to gain victory over sin. Paul declared they
indeed had a zeal, but not after knowledge, because those who
would seek to be righteous under the law must become perfect
under the law, and this is impossible. Rather, we have the Word,
which is near to us, nigh to our own hearts, that “if thou shalt con-
fess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart
that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For
with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the
mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith,
Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.”
By this simple act of confession of faith in Jesus Christ, the
whole burden of sin is forever removed. By this simple act of con-
fession of faith in Jesus Christ, we step from the realm of sin into
the realm of God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ. This is the glory
of our faith. We do not need to deal with our sins. Christ deals with
them for us, and having once and for all dealt with them for us, His
victory is a permanent one. Therefore, let us gladly confess Jesus
Christ as Lord and Savior.

The Confession of Sins

I n the 1930s, the definition of auricular confession was a simple

matter. The basic form was that of Roman Catholic practice;
other churches, i.e., Eastern churches, and Protestants, in the main
held to variations of a common practice. The confession held a
privileged character: the pastor or priest was God’s minister and
hence talking to him was talking to God. The same doctrine
applied to the physician-patient relationship: because the word sal-
vation means health, the physician is in Biblical thought a religious
practitioner, and the culmination of physical salvation is the resur-
rection of the dead. Hence, the doctor-patient relationship, like the
confessional, is a privileged communication. The lawyer-client
privilege differs: the lawyer is the client’s “mouthpiece”; he speaks
for the man, so that, even as husband and wife are “one flesh” and
cannot testify against each other, the lawyer is the client’s informed
voice and has an identity with him. Less directly, this relationship
also has Biblical roots.
Contemporary attention focuses on the idea of confession.
This is not the focus of the confessional. Historically, the focus is
on repentance, penance, and restitution. The authoritative 1911
Catholic Encyclopedia has no listing under “Confession,” or “Auric-
ular Confession,” but rather treats the subject under the title of


“Penance.” The texts used to confirm this emphasis are, as given in

the Catholic Confraternity translation of the Bible,
(30) Therefore I will judge you, house of Israel, each one according
to his ways, says the Lord God. Turn and be converted from all
your crimes, that they may be no cause of guilt for you. (31) Cast
away from you all the crimes you have committed, and make for
yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, O
house of Israel? (Ezek.18:30-31)
(12) Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole
heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning, (13) rend your
hearts not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For
gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and re-
lenting in punishment. (Joel 2:12-13)
(6) I listen closely; they speak what is not true, no one repents of
his wickedness, saying “What have I done!” Everyone keeps on
running his course, like a steed dashing into battle. (Jer. 8:6)
Bring forth fruit befitting repentance. (Matt. 3:8)
These are all texts preceding Christ’s ministry and have been used
to show Old Testament origins before Christ spoke of the church’s
duty with respect to binding and loosening sin upon confession
and restitution.
In 1930, other forms of the confessional were restricted in the
main to churches in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition. Protestants
largely followed the same practice as Catholics but in most
instances did not require private confession and penance as neces-
sary for the remission of sins and for admission to communion.
The Council of Trent declared that penance was necessary for the
remission of sins, and penance was held to be a sacrament, a means
of grace. Confession and penance thus are not an option but a
necessity, and they require the church for their administration.
While the confession was in Catholic churches, private, public pen-
ance has often been required by that communion, even of kings.
While public penance did not necessarily include a public avowal of
sin, it could be so ordered. St. Augustine held:
If his sin is not only grievous in itself, but involves scandal given to
others, and if the bishop judge that it will be useful to the church
(to have the sin published), let not the sinner refuse to do penance
in the sight of many or even of the people at large, let him not re-
sist, nor through shame add to his mortal wound a greater evil.1

This latter practice was by the 1930s at the very least uncommon
in English-speaking countries, but it was no less an aspect of the
In the 1970s and the 1980s, many seemingly new develop-
ments have occurred, i.e., public confessions, public announce-
ments of offenses, and so on. However, none of these practices are
new, however much some find them so because of their renewed
prominence. In the 1930s, the Oxford Movement, or Buchman-
ites, strongly stressed public confessions before the entire group.
The roots of such practices go deeper.
The early church adopted the form of government and the
practices of the synagogue, the “office” of elders, the conduct of
worship, oversight of members, and much, much more. In the
Greek text of James 2:2, the word “assembly” is synagogue. The
word church translates ecclesia, which in the Greek version of the
Old Testament is used for assembly, synagogue, and so on. The
church saw itself as the true synagogue.
According to the Jewish view, “In the Bible the confession of
sin committed either individually or collectively is an essential pre-
requisite for expiation and atonement.”2 In the medieval era, con-
fession of sins as a preface to the Day of Atonement became a
requirement, in part due to the influence of Maimonides. Within
the Church, confession had also begun to precede communion. In
the synagogue, confession was made directly to God, although
some sixteenth-century cabbalistic ascetics confessed one to
another. However, religious leaders could and did exhort the dying
to confess their sins, and rabbis did prompt criminals about to be
executed to say, “May my death be an expiation for all my sins.”3
Confession is linked closely to excommunication in both
Judaism and Christianity. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:1-8 calls for
the excommunication of a sinning member who does not see his
offense as a sin.

1. St. Augustine, Sermon 151, n.3, cited by Edward J. Hanna, in “Penance,”

Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 11 (New York, NY: Encyclopedia Press, [1911] 1913), 630.
2. “Confession of Sins,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 5 (Jerusalem, Israel: Keter
Publishing House, 1971), 878.
3. Sanh. 6:2; cited in ibid., 879.

In the synagogue, there were and are, among the Orthodox,

two degrees of excommunication. In the first, the offender is given
thirty days to repent and make amends. If he does not, the second
degree follows: he is deprived of all dealings with his relatives and
family, and with other members, and his goods can be confiscated
to a sacred use.4 This kind of practice prevailed in medieval excom-
munications. The separation from family and friends continues in
the Amish practice of “shunning.”
In the synagogue, the banned person had to lie down in the
doorway after sentence was passed, and his sin described, and all
members walked over him as they left. The philosopher Spinoza
was so excommunicated, and so too was Uriel Acosta, son of a Por-
tuguese noble Jewish family. The conclusion of his ban read:
Nobody, whoever it might be, is allowed to talk with him, neither
man or woman, neither his relatives nor strangers, nobody may
show him any favor or otherwise be in contact with him, under the
penalty of becoming included into the same ban and of being ex-
cluded from our fellowship.
And to his brothers was granted a period of grace of eight days to
separate from him.
Amsterdam, the 15th of May, 1623.5
Over the centuries, the Jewish pattern has been profoundly
influential over the Church, far more than churches recognize or
admit. Such excommunications as that of Uriel Acosta were made
by the synagogue as the de facto state, and it was the act of the
“Deputies of the Jewish Nation in Amsterdam.”6 In the late middle
ages, the Jewish pattern was for a time powerful in Christendom,
with the Church trying offenders, and the state punishing or
excommunicating them. This practice began with Frederick II (the
Hohenstaufen emperor), who was perhaps a secret Moslem; he cre-
ated the Inquisition to enforce unity in the state. Ironically, the
Church bears the blame for the Inquisition, although in many
areas, as in Germany (but not Spain), the bishops resisted it.

4. Uriel Acosta, A Specimen of Human Life (New York, NY: Bergman, 1967), 14n.
5. Ibid., 74.
6. Ibid., 73.

The early church followed the synagogue practice for a few

centuries: a public act of confession before the whole congregation
(an act called exomologesis), public mortification in sackcloth and
ashes, and restitution. After a few centuries, the confession became
private, followed by a public statement of the offense by the priest.
Pope Leo the Great ended the public notice of the offense.
Even earlier, not all confessions were public. As Bingham
summarized the patristic literature on the subject, “Whence we
may conclude, that these confessions were sometimes public, and
sometimes private, as directed by the wisdom of the church.”7 The
early church required that baptism be preceded by a confession of
sins, but this was normally a private confession. However, in cases
involving others, a public confession was necessary. “In case of
public scandalous crimes, they were obliged particularly to promise
and vow the forsaking of them.”8
In recent years, the practices of the early church have again
become very relevant. In 1968, approximately forty million Amer-
icans aged eighteen and older professed to be born-again Chris-
tians; twenty years later, in 1988, this number was nearly ninety-
one million, more than twice as many. A major part of this increase
is due to the charismatic movement; a common estimate is that
they number over twenty million.
The charismatic groups, Catholic and Protestant, have,
among other things, these characteristics which concern us here.
First, there is an earnest desire to return to the early church, not
only with respect to the experience in the Holy Spirit, but in day
by day living. This has meant that the Old Testament and syna-
gogue practices of the early church are taken very seriously. Second,
the charismatic movement was in part a reaction to the student
rebellion of the 1960s. Charismatic churches on the whole have a
very, very youthful membership. Many members and leaders were
prominent in the student movements prior to their conversion.
They came from liberal and permissive families in very many cases,
and, on their conversion, wanted a disciplined and structured
7. Joseph Bingham, The Antiquities of the Christian Church, vol. 1 (London,
England: Reeves and Turner, 1878), 437.
8. Ibid., 523.

church. Most “mainline” churches have members who in essence

“visit” the church and remain very “private persons.” In some
newly built Catholic churches, the confessional is not easy to
locate. With the charismatic churches, there is a love of religious
authority, a demand for the church to be a family, and a strong sup-
port system for one another which is linked to a confessional open-
ness. All share their joys and failures and pray for one another. The
shepherding system, now extensively abandoned, occasionally car-
ried this to an extreme, but, on the whole, its benefits for many
couples with undisciplined and unstructured lives was very sub-
It is impossible to be in a charismatic fellowship more than
briefly and not to realize that its confessional openness is part of its
family structure whereby members help one another, have no
secrets, volunteer readily to do all kinds of work to help their fellow
members or fellow charismatics in another community, and so on.
For those whose sense of being “private persons” is very strong, this
can be strange, but it definitely echoes much of the life of the early
church and it is an aspect of the charismatic church’s power and
vitality. It provides community in a dramatic way.
As we have seen, the modern perspective puts the focus of
attention on the act of confession, i.e., of revealing one’s secret sins.
In the life of the church, in the various communions, the focus has
been on confession as the first step towards healing, restoration,
penance, and restitution. The elders and the pastor serve to help the
one who confesses towards healing and health, and to rebuke where
The elders have a part in this process as associated to the
pastor. In the synagogue, there was one elder for every ten families,
and to this day, it takes ten men to constitute a synagogue. The
system of graded elders culminated in the Sanhedrin, seventy
elders, and was reproduced in the college of cardinals, originally
seventy elders, often laymen. The Scottish kirk had its elders make
regular visitations of all members under their jurisdiction, to hear
the children recite their catechism, and to counsel the parents.

In each and every ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the confessional,

with its goal being either restoration or excommunication, has had
a very important role. In each there has been a kind of privileged
status for the proceedings because of the importance of the process
to the life of the church.
In recent years, there have been two threats to this ancient
and sacrosanct process. First, the state has increasingly claimed
jurisdiction in a realm usually regarded as a theological one. Both
with respect to physicians and clergymen, the privileged act has
come under question.
Second, a very serious threat comes from the character of an
increasing number of people. There is much attention given now
to crime, violence, and other social disorders, but perhaps more
serious is what is happening in the minds and hearts of people.
Being “a very private person” has come to mean for many being
one’s own God and law.
To illustrate: early in the 1980s, I was talking with another
man in a public place, and the conversation made it obvious that I
was a clergyman. As I stood there, in the cold, in my overcoat and
with a muffler around my neck, a burly man came up and launched
into a confession. He had just finished his sentence for sexually
molesting his young daughter, and he felt that he was entitled to
have her back in the name of the sanctity of the family! He
expressed murderous hate for the judge and his attorney, and he
wanted me to confirm his own feelings.
Was this a confession? Not in any Biblical sense. There was
no repentance, no desire to change, no evidence of anything except
a determined and lawless self-will. For church or state to stand in
his way was for him evil.
This incident was not unusual. Many pastors and priests
report similar episodes, not quite so dramatic, perhaps. One priest
stated that a man tied his hands by confessing his sin and then pro-
ceeding as he had before; the consequences did great damage to the
church community. More and more, the confessional is becoming
dangerous because so many who use it want absolution without
repentance, or even confirmation for their evil ways. The some-

times explosive hostility is a growing problem. This is true of other

kinds of relationships also, i.e., as of a patient with a psychiatrist,
or a psychotherapist, if the patient feels at all threatened.
From another perspective, however, all this simply confirms
more than ever the need for the confession-restitution-restoration
process. It can be argued that its existence, whatever the abuses at
times, has been essential not only to the life of the church but also
to the character of Western civilization. It has stressed the necessary
link between thoughts and deeds, between committing an offense
and remedying that offense, between sin and guilt, and between
guilt and absolution.
It is significant that criminal courts, which, in terms of this
Biblical pattern, once required restitution for certain offenses, are
now beginning to return to that practice. Some states at present
give the judge the option of requiring restitution for certain
At any rate, it is important to recognize that confession is not
merely a verbal act. It is required because an offense is in the back-
ground, and the verbal act of confession, under whatever form of
practice, public or private, must conclude in an act to alter as far as
possible the damage done; the harmful act must be followed by a
remedial act as far as is possible. As a result, in no ecclesiastical com-
munion is it limited to the verbal statement except where the very
act of confession is callously abused. Without at least the heartfelt
promise of a willingness to remedy one’s act, there is no forgiveness.
As Caspari summarized it, “Connected with absolution was the
obligation of Penance.”9 The modern mood seeks to substitute the
verbal confession for the consequent act.

9. W. Caspari, “Confession of Sins,” in Samuel Macauley Jackson, ed., The New

Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book
House, [1950] 1972), 221.

False Confession

I n the twentieth century, confession has receded in the churches

and proliferated in society. This new and popular form of con-
fession is, however, radically alien to the Biblical doctrine and even
dangerous to social order.
After World War I, a very popular form of the new confes-
sional was in public print; it was not merely in periodicals such as
True Confessions but also in the daily newspapers. Repentance took
the form, between World Wars I and II, of “baring one’s soul” to
the press, and it was not surprising that women reporters adept at
gaining and reporting such confessions were called “sob sisters.”
The “soap opera” began its radio career, and, after World War II,
its television coverage, and millions indulged in the very public
confessions of fictional sinners, and also their strong self-justifica-
tions for their sins. In this new form of the confessional, there was
neither the privacy and the privileged character of the Roman
Catholic confessional, nor was there the sanctity of a confession
before Christ’s congregation. In addition, there was no form of
penance nor of restitution. Whereas in Christian teaching confes-
sion was and is the first step towards penance, restitution, and res-
toration, in this new and popular form, the act of confession was
seen as itself constituting absolution. The verbal form replaced the


act. This moral confusion has infiltrated the churches, clergy and
laity, and is emphatically heretical. Words have become more
important than acts, and can cancel acts. The confusion of words
with acts is dealt with by Jesus in Matthew 21:28-32:
28. But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came
to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard.
29. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented
and went.
30. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered
and said, I go, sir: and went not.
31. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto
him, the first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That
the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before
32. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye
believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him:
and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might
believe him.
The coming of John, and then Jesus, had been a challenge to the
faith of all. The chief priests and elders, who regarded themselves
as God’s elect, refused to heed the call to repentance and obedience.
Many harlots and publicans, who had been wayward and disobedi-
ent, believed and became obedient to the Lord. The chief priests
and elders regarded position and public profession as equivalent to
true faith, whereas the repentance of the harlots and publicans re-
sulted in new lives.
Confession without repentance is no confession at all.
Repentance means literally a reversal of direction, of life; it is a
modern heresy to equate repentance with a verbal statement. This
heresy is so prevalent that many demand a verbal confession long
after a change of conduct is apparent. This is not to say that the
verbal statement is unimportant, but rather that the contemporary
emphasis is wrong.
The most important form of false confession in the twentieth
century has been psychotherapy. Especially as a result of the work
of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the confessional has been trans-
ferred from the church to the psychiatrist, the psychoanalyst, and
the psychologist. Freud recognized guilt as man’s basic problem,
although he did not believe that the cause of the guilt is sin. For

him, guilt was an inheritance in our unconscious from our primor-

dial ancestors. As long as men faced the burden of guilt, men would
turn to religion, Freud held. No amount of “proof ” of the nonex-
istence of God would be effective as long as guilty men saw their
cure in religion. If, however, guilt were converted from a religious
to a scientific problem, then men would look to science for what
religion had previously supplied, absolution from guilt. This abso-
lution would mean an understanding of the primitiveness of the
sense of guilt, and its unreality in terms of the present.1
The psychotherapeutic confessional thus led to an “under-
standing” in terms of this new philosophy. The process bypassed
entirely the fact of sin to concentrate on the feeling of guilt. The
purpose of understanding is to replace the feeling of guilt with a sci-
entific perspective on the unreality of such a feeling except as an
inherited aspect of the unconscious mind.
In this psychotherapeutic confessional, thus, the entire pro-
cess is essentially the confession of guilt, and then absolution by
understanding its tenuous character. Sin is separated from guilt; it
is not mentioned as the reason for guilt unless it means recognizing
the parricide, cannibalism, and incest (in Freudian theory) of one’s
primitive forbears. Not only is the necessity of confessing sin
avoided, but also the requirement of penance and restitution. As a
result, there is no restoration or true healing.
All this has very important consequences. Sin and guilt have
at the very least a debilitating effect; they do lead to an inner sla-
very. As Jesus said to the religious leaders of His day, “Whosoever
committeth sin is the servant (or, slave) of sin” (John 8:34). A
society in which a false view of the confessional predominates is a
society in bondage.
There is still another important aspect to all this. The primary
meaning of confession for Christianity, whether Roman Catholic
or Protestant, is a confession of faith. It can mean the Apostles’
Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Westminster Confession of Faith and

1. See R.J. Rushdoony, Freud (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub-
lishing Company, [1965] 1973).

Catechisms, the Baltimore Catechism, and so on. According to St.

8. … The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart:
that is, the word of faith, which we preach;
9. That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and
shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead,
thou shalt be saved.
10. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with
the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
11. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not
be ashamed. (Rom. 10:8-11)
Confession is thus primarily the exuberant commitment to the
faith in all our being, by word, thought, and deed. It is when we
depart from this confession of faith that we make a confession of
sins. There is a necessary relation between the two confessions. The
confession of faith marks us as a member of the covenant of God
in Christ. Because we damage our standing in that covenant by our
sins, we confess them and make restitution in order to effect resto-
ration. This restoration has a double aspect. First, there is a restora-
tion of our relationship to God through Christ. Second, there is a
restoration of damaged order. If we have stolen $100, we restore
$200, and this restitution can be up to fourfold or fivefold, depend-
ing upon the case (Ex. 22:1-31).
The goal of confession is thus more than personal. It has ref-
erence to an order linking heaven and earth, and man to man. Its
purpose is community in terms of the law of the communion of the
False confession, however, is purely personal. Its goal is “to
feel better.” More than a few who are unbelievers resort to
confessions to a pastor or priest in order to get something “off their
chest.” Such people exploit the confessional for psychological relief,
and they need to be told that there is no valid confession of sins
without penance, or restitution, and acts of a restorative character.
Twentieth-century pseudo-confessionals have given too many
people, in the church and out of it, a false view of the doctrine. The
result has been an exploitation of the confessional for personal
relief, not a God-centered awareness of the meaning of sin and

Both the “soap-opera” and the psychotherapeutic views of

confessions have had a powerful influence on twentieth-century
man. The doctrine of Christian confession has been warped and
by-passed in favor of these prurient forms of the confessional.
These false forms will not disappear without a strong reemphasis
on the Biblical doctrine.

From Ordeal
to Autobiography

T he concept of confession as a social and religious necessity is

as old as history. Studies have been made of the place of con-
fession in various cultures. T.G. Pinches wrote of the place of con-
fession in Assyro-Babylonian life and religion.1 Egyptian religion
called for confession of sins relating not only to the gods and to
men, but also to inner moral weakness and failure.2 In one form or
another, confession is to be found all over the world. It is man’s
admission of his moral and social failures. Given the fact that, since
the Garden of Eden, no society has been perfect, we can see how
inescapable and necessary confession is. The more advanced the
culture, the more conscious it becomes of its faults and failures.
Rebels against the status quo are least likely to occur in the lowest
cultures simply because the moral sense there is least expressed and
vocal. A moral discomfort and outrage does not in itself make a
man good, but without it he is not likely to seek moral improve-
ment for himself or for society.

1. T.G. Pinches, “Confession (Assyro-Babylonian),” in James Hastings, ed., Encyclo-

paedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 3 (Edinburgh, Scotland: T &T Clark, [1910] 1922),
2. James Baikie, “Confession (Egyptian),” in ibid.,327-29.


As justice becomes more important to a culture, so too does

the confession of sins, because those who are unjust need to see
what they are, and to mend their ways. It is not unusual that in our
era some countries call their prisons penitentiaries. They thereby
echo the Catholic requirement of confession and penance; the goal
at the beginning of the prison system was to provide a secular
means of bringing criminals to penance or repentance.
For justice to prevail in a society, there must be more than
prison terms and hangings. Men need to repent of their violations
of the laws of society and mend their ways. Justice is more than
punishment and executions: it is a way of life ordained by God.
As a result, pagan societies, like Christian ones, have been
concerned with confession, the confession of sins. With some insis-
tence, more than a few societies have required it to the point of
resorting to brutality and torture, as witness Roman law and
Marxist law. So-called “primitive” societies are weak in this sphere,
and hence are less just; maintaining the social forms, “the old
ways,” is then more important than justice. To believe in the
society’s or culture’s need for justice is to be critical of the social
order and to call for its improvement.
In approaching this need for justice, a culture can, first, insist
on full and perfect justice here and now. This requires a totalitarian
control over all the people. The thought of anyone escaping justice
leads to dictatorial steps. The property of suspected (and yet
untried) drug smugglers and dealers is seized prior to trial, and
made unavailable to them. This is also done in political cases, as
with the Marcos, in the U.S.A., and Duvalier, in France. This
attempt at efficient and total justice becomes more and more coer-
cion, and conversion and regeneration are bypassed in favor of
statist force.
Second, justice can be seen as coming to men and nations in
diverse ways ordained by God. This can be by means of God-
ordained courts of justice which recognize that total justice is not
within their sphere of jurisdiction or possibility. God’s providential
government is seen as an important arm of justice. Ultimately, not

only death but finally Christ’s Last Judgment will render perfect
justice for all and to all.
But men have commonly been discontented unless full and
perfect justice is obtainable here and now, and in their time.
Various means have been used in the vain attempt to gain it. A
prominent instrument was the ordeal. In Western history, it first
appeared among the Franks, and it is first mentioned in a recension
of the Salic Law, c. A.D. 510. Despite the protests of some
churchmen, and, later, popes, it passed into general use in
Christendom. Rulers were not much troubled by its non-Biblical
character; it met their need. The ordeal was a last resort. If neither
witnesses nor circumstantial evidence provided the solution to a
crime, the court’s resort (at first essentially a king’s resort) was to
the ordeal. The ordeal was seen as a means of involuntary
In 1935, Gordon Sinclair wrote of an instance of the ordeal
in central Africa. A minor chief became ill after eating and sus-
pected poison. “The juju man” brewed a special poison which was
then administered to each of the wives. Each drank the poison,
soon became ill, and vomited it, and were well, but an older woman
did not vomit it, confessed the poisoning, and died. 3 Those wives
who knew they were innocent were relaxed and their stomachs
readily rejected the poison; the guilty person’s stomach did not.
However, in the same place, Sinclair and a Dutchman saw another
form of the ordeal, and Sinclair submitted to it, a heated iron
pressed on his tongue, with the steam hissing but no burning.4
In medieval Europe, “The ordeal existed in that narrow place
where suspicion was considerable but guilt was unquestionable.”5
The right to order an ordeal was essentially a royal right, although
in time the presence of a priest, willing or unwilling, was required.
Churchmen like Peter the Chanter attacked the ordeal as contrary
to Scripture and thus tempting God.6
3. Gordon Sinclair, Loose Among Devils (New York, NY: Farrar & Rinehart, 1935),
4. Ibid., 194-95.
5. Robert Bartlett, Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval Judicial Ordeal (Oxford,
England: Clarendon Press, [1986] 1988), 64.
6. Ibid., 86.

The church had its alternative to the ordeal, which tended to

run parallel to it. This was the oath, a form of the ordeal which
required God’s eventual judgment on the one who swore a false
oath. Only men whose word was trustworthy, and who could pro-
vide men of good standing to witness to their character and word,
could acquit themselves by means of an oath. Oath-worthiness
marked a man of honor. 7
In time, the ordeal gave way to the court trial alone. Whereas
the ordeal had been a last resort for the court, it was now replaced
by it. There were two reasons for this, according to Bartlett. First,
there was the revival of Roman law, and Roman law made torture
legal. Torture, previously illegal in terms of Biblical law, became
legal in the late medieval and especially Renaissance eras. To
accomplish the goal of justice, it was held that justice required tor-
ture in order to settle the question of guilt. This demand was an
aspect of the belief in “justice now,” without delay.
Second, the nature of criminal prosecution also changed. Pre-
viously, the prosecution was by or in the name of the injured party
against a suspect. If the accusation proved false, the accuser was
potentially liable. Now the state itself was the prosecutor. This
meant that prosecution was by the state, in a state’s court, and in
terms of state (or royal) law, not God’s law. The judge thus became
an inquisitor rather than a man who was representing neither pros-
ecution nor defense. This, as Bartlett noted, “significantly shifted
the balance of power in the court.”8 Unhappily, some churchmen,
later both Catholic and Protestant, accepted this change in the
courts, and also the use of torture.
As the ordeal faded as a means of confession, the church was
reemphasizing the importance of the confessional. After A.D.
1215, church members were required to confess their sins to a
priest at least once a year; before receiving communion at Easter,
they had to confess and carry out the required penance. This con-
fession not only required that amends be made for sins but also that
offenses committed against others be followed by reconciliation.

7. Ibid., 30-31.
8. Ibid., 140.

Protestants have rightly called attention to the later abuses of the

confessional and wrongly neglected its importance to Christian
faith. Roman Catholic apologists for the confessional have wrongly
side-stepped the abuses that grew up, and the shift to an over-
guided and sometimes inquisitorial interrogation. In the process,
the religious and social importance of the confessional has been
neglected. As John Bossy, in his excellent account of sin and pen-
ance, 1400-1700, has written:
Under the influence of Aquinas, the notion made headway that
penance was as much “medicinal,” or directed to reforming the fu-
ture conduct of the sinner, as vindictive, or directed to restoring an
objective social balance.9
St. Charles Borromeo, who invented the confession box, was,
according to Bossy, “consciously competing for the palm of visible
holiness, with a city, after all, no great distance away,” Geneva
under Calvin. As Calvin was hated in Geneva, so too was Borromeo
in Catholic Milan, where “solid citizens of Milan tried to assassi-
nate him.”10
In the Roman imperial era, St. Augustine had written his
Confessions to describe his religious and intellectual journey; it was
thus an autobiography, although radically different from more
recent ones. As the Catholic confessional, and the Protestant
prayers of specific confession directly to God, began to wane in
their social power, the confessional autobiography took the place of
the private and Christian confession.11 Especially in the twentieth
century, the tell-all autobiography has become increasingly
common. If a prominent person fails to confess all, his or her
biographers are ready to do it for him or her. Thus, in the 1980s
alone, we have had autobiographies and biographies providing us
with unpleasant, ugly, and vicious details of marital life,
homosexuality, incest, and more. We are back to the confessional,
in a public way. What began in the 1920s in magazines such as
True Confessions is now a common part of many segments of the

9. John Bossy, Christianity in the West, 1400-1700 (Oxford, England: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 1985), 49.
10. Ibid., 132.
11. Ibid., 134.

media. Because confession no longer has a truly godly place of

centrality in the religious lives of men, it has been replaced by a
morbid curiosity and a compulsive humanistic confession to the
Where there is no godly absolution, the guilt remains, and
the need for absolution continues. As a consequence, confessions
will out in remarkable ways. If a pastor is at all kindly and circulates
much in the world at large, he is sure to hear many confessions.
People want to “get it off their chest,” because guilt does burden a
person. It is an ironic fact that modern man thinks of the confes-
sional as a relic of the past and yet finds it so compulsive a need in
the present to confess.
Bossy points out that the religious explosion known as the
Reformation was brought about
... when the civilized Leo X, who thought satisfaction for sin a bar-
barous anachronism, scattered remission for punishments in which
he did not believe in front of a population persuaded that sin
would always have to be paid for in one way or another.12
We have today a perhaps comparable situation. The state, its edu-
cators, science, and psychotherapy deny even the idea of sin, and
crime is explained away in environmental terms. Sin will out, how-
ever, and it demands atonement and the absolution of atonement.
The results this time will be more radical than in Luther’s day.

12. Ibid., 36.


Humanistic Confession

A book published in 1989 has a thoroughly modern title, Con-

fessions of an S.O.B. The author, Allen H. Neuharth, allows
his former wives and his two children to have their say for and
against him. He favors Machiavellianism, and holds with respect to
advancement, “Power, Use it or Lose it.”1 Neuharth may or may
not be all that he says he is; many autobiographies exhibit strange
qualities. Ancient hagiographies, or biographies of saints, credited
the saints with more virtue than was realistic, and certainly more
miraculous powers. Contemporary autobiographers sometimes
appear to claim more sins than seem possible. Certainly autobiog-
raphies like that of Frank Harris are boastful of more sins than they
committed. Nevertheless, if we take such works at face value, some
interesting patterns appear. Among these are instances of pleading
guilty to a lesser offense.
Thus, the appealing Juliette Huxley, in her autobiography,
Leaves of the Tulip Tree (1986), describes sympathetically and
uncritically the deep-rooted sense of guilt carried by her husband,
the scientist Julian Huxley. She wrote, “Julian carried a daimon
within.” When he was four, his younger brother, Trevenen, was
1. Michael Longinow, “Neuharth’s Confessions: He’s No Augustine,” World, No-
vember 18, 1989, 14.


born; until then, he was the sole claimant to his mother’s love, was
“spoiled and cherished,” and had a position of centrality. He was
the grandson of Thomas H. Huxley, and of Matthew Arnold.
Although the boys were soon “the best of friends,” Julian saw
Trevenen’s birth as the beginning of a burden.2 This “daimon” tor-
mented Julian all his life with a sense of guilt. A few months before
he died, his wife Juliette said to him that this “demon within” was
destroying both of them. He answered, “quite casually,” “Of course
I have a demon, had it since I was four.”3
This idea fits nicely with the modern myth of an inescapable
sibling rivalry. When occasionally such a rivalry or jealousy may
occur, it is neither normal nor common. Even when it does occur,
it is absurd to see it as the cause of guilt. Such reasoning is pleading
guilty to the lesser offense.
In Julian Huxley’s case, he was a cold and impersonal man;
he was anti-Christian and was contemptuous of the faith. He was
also an adulterer who told his wife to find her own solace sexually
with other men.4 He saw this not as a question of morality but of
philosophy. Of his wife, and of his work, he wrote to a young
woman, “In reality I am a pluralist in my philosophy, having given
up the quest for unity.”5 As a humanist, Huxley saw morality as a
human product.
Julian Huxley suffered all his life from a sense of guilt, which
he apparently saw in biological terms after Freud, and also in terms
of heredity. His grandfather, T.H. Huxley, was prey to “a deep-
rooted melancholy” and was consequently often seriously ill.6
Julian Huxley read his problem in terms of this. But T.H. Huxley
had much in his life and work to give him a deep sense of guilt also.
Julian Huxley at one point was given electric shock therapy.7
Believing guilt to be biological, he sought ostensibly scientific treat-
ment thereof. He would have regarded the Christian confessional
2. Juliette Huxley, Leaves of the Tulip Tree (Topsfield, MA: Salem House, [1986]
1987), 141.
3. Ibid., 141-42.
4. Ibid., 128ff., 136ff., 158ff.
5. Ibid., 166.
6. Ibid., 190.
7. Ibid., 188.

as a magical answer. The shock therapy gave him some recovery for
a time, but his basic problem remained.
Juliette Huxley, clearly a kindly and loving person, had her
own “deep sense of sin,” which she blamed on her Calvinistic
mother.8 Her mother, however, comes through the autobiography
as the one superior person! Juliette’s lack of faith, and her reluctant
compliance with Julian’s demand that she exercise her sexual
“freedom,” are not related to this sense of guilt. Juliette at one point
perceptively described Julian as “not a physical but a moral
invalid,” and as one who “knows, or thinks he knows, himself
accursed, and finds his thoughts set upon self-destruction, as the
only way of removing the curse for himself and the accursed life
from being a burden to others.”9 It was the work of Freud to sepa-
rate the sense of sin from the sense of guilt. He recognized that as
long as men see themselves as sinners, they will turn to God for
grace, but if they see guilt as a problem of the unconscious, they
will seek scientific therapy for help.
For Julian Huxley to see sibling rivalry as his life-long
problem, and for Juliette to blame her mother for her sense of guilt,
was in both cases pleading, to use Edmund Bergler’s term, to the
lesser offense while concealing the real problem.
In other instances, confessions of the autobiographical
variety seek other justification, i.e., sinning as a means to grace, to
use Biblical language, or, in modern terms, therapeutic and
experimental living. An example of this is Rosemary Daniell’s
Sleeping with Soldiers: In Search of the Macho Man. She is a writer
who has received two National Endowment for the Arts grants in
literature, and has worked as a journalist, an advertising copywriter,
and a teacher. She has been also a college poet-in-residence. By her
own account, Rosemary Daniell has been three times married and
divorced; she had gay men friends. She passed discarded lovers on
to her daughter; she experimented with lesbianism; she had
abortions; she was promiscuous with all kinds of men, especially
lower-class, was beaten and fought physically with her men, and a

8. Ibid., 15. etc.

9. Ibid., 78-79.

psychologist whom she was interviewing pointedly said to her, “I

hope you’re not attracted to drunken, abusive men,” which she
was.10 A strong feminist, Ms. Daniell sought out coarse, crude men
who saw women only as sexual toys. While sexually aroused by
such men, she confessed also to “self-disgust.”11 She says of such
men, “my masochism was more readily satisfied by his craziness.”12
She wanted “to be possessed by a strong man.”13 One man, given
to sado-masochism in his sexual life, said, “I’m just an animal, I
guess,” and this “was his favorite boast.”14 This held an appeal for
her, although, by her own statement, she knew that the relationship
“was sick.”15
All this was her “own form of saturation therapy.”16 One
wonders, therapy to what end? She had written, in one of her
poems, “Only the sensual are innocent.”17 Innocent of what?
Why all this sexual experimentation, which to many would
appear to be the most distasteful kind of gutter crawling? Juliette
Huxley cited a sentence from Paul Tillich as basic to Julian
Huxley’s views, and the words certainly apply as well to Rosemary
Daniell. Tillich wrote:
The immemorial experience of mankind, that new knowledge can
only be won through breaking a taboo, that all autonomous think-
ing is accompanied by a consciousness of guilt, has been the fun-
damental experience of my life.18
Such thinking has been basic to modern science and to humanism.
Emile Durkheim, in his Rules of Sociological Method, wrote of the
criminal as an evolutionary pioneer, testing with his lawlessness all
the old moral laws in order to pave the possible way to a new

10. Rosemary Daniell, Sleeping with Soldiers: In Search of the Macho Man (New
York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984), 16, 52, 88ff., 145-46, 77-78, 92, 229-30,
98-99, 136, 139, 247ff., 251.
11. Ibid., 3.
12. Ibid., 17.
13. Ibid., 49.
14. Ibid., 69.
15. Ibid., 71.
16. Ibid., 121.
17. Ibid., 114.
18. Cited in Huxley, Leaves of the Tulip Tree, 137.

This belief is not new. It was prevalent in Greco-Roman

thought, and then and now it is a belief in experience as the key to
knowledge. Paul, confronted by such a faith, declares:
1.What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may
2. God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer
therein? (Rom. 6:1-2)
A wealthy modern patroness of the arts had her son taken to a
house of prostitution as a first step towards knowledge, and many
similar initiations have taken place.
The modern humanistic confession is often related to this.
The confessor says in effect, “I gained freedom and knowledge by
my experience. Go thou and do likewise.” The real result, however,
is guilt, and self-disgust.

and the Image in Man

I n the mid-1940s, in a conversation with an aged American

Indian, I was asked a number of questions about life in “white”
America. For him, however, the contrast was not between white
America and red America but between Christian America and the
American Indians; it was his belief that all white Americans were
Christian by birth. It came as a shock and an enlightenment to him
to realize that white America was both Christian and anti-Chris-
tian. By his own admission, he assumed a cultural, religious soli-
darity among white Americans because they were a successful and
victorious people. Rifts among Indians between the wolf cult, the
peyote people, and the Christian converts were to him understand-
able because the Indians were a defeated people.
Another problem to him was the white American’s concern
over privacy. Having grown up when small bands of Indians, num-
bering only a very few families, kept apart from other bands of the
tribe because of the scarcity of food in a given area, privacy was
alien to him. Only the medicine man had secrets; everything else
was known by all, whether good or bad.
Years later, it occurred to me how the tribal band functioned
in a sense as a god in this respect. In Hebrews 4:13, we are told,


Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but
all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom
we have to do.
In the late 1950s, on one occasion a white American described this
omniscience of God with hostility, calling the Almighty “a peep-
ing-Tom God.” About the same time a woman insisted that “a real
God” would have better things to do than to spy on her. While
most Americans, 90 percent or more, continued to believe in God,
they seemed to think of Him as a kindly force who had to be in-
voked to act.
At the same time, the personal security and privacy of a
person began to recede steadily in American life. “The right to pri-
vacy” was not being invoked, but it was demanded too often for an
ostensible right to sin freely. Also confession in the Christian sense
waned greatly, whereas confessions to psychotherapists increased.
Even more, confessions to anyone began to increase. When
I was still in my twenties, hanging on to a strap in a crowded public
conveyance, tightly packed at the rush hour, the woman standing
next to me apologized when a sudden slow-down threw her against
me. She then asked who I was, and, learning that I was an ordained
clergyman, promptly confessed her sexual transgressions with a
married man, and asked for counsel and absolution. This temper,
which might be called a will to confess, I found over the years to be
very common.
A police officer told me of the readiness of many criminals to
confess. Some leave identification on the premises they have
robbed, such as an envelope addressed to themselves. They confess
their crime to a friend, hence the use of police informers, or to a
cellmate. The need to confess is there, and some, having confessed,
then choose to repudiate their confession.
Granted that in some instances such non-Christian confes-
sions have an element of boasting to them, there is all the same a
relief that is sought in the act of confessing. Among other things,
ungodly confessions are, first, marked by a belief that confession
should automatically bring absolution. Without any true repen-
tance, penance, or restitution, some believe that confession auto-
matically brings all these things. They can become, in fact, very

indignant if they are not routinely granted forgiveness for con-

fessing. Such people are well described by Proverbs 30:20:
Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth
her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.
The assumption is that an insignificant matter is involved, and a
mere admission should end any problem. Confession replaces res-
titution and in itself is a form of absolution.
Second, humanistic premises so govern many that the act of
confession is seen as therapeutic. Many parents help further this
attitude by requiring their child to confess their wrongdoing, and
then saying, “There! Don’t you feel better now!” With those who
believe that confession brings absolution, there is at least a frame-
work of the Christian confessional in mind. Where confession is
seen as therapeutic, the whole framework has become humanistic.
Perhaps some who go to psychotherapists are still confessing to
mother, expecting to be blessed for confessing!
Confession in Christian doctrine has as its goal penance or
restitution (the two can be different) as the means to forgiveness.
Forgiveness in Scripture is juridical: it means charges dropped
because satisfaction has been rendered. It can also mean charges
deferred for the time being, as in Christ’s word from the cross, con-
cerning the Roman soldiers, “Father, forgive them; for they know
not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The whole of the confessional
doctrine rests on the necessity for restitution or penance as the pre-
condition of forgiveness. By reducing forgiveness to an emotional
change in the offended party, the whole confessional-penitential
theology is undermined. Its decline is thus easy to understand. This
heresy is compounded where forgiveness is granted where it is not
asked for, nor any repentance even remotely in evidence. John
Casey has written:
A withholding of mercy, a desire for revenge, can be justified on
moral grounds. A forgiveness that comes from magnanimity and a
disdain for pettiness is also intelligible. What is neither intelligible
nor admirable is the modern understanding of forgiveness which is
merely a cant version of Christian doctrine. To announce instant
forgiveness, through broken teeth, of men who have just beaten
you up and raped your daughter-in-law (as a vicar did a year or two

ago) is about as admirable as believing six impossible things before

This is, however, what all too many regard as true forgiveness.
But even as true confession is unto God, so true forgiveness
is also from God and on His terms. The church can administer
God’s forgiveness, but it cannot forgive on its own. Humanistic
confession has been replacing the Christian, even as humanistic
forgiveness has increasingly supplanted God’s.
God, as Creator and governor of all things, is the absolute
lord or sovereign over all. His judgments are total and final because
He alone is God, and all final reckonings are in His hands. This is
the premise of Christian confession. We confess to God because He
alone can grant us full absolution and forgiveness through Christ,
and He alone can renew us and create a clean heart in us.
If sovereignty is transferred from the triune God to man, or
to some human agency, then so too will judgment and absolution
be transferred. The modern state claims to be sovereign, i.e., god in
its own domain. As a result, it is less and less tolerant of the church’s
freedom and God’s prerogatives. Without Christian faith, and
without confession, and faith in the Last Judgment, the state’s
courts will seek to be the Last Judgment of man. According to Rev-
elation 20:11-13,
11. And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from
whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found
no place for them.
12. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the
books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the
book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which
were written in the books, according to their works.
13. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and
hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were
judged every man according to their works.
The modern state seeks to keep, like God, total books on all men.
The modern communications developments have been used to
store more data on all citizens, their incomes, financial trans-
actions, and more. At one time, the state’s information on the

1. John Casey, “Lest We Forgive,” Spectator (London, England), September 9, 1989,


people was limited to those with criminal records; now, all have
There were no secrets among Indians who lived in small,
roving bands. This was due to their closeness, and also to the prev-
alence of envy as a means of keeping one another on a common
level. Now again envy is at work, and also a hostility to individu-
ality. Former Congressman Ron Paul reported on an incident at
the University of Pennsylvania. “One young white woman stu-
dent” wrote about her “deep regard for the individual and desire to
protect the freedom of all members of society.” “A black official of
the university” returned her statement to her, circling her state-
ment, underlining the word individual, and stating,
This is a “RED FLAG” phrase today, which is considered by many
to be RACIST. Arguments that champion the individual over the
group ultimately privileges [sic.] the “individuals” belonging to the
largest or dominant group.2
The “standard” in such cases, and they are many, is the state and its
law, not God. Confession thus must be to “sins” specified by the
This should not surprise us. According to Scripture, man was
created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28), and the essential
aspects of that image are knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and
dominion (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24; Gen. 1:26-28). Now another
doctrine sees man as made by the state and defined by the state. Jan
M. Broekman, professor of philosophy of law and dean of the Fac-
ulty of Law, Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium), has stated,
“it is necessary to comprehend man as an image of law.” He states
also, “The natural person is a juridical construction.” Again, “Law
and anthropology are deeply connected.” For him, law is “a social
phenomenon,” and “Law is a product. Law is man-made.”3 This is
a plain analysis of an anti-Biblical concept of man and of law.

2. Ron Paul Political Report, November 15, 1989.

3. Jan M. Broekman, “Revolution and Moral Commitment to a Legal System,” in
Neil MacCormick and Zenon Barkowski, eds., Enlightenment, Rights and Revolution:
Essays in Legal and Social Philosophy (Aylesbury, Bucks, England: Aberdeen University
Press, 1989), 317, 323, 330, 335.

If man is created by the law of the state and is defined by the

state, then the limits and boundaries of his life are also the product
of the state and its law. Confession by man must then be made to
his maker, statist law. The tyrant power state is then fully in view.
Thus, the issues which undergird the doctrine of confession
are not trifling ones. The issue is not simply one of supposedly anti-
quated ecclesiastical practice. It is a question of man’s life and

Confession as Praise

T he confession of sins has very obvious origins in the Bible; the

various ritual forms of confession have differing histories, but
the fact of confession is as old as history. Cain, confronted by God
after murdering his brother Abel, declared, “Mine iniquity is
greater than I can bear” (Gen. 4:13). While this may not have been
a “repentance unto life,” God all the same mitigated Cain’s punish-
ment because of his confession. “In the Bible, the confession of sin
committed either individually or collectively is an essential prereq-
uisite for expiation and atonement.”1
Sin and guilt offerings which were a part of Old Testament
worship had to be preceded by confession, as one placed both
hands upon the head of the sacrificial animal to identify his sin with
the penalty of death. Later, confession of sins became a part of the
synagogue worship. Individual confessions were made directly to
God, although in some Jewish sects it was to one another.
In Joshua 7:19, we see Joshua summoning Achan to

1. Editors, “Confession of Sins,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 5 (Jerusalem, Israel:

Keter Publishing House, 1971), 878.


And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the
LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me
now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.
This is of particular importance because Joshua identifies the con-
fession with giving “glory to the LORD God of Israel.” The He-
brew word translated as confession is towdah, literally an extension
(of the hand as in avowal or swearing, or hailing), and it means
both praising and confessing. Confession is a form of praise because
it is an acknowledgment of responsibility to God. We acknowledge
His rule, law, and authority when we confess that we have trans-
gressed His commandments. It is in this respect an aspect of glori-
fying God. The psalms are full of general and specific or private
confessions of sin, and these were a part of public worship, and are
so now, as a way of glorifying God.
For sins against God, confession was necessary; for sins
against man, confession was to be accompanied by restitution.
The prophets have an important place in the history of con-
fession. As A.E. Suffrin pointed out,
The mission of the prophets was “to declare unto Jacob his trans-
gressions and to Israel his sin” (Mic. 3:8; cf. Jer 2:1ff., Is. 58:10),
and a reciprocal acknowledgment was expected (Jer. 2:35, 3:13,
Hos. 14:1).2
This requirement was made also by God to Solomon, a national
confession being stipulated for national sins:
13. If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the
locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people;
14. If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble them-
selves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked
ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and
will heal their land. (2 Chron. 7:13-14)
Confession is thus a Biblical, not an ecclesiastical, fact in its
primary character. True confession begins with our knowledge of
God as God, our awareness of His absolute knowledge of us, and
our recognition that it is His law that we have transgressed. It con-
cludes by glorifying God.

2. A.E. Suffrin, “Confession (Hebrew),” in James Hastings, ed., Encyclopaedia of

Religion and Ethics, vol. 3 (Edinburgh, Scotland: T. &T. Clark, [1910] 1932), 829.

It is thus apparent that antinomianism undermines confes-

sion at every point. By denying the validity of God’s law, it reduces
sin to displeasing God. From the violation of a law carrying the
death penalty, sin becomes a matter which words can heal. In such
cases, where sin is not related to an eternal law, a simply perfunc-
tory acknowledgment suffices. We can say to someone whose toes
we accidentally step on, “I’m sorry,” but to see this as sufficient
with God’s law is presumption. God may have taken vengeance on
a people or on persons for unrepented sins in Old Testament times,
it is held, but now, because of Christ, the same rules do not apply.
As a result, the place of confession in the modern church is
increasingly diminished. Because man’s original sin is to be his own
god, determining good and evil, all law, for himself (Gen. 3:5),
man in his fallen estate will not admit the need for confession to
God, and the modern church is indifferent to the need for it. The
confession of sins is, among other things, an admission of creaturli-
ness. God is our Creator, the source of all life. How can a man live
except by His grace? How can a man offend God and hope to find
peace? As David says,
7. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from
thy presence?
8. If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in
hell, behold, thou art there.
9. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost
parts of the sea;
10. Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall
hold me.
11. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall
be light about me.
12. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth
as the day: the darkness and light are both alike to thee.
(Ps. 139:7-12)
The confessed heart glories in this fact. There is deliverance only in
an omnipotent and omniscient God, and in none other.
Not only is God all-seeing, but His very word has by His
Spirit the same power of discernment to uncover all things. We are
12. For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than
any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul

and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the
thoughts and intents of the heart.
13. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight:
but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with
whom we have to do. (Heb. 4:12-13)
This means, as B.F. Westcott pointed out, that “the Word — the
revelation — of God is living, not simply as enduring for ever, but
as having in itself energies of action. It partakes in some measure of
the character of God Himself.” The moral activity of the Word lays
open the innermost depths of the heart.3 In the redeemed man, the
Word leads to confession; it is regenerating and energizing in its
power, whereas in the ungodly the reverse is true.
The confession of sins is thus not only a form of praising and
glorifying God, it is also a regenerative, revitalizing act. In contrast,
unconfessed sin is suicidal. As David says, “When I kept silence, my
bones waxed old” (Ps. 32:3).
St. Augustine rightly saw the double aspect of confession: the
confession of sin, and the confession of faith. For him, then, Psalm
100 was very important as a declaration of the meaning of worship:
1. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
2. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with
3. Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us,
and not we ourselves: we are his people, and the sheep of his pas-
4. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with
praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
5. For the LORD is good: his mercy is everlasting; and his truth
endureth to all generations.
Augustine, in his commentary on this psalm, saw the statement,
“Enter into his gates with thanksgiving,” as “enter into his gates
with confession” in this double sense. The word translated thanks-
giving is again towdah, as in Joshua 7:19. Augustine wrote:
“Enter into His gates with confession.” At the gates in the begin-
ning: begin with confession. Thence is the Psalm entitled, “A
Psalm of Confession”: there be joyful. Confess that ye were not
made by yourselves, praise Him by whom ye were made. Let thy

3. B.F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans [1892]
1952), 102.

good come from Him, in departing from whom thou hast caused
thine evil. “Enter into His gates with confession.” Let the flock en-
ter into the gates: let it not remain outside, a prey for wolves. And
how is it to enter? “With confession.” Let the gate, that is, the com-
mencement for thee, be confession. Whence it is said in another
Psalm, “Begin unto the Lord with confession.” (Ps. 97:7) What he
there calleth “Begin,” here he calleth “Gates.” “Enter into His gates
in confession.” What? And when we have entered, shall we not still
confess? Always confess Him: thou hast always what to confess for.
It is hard in this life for a man to be so far changed, that no cause
for censure be discoverable in him: thou must needs blame thyself,
lest He who shall condemn blame thee. Therefore even when thou
hast entered His courts, then also confess. When will there be no
longer confession of sins? In that rest, in that likeness to the Angels.
But consider what I have said: there will be no confession of sins. I
said not, there will be no confession: for there will be confession of
praise. Thou wilt ever confess, that He is God, thou a creature: that
He is thy Protector, thyself protected. In Him thou shalt be as it
were hid. “Go into His courts with hymns, and confess unto
Him.” Confess in the gates; and when ye have entered the courts,
confess with hymns. Hymns are praises. Blame thyself, when thou
art entering; when thou has entered, praise Him. “Open me the
gates of righteousness,” he saith in another Psalm, “that I may go
into them, and confess unto the Lord.” (Ps. 98:19) Did he say,
when I have entered, I will no longer confess? Even after his en-
trance, he will confess. For what sins did our Lord Jesus Christ con-
fess, when He said, “I confess unto Thee, O Father?” (Matt. xii.25)
He confessed in praising Him, not in accusing Himself. “Speak
good of His Name.”4
These words are important. Confession in the early church was an
aspect of the sense of victory, because through confession and
God’s grace victory was possible. The double meaning of confes-
sion, of both sins and of praise, meant victory in both spheres of
life, with respect to one’s personal life, and also with respect to the
corporate life of the church.
In time, the Apostles’ Creed became a part of this joyful con-
fession. Calvin, whose Institutes are a commentary on that creed,
held that the creed should be sung because it is a joyful confession.

4. St. Augustine, “On the Psalms,” Ps. 100, sec. 12; in Nicene and Post-Nicene
Fathers, 1st ser., vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, [1888] 1956), 490-91.

In psychotherapeutic confession not only is there no absolu-

tion, but also neither victory nor song. The same is true of the
unconfessed man within the church.

Confession and the Past

P erhaps no historical study of confession can rival that of Henry

C. Lea. His account of the practice of auricular confession in
the medieval church is a masterly work, representing careful and
extensive research, and is deservedly regarded as a masterpiece. It is,
however, somewhat irrelevant to our concern. Lea saw clearly the
abuses of the confessional, and he gives a remarkable if sad history
The fact remains that Lea’s account is a chronicle of abuses;
the theological validity or nonvalidity of the Roman Catholic con-
fessional is not his subject. A comparison is in order here. The
modern psychotherapeutic confessional to psychiatrists, psycholo-
gists, and psychoanalysts has a sordid record of abuses also,
including a much too high a rate of sexual relations between the
therapist and the patient. If psychotherapy is a valid form of the
confessional, then the abuses thereof no more invalidate the confes-
sional than does the malpractice by some physicians invalidate all
medical practice. Courts of law are today commonly unjust; this
does not invalidate the need for courts and law.
Thus, abuses are not the key; theological validity is. John
Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, noted that he could
cite many instances of the misuse of the confessional by ungodly

and immoral priests. He did not do so: his concern was theological,
not historical, in its essence. His critique of the late medieval con-
fessional which he well knew is carefully and Biblically argued and
developed. It needs no rehearsing here. Two of his arguments are
of concern to our argument. First, Calvin turned to St. Bernard for
a very important conclusion:
On this subject, Bernard also gives a very useful admonition: “Sor-
row for sin is necessary, if it is not perpetual. I advise you some-
times to quit the anxious and painful recollection of your own
ways, and to arise to an agreeable and serene remembrance of the
Divine blessings. Let us mingle honey with wormwood, that its sal-
utary bitterness may restore our health, when it shall be drunk tem-
pered with a mixture of sweetness; and if you reflect on your own
meanness, reflect also on the goodness of the Lord.”1
The God of grace sees neither virtue nor merit in an endless
mournfulness and misery over one’s sins. Such an attitude indicates
an unawareness of forgiveness and grace. It knows Golgotha, but
not the empty tomb and the joy of resurrection. The endless cater-
wauling of some people about their sins is not only repulsive but
also sounds suspiciously like boasting. For a time in the 1950s, it
was popular at some religious conferences to parade once flagrant
and ostensibly saved sinners as testimonial speakers; their witness
was heavy on the side of graphic accounts of sinning and abysmally
weak in the knowledge of Scripture.
Bernard’s counsel is excellent: “Sorrow for sin is necessary, if
it is not perpetual.” Confession means praise, and it means praise
because true confession knows grace. It is God-centered, not man-
Man-centered confessions can include some made to show
how sensitive a soul the confessing person is! There is often a selec-
tivity also in the confession of sins. As one priest observed, he had
never had anyone confess to being stingy!
Second, Calvin, in citing James 5:16, “Confess your faults one
to another, and pray for one another,” said:

1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, bk. 3, chap. 3, sec. 15; vol. 1 (Phil-
adelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1936), 666.

He (James) connects mutual confession and mutual prayer. If our

confessions must be made only to priests, then our prayers ought
to be offered up for them alone.2
Calvin thus opposed confession to the clergy alone. He refused to
tie the validity of the confessional to the church but linked it rather
to God. He was not averse to confessions to the clergy and was in
the church prior to communion celebrations to hear those who
wanted and needed a pastor for their confession. Normally, each
person was to confess directly and specifically to God through
Christ. Some sins might require confession also to the person
sinned against, and still others to the congregation. The unchang-
ing aspect of the confession is that it must be God-centered. This
excludes a church-centered confession, and also a man-centered
one. The focus is neither other men nor ourselves; it is God and His
law whom we essentially offend. This means that while confession
must be specific, it must not be a detailed catalogue. God requires
us to recognize what kinds of sin we are guilty of, not to list them
endlessly! The focus of confession is not our sins but God’s grace.
One briefly and locally prominent evangelist of the 1930s was very
prone to reciting his sins specifically in his “sermons.” What one
heard (he was a strong and handsome man) told all how appealing
he was to many women, and how powerfully he physically abused
men who angered him. Not surprisingly, he went astray in time.
Such men are more proud of their sins than fixed in God’s grace.
St. John Chrysostom said of confession,
Wouldest thou learn words of thanksgiving? Hearken unto the
Three Children, saying, “We have sinned, we have transgressed.
Thou art righteous, O Lord, in all that thou hast done unto us, be-
cause thou has brought all things upon us by a true judgment.” For
to confess one’s own sins, this is to give thanks with confession
unto God: a kind of thing which implies one to be guilty of num-
berless offenses, yet not to have the due penalty exacted. This man
most of all is the giver of thanks.3
The conclusion of confession is gratitude for sins forgiven; it is the
restoration of fellowship with God, and it is the reestablishment by

2. Ibid., bk. 3, chap. 4, sec. 6, 687.

3. St. John Chrysostom, “The Gospel of Matthew,” Homily 3, sec. 7, in Nicene and
Post-Nicene Fathers, 1st ser., vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, [1888] 1956), 18.

restitution of community with our fellow man. This is why Chry-

sostom liked confession with thanksgiving. The conclusion of true
confession is joy, because it gives us freedom from past sins.
Confession thus confronts us with our past to free us for our
future. Societies without confession, like men without confession,
remain past-bound.
Stalin in the 1930s staged trials of all who opposed him, or
whom he imagined opposed him. Those on trial were forced by
torture to confess to a multitude of sins, mostly uncommitted ones.
The Soviet regime was supposedly purging itself of its bourgeois,
capitalistic past by these trials. Of course, nothing valid was gained.
The true sins of the Marxist world were never confronted; there was
no absolution, and the result was less freedom. False confessions
leave men and nations more past-bound.
But false confessions are very popular in the modern world,
and politically promoted. These false confessions are not theologi-
cally valid. They are confessions to such vague offenses as imperi-
alism, colonialism, Eurocentrism, and so on, sins both invented
and defined by the humanists. People who have never had anything
to do with policies of state are charged by an intellectual, policy-
making elite for offenses unconnected with their lives. Besides
being evil, such false confessions manifest a past-bound mentality.
True confession frees us from the past; false confession binds
us to it.

Confession and Covenant

C hristian Missions to the Communist World, in their newsletter

of December, 1989, give an interesting account of a Soviet
provincial president of the Cheka, or secret police, under Lenin.
Andrei Srubov had a religious devotion to the Soviet regime. He
held that “for the good of the revolution even killing is a joy.”
Because his wife feared him and was ashamed of him, he was
ashamed of her and regarded her as “retarded.” Later, she left him.
However, when Srubov slept, he had nightmares about his victims.
In the end, he was hospitalized in a psychiatric asylum, lost his job,
and then faced another Cheka officer like himself, a man who had
killed his own officer.1 This is a story repeated in the lives of other
Marxist leaders; there is no reason to doubt it.
An old proverb has it that “murder will out.” Pilpay (or
Bidpai) was the name of the court scholar of a prince of India; c.
326 B.C., this Pilpay said, “Guilty consciences always make people
cowards.” Shakespeare in Hamlet (Act 3, scene #1, line 83) says the
same thing: “Conscience does make cowards of us all.” Of course,
Paul in Galatians 6:7 tells us, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall
he also reap.”

1. Christian Missions to the Communist World, December 1989, 2-3.


It is true that many Soviet torturers have suffered Srubov’s

fate, but not all. It is true also that conscience does hinder a man’s
actions very often, but not always. When Paul tells us that a man
reaps what he sows, he does not mean that all reckonings are in
time, nor that all accounts are settled in this world. I have seen
murderers flourish, and rapists in high places and low live out their
lives untouched by man’s law. It is no problem for some to con-
tinue “speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared
with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:2). I have heard men, confident that I
would say nothing, and that none would believe me if I did, tell me
of fearful offenses they had committed, secure in the knowledge
that their positions would make them secure. One was a Protestant,
another a Catholic, and both were influential in their churches.
To many men, whose consciences are indeed “seared with a
hot iron,” confession is anathema; their perspective being human-
istic, any true confession would be a surrender of their self-govern-
ment and freedom. In another context, in the murder of Captain
White, Daniel Webster said, “There is no refuge from confession
but suicide; and suicide is confession.” In fact, I once had a man
who sought relief from a very bad conscience refuse to confess
whatever haunted him by declaring that confessing to God was a
form of suicide; he stood up and left. With each passing year, as the
humanism of our culture deepens, confession to God becomes
more and more a form of suicide to modern man.
In a sense, this view is sound. Confession to God means
acknowledging our sins and transgressions and taking hands off our
lives to commit them unto God. It is a recognition that our defiant
self-rule has been a disaster, and that we are ready to submit to God
and His sovereign grace. It means dying to ourselves to live in
But, as Charles B. Fairbanks (1827-1859) said, in Memorials
of Mrs. Grundy, “The sewing circle — (is) the Protestant confes-
sional where each one confesses, not her own sins, but the sins of
her neighbors.” There may well be a correlation between the
decline of true confession and the rise of gossip, of confessing other
people’s sins!

Confession has also been damaged by the relativism of our

time. The humanistic denial of moral absolutes has infiltrated
many circles. Dr. Paul Kurtz, “principal author of the 1973
Humanist Manifesto II,” has denied Biblical morality while
insisting that “all education is moral” and that moral values should
be taught in the public schools:
Whose moral values would be taught, then?
The values of Western civilization going back to the ancient
Greeks like Protagoras and Aristotle and the Stoics through Spino-
za, Kant “and the whole, great Western ethical tradition,” said
“This is the tradition which says ethics depends on man’s rational
intelligence, that what you want to cultivate in the young is an ap-
preciation for the needs of others, a kind of moral awareness.”
Moral principles based on divine revelation or church authority are
unacceptable, Kurtz said. He said there are general, but no abso-
lute, principles of morality.
“Sincerity, honesty, loyalty, truth-telling all are general moral prin-
ciples which any educated person who reflects on morality at all
will appreciate.
“It’s so paradoxical when people say humanists want to break
down morality. That’s nonsensical. We believe very deeply in
“Intelligent people know there are no absolutes,” he said, because
moral principles often conflict and must be worked out by experi-
ence. He said that it is always wrong to rape a 3-year old child, but
that he would prefer to call this a general rather than an absolute
But there can be no absolute principles for such things as lying,
birth-control, divorce or even adultery, Kurtz said.2
Like all humanists, Kurtz finds it difficult to avoid self-flattery: “In-
telligent people know there are no absolutes.” By definition, intel-
ligence means humanism! But perhaps we should not complain.
After all, in Kurtz’s moral universe “it is always wrong to rape a 3-
year old child.” Are they no longer safe at age four? Kurtz has made
a confession of his faith. What about Biblical confession?

2. Robert Di Veroli, “Humanist Denies Existence of Moral Absolutes,” San Diego

Tribune, April 25, 1981.

We have already seen the meaning of Joshua’s appeal to

Achan to confess (towdah), to give glory to God. Other words are
translated as confession which tell us more that we need to know:
And Hezekiah spake comfortably unto all the Levites that taught
the good knowledge of the LORD: and they did eat throughout
the feast seven days, offering peace offerings, and making confes-
sion to the LORD God of their fathers. (2 Chron. 30:22)
4. And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confes-
sion, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the
covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep
his commandments;
5. We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done
wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts,
and from thy judgments. (Dan. 9:4-5)
Here the word is yadeh, meaning to hold out the hand, to throw, a
similar meaning as in Joshua 7:19. In both cases, there is an indirect
reference to God’s covenant with His people. This is more than an
indirect reference in the New Testament:
For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the
mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Rom. 10:10)
I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things,
and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a
good confession. (1 Tim. 6:13)
The word in Romans 10:10 is homologeitai, in 1 Timothy 6:13, ho-
mologian; it means to assent, profess, acknowledge, or covenant. It
is legitimate to see confession, both in the sense of confessing sins
and also praising God, as basic to covenantalism.
Because the covenant establishes a community between God
and man, there must be the communication of honesty (confession
of sins) and thanksgiving or praise.
Homologeo comes from two Greek words, homos, same, and
lego, to speak; it means literally to speak the same thing, to have an
accord or agreement. It refers to the covenant. We are too prone to
read the Bible in terms of modern speech, i.e., to give a minimal
meaning to things. However, in Amos 3:2-3 we read:
2. You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore
I will punish you for all your iniquities.
3. Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

To be in covenant requires being in agreement. Since God’s cove-

nant is not only a covenant of law but also of grace, and is a cove-
nant made by the Creator with His creature, man’s life and words
must be in agreement with His covenant Lord. Covenantalism
therefore requires confession: we must confess our departures from
God’s covenant law; we must praise Him for His grace and mercy,
and we must strive constantly to bring our being into agreement
with His covenant law-word. Where confession wanes, the cove-
nant is broken.


W e have an account from early Massachusetts colonial history

which is revelatory of Puritan life. In 1650, a young man,
Samuel Terry of Springfield, caused no small problem to the local
church. During the sermon, he remained outside and masturbated;
he was detected, and his punishment was several lashes on his back.
Eleven years later, in 1661, Samuel Terry was in trouble again. Five
months after his marriage, his bride gave birth to a mature child,
their first. Obviously, Samuel Terry and his bride had been guilty
of premarital sexual intercourse; for this he was fined four pounds,
no small sum then. In 1673, Terry and eight other men were fined
for their part in an “immodest and beastly” play. Somewhat later,
Samuel Terry, a respected member of the community, served as
town constable and was entrusted with the custody of an infant by
the court. As John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freeman conclude, “In
short, as long as he accepted punishment for his transgression,
Samuel Terry remained a citizen in good standing.”1 There was
close supervision over all members of society, but there was also for-
giveness and restoration. Confession, repentance, and restitution as

1. John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freeman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in

America (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1988), 15.


required were important in both church and state, and they freed a
man from his past.
A familiar image from fiction, film, and television is of a town
prostitute being harshly treated by the churchwomen and pastors
in nineteenth century America. History is so full of multiform
examples that it would be rash to say that such things did not
happen. However, in very many communities organizations existed
to try to save the prostitutes, and many churchwomen found their
calling in helping such women. These “good women” of a commu-
nity often indited the double standard and defended any young
woman trying to extricate herself from prostitution.
Too many ideas of the past in this respect owe their existence
to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. But Hawthorne repre-
sented and echoed the world of early Unitarianism and its mor-
alism. Moralism had been substituted for theology, and
Emersonian transcendentalism carried this further: humanistic,
non-Biblical moralism replaced theology.
In the latter years of the twentieth century, this moralism
outdoes anything found in ancient theological controversies. This
new moralism concentrates on things like race and environmen-
talism. Eurocentrism is a new form of racism according to these
people. Sexism is another new “sin.” A brilliant student at a major
Eastern college was threatened with expulsion for referring to God
as “He”; the school was too enlightened to permit such sexism! At
this same school, at the last moment, a young historian was denied
his doctorate when it was discovered that he was a Christian, a Cal-
vinist! He was excommunicated from the academic community.
Moreover, in this humanistic faith, forgiveness is conspicuously
What the Puritans did in this area was nothing new, although
they were more systematic about it. A condemned murderer was
exhorted by the judge to repent before the time of death; pastors
visited him in prison. If he repented, his execution was attended by
dignitaries to celebrate his faith and home-going to heaven.
In the medieval era, kings and emperors were at times
compelled not only to confess their sins but also to make public

penance prior to their restoration to communion with the church

and Christians. There was absolution.
Absolution means the act of setting free, or loosing. It is the
prerogative of God alone, but it can be administered by man or the
church when done in conformity to God’s law. Since it is God’s law
that the sinner violates, the terms of remission must again be in
conformity to God’s law. This was recognized by the Jews, who
held, “Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” (Luke 5:21). For this
reason, when Jesus, on His own authority, proclaimed the remis-
sion of sins, it was regarded by the Jewish religious leaders as blas-
phemy and as a claim to be God.
The early church held that, because baptism had to be pre-
ceded by faith and repentance in adults, it was “the first repen-
tance.” A problem arose in that many were fearful that after
baptism there could be no further remission of sins for fresh sin-
ning. Some thus postponed baptism until near death.
Others held to a “second repentance,” and a second forgive-
ness of sins and absolution. In this area, Tertullian is of interest, in
that his drift into Montanism was manifest in various earlier and
somewhat anti-Montanist writings, such as “On Repentance.” In
this study, Tertullian wrote on this “second repentance” in these
The narrower, then, the sphere of action of this second and only
(remaining) repentance, the more laborious is its probation: in
order that it may not be exhibited in the conscience alone, but may
likewise be carried out in some (external) ACT. This act, which is
more usually expressed and commonly spoken of under a Greek
name, is exomologesis (utter confession), whereby we confess our
sins to the Lord, not indeed as if He were ignorant of them, but
inasmuch as by confession satisfaction is settled; of confession
repentance is born; by repentance God is appeased. And thus
exomologesis is a discipline for man’s prostration and humiliation,
also to the very dress and food, it commands (the penitent) to lie
in sackcloth and ashes, to cover his body in mourning, to lay his
spirit low in sorrows, to exchange for severe treatment the sins
which he has committed; moreover, to know no food and drink
but such as is plain, — not for the stomach’s sake, to wit, but the
soul’s; for the most part, however, to feed prayers on fastings, to
groan, to weep and roar unto the Lord your God; to roll before the
feet of the presbyters, and kneel to God’s dear ones; to enjoin on

supplication (before God). All this exomologesis (does), that it may

enhance repentance; may honour God by its fear of the (incurred)
danger; may, by itself pronouncing against the sinner, stand in the
stead of God’s indignation, and by temporal mortification of will
not say frustrate, but discharge eternal punishments. Therefore,
while it abases the man, it raises him; while it covers him with
squalor, it renders him more clean; while it accuses, it excuses;
while it condemns, it absolves. The less quarter you give yourself,
the more (believe me) will God give you.2
Tertullian, a man of remarkable abilities, had a “gift” also of being
repulsive at times, as this passage indicates. In his Montanist writ-
ing he repudiated “On Repentance.” All the same, “On Repen-
tance” is in line with his Montanism.
The Montanists saw themselves as the spiritually-minded
Christians who stressed the Holy Spirit and were morally superior
to Catholic Christians, whom they called the psychici, the carnally-
minded. They condemned second marriages; they required rigid
fasts, advocated celibacy, and courted martyrdom. They held to a
developing Christianity, and they belonged to the age of the Spirit.
For them, religion had four stages. First, men had a natural reli-
gion, and an innate idea of God. Second, was the age of the Father
and law, a legal religion. Third, was the Gospel religion of Jesus
Christ. Fourth, came the new revelation of the Paraclete, the Spirit.
The Spirit for Montanism is like a thunderbolt which strikes man.
Instead of working in the natural order, for Montanism the Spirit
intervenes as a devastating power. Hence, a spiritual condition is
manifested in abnormal actions which are seen as supernatural and
The consequences of Tertullian’s view, which has never
entirely left the church, were very great. In the Catholic view,
repentance meant a changed life, a reversal of direction; it meant
breaking with sin.
In his pre-Montanist stage, Tertullian saw repentance as self-
debasement, rolling around on the ground before presbyters,
fasting, making oneself repulsive in appearance, and so on. Later,

2. Tertullian, “On Repentance,” chap. 9, in Ante-Nicene Christian Library, trans.

Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson translation), vol. 11, bk. 1, The Writings of
Tertullian (Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark, 1872), 273-74.

Tertullian denied the “second repentance,” but the same kind of

supposedly Spiritual manifestation continued in other forms.
The medieval church had other like groups, such as the Fla-
gellants, who saw repentance for sins in abnormal activities rather
than a changed life and direction. In the early 1800s American
revivalism sometimes saw those under conviction falling to the
floor to go into the “jerks” and other activities.
Such thinking falsified the doctrines of salvation and of sanc-
tification. The emphasis was on the experiential manifestation in
man rather than in the simple requirement of our Lord. A good tree
bears good fruit, a bad tree, bad fruit. “Wherefore by their fruits ye
shall know them” (Matt. 7:15-20). From obedience to God in faith
this emphasis by Tertullian shifted matters to man’s ability to man-
ifest frenetic patterns of behavior. Now the word frenetic is related
to the word frantic, and Montanism and its successors have pro-
vided a frantic version of faith.
What happens in this perspective, if a man sins? The Mon-
tanists did not deny that God could forgive adultery and apostasy,
but no amount of repentance could lead to restoration this side of
the grave. Such thinking led to the concept of purgatory, and to a
departure from the doctrine of God’s sovereign grace and mercy.
Montanism has had many heirs: Novatianism, Donatism,
some elements in Anabaptism, Puritanism, Pietism, Irvingism,
and the Camisards, according to M’Clintock and Strong.3 It is
closely allied to perfectionism. Its emphasis is on what man
does, not on God’s sovereign grace. Thus, for all its emphasis on
its superiority, Montanism was closer to Greco-Roman
paganism than to Christianity.
Whenever the focus is on man, forgiveness and absolution
suffer. Man can forgive cheaply, simply saying, “I forgive you,” or
he can refuse to forgive at all. What man forgives today he can
resent tomorrow. There is no true absolution.

3. John M’Clintock and James Strong, Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ec-
clesiastical Literature, vol. 3 (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers [1876] 1894), 530.

As a result, there is no true deliverance from the past. A

Samuel Terry can get ahead in the twentieth century only by con-
cealing his past.
At the same time, certain sins gain toleration because the
people at large refuse to take them seriously. Homosexuals in Con-
gress have not suffered as have other congressional sinners, past and
But toleration is not absolution. People tolerate all kinds of
things, but this toleration cleanses nothing. The loss of absolution
in the modern world has gone hand in hand with losses of freedom;
it has led to a bondage to the past. Sins unforgiven are sins that
remain. And who can forgive sins, save God only?

False Absolutions

C onfession is a religious necessity when God’s law has been

broken. All law, however, is religious, because all law legislates
a moral system; it declares some acts to be wrong and culpable
because other activities are legitimate and protected. Law presup-
poses a necessary order and punishes disorder. Law and education
are the two basic religious manifestations in any society. Churches,
temples, cults, and the various shrines and institutions may be as
important as law and education, but not necessarily so, because
very often they echo a dying faith or enshrine a heritage more than
a living fact.
In Christendom, church and state in the past have both dealt
with the necessity for restoration and absolution. Offenses have
been met with sentences, penalties, penances, and other ways of
confronting the wrongdoer and restoring him. As we have seen in
the case of Samuel Terry in colonial Massachusetts, absolution fol-
lowed in both church and state. At present, absolution is gone in
civil society and is weak in ecclesiastical society.
There are reasons for this. The goal of the legal process (of
which confession in the church is a part) in both church and state
was once restitution to the offended party and the restoration of the
offender. The decline of this process has furthered greatly the

growth of an ever-increasing criminal class in our time, and, in the

church, of rifts in community which are covered over but not
Basic to this has been a prior decline in the meaning of
atonement; its relation to law has been very tellingly analyzed by
Harold J. Berman in Law and Revolution. The atonement has ref-
erence in Scripture to a legal transaction. The covenant between
God and man having been broken, the penalty is death, and all
mankind in Adam is under sentence of death. What mankind is in
need of to reestablish the covenant with God is a perfect keeping
of the covenant law, restitution, and regeneration in order to be a
covenant-keeper instead of a covenant-breaker. Jesus Christ, as the
last Adam and the head of a new humanity, keeps the covenant
perfectly, makes restitution to God by His atoning death, and, as
the resurrected Head of a new humanity, gives them a new life and
also the gift of the Holy Spirit. This new humanity is now essen-
tially covenant-keeping instead of covenant-breaking. Its sins are
hamartia, falling short of the mark, rather than anomia, against or
The forgiveness of sins thus means that the charges are
dropped because satisfaction has been rendered. (It can mean on
occasion, charges deferred for the time being.) The confession of
sins is the first step in this process. It is followed by restitution, and
then absolution and restoration. In the past, in the civil process, the
guilty party, after conviction by evidence apart from any confes-
sion, was urged to confess to God. With confession and restitution,
restoration followed. Because of this process, there was a measure
of healing in society.
Now, however, justification is sought by denying the validity
of the offense, as in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Saint Genet. The crime is
now often seen as a break with evil convictions and hence is a
means of justification. The late and ludicrous Henry Miller wrote
to justify barbarism and sexual sins. In his old age and impotence,
he wrote love letters to a very young woman. A decadent romantic
to the last, he called himself an “‘incurable’ Romantic.”1 Con-
cerned about the after-life, Miller decided to “forgive” his mother
for her disciplining him when he was young. In Brenda Venus’s

words, “We agreed that he couldn’t get into heaven if he continued

to harbor this hatred.”2 Of course, at the same time Miller believed
in reincarnation.3 He also believed in astrology and occultism.4
Miller, who rejected Biblical morality, all the same believed in holi-
ness. For him holiness was possible by a dedication to sexuality.
“For some sex leads to sainthood; for others it is the road to hell.”5
The way to holiness could be through a whore’s vagina, if under-
stood properly, if entered “with heart and soul — and checking
your belongings outside.” The whore so entered understands this,
and so, “when shown a bit of kindness, she’s ready to give her soul.”
When so treated, she will be “the most generous of souls. Her one
desire is to be able to give herself, not just her body.”6
All this is amazing. How can a man write such nonsense?
Men do need to justify themselves. If it is not done in terms of
God’s law, it will be done in terms of something else. The good in
terms of Scripture is denied in favor of another idea of the good.
Contempt for morality winds up being as moralistic as any pious
monk. In terms of a new order, a new justification is created.
Apart from the Biblical order, no order satisfies man nor gives
him absolution. Miller’s letters to Brenda Venus often seek to jus-
tify his attitudes: instead of being a dirty old man, he is a totally free
and pure one in his own eyes. Why not accept what he is? This he
cannot do; he does not deny the validity of all standards; he sub-
verts Biblical ones to create new ones. He wanted passionately the
respectability and prestige of a Nobel prize in literature, and pulled
all kinds of strings trying to get it. He was “so heartbroken” after
one rejection that he telephoned Lawrence Durrell to ask him to
investigate the matter. Durrell reported that “one of the chief men”
told him, “Monsieur Durrell, I think I must tell you that we are
waiting for him to become respectable.”7

1. Brenda Venus, Dear, Dear Brenda: The Love Letters of Henry Miller to Brenda
Venus, ed. Gerald Seth Sindell (New York, NY: Henry Holt, 1986), 25.
2. Ibid., 49.
3. Ibid., 47, 25, 158-59.
4. Ibid., 35, 37, 63.
5. Henry Miller, The World of Sex (New York, NY: Grove Press, [1959] 1965), 81.
6. Ibid., 44-45.
7. Venus, Dear, Dear Brenda, 74; cf. 62.

Christian confession leads to restoration into God’s grace; it

often leads to restoration with men. Whether or not the human
aspect is fulfilled, men being sinners, the basic place of restoration
into God’s covenant peace is the governing fact. Humanistic con-
fession has no such restoration because it is a realm without grace.
Its doctrine of forgiveness is to forget about offenses, as though
overlooking a man’s sins can convert him into a saint. This faulty
policy was adopted by Julius Caesar. He ordered all public records
which incriminated his opponents in the long civil war be
destroyed. His policy was clementia. Roman society would be
healed of its evils by putting aside the past and beginning anew. It
was, however, the men whom Julius Caesar forgave and continued
in office who assassinated him. His policy of reconciliation failed
because there was no confession, no restitution, no grace, and no
regeneration. Cicero said, “Clementia became the dictator’s fate, his
generosity became his destruction.8 The world today wants a false
forgiveness, Caesar’s forgiveness, which means treating sins as tri-
fles. Scripture describes this view as the way of the adulterous
Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth
her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.
(Prov. 30:20)
Cheap forgiveness means a cheap view of sin, and also of the
atonement. Sin, being so costly in God’s sight that it required the
death of the incarnate Son of God, cannot be treated lightly by
men. Moreover, because all sin is against God’s law, sin cannot be
dealt with in terms of how we feel about it, but must rather be dealt
with in terms of what God says about it.
Absolution is a necessity. It cannot be had on man’s terms,
either in church or in state. False absolutions are thus deadly.

8. Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press,
1955), 52.

and Social Order

T he purpose of the state is to lessen conflict within society and

to further harmony between the peoples by protecting men
from criminal acts, external enemies, and injustices perpetrated by
some against others. This purpose fails when it is the object solely
of the state and not various institutions and agencies within society,
or when the state usurps the powers of social institutions which
have long served to protect social order.
Without going into the part the church and its agencies have
played in social reconciliation, we can recognize that other agencies
have had an important and major role. Merchants’ associations
have had a long history of settling disputes within their ranks,
dealing with erring members, and settling accounts; their history in
the medieval era and since has been an important one. In recent
years, the 1970s for example, Burton S. Blumert, a merchant in
gold coins, for a time owned Telex; he barred from the gold coin
market on Telex anyone who sold counterfeit coins (even if also
made of gold) who failed to make restitution. This type of policing
and control was more common when the state’s interference and
controls were less in evidence.
Over the centuries, various guilds and associations exerted
legislative control over their members. Their government was by

no means perfect, nor sin-free, but, with state controls over all, state
corruption means corrupt rule over all.
The state has not only usurped power over all spheres, but it
has also radically altered the nature of offenses or crimes. As Henry
C. Lea observed:
The criminal was not responsible to the State, but to the injured
party, and all that the State professed to do was to provide some
definite process by which the latter could assert his rights. Personal
chastisement for the freeman was thus unknown, for each man was
responsible for his acts not to the law but to those whom he might
wrong. All that the law pretended to do was to provide rude courts,
before which a plaintiff might urge his case, and settled principles
of pecuniary compensation to console him for his injuries.1
In our time, a criminal case is not “John Doe vs. James Ecks,” but
the state versus the offender. The state can feel free to dismiss the
charges, or to allow a lesser plea, without consulting the offended
person or, if dead, his family. This shift was a major legal revolution
in Western history: the state replaced the offended person and the
state determined whether or not to prosecute.
According to Lea, “our barbarian ancestors” had another
system, one in which the family was central. If a crime were com-
mitted, the parties then involved were the families of the victim and
of the criminal. In this system, to cite Lea,
The kindred of the offender were obliged to contribute shares pro-
portionate to their degrees of relationship; while those of the man
who was wronged received respective percentages calculated on the
same basis.2
It would be absurd to say that this was a perfect or always effective
system, but it did have some qualities effective in controlling crime.
First, it meant that each family had a very great concern in keeping
all members, up to fifth and sixth cousins, in line; their criminal
conduct could be costly to all. This system survived into the twen-
tieth century in some areas, and it may well still exist here and
there. From conversations with those who were part of it, I know
of its general effectiveness. It provided the basic law and order

1. Henry C. Lea, Superstition and Force (New York, NY: Haskell House Publisher,
[1870] 1971), 15.
2. Ibid., 16.

where it existed. This was because, second, the family member who
refused to comply with the system was then an outlaw in the eyes
of his family and all others. Even in large cities, a man was not em-
ployable unless a known family stood behind him to ensure his
good behaviour. This control extended not only to employment
but also to marriage. The stability of a marriage rested not only on
the man and the woman but also on the controlling power of both
families. This kind of family government existed in some pagan
cultures and was very strong in Jewish and Christian circles. Clan
and family feuds began to mark the breakdown of this system.
In such a system, the fault of one person required restitution
to the fifth or sixth generation. It may be a coincidence, but the
medieval church’s laws of consanguinity roughly paralleled the
family ties which bound men together in a form of social insurance.
All of this is related to confession and absolution. Govern-
ment in a Biblical sense means more than the state. It is first of all,
the self-government of man. Every man has a responsibility under
God to govern himself. Second, the basic governmental institution
is the family, which is man’s first school, government, economic
order, society, and more. Third, the school is a government, and a
Levitical ministry. Fourth, the church is a government. Fifth, our
vocation or work governs us. Sixth, society with its norms, its many
agencies and institutions, also governs us. Seventh, the state is a gov-
ernment, one form of government among many. All these are inter-
dependent governments, and none have a calling to dominate the
others. That right belongs to God. To equate the state with govern-
ment is totalitarian, and it leads to the obliteration of other aspects
of society.
Because confession and absolution free a man from sin and
guilt, they are important socially as well as religiously. Confession
witnesses to a norm beyond man and society. As a result, it is essen-
tial to social order.
A common stance in the twentieth century, among fathers
and mothers, and especially some mothers, is to declare, “I will
stand by my son (or daughter) no matter what happens.” Ones sees
parents defending a son who, when drunken, hit someone while

driving and killed that person. Bad companions, not the son, are
blamed. Or, a son is guilty of “date-rape”; the girl, the boy’s mother
will insist, is no good and egged on her son and then lied as to who
was responsible. So it goes.
As against all this, we have a text which is bitterly resented, as
much by the churchmen as by those outside the church:
18. If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not
obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that,
when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
19. Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring
him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
20. And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is
stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton,
and a drunkard.
21. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he
die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall
hear, and fear. (Deut. 21:18-21)
This text, even churchmen will insist, is about stoning “babies”;
some will say “innocent babies!” It is about a young man, or even
an older man, who is incorrigibly delinquent. Specific crimes are not
mentioned: it is the unceasingly evil behaviour. Three attitudes are
mentioned as characteristic of his relation to the family: first, he de-
spises family authority, so that efforts on the family’s part to bring
him out of his criminality are fruitless; second, he is a glutton, and,
third, a drunkard, meaning that he is not only a criminal but is also
contemptuous of the family’s authority and a parasite on it, using
the family instead of working as a member of it.
A confession is required of the parents as to this evil in their
son. They must not identify with criminal and sinful conduct but
with God’s required order. Because there is neither confession nor
repentance on the part of the son (or, in other cases, some other
family member who has gone astray), the parents (or, if they are
dead, the nearest relative) must confess the person’s waywardness
so that the court can deal with the matter. This law was the basis of
the long-standing law in the United States requiring the death of
habitual criminals. The son here in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 is a
habitual criminal; the family attests to his unwillingness to be a

working member of the family, so that in no area of his life is there

anything but evil.
This law of Deuteronomy 21:18-21 is closely related to the
law of Deuteronomy 21:1-9. When a murder occurs, and the mur-
derer cannot be found, then the elders and the judges of the nearest
city must perform a ceremony and offer a sacrifice to put away the
guilt of innocent blood. The sin of murder must be recognized; the
elders and judges, having tried to find the murderer, confess their
innocence of the crime, and confess the fact of the crime. They
cannot be indifferent to the fact of the murder, however unknown
or unimportant the victim. The loss of sensitivity to evil because it
is in one’s own family (Deut. 21:18-21), or because it is an
unknown person (Deut. 21:1-9), is morally wrong. The existence
of evil in our societies requires confession to God and reconcilia-
tion to Him.
The state at present assumes all the responsibility for dealing
with evil. As a result, the many evils and crimes in a society become
less and less the concern of individuals and families. They are at
most usually no more than items in the press, or in the evening
The multiform ways of confession, when observed, require a
society to see evil as every man’s concern. Even as thanksgiving in
any Christian sense has waned, so too has confession. Both confes-
sion and thanksgiving stress the God-centered character of life.

Literary Confessions

W ithout God’s absolution, sin and guilt remain as burdens.

Where there is no godly confession and absolution, there is
repetitive confession. The guilty man, half-bragging and half-con-
fessing, returns to his sin again and again. He speaks of it, recites it,
and, lacking a psychotherapist as a paid and captive audience, tells
people about it again and again. One fairly prominent man was
known for his many recitals of having once “commandeered” a
black woman sexually in a situation of no escape. He sought con-
fession as a means of absolution from sexism and racism.
Literature has become one long “Portnoy’s Complaint.” Bin
Ranike, in his poem, “Prodigal Son,” spoke of having “eaten those
pods I cast before swine” and added, “I have sinned with boys and
women.”1 In a poem for his sister, Ranike wrote, “you still believe
in sin.”2 As he surveyed the cosmos, he said, “our final hope is that
we will not know.”3 He cited a statement of Marcel Duchamp:
“there is no solution because there is no problem.”4

1. Bin Ranike, The Difference Between Night and Day (New Haven, CT: York Uni-
versity Press, 1978), 10.
2. Ibid., 69.
3. Ibid., 36.
4. Ibid., 44.


Ranike’s epistemological self-consciousness is both remark-

able and telling. Modern man eliminates any solution to his
problem by denying that the problem exists. The solutions are vari-
ations on the theme of technological salvation. Man’s problem is
not sin, some hold, but a lack of true democracy to enable the good
in man, his general will, to prevail. The problem of poverty is a false
system which does not distribute assets properly. Crime is a
problem of bad environment, or a bad combination of genes which
produces a manic-depressive person, and so on and on. More
plainly than most men, Ranike stated his presuppositions.
Despite the rejection of the Christian faith, for many writers
the Biblical categories still govern their thought. While God is left
out of their thinking, the doctrine of judgment still governs them.
Utopia did not begin with the “death” of the idea of God in
“informed” thought; rather, a growing foreboding of judgment
began to sour the humanistic hallelujah chorus.
Thus, Thomas McGrath titled his book of poems Passages
Toward the Dark (1982). One very telling poem is titled “The End
of the World.” It comes without “the awful traditional fire.” It
comes unnoticed. “Armageddon was never and always.” The end
of the world is something “in which we live forever.” 5 Given this
fact, his brief poem, “Advice,” is very telling. In a world moving
only into darkness, “Wisdom is for the child.” In a meaningless
world with darkness as its end, “As you grow old, Cherish folly.
Leap into the Void!”6
Modern writers are highly subjective in their writings and
therefore confessional. They are not averse to confessing sins, but,
even more, they confess darkness and meaninglessness. Even the
icons of the modern age are treated with contempt. Men like
Gould and Sagan still see science as truth, and Darwinism as
reality, but Edward Hirsch wrote a “Song Against Natural Selec-
tion” which began with the declaration, “The weak survive!”7 Our
scientists are too enamored of their own “wisdom” to hear what the

5. Thomas McGrath, Passages Toward the Dark (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Can-
yon Press, 1982), 22.
6. Ibid., 43.
7. Edward Hirsch, For the Sleepwalkers (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981), 3.

poets are saying. Hirsch, in “A Valentine from Rinebaud,”

expressed a biting scorn for the world and its wisdom. Instead of
the universe of life ascending out of cosmic slime, Hirsch sum-
moned one and all to crawl into the filthiest canal and into death
and oblivion. No creationist writer has expressed equal contempt
for the high-sounding mythologies of science. For Hirsch, the
romantic moon has become “the greasy moon floating like a tire
over the highway.”8 We are now far removed from the beliefs
expressed by William Wordsworth in Sonnet XXXIII of his “Mis-
cellaneous Sonnets,” published in 1807, which said with regard to
the earth, the sea, the moon, and the wind,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. — Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.9
Both Wordsworth and Hirsch made a confession in their poetry.
Clearly, Wordsworth is the abler poet, but Hirsch is a more honest
one. Wordsworth had all the benefits of a Christian world and life
view; the social order he lived in was professedly Christian, so that
he had the assurances of that realm. Having that stability, he bor-
rowed from paganism, “a creed outworn,” mythical images and fig-
ures to give himself a Romantic view of the sea and the moon.
For Hirsch, the romantic view of the world is gone; the
moon, instead of being the delight of lovers and poets, is “greasy.”
As he sees the moon, he knows that it is not the lovely vision of the
Romantics but something greased by all the lugubrious nonsense of
men like Wordsworth over all these decades. The moon is not a
poetic fact but dead rock, and all the solemn romantic sadness or
joy connected with it is literary convention and garbage.
There is a confession in both Wordsworth and Hirsch,
majestic in Wordsworth, but closer to reality in Hirsch. The
myths by which humanistic men live are being ripped apart by
8. Ibid., 21.
9. Thomas Hutchinson, ed., with George McLean Harper, The Poetical Works of
Wordsworth (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1933), 259.

the humanists themselves. Their confessions are the prelude to

godly confession. They witness to the prodigal son becoming at
least aware that all he has are husks, and this can be a prelude to
The grimly ironic fact is that modern churchmen cherish
happy illusions about the nature of man and the world. They are
less ready to believe in a fallen world and in man’s total depravity
than are some unbelievers. While many like Duchamp are ready to
say, “there is no solution because there is no problem,” they still
confront us with the grim fact of “no solution,” or, at least, no solu-
tion on humanistic grounds. Thus, the poet Michael Hamburger,
in “Omens,” wrote on the daily fare of bad news from everywhere.
In addition to the bad news, there are also apparently bad facts: pol-
lution, fallout, the earth shrinking, expanding, cracking, or what-
ever else scientists tell us, bad facts all. “Amid such omens, How
dare we to live?”10 The child always asks, said Hamburger, “Why?”
“Parents invent an answer.” The mind cries out, “Let there be
laws!” The wise man and the dancer know that things “are because
they are because they are.”11 In “The Search,” Hamburger held that
a search for origins is a search for death. Death is the alpha and
omega of all things.12
The poet William Meredith was ready to echo the old
humanist faith and said, “No one in the whole earth was ever
bad.”13 In his world, no one is ever good, either. Good and evil have
become trifling and irrelevant concepts. In his poem, “Dying
Away (Homage to Sigmund Freud),” Meredith wrote, “The love
of living disturbs me.” Eros, health, and brotherhood, also “rages
of happiness” seize him; they haunt him like a sin-wracked
Puritan; “the world, the fair world,” hurts him, and so “I call on
the name of the dark healer, Freud.”14 Wordsworth confessed to
romanticizing the Christian world by summoning echoes of a

10. Michael Hamburger, Weather and Season (New York, NY: Atheneum, 1963),
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid., 64
13. William Meredith, The Chair (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), 28.
14. Ibid., 46.

mythical pagan framework. Meredith is haunted by a Christian

world, and he calls upon Freud to disillusion him!
If there is a problem, and if there is a solution to the problem,
then there are very grave responsibilities for men. Then too the self-
indulgent confession which admits no answers is false and deadly.
Then there can be no evasion of what the Puritan Richard Steele
called religion, declaring it to be “the great business and end of
life.”15 Ours is an age of confessions, but they are revealing, not
healing ones.

15. Richard Steele, The Religious Tradesman (Harrisonburg, PA: Sprinkle Publica-
tions, 1989 reprint), 21.

Graceless Confession

I n the 1920s and 1930s, a distressing aspect of associations with

other boys in our neighborhood was to hear at times disre-
spectful references to the confessional by some Catholic boys. It is
quite likely true that some priests were given to relentless probing
which may have informed boys of sins they were yet ignorant of;
there is, however, a moral necessity for respect even in such cases,
not for the person but for the rite and its meaning.
Since then, the confessional has declined in its ecclesiastical
form to give way to other kinds of confession. One of these is the
boastful confession. Especially after 1960, with the rise of Playboy
and Penthouse, and similar “sexual liberation” periodicals, letters
written to these periodicals routinely contained ostensibly confes-
sional accounts of personal sexuality which were boastful and more
than a little given to fiction. There was nothing new in all this.
Areas and times of cultural decay are commonly marked by a
boastful claim to powers in sinning rather than in virtue. The
Renaissance saw men bragging of how many men they killed, and
how many times they copulated in a single night. In the France of
Louis XV, fidelity to one’s wife was seen as ridiculous, whereas
adultery and its commission came to be practiced by some as a fine


art. Earlier, the English court of Charles II flaunted not only its
lawless sexuality but also its physical filthiness.
Some of the lawless men on the American frontier (fewer
than is generally assumed) loved to boast of their badness, even as
American ghetto gangs of the 1980s and 1990s regarded a reputa-
tion for badness as something to be seriously cultivated. John Leo
reported, in 1990, on a telephone “confession hot line” in New
York City; Leo discovered that one could listen to both real and fic-
titious confessions for a fee “five or six times the cost of an ordinary
phone call.” Leo reported:
First came the cautionary tale of Nicki, who says she cannot recov-
er from the psychological and physical abuse she suffered while
serving as a rock groupie in the ’60s. Then a long story of awful sex-
ual abuse told by a teenage girl who says she had murdered a love
rival, shot her boyfriend in both legs and then, while on the run,
summoned her brother, who had raped her.1
Why are these people confessing on a public telephone line avail-
able to all who choose to listen? Why this desire to parade a vari-
ety of sins, imagined or real? As against the secret nature of
Christian confessional, parishioner to priest or pastor, followed
by a sometimes public repentance, penance, or restitution, these
telephone confessions are not secret, have no true repentance, and
lack all absolution.
A number of observations can be made about such “confes-
sions.” First, although the telephone form is new, public confes-
sions are not. Over the years, more than a few men, whether in
locker rooms or bars, have made public confession of various
offenses, and, in other contexts, women have done the same. Some
of these confessions are true; actual sins are confessed, but without
any attempt at changing one’s moral conduct. The fact of confes-
sion is seen as both sufficient repentance and also absolution; a
“new beginning” is then possible. Past sins no longer count: they
have been confessed.
Second, in some instances, such confessions are of imagined
and fictional sins; they are a form of boasting. Such people seek a

1. John Leo, “The Entertaining of America,” U.S. News and World Report, January
22, 1990, 65.

“greatness” in sin. They exalt themselves in their confessions to a

status above commonplace sinners. In their own eyes, they are mas-
ters in sinning. Milton saw this aspect of sin in his depiction of
Satan, who says,
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.2
Much of the popularity of Milton’s Satan is due to his pride in sin;
Paradise Regained is less popular with readers because Satan there
appears as shabby and defeated.
Third, in some instances public confessions are true, but no
absolution is wanted because the goal is a masochistic pleasure in
suffering. Such people are very resentful of counsel that calls atten-
tion to an obvious answer to their problem. They do not want
deliverance but suffering, which for them is their chosen form of
atonement. They prefer increased suffering, and pity for their
griefs, to any actual deliverance. There is an emotional intensifica-
tion in their guilt in order to stress the reality of their guilt and con-
fession. Guilt and grief are studiously nursed.
Fourth, for some, public confession and a public suffering are
necessary to prove victimization. Their attitude is, indeed, I sinned,
but I was really the victim. The absolution they seek is recognition
as a victim. Everyone took advantage of poor, innocent me, in their
perspective. They confess so that one might feel sorry for them as a
victim. If someone calls attention to their own guilt in the offense,
and their very real assent to the act of sin, they can be almost mur-
derous. They confess for sympathy and to gain confirmation of
their imagined role as a victim.
Fifth, confession is made to give evidence or proof of being
alive: “I’m only human,” and “you haven’t lived unless” you have
committed such a sin. You are then expected to confess to a like sin
and thereby absolve the offender. Failure to do so is seen as evi-
dence of hypocrisy and dishonesty. Confession should lead to abso-
lution and mutual confession; repentance and restitution do not
enter into their thinking.

2. Paradise Lost, bk. 1, canto 11, lines 261-263.


To abandon Biblical faith does not mean a “deliverance”

from the God of Scripture nor from His inescapable categories of
life. To live without food is not possible; we are creatures in God’s
world, not in a realm of our own imagining. Similarly, sins against
God and His law-order exact their penalties, and there is no escape
from them.
John Leo titled his account of the “confession hot line” and
other related phenomena “The Entertaining of America.” The fact
of a telephone confessional, where one can hear confessions of a
very prurient nature, is clear evidence that sin has become an
important means of entertainment, both in its depiction and in the
confessions thereof. Not surprisingly, there is at the same time an
increasing amount of violence in films and novels. There is an
appetite for sin rather than virtue, and sin has become an exciting
commodity in the world of entertainment. Even rapes are graph-
ically portrayed in film.
Although done in the name of realism, such depictions repre-
sent rather prurient tastes and desires, and a false view of realism.
The realm comprehended as reality is a very limited and deformed
Biblical confession has as its goal restitution and the restora-
tion of God’s order; humanistic confessions are contemptuous of
God’s order and implicitly require an acceptance of sin and guilt as
aspects of life, inescapable aspects which are beyond remedy. This
creates a situation whose only remedy is judgment, God’s judg-
ment. A world which denies grace will receive none.

When Confession
is not Confession

I n a decadent culture, all things are warped and often become a

caricature of themselves. For example, “comedian” George
Carlin was quoted recently in defense of some foul-mouthed
Carlin defends a comic’s right to offend. “Comedy is a socially ac-
ceptable form of hostility and aggression. That is what comics do,
stand the world upside down.”1
In the past, among other things, comedy has been an affec-
tionate and tolerant view of human foibles, one’s own and others’.
Not so now. Humiliating and “putting down” others is basic to
much current “comedy.”
The decline of Biblical standards leads to the exaltation of
evil and the legitimization of things previously forbidden. Thus,
the “2 Live Crew,” a “rap group,” uses “lyrics” which Governor
Bob Martinez of Florida described as “clearly obscene” and porno-
graphic: “It’s brutalizing women. It’s bestiality. They’re not innu-
endoes, they’re raw words, so raw that none of the print media have
even reproduced them. There’s nothing redeeming about it.” The

1. Susan Wloszczyna, “Jokes Reflect Society’s Insecurities,” USA Today, June 22,
1990, D2.


response of Ira Glasser, executive director of the American Civil

Liberties Union, was notable:
In order to prosecute anything for obscenity, you have to show that
it is without any artistic merit and that it appeals to prurient inter-
est as determined by community standards. A record that has sold
1.7 million copies must have some artistic merit. And it seems ab-
surd to suggest that any of this violates community standards when
Andrew Dice Clay’s albums sell in local record stores, X-rated
movies play in area theatres and Penthouse is available all over the
place. If you wanted to arrest people for using this language, you
could go to any schoolyard in Broward County.2
Without agreeing with him, one must say that Glasser’s point is
well taken. If, as the Supreme Court holds, the community, and
not God’s law, sets the standards, then Glasser has the better argu-
ment. Where humanism prevails, all standards are man-made and
radically flexible.
It is necessary to see this in order to understand what has hap-
pened to confession. One work of fiction recently based its plot on
a “confession.” A criminal, knowing that a priest had stumbled on
his plan to commit a major crime, confessed to the priest and
thereby bound him to silence in order to be free to commit his
crime without interference.
But is confession without contrition and repentance really
confession? Is it not rather in itself a further sin? Is it the will of God
that a godly pastor be bound while a sinner continues in his way?
This is not all. Some of what passes for confession is a form
of boastfulness, of bragging. In the mid-1930s, I knew a girl, a
nominal Catholic, who believed in a form of confession while
being contemptuous of priests. Being unchaste, she had much to
confess, and she relished confessing her inability to resist sexual
temptation. When a young priest made a fumbling attempt to
entice her, she turned on him with feigned shock that a priest
would say such a thing. She then emerged from the church,
laughing. (From my own experience, priests are more often sinned
against than sinning.)

2. “Should Dirty Lyrics Be Against the Law?,” U.S. News & World Report, June 25,
1990, 24.

Confession as a form of bragging is common. To excel in

virtue has given way to excelling in vice. Beginning with the
Romantic Movement, the hero as sinner has become more and
more commonplace. Such pseudo-confession requires a human
audience, whether of one or of a multitude. Ghetto youth boast of
being “bad dudes,” and young men from affluent homes regard it
as offensive to be described as “good,” “polite,” or a “gentleman.”
Let us look again at Glasser’s statement. For him, “artistic
merit” is determined by the fact that a record has sold 1.7 million
copies. Of course, we can say that social merit is determined by the
same criterion. If a few million Jews, Chinese, Ukrainians, Cambo-
dians, Armenians, or anyone else are murdered, does the mass scale
vindicate the massacres? Does it then have social merit?
Is violence done only to the body and not to the mind? If
society sets the standards, or the boundaries of what is acceptable,
no standards or norms are then possible.
If the center of law and society is man, then the changeable
will of man ensures that no norm can stand. A humanistic order is
thus inescapable disorder.
This is why, in a humanistic culture, we must be wary with
respect to “confessions.” If not followed by a change of life, they are
not confessions but boastings.
A good indication of such a false confession is sometimes a
prefatory comment, “I’ll probably shock you by what I am going to
say.” The desire to shock is basic to George Carlin’s view of
comedy; it is also an important factor in false confession.
True confession is more than the mere confession of sins; one
can hear such confessions everywhere, from bars to airline flights.
Valid confession is to God through Christ. Whether in private
prayer, or to a pastor, or to a priest, it is to the Lord because the
damaged relationship is primarily to God.
Changes have taken place in confession from the early church
to the present. A central change, of concern to us here, has been the
shift in the consequences of the confession of sins. Thomas J.
Bigham has described it as a change to “lenient and precatory

instead of severe and penal penances.”3 The change to “lenient and

precatory” was significant. Precatory means supplicatory. It is an
indication that, while the requirement of confession remained, the
importance of restitution gave way to the performance of various
penitential exercises. Repentance was changed to mean, no longer
a radical redirection of one’s life, but a verbal exercise.
St. Paul has this to say about repentance:
9. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed
to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye
might receive damage by us in nothing.
10. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be re-
pented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
11. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly
sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of your-
selves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement
desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have ap-
proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. (2 Cor. 7:9-11)
Paul contrasts godly sorrow and repentance to ungodly sorrow and
ungodly repentance. The difference is that with true repentance a
radical change takes place in a man’s life and action. The Corin-
thian Church repented of its sins, punished the evil-doers, made
amends to Paul, and sought “to be clear in this matter.” Their re-
pentance had substance to it.
There is no valid confession where no change occurs.

3. Thomas J. Bigham, “Confession,” in Vergiluis Ferm, ed., The Encyclopedia of

Religion (Secaucus, NJ: Philosophical Library Poplar Books, 1945), 192.

and Indulgence

T he origins of confession are clearly Biblical. Key texts are Lev-

iticus 5:1-19 (see especially vv. 5-6), Deuteronomy 26:4-5,
and Numbers 5:5-7. In this latter text we read,
5. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
6. Speak unto the children of Israel, When a man or woman shall
commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the
LORD, and that person be guilty;
7. Then they shall confess their sin which they have done: and he
shall recompense his trespass with the principal thereof, and add
unto it the fifth part thereof, and give it unto him against whom
he hath trespassed. (Num. 5:5-7)
What we see here clearly is, first, that all sin is an offense against
God because it is His law which has been broken. Second, all sin
must be confessed to God, against whom we have offended. Third,
there is no penalty-free sinning, no costless forgiveness. The cost to
God is the atoning death of Christ. The cost to us, with God’s for-
giveness through Christ, is restitution to the person against whom
we have sinned.
Fourth, this confession has a purpose. Its goal is restoration,
by means of confession and restitution, in two directions, Godward
and man-ward. By means of confession, peace is to be restored. The
purpose of confession and restitution is the healing of man and

society. Sin brings in death, whereas atonement, confession, and

restitution give healing, peace, and life.
This should enable us to recognize why the Roman Catholic
confessional system has been so important. Its history is marked by
greater faithfulness and also by greater abuse. The question of con-
fession, restitution, and restoration was fundamental to the Refor-
The Reformation began on the issue of an abuse of the con-
fessional system, indulgences. The word indulgences comes from
the Latin indulgentia, from indulgeo, to be kind or tender, meaning
in time the remission of a tax or debt. It came to mean release from
punishment by the kindness and mercy of God. The definition of
indulgences by W.H. Kent is,
An indulgence is the extra-sacramental remission of the temporal
punishment due, in God’s justice, to sin that has been forgiven,
which remission is granted by the Church in the exercise of the
power of the keys, through the application of the superabundant
merits of Christ and the saints, and for some just and reasonable
Theologically, this definition gives us a perspective which is not
Biblical. However, in Luther’s day, indulgences went beyond this
definition. Indulgences were sold promising “a plenary and perfect
remission of all sins,” a restoration “to the state of innocence …
enjoyed in baptism,” a relief from all the pains of purgatory, and
all this without the usual formalities of confession. It was reported
that the indulgence preacher, Johann Tetzel, O.P., had said that
“pagan indulgences could absolve a man who had violated the
Mother of God.”2
Theologically, while Roman Catholic scholars agree that
abuses in indulgences existed in Luther’s day, the concept of indul-
gences is not abandoned. In 1985, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said,
when asked if the concept of indulgences had disappeared from
religious practice and from the official catechesis,

1. W.H. Kent, “Indulgences,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 7 (New York, NY:
Encyclopedia Press, [1910] 1913), 783.
2. Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York, NY: Abing-
don-Cokesbury Press, 1950), 76-79.

I would not say “disappeared,” but it has lost a lot of meaning since
it is not plausible in terms of today’s thinking. But catechesis has
no right to surrender the concept.3
Indulgences were a key issue between Luther and Rome to the very
end. First, Luther objected to them as a devout Catholic deeply
concerned with the integrity of the confessional. Second, he object-
ed to them as a Protestant because of his concern for the integrity
of the confessional.
It is interesting to note what the official curial theologian, at
the direction of Pope Leo X, had to say. He accused Luther of a
“procedural error.” If, as Luther charged, the preachers of indul-
gences were guilty, and Sylvester Prierias did not believe so, “then
Luther had violated the rule of fraternal correction by divulging
their mistakes to the public.”4 Prierias has many Protestant succes-
sors, men who believe that correct procedures are more important
than the truth.
As a monk, Luther had confessed earnestly and faithfully, but
with no sense of peace. According to Hendrix, in his important
study, “in Luther’s memory his internal struggle with confession
was very much related to papal authority.”5
Indulgences released a man from the obligation to make res-
titution. In time, certain developments occurred with this practice.
First, in time indulgences applied not simply to specific offenses
but became plenary or full. In 1095, Pope Urban granted a full or
plenary indulgence to all who for religious reasons participated in
the first crusade. This indulgence offered forgiveness of sins and
release from all temporal penalties.
Second, indulgences were added to the powers and preroga-
tives of the papacy. In 1343, Pope Clement VI made an official
dogma of the idea of the treasury of merit in the church.
Third, indulgences were granted to the deceased who were in
purgatory. Tetzel had a little rhyming slogan for this:

3. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclu-
sive Interview on the State of the Church (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1985), 147.
4. Scott H. Hendrix, Luther and the Papacy (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1981),
5. Ibid., 9.

As soon as the coin in the coffer rings,

The soul from purgatory springs.
Fourth, by means of a “contribution” to a specific cause of the
church, letters of indulgence could be secured. As far as the people
were concerned, it was an outright purchase.6
When Luther was condemned by the pope, the central con-
cern of the condemnation was “Luther’s views on the sacrament of
penance and on indulgence.”7 In other words, the conflict between
Luther and the papacy began and ended with issues relating to the
confession. There were some Catholics who would, up to a point,
have assented to Luther’s view of justification, but his view of the
confessional was the key point of offense. It was the failure of con-
fession to give Luther peace that led him to his doctrine of justifi-
cation. As a result, Luther, in his view of confession, was concerned
with separating the act from the control of the church.
Of the three ingredients of penance he recognized of course the
need for contrition and looked upon confession as useful, provided
it was not institutionalized. The drastic point was with regard to
absolution, which he said is only a declaration by man of what God
has decreed in heaven and not a ratification by God of what man
has ruled on earth.8
Luther also opposed the complete enumeration of sins in
confession.9 This did not mean that serious and cultural offenses
were to be glided over with generalities.
We can thus say that while private confession, whether to a
person or to God directly, is necessary, this does not make it man-
datory. Where mandatory, the power of the receiving human
agency is greatly enhanced; where it is seen as necessary, the sinner
finds that he must deal, not necessarily with a pastor or the church,
but necessarily with God and with his sin, and he must make resti-
tution in terms of God’s law. At the same time, we must remember
that simple awareness of our sins is not to be equated with repen-
tance. Luther wrote, “To teach that repentance is to be reached by

6. Ibid., 24-25.
7. Ibid., 108.
8. Bainton, Here I Stand, 137.
9. Heinrich Boehmer, Road to Reformation (Philadelphia, PA: Muhlenberg Press,
1946), 195.

merely meditating upon sin and its consequences, is lying, stinking,

reducing hypocrisy.”10 Luther also wrote:
There is no doubt that confession is necessary and commanded by
God. Thus we read in Matthew iii: “They were baptized of John in
Jordan, confessing their sins.” And in I John I: “If we confess our
sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. If we say that we
have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” If
the saints may not deny their sin, how much more ought those
who are guilty of open and great sins to make confession! But more
effectively of all does Matthew xviii prove the institution of confes-
sion, in which passage Christ teaches that a sinning brother should
be rebuked, haled before the Church, accused and, if he will not
hear, excommunicated. But he hears when, heeding the rebuke, he
acknowledges and confesses his sin.
Of private confession, which is now observed, I am heartily in fa-
vor, even though it cannot be proved from the Scriptures; it is use-
ful and necessary, nor would I have it abolished — nay, I rejoice
that it exists in the Church of Christ, for it is a cure without an
equal for distressed consciences. For when we have laid bare our
conscience to our brother, and privately made known to him the
evil that lurked within, we receive from our brother’s lips the word
of comfort spoken by God Himself; and, if we accept it in faith, we
find peace in the mercy of God speaking to us through our broth-
The problem that exists in regard to confession is a very
serious one. It can greatly increase the power and the control of the
church over the people. However, a non-confessing people can
grow callous to its own sinning and indifferent to the need for res-
titution. The problem is a very serious one. Of all solutions it must
be said that, in a fallen and sinful world, no “solutions” can elimi-
nate any problem entirely. This does not mean that Biblical solu-
tions must not be sought.

10. Martin Luther, “An Argument in Defense of All the Articles of Dr. Martin
Luther Wrongly Condemned in the Roman Bull,” Works of Martin Luther, vol 3, 47,
cited in Hugh Thompson Kerr Jr., ed., A Compend of Luther’s Theology (Philadelphia, PA:
Westminster Press, 1943), 96-97.
11. Martin Luther, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” in Works of Martin
Luther, vol. 2, 249-50, cited in ibid., 97.

The Cure of Souls

A very interesting point made by Margaret R. Miles is the fact

that, in the medieval perspective, the visual image, as in
painting and sculpture, took precedence over the written or spoken
word. With the Reformation, the word took priority.1 The achieve-
ments of Christendom since then are a product of the written and
spoken word. Paul’s emphatic statement is, “faith cometh by
hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). The word
of God, written and spoken, carries with it the power of God and
the conviction, whether to salvation or to reprobation, of the Spirit
of God. Our culture rests on the power of the word in very many
This is different, however, from a belief in the omnipotence
of words. A great many people, wives especially, believe that if only
their husbands, pastors, or some other man said something, prob-
lems would be resolved.
During the Depression of the 1930s, a town church became
vacant, and an elderly pastor was sent there by the presbytery as
pulpit supply until a man could be found. There was a problem. A

1. Margaret R. Miles, Image as Insight (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1985), 164, cf.


strong-minded, sharp-tongued woman dominated the church. She

was a more successful person in business than the elders; she gave
more time and money to the church than anyone else. She was gen-
erally right, but very blunt and free with her tongue, and also dom-
ineering. No pastor stayed too long, and other members had
become passive. There was no clear ground for charging her, or
condemning her, but she was a problem, and it was discussed in the
presbytery committee. Word got back to her, and she exploded at
the supply pastor, who tried to mollify her. At the next presbytery,
the pastor of a successful urban church criticized the old man and
told him that he should have “straightened her out.” With trem-
bling hands, the old man responded, “And how successful have you
ever been at straightening out your wife, or any other woman?” He
added that he had little faith in the power of words with adults.
I thought for years about the implication of that incident and
his words. When should we speak, and when should we be silent?
Another incident: In the 1970s, a woman was made the exec-
utive officer of a corporation’s Southern California offices. She had
worked in that office and knew the abilities and performance of all
the men very well. Each man in turn was called into her office to
be given a verbal analysis of his work, where he should mend his
ways, and what would be expected of him. As word of this was
passed around, the last few men went in angrily, responding to her
analysis with an analysis of her and telling her what she could do
with herself. In the main, the woman had been right, but what she
had failed to realize was that all these men, with their varying abil-
ities, could not be turned into rubber-stamp duplicates of her imag-
ined ideal. She had to work with them within the framework of
their individuality, or else drop them from the staff.
There is a relationship between this and the confessional,
and pastoral counseling. The formalism of the Roman Catholic
confessional does make confession easier. Its strength is that it
requires a confrontation with one’s own self and one’s sins from a
God-centered perspective. More than a few Catholics have left the
church for nontheological reasons, simply to be rid of the necessity
for confession. For others, the confessional is a religiously healthy
exercise, while for still others the formalism of the rite makes it easy

to slide through glibly. There is no formula which assures valid

In Protestant circles, where persons come to the pastor on
their own, unrequired, the confessional is informal; there is no sys-
tematic approach, and the person confesses usually to one partic-
ular offense. Such a confession can bring relief and comfort, but it
can also engender hostility, because too many Protestants believe in
forgiveness without restitution. All one needs to do is to say, “I’m
sorry,” and forgiveness is automatic, they believe. To require them
to make amends can infuriate them. “But I said I’m sorry,” they
say, equating words with repentance. They are indeed sorry, usually
because their sins have caused them much trouble; they will insist,
“God forgives me when I’m sorry; how can you say I am not for-
given yet? If I am forgiven by the Lord when I confess, how can
Jane Doe refuse to forgive me?” And so on. The decline of restitu-
tion has made the restoration of community usually impossible,
and it has cheapened the meaning of confession and repentance.
Two things at the least are necessary to successful confession
and pastoral counseling. First, there must be true repentance, con-
fession, and, wherever possible, restitution. A mechanical confes-
sion and penance will accomplish little and can be an impediment.
Second, confession and counseling are impotent apart from the
working of the Holy Spirit.
Let us consider again the elderly pastor’s dilemma. Can any
rebuke do any good where there is neither confession nor repen-
tance? The answer of many churches has been to take steps against
offenders, culminating in excommunication. Is this valid? Cer-
tainly for some offenses this is necessary. But let us consider the pos-
sibilities. One young man, whose family was away, was invited to a
party by a former college friend. After some time in drinking and
dancing, he ended up in bed with one of the women present. He
then, very deeply repentant, confessed to his pastor and was at once
suspended and barred from communion. Was this right? His
offense was publicized and thus caused grief to his wife, who was
ignorant of the transgression. His grief over his sin was turned into
anger against the church. However, the church went by its rules,
which he knew. Yet, had he been less contrite, he would not have

confessed. The church’s rigidity with its rules shattered a family

and brought no healing to the situation.
At one time, pastoral counseling and the confessional were
alike aspects of what was called “the cure of souls.” The term is an
excellent one and best describes the purpose of both. The most
effective cure of souls, however, is the preaching of the word of
God. It is not only faith that comes by hearing, but also repentance,
a change of heart and life, humility, a submission to correction, and
more. If men will not hear the word of God, why should they hear
the pastor? If men will not be corrected by God’s word, will man’s
word correct them?
Sin must be dealt with as God prescribes. Many of the sins
which daily plague us in our husbands, wives, friends, and fellow
Christians are aspects of imperfect sanctification, a problem we all
share. Our sins are tailored to our lives, and therefore our sins are
not as conspicuous to ourselves as they are to others. We can iden-
tify stealing and adultery, if we commit these sins, but, day by day,
our real sins are not major ones but things unobtrusive to ourselves
and often the shadow of our virtues.
The town church with a domineering woman did indeed
have a problem, but it was not one that any pastor or the presbytery
could solve; in fact, any action on their part would have created
more problems. The trouble in the church began with the men who
were elders. Because they were, first, more impressed with the
woman’s financial success and power in that town, and intimidated
by it, they were unwilling to function as the true elders of the
church. They allowed her to dictate to them. Second, they appar-
ently thought too little of their eldership and their manhood, and
so they allowed her to dominate them. Although nominally all
orthodox Christians, their faith was obviously at best weak. As a
result, the church and a succession of pastors suffered.
Her critical word was very powerful. But in one respect she
was right. She took the faith more seriously than the elders did,
whatever her faults. Had the men shown an equal faith in the word
of God, and the power of His Spirit, the situation would at least
have been contained.

Confession and Atonement

I n Scripture, confession refers to both the confession of sin and

the confession of faith. The two are essentially related to one
another, and, together, to atonement. The sacrificial system
required the confession of sins over the sacrificial lamb, or sacrifice,
and, on the day of atonement, the high priest confessed on the head
of a live goat the iniquities of all the covenant people (Lev. 16:21).
One can summarize the matter thus: no confession, no atonement.
The confession did not atone; it was the precondition to God’s act
of covering and blotting out the sins of the people.
To confess is to uncover and to acknowledge our sins and
trespasses; to atone is to cover and blot out all our sins. It is the act
of God. Confession is necessary before there can be forgiveness, the
forgiveness of sins. The church has turned forgiveness into a
humanistic act, a change of feeling on our part, whereas in Scrip-
ture God alone can forgive sins; man’s forgiveness can only be given
in terms of God’s law. At this point, the Pharisees were not as far
astray as many modern churchmen. Faced with our Lord’s declara-
tion to the man sick with palsy, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee,”
the Pharisees felt this to be blasphemy, for “who can forgive sins
but God only?” (Mark 2:5-7). In any primary sense, God only can
forgive sins; the Pharisees were wrong in denying Christ but correct


in insisting that the forgiveness of sins is the attribute of God. In a

secondary sense, men can forgive sins when and where God’s con-
siderations are met.
When we uncover our sins in confession, God covers them
by Christ’s atonement. Covering means atoning. Our uncovering,
our confession, is to the triune God; if a particular sin involves
another man or woman, we have a duty to confess our sin to him
or her also, and to make restitution wherever possible.
To cover our sins means to deny Christ’s atonement and to
assume that our covering is the best solution to the problem of sin.
Not only are such reprobate coverings common, but they are also
routinely practiced by churchmen, clergy and laity alike. A variety
of examples come to mind, incidents repeated again and again in
churches. A prominent churchman is guilty of various sins, such as
adultery or misappropriation of funds. The matter is hushed up “to
avoid scandal.” Is the alternative publicity for the offenses? Neither
the covering nor a publicized uncovering are godly; both have ref-
erence to man’s framework. There must be a just chastening and
punishment in terms of God’s law, no more and no less.
Another example: an important person, priest, pastor, or
layman, is found to be a child molester. The usual reaction is to
hush the matter up and cover it with silence. The alternative to this
is not to expose the abused child and that child’s family to pub-
licity. Confession is necessary, but confession does not erase the
offense nor restore a child’s virginity. Modern state law does not
permit the application of God’s law. In the absence of this, a resti-
tution of a dowry or a large settlement is necessary. If the offender
leaves to enter another church in another community, there must
be some kind of oversight lest another offense occurs. Our task is
made difficult because Biblical law is not only despised by civil
authorities, but an offender can sue for damages if the truth is told
about him. As far as possible, the church must deal with matters in
terms of God’s law. This means also walking circumspectly to
avoid lawsuits and civil intervention. There can, however, be no
surrender of the necessity of action. The bent or direction taken by
the reprobate is to cover sin by denying or ignoring it, and this is

There must be a true confession or there is no forgiveness and

no atonement. When men cover sin, God then covers them with
judgment, “for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed;
and hid, that shall not be known” (Matt. 10:26).
Pastors and people who cover their sins are thereby in effect
saying that they can atone for sin, and this is blasphemy. They place
their humanistic concerns for propriety over the requirement of
confession, confessing our sins to receive God’s grace and mercy.
More important for them than the state of grace is the state of com-
pliance with social surfaces. It is not surprising that such sinners
routinely return to their sin.
When men cover their sins rather than confessing to God, we
have false priorities. More important than a right relationship with
God then, is a good surface in meeting the world of our time. We
have as a result a world of facades, of sinners masquerading as the
best of people. Hypocrisy replaces virtue.
Some old American proverbs held,
Confession is good for the soul.
A fault confessed is half redressed.
A generous confession disarms slander.1
At one time, in the medieval era, kings and commoners alike
made confession. Kings had personal confessors who were also
advisors. On occasion, kings had to make public confession in
humiliating ways for their public offenses. Such confessions made
for restoration, and respect for their obedience to the spiritual
authorities. To eliminate confession from a society is to eliminate
also humility and grace. The false covering for sin leads to devas-
tating uncovering, and contemporary political leaders are often
destroyed when their sins are uncovered. Where once confession
and penance led not only to restoration but sometimes also to
greater strength, now, with the absence of Biblical confession and
atonement, there is disgrace.
According to 1 John 1:8-10,

1. David Kim, ed., Dictionary of American Proverbs (New York, NY: Philosophical
Library, 1945), 53.

8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth

is not in us.
9. If we confess ours sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our
sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his
word is not in us.
John tells us, first, that the liar deceives himself first of all. By deny-
ing his sin, he denies the reality about himself. He replaces self-
knowledge with illusion. This means a departure from the truth
into a world of fiction. Whoever else he may delude, he has deluded
himself most of all. His is a delusional existence.
Second, God has declared of us all that we are sinners, that
“there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10; cf. Ps. 14:1-3;
53:1-3). To deny our sin is to make God a liar; obviously, then,
“his word is not in us,” only our own deceitful word.
Third, to confess our sins means that we receive His forgive-
ness and His cleansing from all unrighteousness. Our restitution to
God is our restoration to reality, because all things are His creation,
and we cannot know reality apart from Him.
As a result, every false covering not only precipitates in God’s
due time our uncovering and judgment, but it also covers reality
from us. Apart from confession and atonement, we are deluded and

The Two Aspects

of Confession
ames Philip, in his comments on Numbers 5:5-10, called
J attention to the “twofold emphasis on confession and restitu-
tion” in that text. “Confession is putting things right with
God; restitution is putting things right with one’s fellows.” He
added, “Both are necessary for a wrong situation to be rectified.”
Confession must not be made indiscriminately. Sins committed
specifically against God must be confessed to God (as indeed all
sins must be). Sins committed against another person must be con-
fessed to that person, and sins committed against a fellowship must
be confessed to that group. Moreover, Philip points out, confession
without restitution is not true confession.1
Neither confession nor repentance can be reduced to a
matter of words: they are issues of faith and life and involve a
changed direction and action. As applied to man, according to Alan
Richardson, “it represents a reorientation of one’s whole life and
personality, which includes the adoption of a new ethical line of
conduct, a forsaking of sin and a turning to righteousness.”2 As
Richardson added, only God can give men repentance and a clean

1. James Philip, Numbers (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 72-73.

2. Alan Richardson, “Repent, Repentance, etc.,” in Alan Richardson, ed., A Theo-
logical Word Book of the Bible (New York, NY: Macmillan, [1950] 1960), 191.


heart. This is David’s prayer in Psalm 51:10 (cf. Ezek. 36:26; Jer.
31:33). God converts people, and His Spirit uses the law to do so:
The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony
of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. (Ps. 19:7)
Repentance means a total reorientation of one’s being, a change of
heart, life, and direction. Repentance leads to a confession of sin,
not as a verbal exercise, but as a part of a process, along with activ-
ities whereby new ways replace the old. Confession thus is essentially
related to action.
It is for this reason that the creeds and standards of a church
are known as confessions: they are the premise of faith and action.
Confessions of sins and confessions of faith are verbal and active,
manifesting a change in word, thought, and deed. The Greek word,
homologeo, means to speak the same thing, or to be in accord; thus
confession, where true and faithful, means that an agreement exists
between profession and life. If we confess our sins, we turn from
them into an active obedience to God. If we confess Christ, we
believe and obey Him with all our being. True confession in this
sense means not only an agreement in us between words and life,
but also an agreement between us and Jesus Christ. Our Lord
32. Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I
confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
33. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny
before my Father which is in heaven. (Matt. 10:32-33)
Valid confession thus means a congruity between words and life.
From the beginning of Scripture, pastoral questioning has
been used to prompt confession. A most notable example is
Joshua’s comment to Achan:
And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the
LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me
now what thou hast done; hide it not from me. (Josh. 7:19)
The word translated as confession can also be read as praise. Achan
had sinned against God, and to confess meant to recognize the
rightness and justice of God’s order. To do this means to give glory
to God. Thus, in the Biblical sense, to confess our sins means to

recognize the validity of God’s justice and order. Similarly, a con-

fession of faith is a rejoicing in that order.
When God called out to Adam in the Garden of Eden, He
was giving Adam an opportunity to confess his sin. Adam chose
instead to excuse his sin, as did Eve (Gen 3:9-13). The same ques-
tioning was directed to Cain, with a like evasion (Gen. 4:9).
The psalms are full of general and personal confessions, both
of sins and of faith. Both are necessary aspects of public and pri-
vate worship. Confession marked the Day of Atonement, because
the removal of sin by atonement is not only an objective judicial
act by God but also a renewal wrought in the heart of man by His
grace. Confession is basic to Biblical faith. It is a radical perversion
of the Scriptures to speak of regeneration without repentance and
The confession of sins is the admission of facts concerning
ourselves which discredit or demean us. Credit, the root of discredit,
is from the word creed, from the Latin credere, to trust. To discredit
ourselves by confession to God is to deny our trustworthiness and
credibility and to trust rather in the Lord God. To confess thus
means to shift our trust from ourselves to God. It means we admit
to discredit our sins, and we affirm the total credibility of God
when He speaks about us, and about Himself.
Paul in Romans 7:18 declares, “I know that in me (that is,
in my flesh,) [my fallen human nature] dwelleth no good thing.”
This we confess before God concerning ourselves, and we recognize
with our Lord, “there is none good but one, that is, God” (Matt.
19:17). The good that we do is simply God’s grace and Spirit
working in us.
This is why in confession we acknowledge our sins, and we
also confess that God is indeed the Lord, the Almighty and All-
Righteous One. We place our trust in His grace, mercy, and justice.
In confessing our sins as in confessing Christ, we praise God, and
we now live, move, and have our being in His grace and Spirit.
Confession is indeed “good for the soul.”

The Counseling Heresy

T he church, all too prone to aping the world, has in the twen-
tieth century gone over to the practice of counseling. Now
godly counsel can be very beneficial, and to relate the word of God
to human problems is thoroughly necessary. The therapy heresy,
however, is the adoption of humanistic premises as a means for the
cure of souls. By Freud’s deliberate design, psychological coun-
seling, psychotherapy, was to replace the work of priests and pas-
tors as the best means of eliminating religion. No attempts to
“disprove” the Bible would succeed in undermining such faith. All
men feel guilt, and they want a remedy for it. If science can take
over the remedial therapy for guilt, Freud held, religion can be
destroyed. Freud saw guilt as basic to the human problem, and
those who enabled men to cope with it would become the true
priests of the future. Out of this premise, psychotherapy was born.
Sadly, the churches have been very quick to adopt it.
Freud’s analysis was brilliant but flawed. He saw guilt as the
problem, whereas guilt is simply man’s response to his sin. If sin is
a myth arising out of man’s primordial experiences, then the
problem must be dealt with psychologically, because guilt is a state
of the psyche of man, a deeply-rooted feeling. If, however, guilt is
not the problem but rather a response to the problem, then we


must look elsewhere. Because guilt is a manifestation of the root

problem, sin, then all of our efforts are in vain if we do not face up
to the heart of the matter. Sin is an act, a state of mind, a direction
of the heart, and the essential character and orientation of a person.
Dealing with guilt alone is like treating a cancer of the liver or of
the intestines with salve. It is quackery.
It is a basic premise of Biblical faith that there can be no effec-
tual change without regeneration. Apart from that, any change is
pragmatic, cosmetic, or prudential. Counseling deals with the
human scene and human relationships. The pastoral cure of souls
gives primacy to man’s relationship to God in Christ, man’s eternal
destiny, and then to the problems of human relationships.
This is why the true and effectual cure of souls begins with
confession. Confession in our time is a much neglected ministry,
but it is all the same an essential one. Confession, among other
things, requires two things. First, there must be a confession of sin;
this means, not specific sins but the fact of a sin-nature, our will to
be our own god and our own source of good and evil, our own
determiners of law and morality (Gen. 3:1-5). Sin is basic to man’s
determination, my will be done. Second, there must be a confession
of sins, of specific expressions of our evil bent. Too many are ready
to say, “Of course I sin; after all, I’m only human.” Moreover,
where the counseling of couples is involved, there is a readiness to
say, “I did do that, but what about my spouse’s sins? They pro-
voked me into sinning!” There is another aspect to such confes-
sions. A false confession can be true in the stated facts but false
because so much has been hidden or falsified. In our civil criminal
courts there is a practice known as plea-bargaining. To save court
time, a man accused of a very serious crime is allowed to plead
guilty to a lesser one while the serious charge is dropped. Pleading
guilty to a lesser offense is routine in counseling; it is often used to
gain a façade of openness and repentance.
The Shorter Catechism asks (Q. 14), “What is sin? A. Sin is
any want of conformity unto, or transgression of the law of God.”
In 1 John 3:4, we have the basic source for this statement: “Who-
soever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the trans-
gression of the law.” Apart from this fact, all attempts to deal with

offenders is false and in vain, and, of course, humanistic. This is

why antinomianism has been so ready to adopt counseling, because
it replaces God’s law, the need for regeneration, and the necessity
of confession and repentance. Of course, the heresy of counseling
does not consider restitution. Its goal is a humanistic reconcilia-
tion, a peace at any price. As such, it is clearly evil.
The therapy heresy bypasses the fundamentals of Christian
faith: atonement, regeneration, restitution, and more. Years ago, I
heard a lecturer describe to an audience of ministers and ministerial
students a marital problem which involved numerous offenses by
one partner, including habitual adultery. His rhetorical question
was, “How can we bring this couple together again?” The reunion
of the couple was the goal, not God’s law nor God’s grace.
The therapy heresy sees itself in terms of the medical model.
Medical healing means that medication is “added” to the life of the
patient, or, by surgery, something is removed. In terms of Scrip-
ture, the need in many cases begins with regeneration. In other
instances, where the persons are truly Christian, there must be con-
fession and repentance, followed by restitution. Repentance means
a reversal of direction, a total change in a person’s life and char-
acter. Only after these things take place can there be restoration. To
restore a sinning church member, or a wayward spouse, simply on
his or her verbal affirmation is humanism.
The counseling heresy is a thriving evil because exegesis and
theology are no longer central to the church or the pulpit.
Preaching is no longer systematic. If a pastor began a careful series
of studies, chapter and verse, of all of Romans, or all of Exodus, his
people would rebel, if he did not first abandon the idea. Our
humanistic pulpits give us a smorgasbord of subjects, choosing
texts of general interest in order to command attention. The most
important question about a sermon is, Is it interesting?, not, Does it
enable us to understand the whole counsel of God? As it is now, people
can attend a reformed or evangelical church all their lives and still
be ignorant of the Bible and its doctrines. (I have encountered
devout Catholics and Protestants who thought reincarnation was
“in the Bible”!) The counseling heresy thrives with non-Biblical
preaching, because it, too, bypasses the fundamentals of the faith.

An old proverb says, “We know a man by the company he

keeps.” The counseling regime keeps close company with
humanism. We have now a considerable body of ostensibly Chris-
tian books on counseling, especially marital counseling. These
books are full of pious goals, and their announced goals are saving
marriages and helping people. “After all these things do the Gen-
tiles seek” (Matt. 6:32). “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and
his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”
(Matt. 6:33).
In Isaiah 30:1, we read, “Woe to the rebellious children, saith
the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a
covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin.” God
declares, in Hosea 4:12, “My people ask counsel at their stocks, and
their staff declareth unto them: for the spirit of whoredoms hath
caused them to err, and they have gone a whoring from under their
God.” This is strong language; it applies to all attempts to redirect
our lives apart from God and the priority of His law-word.
Humanistic counseling is man-centered; however “noble” its
humanistic goals, it is alien to a God-centered faith.
However, before we have the counseling heresy, we have had
a failure in the pulpit. Word and doctrine have been replaced with
inspirational pap, and the clergy have become men-servers. A
church with a “good” counseling program will have doctrine given
a minor place at best.

Counseling and Change

W e must recognize that there are pastoral counselors who see

their work as the cure of souls; such pastors recognize that
the problem is either an unregenerate heart, or else a lawless, anti-
nomian life on the part of someone who may be a believer. For
them, the first fact requiring determination is the status of the
person: is he or she saved or unsaved, regenerate or unregenerate?
There is a much neglected verse in Jeremiah which confronts
us with the basic issue:
Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then
may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. (Jer. 13:23)
This denies the possibility of self-reformation, or the exist-
ence of any human agency which can effect a substantial change.
No more than the leopard can change his spots can a man be
changed by a human agency. Men can be restrained by men, but
they cannot be changed.
Basic to the heresy of counseling, however, whether in its
humanistic forms or its development within the churches, is this
belief that a man can be changed by human agencies. In many
churches, for example, counselors create a dependency syndrome,
even as secular counselors do. If you alone, or as a couple, are


counseled, then regular check-ups, as with a doctor, must follow.

These may be weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually, but the
person remains dependant on the counselor for balance and per-
spective. A codependency with the counselor is created to prop up
the person counseled, and to feed the counselor’s belief in his nec-
essary function.
It is not surprising that this counseling heresy has arisen in
connection with Arminianism. Arminianism reserves to man the
power of determination. A long-popular illustration of the
meaning of Arminianism is this: God votes for your salvation, the
devil votes for your reprobation, and you cast the deciding vote.
Man thus elects himself, whether to salvation or reprobation. His
“free will” is the central fact of the moral universe.
In the view of Arminianism, facts can be provided by God
and men to assist the individual in his decision, but the decision is
his. Because of this, a man can be guilty of backsliding, changing
his mind repeatedly, and thus be lost and saved several times in his
life. I once met a man, decades ago, who said he had been saved and
lost perhaps a dozen times; in either case, saved or lost, it was his
The world of Arminianism has two means of helping people
save themselves. First, there is the old-fashioned Arminian revival
with its decision-making. The most noted current practitioner is
the Reverend Billy Graham. Both radio and television give us
examples of revivalism daily. Everything is made to depend on the
individual. Supposedly, both God and the devil wait on his deci-
sion and are helpless without it. Revivalism is essentially flattering
to man: although it has a show of humility in “going forward” and
publicly acknowledging a sinful estate, it even more caters to man’s
fallen pride. God waits on man to decide, and God is helpless to act
until man makes the decision.
Second, there is counseling, which is in essence revivalism
reduced to a one-on-one basis. Instead of a mass meeting, the needy
person exercises his free will within a counselor’s office. The initia-
tive is his; he goes to the office, and he accepts or rejects the diag-
nosis. This is not salvation; it is humanistic self-reformation. The

question remains this: can the leopard change his spots, or the
sinner save himself? Is salvation the sinner’s choice, or is it God’s
electing grace?
An old proverb declares, “A tree is known by its fruit, and not
by its leaves.” This is also true in the realm of the moral changes
within a man.
The counseling heresy rests on Arminianism. It asserts that,
while God can assist change, the initiative belongs to man. Paul
tells us, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word
of God” (Rom. 10:17). True change is a supernatural renewal of a
man; it is a new birth, a new creation (John 1:12-13; 2 Cor. 5:17;
Gal. 6:15).
The Puritan movement is easily criticized because men of
power stand so clearly on basic issues that they are more open
thereby to criticism and attack. The strength of Puritanism rested
in unswerving and intense interest and delight in Scripture. David
Clarkson held that the pastor should look to the Spirit and use his
reason, because “faith does not abolish but improve reason.” In the
words of Gerald R. Cragg,
So the conscientious minister gave himself to study with a kind of
maniacal zeal, and considered it a sacrifice when matrimony re-
duced his daily span of work from fourteen hours to eight or nine.
Charnock devoted almost all his time to study; his library was his
“workshop,” and his friends solemnly observed that “had he been
less in his study, he would have been less liked in the pulpit.” Even
when he walked abroad, his thoughts still ran on his studies, and
would pause to jot down ideas that might be useful in his sermons.1
This was the strength of Puritanism, its unwavering belief in the
sufficiency of Scripture. For the Puritans, the counsel of God was
man’s only valid recourse.
As has been pointed out, the perspective and orientation of
most counseling is man-centered, not God-centered. The goal is
problem solving with respect to everyday affairs. In itself, such a
goal is not wrong; if we have an infected finger, we want that finger
healed; if a tooth is decayed, we want an immediate remedy for the

1. Gerald R. Cragg, Puritanism in the Period of the Great Persecution, 1660-1688

(Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1957), 206-7.

toothache. To a degree, there is a limited analogy between medical

problems and problems in human relationships. There is, however,
a very important difference. An infected finger or a bad tooth will
not affect our eternal destiny: no one has ever been kept out of
heaven for bad teeth! Now, in our various relationships in marriage,
the church, the world, and with ourselves, we are manifesting our
nature and giving an indication of our destiny. Humanistic coun-
seling tries to enable us to function better in all our daily spheres of
life. Such functioning can be good or bad. St. Athanasius failed to
get along with the churchmen of his time; this was to his credit and
essential to his greatness. In the fourteenth century, success came to
mean increasingly worldliness and sin. This came to be so common
an equation that there was “an ever-increasing implication that
those who fare well in this world will fare worse in the next.”2 The
godly men were sometimes the social “misfits.”
Thus, in counseling, an important series of questions
remain unanswered: Do you want to be changed, and by whom?
What is the real problem? To whom and to what do you want to
be conformed?
John T. McNeill, in discussing Washington Gladden’s The
Christian Pastor and the Working Church (1898), called attention to
the fact that Gladden “seems almost to substitute a mere secular
friendliness for the devout labor traditionally demanded.” Gladden
replaced confession and restitution with friendliness and sympathy,
as though these things could remedy the problems of sin and evil.
Gladden was a distinguished leader of early modernism. However,
in McNeill’s words, “he is in fact less concerned with the cure of
souls than with the harmonious operation of the Church in its local
units.”3 This should not surprise us. Gladden did not believe in
regeneration by God through Christ. He was an early champion of
the social gospel. Because of the destruction he and others wrought,
new remedies had to be forthcoming to redeem society. These
were, first, salvation by political action. The state became the

2. T. S. R. Boase, Death in the Middle Ages: Mortality, Judgment and Remembrance

(New York, NY: McGraw Hill Book Co., 1972), 44.
3. John T. McNeill, A History of the Cure of Souls (New York, NY: Harper &
Brothers, 1951), 278.

agency for the regeneration of man and society. Religious fervor for
these men was transferred from God to politics. Second, in the per-
sonal sphere, psychology and counseling now provided the means
of changing the person.
In both areas, the churches were all too ready to follow the
world. Arminianism and antinomianism had prepared the way.

Counseling and Goals

D efinitions of counseling vary, and the definitions are good

indicators of the presuppositions of the counselors. Thus, the
counselor may be assumed to have, as a pastor, Christian premises,
but this is far from the truth in many cases. Thus, a Presbyterian
pastor spoke of directive counseling as “authoritarian.” In contrast,
according to James Emerson, those whose counseling is nondirec-
tive “tend to miss their responsibility for setting the limits within
which the interviews will take place.” However, Emerson added,
“If the dangers are recognized, I personally favor the nondirective
approach.”1 In the hands of some, this nondirective approach varies
from a semi-Quaker “inner light” concept to an existentialist
emphasis on the relative and personal nature of truth.
Since World War II, the number of people seeking coun-
seling has increased greatly. In a 1965 study, one out of seven
American adults were said to have sought professional help for a
personal problem, usually from a pastor or priest, a doctor, a clinic,
or a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, or psychologist. As of that date, 42
percent went to a clergyman, 29 percent to a medical doctor, 18

1. James G. Emerson, Jr., Divorce, the Church, and Remarriage (Philadelphia, PA:
The Westminster Press, 1961), 153.


percent to psychotherapists, and 10 percent to a clinic.2 There is no

reason to believe that, in the 1990s, the numbers seeking pastoral
help have decreased. First, the majority of Americans are still affil-
iated with a church, and they therefore turn easily to the church.
Some churches now have a counselor on the staff. Second, the
“advantage” of pastoral counseling to many people is economic;
pastoral counseling is usually free. I heard recently of an instance
where a non-Christian woman, long under psychiatric care, has a
monthly bill of $5,000, a sum far in excess of the salary of most
clergymen and their parishioners!
With this in mind, let us return to the question of the defini-
tion of counseling. A professor of pastoral psychology, Carroll A.
Wise, defined it thus:
Counseling is essentially communication and as such is a two di-
rectional process. It is not what the counselor does to or for the
counselee that is important; the important thing is what happens
between them. The pastor needs to know himself as well as to un-
derstand the dynamic processes of personality as they find expres-
sion in the counselee.3
There are some interesting assumptions in this statement. At no
point in this study does Wise touch on the derivation of counseling
from the confessional. The relationship is a very real one, and the
abandonment of confession and restitution gives modern counseling
an alien orientation. It is now humanism, whether conducted in
the church or out of it. The roadblock in humanistic counseling is
repression, not sin. This leads us to the first observation about
Wise’s view: it is “essentially communication and as such is a two
directional process.” This limits the communication to the counse-
lor and the counselee. In the historic confessional, Roman Catholic
and Protestant, the man confessing confessed to God; the priest
heard it, or, the pastor listened, as God’s agent. It was a privileged
communication between the sinner and God, and hence the state
could not intervene to compel a disclosure. As the Vatican II Coun-
cil began, I heard, in conversation, a Catholic scholar deplore the
2. Howard J. Clinebell Jr., Mental Health Through Christian Community (New York,
NY: Abingdon Press, 1965), 211.
3. Carroll A. Wise, Pastoral Counseling: Its Theory and Practice (New York, NY:
Harper & Brothers, 1951), 11.

likely decline of the mass and the confessional, and the increase of
preaching. His view was that the priest should not be given the free-
dom to share his thinking but should be strictly limited to an or-
dained structure that stressed faith, not understanding. To be
limited to a priest’s understanding instead of the historic forms of
the faith was for him a potential threat to both faith and under-
standing. It is not necessary to agree with his views to recognize that
in churches Catholic and Protestant both “worship” and counsel-
ing have become a two directional process in which God is left out.
Second, Wise held that the important thing in this two direc-
tional process “is what happens between them.” If a man has stolen,
killed, or committed adultery, “the important thing” is not what
happens between the guilty man and the pastor or priest but
whether or not the sinner is confronted by the word of God and his
duty before God. It does not require empathy to tell a man he is a
sinner. The counselor may feel pity, anger, sorrow, or more, but
this is all irrelevant to the important fact: has he borne witness to
the law, grace, and mercy of God? Wise’s view that “the important
thing” is what happens between the counselor and the counselee is
humanistic nonsense. The important thing is that God’s require-
ments be faithfully set forth, because reconciliation to God in
Christ must be the goal of counseling. For the counselor to be con-
cerned about establishing a bond with the counselee is intrusive
and arrogant. The important fact is reestablishing God’s order in a
man’s life; anything else is at best secondary.
Third, Wise spoke of the need of the pastor “to know him-
self.” This is not knowing much. Far more important is knowing
and communicating the law-word of God. In some evangelical cir-
cles, the counseling session begins and ends with prayer, but there
is no systematic application of the law-word of God. Prayer then
becomes an appeal for the ratification of something done without
reference to the law of God.
Fourth, Wise held that the counselor, besides knowing him-
self, must “understand the dynamic processes of personality as they
find expression in the counselee.” Especially after World War II, it
became common to speak of anything that abandoned God’s law-

word as “dynamic.” To be free from the limitations of God’s law

was seen as liberating, empowering, and “dynamic.” Power osten-
sibly resides outside of God and in man. What are these “dynamic
processes of personality as they find expression in the counselee”?
Are they not sin? And what is so dynamic about them? Such
thinking is comparable to exalting sin. If the sinner’s personality
had such power, he would not be in the predicament that takes him
to a counselor.
For Wise, at the top of the list of “dynamic processes” are
“basic emotional needs for love, security, a sense of personal worth,
belonging, achievement and autonomy.”4 In most instances, the
counselee’s problem is a will to hate while demanding love and
honor. Why cater to sin? Security in sin is hardly a thing to be
encouraged. “A sense of personal worth” leads to treating others
with contempt, whereas in Christian counseling, the sinner must
know himself to be a sinner before God. A minister strong on the
doctrine of personal worth was ruthless towards all who disagreed
with him, or who were orthodox in their faith. He held that “Thou
shalt not commit adultery” was a concept belonging to an obsolete
culture which treated women as property and hence saw adultery
or fornication as a violation of property rights. His sense of per-
sonal worth was undeserved and ungodly. As for a sense of
“belonging,” how can this be reconciled to autonomy? The source
of man’s sense of autonomy, and his sin, is his insistence on being
his own god and law (Gen. 3:5). It is a grim fact that the essence of
sin, autonomy, is taught now as a great virtue. Man’s desire for
“achievement” is again in conflict with his will to sin, his insistence
that, “My will be done,” and his will to destroy whatever is good.
But Wise believes that, without the satisfaction of these
goals, the result is “a sense of being hurt emotionally.”5 This leads
to anxiety, and then to resentment, hostility, and guilt. The
sinner, however, needs to be hurt for his own good. If we do not
hurt him with plain and Biblical statements, God will in time hurt
both him and us.

4. Ibid., 14.
5. Ibid.

Enough has been said to make it clear that humanistic coun-

seling seeks, not confession, restitution, and restoration, but peace,
harmony, and humanistic good will. As a result, the counseling
process is morally wrong. Wise, like others, wrote without refer-
ence to the law of God or to sin. Since these were not in his moral
vocabulary, his work represented a part of the problem, not the

and Reconciliation

P eace, harmony, and humanistic good will are the goals of

humanistic counseling, whether in the church or outside of it.
At its best, such counseling produces conformity, not change. In
instances where married couples have sought such counseling, the
best results have been an outward compliance, not an inner change,
regeneration. The husband or the wife works to create an impres-
sion of a changed behavior for public relations purposes. The mar-
riage improves marginally, but the troubles of the innocent spouse
only increase.
People are governed up to a point by the requirements of
other persons, but such a government does not affect the essential
nature and conduct of a man. Over the generations, many an evil
politician has begun as a reformer, as witness Abe Ruef of San Fran-
cisco, California.
Consider also Elmer McCollum, who in the first quarter of
the twentieth century did some excellent work in nutrition. Among
other things, he called attention to the major loss of the original
nutrients in the processes which led to white flour and bread, and
to sugar. “Skillful advertising,” he said, had led Americans to like
white bread. Soon after writing against white bread, McCollum
was given a position as nutrition consultant to General Mills. He

then became vocal on the virtues of white flour. He also appeared

before a congressional committee to condemn “the pernicious
teachings of food faddists who have sought to make people afraid
of white-flour bread.”1
Without regeneration and a governing faith, men will readily
sacrifice even their own convictions to expediency and ostensible
For this reason, confession of sin and sins is a prerequisite to
truly Christian counseling. The confession should be voluntary,
and it should manifest contrition and repentance. Paul wrote to the
9. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed
to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye
might receive damage by us in nothing.
10. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be re-
pented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
(2 Cor. 7:9-10)
Paul distinguishes between a godly sorrow for sin as against ungod-
ly sorrow, “the sorrow of the world” which leads to death. In the
face of exposed sin, people are usually sorry, but too often their sor-
row is over being caught or exposed.
It is at this point that the weakness of compulsory confession
becomes evident. It is then a required confession rather than a
repentant one. As a university student, I was regularly distressed by
the casualness of some Catholics with regard to confession. It was a
rite necessary to good standing with the church rather than a clear
conscience before God. I felt that it kept the hypocrites in the
church to destroy it. Persons who could joke about their confession
had no right nor moral reason to confess.
Too often the counseling session, if it at all requires confes-
sion, leads to hypocrisy. The weakness, too, of the counseling ses-
sion is the limited and humanistic goal. Thus, a counselor will tell
a couple, in so many words, we will try together to save this mar-
riage. By giving priority to such a concern, the standing before God
of the husband and the wife takes a secondary place. The purpose

1. Harvey Levenstein, Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American

Diet (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1988), 155.

of any induced confession is then pragmatic more than theological.

That the results can sometimes be good does not alter the fact that
the counseling orientation is false. God can and does work through
every situation, so that godly restoration is possible in unlikely
ways. Then too, as the old proverb has it, “Even a blind pig gets an
acorn now and then.”
Ungodly counseling is now widely advocated even within the
churches. On Saturday, March 9, 1991, a church conference was
held in Stockton, California, on “Addiction: What Can the
Churches Do?” The conference was sponsored by the Stockton
The Rev. Bernie Flynn recalled seeing the alcoholics gathered out-
side St. Mary’s Church on Washington Street where he spoke Sat-
urday at a conference on addiction.
“I wanted to hug them and tell them they were sick,” said Flynn,
an Episcopal priest from Fresno.
Flynn might lead a congregation, pay taxes and live in a comfort-
able home, but he shares a deadly disease with the men and women
slowly killing themselves on Washington Street — the disease of
Most of the conference speakers were “recovering addicts.” Their
addictions were various: alcohol, pornography, gambling, and that
new “disease,” codependency.
“I am so precious to my creator that no matter what I am doing or
not doing, I am worthy of God’s love,” says Presbyterian minister
Steve Carter. “The most important message that the church can
tell anyone is the one who made us still loves us.”
Flynn learned that message during his own recovery from alcohol-
ism. His view of alcoholism changed dramatically when he learned
that alcoholism is a disease — a chronic, progressive and terminal
disease — and not the symptom of spiritual weakness.
“It’s not a moral issue,” the priest said. “We’re dealing with a dis-
ease. Now there are some nincompoops in Southern California
who are writing articles telling you this isn’t a disease.”3

2. David Wenstrom, “Priest Tells How He Dealt with ‘Disease’ of Alcohol Addic-
tion,” Stockton (CA), Record, March 10, 1991, sec. B, 1.
3. Ibid.

Sigmund Freud held that the successful abolition of religion

would come about only when the problem of guilt was converted
from a religious question to a scientific one. Turning addiction into
a disease rather than a sin is a major step towards Freud’s abolition
of religion. Flynn’s approach places him in another camp than his-
toric, orthodox Christianity. His reference to “some nincompoops
in Southern California” who believe that alcoholism is a sin is an
indictment of the Bible and twenty centuries of Christianity.
Drunkenness is repeatedly cited in Scripture as a sin: Isaiah
5:11, 28:1; Joel 1:5; Luke 21:34; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians
5:11; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:7; and
1 Peter 4:3. Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:11 orders a separation from
church members who are drunkards, and he places them together
with fornicators, the covetous, idolaters, railers, and extortioners.
There can be no mistaking the fact that the Bible classifies drunk-
enness as a sin, not a disease.
There is very great appeal for the argument that alcoholism is
a disease rather than a sin: it removes responsibility for one’s con-
dition from ourselves and holds that our addiction is simply an
accident, not a moral failure. Some alcoholics are now vocal in their
insistence that their condition is a disease rather than a sin. It
means that they are victims, not moral failures.
The result is a new phariseeism. Presbyterian minister Steve
Carter exemplifies this with his belief that he is so precious to God
that “no matter what I am doing or not doing, I am worthy of
God’s love.” “Worthy of God’s love”! Whatever happened to grace?
The stress of Scripture is from beginning to end on the grace of
God and His mercy to us. What we receive is unmerited favor. God
through Amos told Israel that they were no different in His sight
from the Ethiopians, or anyone else (Amos 9:7). Only His grace led
to Israel being His chosen people. Paul is emphatic that we all were
like dead men before God redeemed us in Christ. We had no more
merit than a decaying corpse.
1. And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and
4. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he
loved us,

5. Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together

with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)…
8. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of your-
selves: it is the gift of God:
9. Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph. 2:1, 4-5, 8-9)
But Carter and Flynn are boasters; they are Pharisees, not men who
talk rather of God’s grace. They can speak of being “worthy of
God’s love” (Carter)!
Too often counseling furthers this phariseeism. Some minis-
ters, in counseling married couples, assure the couple at the outset
“this marriage is worth saving,” and then they proceed on that basis,
which is merit, not grace. But some of these couples to my knowl-
edge have engaged in the following offenses: drunkenness, adul-
tery, incest, wife or husband beating, and so on and on. Worth
saving? Why? Grace is possible to the chief of sinners, but grace and
worth are two different things.
Humanistic counseling stresses the worth of a marriage, a
man, or a woman. It begins by assuring one and all of their own
worth. It confirms them in their phariseeism. It cannot be called
Christian in any sense.
The confessional, whatever its faults, and they are real,
stressed and stresses, when godly, reconciliation to God. Out of this
will flow reconciliation to man. Humanistic counseling seeks rec-
onciliation to man as its primary goal. As such, it alienates one and
all from God.

Confessing Other
People’s Sins

I t would seem that in some circles today, both Christian and

humanistic, true confession means to many “confessing” other
people’s sins. For some, it is a mark of holiness to be able to “con-
fess” their spouse’s, pastor’s, neighbor’s, or employer’s sins — if
sins they be.
A very popular form of this is to “confess” the sins of one’s
parents. All too many young men and women feel cheated by life
because their parents represent something less than perfection; it
does not occur to them that it is their parents who have the surer
grounds for complaints. Too many school counselors encourage
students to complain about their parents, a most ungodly proce-
dure. In the 1930s, I did some practice teaching at a prestigious
high school. I was shown the students’ records as compiled by
staff counselors of that “advanced” school and was encouraged to
familiarize myself with the records of those in my class. I looked
at one or two records of students whose families I knew; one of
them was a professor of national renown, a gracious scholar, a
kindly man, one who regularly had groups of students in his home
and who helped and encouraged them in their careers. Although
this professor was not a Christian and was politically a liberal, he
reflected the manners, discipline, morality, and standards of an


old-fashioned Christian family. The counselor’s “report” on this

professor was libelous to the extreme; he was classified as a reac-
tionary and as an unfit father. Had he been anything other than a
distinguished scholar, the counselor would have recommended
some kind of action against him. (The boy grew up to be a happy
and successful man.)
Students were encouraged to discuss their family “problems,”
by which was meant whatever they thought was wrong with their
parents. This was good training in phariseeism, and it was an incen-
tive to self-righteousness. With all too many psychiatrists, psychol-
ogists, counselors, and pastors, “good” counseling too often
includes “confessing” other people’s sins, especially our parents’.
All this has fostered an evil generation.
Such false confession marks individuals, and also nationali-
ties and races. We have developed professional finger-pointers who
make a life’s work of “confessing” the sins of other peoples. Thus,
many whites find it easy to “confess” the sins of blacks, Asiatics,
Indians, and others. There are enough offenders out there to make
it easy to do so. But as Christians we must believe that grace and
growth in sanctification come from confessing our own sins. The
Lord God nowhere pronounces forgiveness or a blessing on anyone
confessing someone else’s sins.
African Americans in recent years have also become masters
of such pharisaic confessions. To hear some talk, all evil was born
with the white man, and blacks have only been victims. One won-
derful pastor of a large black congregation with many black univer-
sity professors as members, had his pastorate terminated for calling
attention to African American sins, including welfarism. The con-
gregation wanted to hear about sins, but not their own.
In the 1930s, as a student, I worked part time in an antique
jewelry store, as an errand boy, doing cleaning work, and also sales
with “minor” customers (i.e., not the wealthy, well-known per-
sons). Occasionally, another jeweler, an elderly Jew, would come in
to chat with the owner, an old friend and a Florentine. The old
man was a kindly person and a good storyteller who often chatted
with me. On one occasion, in discussing his childhood in old San

Francisco, he described his fights with Irish and Italian boys, who,
in the verbal assaults, called him a “Christ-killer.” The truth was,
he said, getting somewhat emotional, he had nothing to do with
someone killed in a place he had never seen; the truth was, he said
earnestly, Christians were “Jew-killers,” and he cited medieval inci-
dents! I started to tell him two things: first, my people were being
killed by Turks in those medieval centuries, and, second, if today’s
Jews are not Christ-killers, neither are today’s Christians Jew-
killers! He was guilty of the same fallacy. My Italian boss told me
to keep quiet, turned the conversation into a humorous story, and
a friendly parting followed. But after the man left, my boss said
sadly, he’s a good man, but Jews will never admit they are Christ-
killers! Confessing other people’s sins, real or unreal, is a common
and an international habit.
In recent years, American Indians have learned this art of
false confession and practice it widely.
On the ecclesiastical scene, such confessions are a well-prac-
ticed art. In this century, all the churches are so deeply involved in
a variety of heresies, immoralities, offenses, and sins that they all
need to be deeply in prayer and self-confession, not in mutual
recriminations. Careful theological analyses and critiques are one
thing, when accompanied by a careful statement of God’s scrip-
tured truth, but cheap “virtue” gained by “confessing” someone
else’s sins is another matter, a sinful one.
Counseling today stresses such false confessions. For
example, a man, irritated over a minor problem at work, provoked
his boss into firing him. He wanted an excuse to feel sorry for him-
self, and this was a regular pattern with him. A very capable man,
he went from job to job, soon angry with his superiors and creating
incidents which led to his discharge. His wife, sick with shingles
from his job migrations and tantrums, went to bed, unable to take
his drunken ranting. She awoke hearing her daughter screaming
because of her father’s attempted molestation. She filed for divorce.
The pastor’s questions were motivated by his “no-divorce” policy;
he insisted that she must have done something to “provoke” her
husband into such behavior! Had she, he inquired, “delicately,” he
thought, kept her legs crossed when he needed her? She, not he,

was disciplined by the church. She was told that she had no
grounds for divorce.
Unusual? Unhappily, no. The pastor had not asked the hus-
band to confess his sins; he had made no attempt to examine the
facts carefully; he was “saving” a marriage. The husband had
“admitted” his offense on questioning, but he had blamed his ex-
boss for his drunkenness, and his wife for “nagging” him; he saw
himself as a victim. He had “confessed” his ex-employer’s “sin” and
his wife’s “sin” as justification for a “misstep” he said he regretted
and knew was wrong. But if we plead extenuating circumstances
for sin we have not confessed sin. The confession of the old Office
of Compline is sadly forgotten in our time:
I confess to God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Ghost, and before all the company of heaven, that I have sinned,
in thought, word and deed, through my fault, my own fault, my
own grievous fault: wherefore I pray Almighty God to have mercy
upon me, to forgive me all my sins, and to make clean my heart
within me.
The primary task of the pastor-counselor is not to preserve
the marriage, nor to break it up, but to ascertain what the sin is,
whose it is, whether or not there is repentance, and thereby to
enable the man and woman to see their problem more clearly. Sin
and salvation must be his primary concerns. The fact that both the
man and the woman are church members is no assurance of their
Similarly, in counseling in nonmarital problems, there is a
certainty of further dissension unless true confession and restitu-
tion have primacy. Christians do have problems, but not all people
in churches are Christians.
Confessing other people’s sins has become the essence of too
much counseling. It is too often equated with an efficient ministry!
The results are deadly. “Good” church people have become masters
at whining and complaining, at “confessing” the sins of others.
Some prospective employers are now investigating the complaining
habits of job applicants. I have heard of several men who were
regarded as the best qualified by far for a job-opening but were
passed over when their habit of talking against present and past

employers became known. After all, if a man is ready to complain

freely to one and all about present and past employers, it is reason-
able to assume that he will about the next one!
The church is derelict in these matters. I recall some years ago
that high among the list of favorite Bible verses of many people
were the following:
6. Be careful (or, anxious) for nothing; but in every thing by prayer
and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made
known unto God.
7. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall
keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)
For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be con-
tent. (Phil. 4:11)
6. But godliness with contentment is great gain.
7. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can
carry nothing out.
8. And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.
(1 Tim. 6:6-8)
Many more such verses can be cited. I grew up knowing people
who had survived wars, massacres, and revolution living by these
verses when what they had we now would not call fit food or rai-
ment. When they had the opportunity, they became the backbone
of society, free men and women who were builders and a thankful
people. They confessed Christ, and they confessed their own sins.
One of my dearest memories was of a saintly, hard-working woman
who had known a full complement of sorrows. She was always a
happy woman though twice-widowed by massacre and barely sur-
viving a famine. Although not a Catholic, her well-worn prayer
beads were commonly in hand, one round of prayers to confess her
sins and shortcomings, and another to thank God for His grace,
mercy, and blessings. It is impossible for me to think of her, my
grandmother, without joy and gratitude. She left nothing when she
died except a rich heritage of faith, and a godly confession.
The Lord God will give you neither absolution nor grace for
confessing other people’s sins. Begin and end with your own, or
face His judgments.

Confessing Perfection

A good many years ago, a book was written titled, as I recall it,
A World I Never Made. The title appealed intensely to liberal
and radical university students, who carried it around like a Bible.
(Ernest Hemingway’s silly For Whom the Bell Tolls was similarly
used like an intellectual icon. I tried reading Hemingway’s book
but got no further than the laughable scene where the hero and her-
oine, after copulating, both swore that the earth shook! Their for-
nication was for them a cosmic act; I found it a laughable one.
Many years later, I was delighted to learn that my wife Dorothy had
tossed the book aside at the same point.)
A World I Never Made was a title with an instant and pro-
found appeal to all our Pharisees. The world was for them indeed
a sorry place, undeserving of their idealism and their high-minded
beliefs. The book was carried about as a symbol of faith, as was
Hemingway’s book. It was a public testimony to the “fact” that
they were not responsible for the evil world their fathers and fore-
fathers had ostensibly created. They were the victims of a world
they never made, and to carry the book, and to provoke discus-
sions of it, was their way of confessing themselves as too noble and
too good for so evil a generation. These were well fed, well clothed,
and, in some instances, well financed students, graduate and


undergraduate. One of the most self-righteous of these (later a

professor) had as a student already traveled widely abroad,
financed by leftist funds. He found me a crass and heartless person
because I was not offended over the world the capitalists, Chris-
tians, and our parents had made.
All these students were making a very public confession of
ostensible virtue, their virtue in seeing and denouncing the evils of
our past. Since then, many of these confessors of humanistic virtue
have been active and sometimes important architects of greater
evils than those they witnessed in their day.
Paul, and the apostolic fellowship accompanying him in
Hebrews 11, gives us an account of true (but not perfect) confessors
of the faith and concludes thus:
32. And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of
Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David
also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
33. Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness,
obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
34. Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword,
out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned
to flight the armies of the aliens.
35. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were
tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better
36. And others had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea,
moreover of bonds and imprisonment:
37. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were
slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goat-
skins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;
38. (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in
deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
39. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, re-
ceived not the promise:
40. God having provided some better thing for us, that they with-
out us should not be made perfect. (Heb. 11:32-40)
For our present concern, only a limited aspect of Paul’s statement
can be cited. Because of man’s sin, we live in an evil and fallen
world. God’s chosen men suffer because of their faith, their public
profession and confession. The men of the Old Testament era suf-
fered monstrous evils, even as men in Paul’s day, beginning with
himself, were suffering and would further suffer. All these failed to

receive the promised fullness of God’s Kingdom, which will come

in the Gospel age, but not without further conflict and persecution.
In other words, the men who contribute most to God’s glo-
rious Kingdom also suffer most at the hands of an ungodly world.
Such men confess their sins to God, and they confess the Lord to
the fallen world.
The iconic confession of “a world I never made” is a confes-
sion of virtue too distressed and hurt by the evils of the past to be
silent! It is a confession of implicit perfection suffering at the spec-
tacle of an evil world being made their dwelling place.
I recently read an excellent, kindly, and generally favorable
biography of Frederick Douglass (1817-1895), author of such
works as Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American
Slave (1845), My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), Life and Times
of Frederick Douglass, Written by Himself, His early life as a slave, his
escape from bondage, and his complete history to the present time, and
other works. I read portions of his books in my student days and
was impressed by his intelligence and eloquence. William S.
McFeely’s Frederick Douglass (1991) gives a sympathetic but more
accurate account than Douglass ever did. He was born of a black
slave woman and a white man. His owners early recognized his
intelligence and treated him well. He lived with and was educated
by a white family. He worked little, but many a white boy then and
since, living on a farm, has worked more and harder than Douglass
ever did. True, he was a slave, but a favored one. He received part
of the pay for his work when he was hired out. His master, Thomas
Auld, rescued Frederick Douglass from jail and serious trouble on
one occasion; he promised Douglass that he would set him free at
age twenty-five, not too far off, if he worked faithfully at a trade
and stayed out of further trouble.1
There was a rationale behind this. Frederick Douglass, a
very talented man, chose to make a career out of being an ex-slave.
He could not tug at heartstrings if he had been freed, or if he had
told of the loving care and education he had received. He made a

1. William S. McFeely, Frederick Douglass (New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 1991),

profitable profession, in the United States and Europe, of playing

the abused slave. He vilified Thomas Auld, who had only done
him good. When Thomas Auld was old and dying, Frederick
Douglass visited him. The bedside visit lasted twenty minutes.
Auld gently corrected Douglass on some of his misstatements
about his family background, and the correct year of Douglass’s
birth; a gracious Christian, he never spoke of Douglass’s slanders
concerning himself. At one point, Douglass was moved to apolo-
gize for false charges made about having “turned out (my dear old
grandmother) like an old horse to die in the woods.” The truth
was that he had cared for her in her old age and infirmity until she
Douglass’s first wife was a black woman; his second wife was
a red-headed white girl, an abolitionist and feminist. Her father, a
noted abolitionist, at first objected to the union but subsequently
became open and friendly. Douglass’s black family and friends
regarded him as a traitor.3 Those who had objected to white bigotry
showed far more bigotry themselves.
Douglass was a man who ridiculed the Bible.4 Although he
himself was not averse to bearing witness to suit the anti-slavery
cause (lying for a just reason seemed valid), nor averse to adultery,
he demanded a perfect America.5 It did not occur to him that
people all over the world shared his sins, whatever their color, so
what good could come out of such sinful men? But, because he
believed in perfection and in justice (however he defined it), Fred-
erick Douglass felt that his confession of faith in a perfect world
marked him as a good man!
In all of this, there was nothing new. Douglass’s attitude is
the professional political stance. Confess your dedication to civic
virtue, to world peace, to helping the poor with tax funds, to
minority rights, to racial brotherhood, and to other like matters,
and you have, in the eyes of many, confessed your virtue. Do it
loudly enough in Congress, and you confess near perfection.

2. Ibid., 294.
3. Ibid., 519ff.
4. Ibid., 100, 127-28, 242.
5. Ibid., 112.

Of course, certain personal “choices” like adultery, homosex-

uality, and indirect payments for political favors do not count, it
seems. When Christians raise questions about politicians’ conduct
in such matters, we are told that we have violated the First Amend-
ment and “the separation of church and state.”
A recent legislator’s book called for the federal intervention
and control of the family, but the fact that this congresswoman
loved her children and showed herself surrounded by them was the
ostensible assurance of her virtue in this sphere.
The book, A World I Never Made, was, briefly, an icon. Car-
rying it about marked one as a member of the fellowship of suf-
fering humanistic saints. The book and its author are now virtually
forgotten, but the spirit marked and revealed by its title are very
much with us.
But the world was not empty when we came into it. True, it
was full of evil, but it was also rich with the justice and the good for
which some Christians labored over the centuries. For those who
have contributed nothing to that heritage but have only whined
and puled with self-pity over a world they never made, one can only
say they are adept at turning their lives into hell and in making their
surroundings aspects of hell.
Confession is always self-revelation. Those who complain
about a world they never made are revealing themselves to be the
impotent ones of history. They can generate nothing but hatred,
trouble, and disaster.

Confession versus

I t has bewildered a few people who have become aware of the fact
that I am writing a study of confession as to why I am doing so.
Am I on the “road to Rome” when Rome seems to be busy
modernizing itself? Why the interest in something as “obsolete” as
The twentieth century, however, has been the great age of the
confessional. Mention has been made of the many popular tabloid
papers and magazines that stress “true” confessions of one kind or
But the matter goes deeper than that. Has no one considered
the implications of the Stalin trials of the 1930s? These were later
repeated in other Marxist countries, including Red China. Men
who were guilty only of being faithful Marxists were tortured until
they were ready to stand up and “confess” to being tools or spies of
the capitalistic West. Such trials are no longer publicized, especially
in the West, but they still exist.
They are a necessity to these evil regimes. To prove them-
selves publicly to be the force for humanity’s freedom, they must
damn all opposition as hostile to man and his freedom. The
Western press publicized these trials in the 1930s; there was some


criticism of them, but no lack of defenders. The Great Socialist

Revolution had to be defended. Some scholars (I was a university
student then) were ready to concede that the trials did not conform
to Western legal standards; they also were ready to speak learnedly
of the need to defend the Revolution from petty men who were still
governed by bourgeois mentalities and were thus a roadblock to the
great People’s Revolution.
All the victims of Stalin’s terror, and the Red Terrors else-
where, could have been executed quietly in their prison cells, and
the world would have remained largely ignorant of these brutal
murders. Why were they done? Why were the fraudulent public
confessions so necessary?
In the first four centuries of church history, confessions were
“public,” in the presence of the congregation. Over the centuries,
as the Christian faith has reached new lands, or untouched areas of
Western society, the public confession has returned. It is important
to understand why.
Christianity carries with it definitions of sin and grace. Both
concepts, in the Biblical sense, are unique. While many cultures
have beliefs that certain acts are wrong, they are seen as wrong in
relation to other people, property rights, the spirits or the gods, and
so on. They are not seen in the context of the Creator-God who has
made all things and governs all things in terms of His law-word.
And grace is an alien doctrine.
Public confession becomes both a means of teaching the con-
gregation what sin is, and that there is a penalty for sin. When, for
example, the sinner is a tribal leader, it has a shattering effect on the
old order for him to confess his sin, even when all know of it. The
confession also places all men under God, because all know that the
confession of sin is a prerequisite to grace.
When humanists and Marxists create their substitute
“orders” for Christian civilization, they must teach the people the
new meaning of “sin.” Hence the public confessional becomes a
social necessity and is ferociously practiced.

Confessions thus are not an obsolete relic. Whether practiced

by psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, or evil courts, the purpose of con-
fession is to publicize the canon of sins.
Confession thus is a “moral” necessity for a social order. In
1991, the U.S. Supreme Court justified confessions wrongly
extorted from criminals. As God’s law is neglected, evil doctrines of
confession will prevail.
St. Paul, in telling us of the wrath of God against “all ungod-
liness and unrighteousness (or, injustice) of men,” says that evil-
doers “hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). Knowing
the truth, because God’s truth is written into every atom of man’s
being, they suppress, hold back, or restrain their clear awareness of
that truth. Hating God, they hate His truth, even though it is
written in all their being.
Thus, Paul tells us, all men are by nature driven towards con-
fession, no matter how strenuously they resist it. Confession is a
cleansing and a peace they resist, because true confession results in
An honest confession of sins to God is replaced by a flagrant
and boastful confession. Any reading of current fiction, biography,
or autobiography will make clear how prevalent this urge to confes-
sion is. People confess to a variety of criminal and perverse acts as
though such confessions are merit badges. These are confessions of
sins to prove their freedom, to vindicate their credentials as liber-
ated men and women, and to attest to their modernity.
According to Martin Ingrem, English church courts (1570-
1640) in the Reformation era worked to reform the culprit, to
require a public penance and cleansing, and to make it clear that
sin had to be dealt with; the health of the society required this.1
There was public punishment, and both sin and forgiveness were
regarded as serious and real in God’s eyes and man’s. There was a
full restoration when this process took place. Public penance meant
public restoration.2 The alternative was excommunication, which

1. Martin Ingrem, Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England, 1570-1640 (Cam-
bridge, England: Cambridge University Press, [1967] 1990), 3.
2. Ibid., 294

meant that the offender was morally outside the community. In

Ingrem’s words,
…the primary aim of excommunication was medicinal rather than
retributive, intended to secure the compliance of the offender for
the good of his or her soul. Even if such submission was not forth-
coming, it did not necessarily follow that the sinner was damned.
In brief, even in theory excommunication was a more pragmatic
form of penalty than is often assumed, and relied for its effect pri-
marily on its immediate social and legal implications rather on
“spiritual terrors” such as the possibility of punishment in the
world to come.3
This does not mean that confession and penance were any the more
popular then than taxes are now. It does mean that the confessional
process helped maintain public order. Every civil order has a variety
of necessary means of maintaining public order; these are by no
means necessarily popular, but they are still basic to the mainte-
nance of society. We may disagree strongly with the medieval and
Reformation era forms of confession, restitution, and public atten-
tion given to offenses, nor would I affirm an agreement with the
various forms used over the centuries. The fact remains that sin is
a serious disorder in a society and an attack on the community. It
is disruptive of church, state, family, business, and more. It shatters
trust and communication. Non-confessional societies cease to be
societies and develop a “communication problem.” Trifling offens-
es, undealt with by any agency, develop into major breaches of trust
and create deep rifts in a social order. Because there is now no
means of settling minor disputes (which lead to major problems),
social isolation becomes commonplace. Early in the development
of the condominium idea, one person who had eagerly purchased
an apartment and entered happily into the planned group activities
withdrew from them all. He was tired, he said, of being hurt and
exploited. There were no effective checks on abuses by members,
and any complaint led to more trouble. Hence, his solution was
The mechanism used by people today to cope with such
problems is psychotherapy. Its problems are many. First, it is usually

3. Ibid., 342.

expensive, unless done through a statist facility, where attention is

minimal because of a crowded schedule. Second, it is purely
personal; in the confessional, a man confesses his sins against
Almighty God and against his neighbor. In psychotherapy, there is
no such confession; attention is concentrated on the psychological
outworkings of the problem. Third, there is no restitution nor
penance required. The effect of psychotherapy is personal and
psychological, not religious and social. Fourth, the emphasis in such
counseling is psychological, not theological. This reinforces a basic evil
on the part of modern man: he sees himself as the center of all
things, not God. God is replaced in his imagination with his own
problems. In confession, the emphasis is on dealing with sin; in
psychotherapy, the stress is on the individual. This sways the
universe of thought; it shifts the center from God to man. It
replaces confession with a mindless recital of one’s ideas and
reactions, and it reinforces self-absorption. Fifth, such psycho-
therapy has deluged us with public confessions which are closer
to bragging than to anything else. As a result, we are deluged with
repulsive and meaningless confessions. They are meaningless
because they are unrelated to God, and to the fact of sin.

Dangerous Confessions
(Part 1)

I t is very important to recognize that confession can be a dan-

gerous thing. It is a form of self-exposure, an opening of one’s
being to another. It is for this reason that the Roman Catholic
Church has insisted on the total inviolability of the confessional. It
can be argued that, when the one making the confession refuses to
make restitution, do penance, or whatever is indicated, no true
confession has been made, and the priest or pastor is not bound. In
any case, confession can be dangerous, depending on whom it is
made to. If the person to whom confession is made is not someone
ministering in God’s name and in faithfulness to Him, confession
can be suicidal on the part of the person who is confessing.
To illustrate, during the 1930s, a popular, nominally Chris-
tian movement, which was especially popular among successful
people in Britain, called for a group to sit in a circle and each in
turn make confession to the group. Not surprisingly, it happened
at times that the confessions provided a source of gossip, e.g., that
John Doe had been having a sexual “affair” with Mrs. Jane Roe, etc.
Various totalitarian powers found the use of the confessional
concept very useful. Especially with very religious and moral per-
sons, it was easy to attack their claims to innocence by telling them
of various minor offenses they surely must have committed. By

getting them to admit to non-perfection, then to minor confes-

sions, the inquisitor was able to break the person’s resistance.
This technique was used in Korea by the communists on
American prisoners of war. No compulsion was used, and the
American soldiers treated it at first as a silly game, but it led to what
was later call “brainwashing.” The idea of “brainwashing” is largely
a myth. An oppressive technique is imagined whereby a man is
broken. In reality, it is a means whereby people are given the
opportunity to destroy themselves. It is a technique now used by
businesses and by churches.
A group of people sit in a circle, and they are invited to be
“honest” and to confess their sins. The idea that resistance to such
a confession is dishonest is firmly planted. It means being “un-
Christian,” or being unfriendly to the corporation’s concern for
greater sensitivity one to another. After a round of confessions, men
are then encouraged not to hold back but to confess things held
back, deeper, graver offenses. Then comes a variation: confess what
it is you dislike or resent in the person next to you, then someone
else in the circle, and so on.
To the modern mind, this is a violation of the privacy of self,
of one’s inner life. As such, it is offensive to many, and with very
good reasons. But its evil lies deeper. True confession is to God,
and, together with restitution, prayer, and penance, has a very great
restorative function, morally and mentally. This group therapy
confessional replaces God with men. It strips a man of his defenses,
because vulnerability to God is the beginning of strength, whereas
vulnerability to other sinners has a devastating effect. Healing is
replaced with a sense of nakedness and self-contempt for many of
the victims of such confessional sessions.
Clothing is a mark of civilization, and also of status. People
show what they are by the way they dress, not fully so, of course,
but to a degree. Persons with character and a work ethic tend to
show it in their clothing. People who live in terms of a parade of
vanity reveal it in their dress, whereas teenagers, street people, and
others have their own means of “identification.” Some people are
required to use uniforms to identify themselves: policemen, some

schoolchildren, military men, waiters, doormen, and so on and on.

The place of clothing in a civilization is an important one.
Our minds and hearts are also clothed as a means of civility.
It is not hypocrisy to conceal some of our feelings, although on
occasion it can be, but normally a means of courtesy and forbear-
ance. We conceal our impatience, and we hide our boredom
because we have no right to expect others to be stimulating and
intensely interesting at all times. Civilization depends on discreet
silences, on closed doors, on walls, locked files, and such means of
personal living.
The group confessional alters this badly and drastically. In
the hands especially of humanistic practitioners, it becomes very
dangerous. Churches that practice it tend to gain and command an
undue control over their members.
It is a curious but revelatory fact that socialism has strongly
opposed individualism as an anti-social phenomenon. The primacy
of mankind and of the state is held to require the suppression of
“the cult of the individual.” At the same time, socialists have tended
at times to favor nudism, as did George Bernard Shaw and many of
his associates.1 The connection is a logical one: if equality is the
goal, then by reducing all to nakedness, all are supposedly made
equal. Of course, the young and the fit are more likely to profit by
nakedness than the old and the misshapen, so the strategy is one of
humiliation for some. (A woman with a physical deformity was
taken to a nudist camp by her husband and shamed thereby.)
Now the confessional circle is comparable to a nudist camp,
but it is different in that a psychological damage is inflicted. Some
dictatorships have not only used confessional tactics but also
stripped their prisoners of clothing in order to degrade and break
The confessional circle works to magnify everything. For
example, in one such event, very specific confessions were required:
“Whom do you hate in this group?” “Are you sexually attracted to
anyone in this group?” The person who feels duty-bound, having

1. Bernard Denvir, “The Social History of Nudism,” in John Hadfield, ed., The Sat-
urday Book (Hutchinson of London, 1966), 189.

entered into a supposedly therapeutic encounter, to say something,

to cooperate, is victimized with his consent. Thus another man or
woman, whom he may know casually, may appear to him or her as
the least likable in the group; to be cooperative, he or she names the
person. Then, with sexual attraction, the respondent may not at all
be interested in anyone present, but, someone must be named. The
results can be devastating. Something has been created by speech
which previously did not exist, a hatred, or a sexual attraction. In a
perverse and evil way, such humanistic confessions try to make
some words into flesh. Therapy encounters can and sometimes do
lead to problems. They help bring certain things into existence.
Our civilization, like every advanced one before us, repre-
sents ideas concretized and made the evidence of human action. No
society begins with technology but invents technology because its
thinking leads to it. When the faith and thinking of a culture
decays, so too, in time, does its technology and its everyday life.
After all, “modern” plumbing and piped water existed in more than
one ancient and now barely known culture, as witness Minoan
In a Christian culture, confession of sins is to God, the con-
fession of faith is to men, and the works of faith are developed in
every sphere of life and thought. The culture grows and develops as
the faith does. The arts, sciences, works, and technology of a cul-
ture represent a developing confession. The people develop the pre-
suppositions of their lives. No less than books and architecture, a
culture is a confessional expression.
The humanistic confessional shatters all this. The confession
of sins to a group is not a therapeutic activity but a venting of
society’s worst side without any forgiveness of sins ensuing. The
participant is expected to be grateful for baring his soul when no
grace nor forgiveness results. There is the sickening feeling that
others know too much about him, and he knows more than he
wants to about them. The results are anti-growth with respect to
his sanctification, his family life, his work, and his functioning.
Freud held that the goal of psychoanalysis is not to cure the
person but simply to give him or her self-understanding. There is

no possible growth in mere understanding. One man more or less

pushed into such a group meeting (by his company’s policy) said
he went into it feeling like a fool for being there and came out con-
vinced he was for having gone. He half-wished that he were Cath-
olic so that he could do penance for going to the meeting.
To turn a man inside out is arrogance, since the minister or
therapist has no grace to offer, nor forgiveness of sins.
One by-product of this dangerous form of the confessional
has been its extension into the popular culture. Television has
many hours devoted to people confessing all kinds of practices with
neither contrition nor repentance. The world of popular music,
especially rock and roll, has became an arena for braggart and arro-
gant confessions of hatred, perversion, malice, and all kinds of evil.
In the world created by Freud, there is no cure, only self-
understanding. The correlation to this is the acceptance of every
evil as natural and hence nothing to hide nor be ashamed of. As a
result, popular culture now manifests an intense and fanatical brag-
gadocio about evil. A few AIDS patients have even acted as though
their fatal disease were a mark of honor, and they are treated as
humanistic saints. Any effort to call attention to their sin is seen as
evil and is savagely attacked.
Our culture has become a confessing culture, but to man, not
to God. “Let it all hang out” has become a standard for life. This
boastfulness about evil is a logical development of the humanistic
confessional. Its “therapy” is a form of cultural suicide.

Dangerous Confessions
(Part II)

T here are dangerous confessions of another variety, and here

it is difficult to write freely about actual incidents, because
each is unique and identifiable, whereas most sins can be
recounted because they are so commonplace that the sinners are
many, and the events routine. What follows therefore is general-
ized but none the less real. Especially in the world of commerce,
decisions are often made quickly and routinely, deals consum-
mated by telephone and often much left to discretion and trust. In
a series of such transactions, a man makes a serious error which
costs the other man a fair sum of money. On other occasions, he
had served the man excellently but had found him to be unkind,
grasping, greedy, and difficult. On reflection, he realizes that his
costly error and oversight came from the fact that, in a rushed sit-
uation, he found that man easy to forget, and now his conscience
troubles him. He feels that he unconsciously “got even” with the
man. What should he do? Should he confess his oversight to the
man, who assumes that a crowded market situation prevented the
proper and timely consummation of this contract? If he does so,
the man will surely sue and destroy the confessing man. Should he
balance out the years of good he has done for the man and “write
off ” his mistake?


The second solution involves lying to himself and to God.

He sincerely believes and knows he was wrong and was in effect
punishing the client by pushing his order into the far background
of a hectic schedule. He knows that he cannot deceive God, nor is
he deceiving himself. He knows also that he has since been careful
to the extreme in dealing with this man and has been a help to him.
If, however, he attempts the first course of action, and tries to con-
fess and to make restitution, he will be sued with pleasure by a very
litigious man.
What is the godly course of action? This kind of situation is
not uncommon in both Catholic and Protestant circles. The choice
of illustration is not the best. In some instances, going to a person
to confess a sin against him, and unknown to him, can cause both
grief and harm. Some people insist on making such confessions,
and they thereby harm innocent people in order to unburden
themselves. There are thus two aspects to such confessions: first, an
unforgiving and vengeful person can use it to destroy a person;
second, a conscience is superficially salved by passing on the knowl-
edge of sin to another. In some instances, there is a pharisaic pride
in confessing a sin to a person totally unlikely of ever knowing of
it; it becomes a self-righteous way of hurting another person in the
name of virtue. It usually brings to light a sin unknown previously
and totally unlikely to be known.
Because sin is primarily against God, it must be confessed to
Him. On occasion, it must be confessed also to men and restitution
made to them. Where it cannot or should not be made to men, it
must, as with all sin, be confessed to God and restitution made to
Him. A variety of offerings in Scripture called for sacrifices to God
for sin. This is the essential direction for confessions of sin.
The promiscuous confession of sin can be dangerous and
disruptive. Instead of healing, it brings about division. It often
bears the marks of hatefulness. What else brings a man or a
woman to confess a flirtation, or an adultery, or some other
offense, fifteen or twenty years after the event except to hurt the
person? If it were a case of stealing something, and removing sus-
picion from others, then it is legitimate; then too restitution can
and must be made. In fact, confession without restitution in such

cases gives the confessing person an emotional release but restores

nothing. In fact, it worsens the relationship because it is not a
valid confession.
John Calvin opposed confession to priests or the clergy as a
mandatory requirement. He cited James 5:16, “Confess your faults
one to another, and pray for one another.” This applies where the
situation requires it. However,
If our confessions must be made only to priests, then our prayers
ought to be offered up for them alone. 1
Calvin objected to making the clergy the exclusive channel for con-
fessions. According to him, this mandatory practice did not begin
until the time of Innocent III. This is not to say that in some places
it had not been required. Calvin, however, went back to St. John
Chrysostom to show how a great bishop viewed the matter.
But this abrogation is plainly attested by Chrysostom, who was
himself also a bishop of the church of Constantinople, in so many
places, that it is surprising how they dare to open their mouths in
contradiction of it. “Confess your sins, (says he,) that you may
obliterate them. If you are ashamed to tell any one what sins you
have committed, confess them daily in your soul. I say not, that
you should confess them to your fellow-servant, who may reproach
you; confess them to God, who cures them. Confess your sins on
your bed, that there your conscience may daily recognize its
crimes.” Again: “But, now, it is not necessary to confess in the pres-
ence of witnesses; let an inquisition into your transgressions be the
work of your own thoughts; let there be no witness of this judg-
ment; let God alone see you confessing.” Again: “I conduct you not
into the public view of your fellow-servants; I do not oblige you to
reveal your sins to men; lay open your conscience in the presence
of God. Show your wound to the Lord, who is the best physician,
and implore a remedy from him; show them to him, who upbraid-
eth not, but most mercifully heals.” Again: “You certainly should
not tell it to a man, lest he reproach you; nor is confession to be to
a fellow-servant, who may publish it; but show your wounds to the
Lord, who exercises his care over you, and is a most merciful phy-
sician.” He afterwards introduces God, speaking thus, “I constrain
you not to come forth into the midst of a theatre, and assemble a
multitude of witnesses; declare your sin privately to me alone, that
I may heal your wound.” Shall we say, that Chrysostom proceeded

1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, bk. 3, chap. 4, sec. 6; vol. 1 (Phil-
adelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1936), 687.

to such a degree of temerity, when he wrote those and similar pas-

sages, as to liberate the conscience of men from obligations im-
posed on them by the Divine law? Certainly not. But he dares not
require as necessary what he knows is never prescribed in the word
of God.2
Calvin held that it was every man’s duty to confess his sins. At
times a man may need pastoral guidance and care as he confesses
his sins, and some occasions warrant a confession to another per-
son than a pastor. Faithful confession ought to be free, not re-
quired. Restitution must be a part of the act of confession where
restitution is due.3
At times, the whole church must implore God’s pardon; at
other times, an individual’s public offense may require a public
confession. At other times still, a person may require pastoral guid-
ance to relieve his disquietude of soul, Calvin said, and to recognize
the nature of his sin.4
Because all sin is primarily and essentially against God,
because it is His law which is broken (Ps. 51:4), it is often also
directed against men. Sinful confessions can be directed against
men also. The following episode came to my attention perhaps
accidentally, but it was some time before I became aware of the
extent of the dishonesty and evil involved. Two couples, neighbors,
were also good friends; one couple was Catholic, the other Protes-
tant; both were church-goers. The Catholic wife was very devout
and also very active in parish activities. The Protestant husband was
not only devout but also a tither, which his wife resented. The
Catholic husband and the Protestant wife were both adulterous at
various times, not with each other (too close to home), and they
were contemptuous of their mates’ faith and fidelity. Whether by
mutual agreement or not, both made confessions to their pastors of
an ostensible adulterous relationship between them. Their
“excuse,” for which they claimed to be heartily sorry, was that their
mates were adulterous. This left the priest distrustful of a faithful

2. Ibid., bk. 3, chap. 4, sec. 8; 690-91.

3. Ibid., bk. 3, chap. 4, sec. 14; 694-95.
4. Ibid., bk. 3, chap. 4, sec. 24; 696.

woman who was important in the parish. It left the pastor equally
distrustful of a good elder in his congregation.
In an evil time, things are evilly used, and confession is cer-
tainly so used at times. The abuse of confession at the time of the
Reformation was the subject of attack by Catholic writers even
more perhaps than by Protestants, who concentrated on faith and
It is necessary to view confessions with some degree of objec-
tivity and skepticism. The psychological insight of Dr. Bergler was
great when he described a common offense by patients: pleading
innocent to the lesser wrong in order to conceal a greater one. Some
people confess to endless trifles in order to impress their pastor with
the fact that they are ostensibly very sensitive souls.
Boccaccio, in The Decameron, tells an amusing story of a
man, Ciapelletto, “perhaps the worst man ever born,” who, while
visiting Burgundy on business, fell deathly ill. In making his death-
bed confession, to avoid implicating his evil associates, he gave a
false confession which seemed to attest to a saintly and extremely
sensitive soul. He was so impressive that, after his death, he gained
a reputation as a saint, and “it is claimed that through him God had
wrought many miracles.”
Such fraudulent confessions are still with us, and in all
churches. Sin is common to many quarters. Counselors who urge
or welcome confessions are easily victimized. There is no small
pride in some people in exploiting and lying to a clergyman.
An elderly priest of about seventy, some thirty years ago
observed that he had never heard a man confess to being stingy!
That statement tells us much. It should enable us to see how dan-
gerous confessions can be in fooling the pastor and furthering sin.
Our original sin (Gen. 3:5) is to be as gods, knowing or deter-
mining for ourselves what is good and evil, right and wrong. It is
this that must be stressed. The sinner must see that his true offense
is attempting to be his own god; he may be willing to admit to
many particular sins with a show of humility and contrition, but
too often not to the heart of his sin.

Confession and Culture

A s Richard Weaver pointed out, “Ideas have consequences.” As

do practices, beliefs, and customs. The modern belief, a
product of humanism, is that all men are the same everywhere.
Apart from the fact that all men are sinners, they have very little in
common from one culture to another. A cannibal who believes that
he gains strength by eating certain body parts of his victims is a very
different kind of man than a university scholar.
Henry Van Til rightly concluded that culture is religion
externalized, and cultures vary because their religions vary. Chris-
tianity, because it stresses the fact of original sin, requires us con-
stantly to confess our sins to God, and, where indicated, one to
another, and to pray for one another (James 5:16). St. John tells us,
8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth
is not in us.
9. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our
sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his
word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)
Not only these words, but also much else in Scripture, especially the
psalms, make it very clear how essential confession is to the Chris-
tian. Not surprisingly, from the earliest days of the church, as with


Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), confession was central to the believ-
er’s relationship to the Lord, and to the Christian community.
Until after World War II, confessions were a basic aspect of
the church’s life. Because of their anti-Catholicism, Protestants did
not use terms such as “the confessional,” but it was commonplace
with many evangelicals to require a converted or repentant sinner
to repeat a confession after the pastor or a deacon while kneeling in
prayer; he would then be encouraged to go from the general con-
fession to his own specific one. This procedure of “praying
through” to victory had varying names in different churches, but it
was a vigorous confessional practice.
St. Augustine, the father of autobiography, called his work
Confessions. Autobiography as confession, a confession of one’s
unworthiness and God’s marvelous grace, became a part of Chris-
tendom. The shift away from a Christian to a humanistic confes-
sion came into its own with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Since then,
humanistic confessions, some very boastful ones, have proliferated,
and more than a few, like that of Frank Harris, are highly suspect.
To confess one’s sins to God is an act of contrition and
humility. The confessing man places his life against the yardstick of
God’s law and recognizes how wanting he is, and how much he
needs God’s grace and mercy.
Christendom has been marked by the confession of sin. The
non-Christian world does not confess its sin on the whole so much
as confessing victimization, by the gods, or by other men.
Classical Greek tragedy, Sophocles and Euripides, gives us a
very evil picture of life. Man is the victim of the gods and fate.
Sophocles loads the deck mercilessly in “Oedipus the King” and
“Oedipus at Colonus.” These works are “great drama” to people
enmeshed in the cult of victimization and the culture of self-pity.
Laius, King of Thebes, has been told by the oracle at Delphi that a
son will be born to him, and this son will kill him. When a son is
born, he is given by the mother, Iocaste, to a Theban shepherd to
be exposed to die. In pity, the shepherd gives the baby to another
shepherd, who takes the child to Corinth, where the baby boy, his
ancestry unknown, is adopted by King Polybus and his wife,

Therope. Years later, taunted about his ancestry, Oedipus consults

the oracle at Delphi and is told that it is his destiny to kill his father
and wed his mother; he decides never to go near Corinth again.
This is one of many aspects of a contrived plot: Oedipus already
had some knowledge that he was not really the child of Polybus and
Therope. As he journeys, he meets his real father, Laius, and they
do battle, and Laius is killed, his identity unknown. In Thebes, he
guesses the riddle of the Sphinx, is made king, and marries Iocaste,
his real mother. Sixteen years later, two sons and two daughters are
born of this incestuous union. But now there is a blight and a pes-
tilence on Thebes, sent by the gods. How will the land be cleansed?
A blind seer, Teiresias, is brought to Oedipus. Little by little, the
truth comes out. Iocaste commits suicide; Oedipus blinds himself.
This tale of horror continues in “Oedipus at Colonus,” and in
“Antigone,” which ends with the idiotically pious words:
Wisdom is the supreme part of happiness; and reverence towards
the gods must be inviolate. Great words of prideful men are ever
punished with great blows, and, in old age, teach the chastened to
be wise.1
But of what use is wisdom when the gods, fate, or blind necessity
make man a victim? Greek literature does not portray man as a sin-
ner but as a perpetual victim, and self-pity is the reaction, whether
it be Oedipus or Ulysses.
The Greek revival was and is an aspect of anti-Christianity,
of the rejection of the doctrine of man as sinner in favor of man as
victim. It is a comfortable doctrine for sinners, and hence the
appeal of writers like Sophocles. Oedipus is totally a victim; at every
point, life or the gods conspire against him; fate makes man a
Non-Christian religions “confess” the sins of others, not their
own. It is karma, kismet, witchcraft, or some like thing which is
responsible for man’s predicament. This radical belief in victimiza-
tion marks the non-Christian world. Because the nations of old
Christendom are still in advance of them, the non-Christian
nations, no matter how much they receive from the West, can only
1. The Tragedies of Sophocles, trans. Sir Richard C. Jebb (Cambridge, England: Cam-
bridge University Press, [1904] 1936), 172.

see themselves as victims, and they can wax very eloquent in

making such charges even when surrounded by their own failures.
There may be strong caste lines and racial and tribal hatreds in their
own countries, but these are overlooked to charge the generally tol-
erant West with bigotry.
Ironically, some of those most vocal in making such charges
have received scholarships and have studied in Europe and the
United States. They return home to damn the West for minor
slights while full of hatred for various groups in their own country.
This religious belief in victimization is prevalent all over the
world. It means that confession requires confessing the sins of
others, not one’s own. What all such peoples have in common is a
belief in their victimization, which is another way of talking about
original sin. After all, Adam and Eve, who sought to be their own
gods (Gen. 3:5), when confronted with their sin by God, began at
once to claim their status as victims. Adam’s excuse was, “The
woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree,
and I did eat” (Gen. 3:12). In other words, it was the woman’s
fault, but, in the final analysis, it was God’s fault for giving Eve to
him. Eve had a like excuse: it was all that evil tempter’s work (Gen.
3:13). The belief in victimization is a central aspect of original sin.
As the de-Christianization of the West has grown, so too has
the belief in victimization on the part of all groups, capital, labor,
and agriculture, husbands and wives, parents and children, and so
on and on. Granted there are problems within marriage, but many
are due to the belief by both husbands and wives that they are being
victimized. The less Christian their own family background, the
more prone they are to assume that they are being victimized,
because anything less than perfection is seen as exploitation. Some
years ago, a husband left for work with his wife berating him, a
truly godly man, for a variety of reasons. She apparently meditated
on how she was being victimized all day, because when he walked
through the door after work, about nine hours later, her first words
were, “And another thing….”
With de-Christianization, the belief in victimization has
grown. People see themselves not as sinners, but as victims, as

exploited persons. In every sphere of life, political, marital, eco-

nomic, and so on, this belief in victimization is not only common-
place but also a major disturber of the peace. It can only be
described as ungodly and as surely the object of God’s wrath, as in
This is why the doctrine of confession is so very urgently
important. A people who will not see themselves as sinners will see
themselves as victims.
The West did not begin with a superior people but with bar-
barians, with peoples given to human sacrifice and to all kinds of
evils. Confession of sins went against the grain for these peoples:
they preferred to boast of them. Lamech’s boastfulness about his
readiness to kill (Gen. 4:23-24) was greatly amplified in history,
and it was very present in the barbarians of Europe, and we see it
again among our neo-pagans. Let us agree to agree with the medi-
eval Catholic and Reformation critics of the confessional and its
many abuses. They were real, and they were many, and very serious.
But, in the process, a sense of human responsibility before God to
obey His law-word was steadily instilled. Thus, the critics of the
confessional were able to criticize it in terms of the new sense of
personal responsibility before God.
In my Father’s day, a simple Moslem Turk did not say, I lost
my Jez; rather, he would instead say something like this: the Jez of
Mohammed Ali has lost itself. Fate, not man, determined all
things. Now, for many Moslems and others, the West has replaced
Fate as the guilty determiner, and a non-Christian West is too often
ready to agree with this absurd indictment.
The culture of Christendom owes much to the confessional
and its insistence on man’s personal and total responsibility to and
before God. A culture of responsibility is a culture of action; it does
not wait on Karma or Fate. The Christian man under God is the
agent of God in history; his work is dominion work. Confession
gives him freedom from his sins and his evil past and gives him the
freedom and the power of the Spirit. The non-Christian, with his
belief in victimization, is past-bound; the self-styled victim lives in
and broods about an imaginary past, whereas the Christian is free

to face the future. Absolution means freedom, freedom from one’s

past and one’s own self and deliverance into the world of grace,
mercy, and blessing.
Christendom thus is marked by a confessing culture; its arts
are thus very personal without being self-absorbed. The non-Chris-
tian treasures the memory of sins, real or imagined, committed
against him, whereas the true Christian moves in terms of present
tasks and opportunities.
The cult of victimization produces perpetual critics and
angry men. According to an old Russian proverb, “Many a man
would teach the lark how to sing.”2 But larks cannot be taught to
sing by men, only captured and killed.
A culture without Christ becomes a culture addicted to
seeing itself as a victim. It is forever at war with someone to its own
hurt. Another Russian proverb calls attention to the folly of men:
“If your hand holds the dog’s tail, it can easily get wet.”3
We need to be a confessing people in order to be a free people
in Christ.

2. Isaac A. Langnas, collector and trans., 1200 Russian Proverbs, no. 1107 (New
York, NY: Philosophical Library, 1960), 80.
3. Ibid., no. 664, 48.

and Communion

I n the twentieth century, church councils have been held to pro-

mote ecumenicity and have looked forward to church union,
whereas in the past councils have been called to deal with problems
and to define the truth in a specific area. The concern has been
unity in the faith, not institutional unity.
Medieval councils, called by various popes, attempted to deal
with very real problems. Thus, the Lateran Council of 1215, called
by Pope Innocent III, November 11-30, 1215, was convened to
address very grave evils in the church. These included immorality,
a term which covered clerical marriages as well as general adultery
and fornication. It ordered Saracens and Jews to wear identifying
clothing to distinguish them from Christians and prevent blasphe-
mies. It forbad the ordination of illiterate persons, and so on. The
council was attended by 412 bishops, 800 abbots and priors, and
many ambassadors of Catholic rulers.
The first chapter of this council’s decrees set forth the Cath-
olic faith; it affirmed the Old Testament as against the Albigen-
sians; it affirmed the validity of the mass and of transubstantiation;
and it required that the faithful partake of communion.


Chapter twenty one required confession of all the faithful of

both sexes, after arriving at years of discretion, at least once a year
to their priest. To communicate at Easter also required confession.
Between these two facts there is a necessary connection. Inno-
cent III spoke at length of the moral evils in the church. The Lateran
Council both exalted the Lord’s Table (Protestants would say in a
wrong way), and it sought to protect it from profanation. By
requiring special clothing of nonbelievers, the council sought to
protect itself and its central rite from profanation. By requiring con-
fession as a prelude to communion, it again sought to protect the
Lord’s Table from profanation, this time from nominal Christians.
The problem can be made clearer by an illustration from the
contemporary evangelical scene. A woman, who professes to be a
born-again, Bible believing Christian, has repeatedly committed
adultery. All the same, she feels free to partake of communion and
feels that she is “as good a Christian” as “a lot of the hypocrites in
the church.” Again, a Reformed churchman, an elder, a generous
giver, is also regularly guilty of adultery; just as regularly, he serves
and partakes of communion.
The pastors in both cases are ruled by fear. In an Oklahoma
case, a woman guilty of adultery, and admittedly so, successfully
sued the church. Granted, these pastors are ruled by the fear of
man, not the fear of God, but the problem remains.
We may not agree with the Lateran Council of 1215, but we
must recognize that they confronted a very grave problem. The
Lord’s Table was being routinely profaned. Bars against profana-
tion were a necessity, and two of these were identifiable clothing
and confession.
Now it is easy to see and say that confession is no sure pro-
tection. I knew a Catholic girl much given to both confession and
communion, and very much given also to fornication. Her trust in
forms was very great. However, although fences can be broken, and
commonly are, we still need them and are better off for them.
Calvin and Knox both hedged the Table by extended words
of warning, covering sins committed by both adults and children.

Many orders of worship require a general confession prior to

All the various methods, Catholic and Protestant, have in
common the commendable motive of protecting the Lord’s Table
from blasphemous participation and use. They are necessary, but,
in a fallen world, by no means infallible.
Thus, we cannot hope to attain a perfect means of fencing the
Table by one device or another. What we must understand is that
the Lateran Council of 1215 was right in connecting confession
and communion.
What must be done?
What was the nature of the problem of moral depravity in the
church in 1215, and again 1991? It was the failure of the ministry
of the word.
How can the sacraments have their valid place if the church
be ignorant of the word of God? Protestants love to indite the
medieval church for the frequent ignorance of the word, although
there were some faithful preachers then and now. (I do not speak
of great preachers, because great preachers are not necessarily good
A pastor’s preaching may be correct and still false. A few illus-
trations will indicate the problem. One Reformed pastor is very
faithful in proclaiming the “five points of Calvinism.” All five
points are good, but they represent neither the whole of Calvinism
nor the whole of Scripture. Too often supposedly faithful
Reformed preaching reduces such churches to cults because the
scope of the faith is limited and thereby deformed.
Another illustration, this time from an evangelical church:
The highly successful pastor preaches salvation unrelentingly; his
every sermon is an appeal to come forward and to be saved.
Although he professes to believe in the Bible from cover to cover,
nothing unrelated to John 3:16 is of concern to him. He has harsh
words for those who differ: the time is short, the rapture is near,
and men must be saved. Again, we have a deformed gospel.
Still another instance: In the 1960s, I knew for a time a Cath-
olic priest whose gospel was the Latin Mass and the Council of

Trent and its decrees. Anything else was apostasy. With his
extremism, he soon lost even those who loved the Latin Mass.
One of the finest and kindliest pastors I have ever known, an
elderly Princetonian of the old school, had come in time to concen-
trate his preaching on various texts in the Gospel of John, all ably
done, with careful exegesis, but the Bible is bigger than John’s
The faithful and systematic preaching of the whole word of
God, from Genesis to Revelation, enables the people of God to
know God’s law and grace, His definition of sin and judgment, His
mercy and peace, and much, much more.
As we examine the great early church fathers, we find that
they went through various books of the Bible systematically. Cer-
tainly Luther and Calvin did so. The result was a confessing church
in every sense of the word. Men exposed to the whole word of God
confessed both their sins and their faith. The triune God was the
governing power in their lives and world.
We are today confronted with many false solutions to the
same problem faced in 1215 by the Lateran Council. Some Protes-
tant churches have seen as the solution the return to weekly com-
munion. (At one time, in terms of the Passover, many churches,
especially Reformed, celebrated communion once a year. In Scot-
land, and then in the United States in its first century, several
churches in an area celebrated together annually in “Holy Fairs.”)
This solution is a fallacious one. Holy communion is pre-
ceded in some form by a confession of sins, and it is celebrated and
partaken as a confession of faith. Neither can exist apart from the
faithful and systematic preaching of the word. Confession and
communion are essentially related to one another; they are together
dependant on the faithful preaching of the word of God and the
work of the Holy Spirit.

Confession and Grace

T rue confession is a mark of grace. As grace works in the heart

of a man, that man becomes aware of the extent of his war
against God, and the nature of his sin. Our salvation is to be found
in none other than Jesus Christ, God incarnate, who saves us from
all our sins. Our freedom in Christ is our freedom from sin into
righteousness or justice in Christ. As Clarence Stam has written,
For sin is the great obstacle between God and us. Sin causes sepa-
ration. Sin is also the destructive force among people, and in soci-
ety at large. There needs to be a restoration of peace with God, and
so a restoration of harmony on earth. The depth of this confession
concerning the Name of the Savior lies in the fact that He will save
us from our sins.1
Confession is a precondition of growth. If my writing is
marked by bad grammar, it will not improve unless I study the laws
of grammar. By learning what is right, I can then avoid what is
wrong. Hence the necessity of the law of God. Those who read and
study the whole of God’s law-word, from Genesis through Revela-
tion, learn thereby what sin is, what justice is, and the meaning of
grace. They learn what they must confess, because God’s word

1. Clarence Stam, Living in the Joy of Faith: The Christian Faith as Outlined in the
Heidelberg Catechism (Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publishers, 1991), 74.


uncovers to them their sins, their secret waywardness, their habit of

reserving to themselves areas of private freedom from God (a
foolish hope), and so on. They are compelled by God’s law-word
and faithful confession to recognize that they cannot bargain with
God. Reality is not man’s creation but God’s. We cannot alter the
status of things by our sinful desire that our will be done. As Stam
There is always the danger in our lives that we are prepared to
break with only some of our sins, but not all of them. There is the
danger that we nurture some sins which have become a long-stand-
ing habit. We feel that we cannot get rid of them anyway! Do you
have any of those tenacious sins? You will have to confess them and
break with them. You do that as the consequence of our confession
and the demand for a true celebration of the Lord’s Supper! For
whoever names the Name of the Lord, must depart from iniqui-
ty—no matter what iniquity it is! So the Lord calls us today to ex-
amine our life, and not to despair, but to repent, and to find our
refuge, our strength, our joy in our one and only Savior.2
The Gospel, the Good News, is the forgiveness of sins
through Christ’s atoning sacrifice. But, if the law is bypassed, if
God’s law is not stressed, then sin is depreciated, and what is
offered is not Biblical salvation but a cheap grace which is no grace
at all. Romans 6:18 declares, “Being then made free from sin, ye
became the servants of righteousness.” We are freed in order to
serve God’s righteousness or justice as plainly set forth in His law.
Cheap or false grace supposedly assures us of heaven, and of
God’s protecting help in this world; in practice, it frees us from
God and His law-word. James Patterson and Peter Kim, in their
survey titled The Day America Told the Truth (1991), were not
writing a report on America’s religious life primarily, but their
study all the same showed the consequences of cheap or false grace.
Only 13 percent of all Americans believe in all ten of the Ten Com-
mandments. Adultery among church members is commonplace.
Although 82 percent of all Americans believe in heaven and hell,
only 4 percent see their future as in hell—Phariseeism now marks
the church. One supposedly Bible-believing pastor submitted an
article to Chalcedon which held that, once a person “accepted”

2. Ibid., 77.

Christ, God was then irrevocably and perpetually in debt to him or

her! This is also the theology of Bob Thieme.
Citing Stam once again, “We must always connect death
with sin.”3 Without confession and the grace of forgiveness, there
is no salvation. Too many churches do not preach Christ as Lord
and Savior but as the world’s greatest fire and life insurance agent.
One missionary, very “fundamental” in self-estimation, spoke of
faith as the world’s best, freest, and biggest bargain, everything for
This is why confession is a forgotten aspect of the faith today.
Where there is no grace, there is no confession. The results in the
life of the church and in the life of its peoples are far-reaching.
Hymns of confession, once so common, are not often sung now.
One such great hymn is by Johann Heermann (1630):
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
That man to judge thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.
Who was the guilty? who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus hath undone thee.
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:
I crucified thee.
Lo, the good Shepherd for the sheep is offered:
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered:
For man’s atonement, while he nothing heedeth,
God intercedeth.
For me, kind Jesus, was thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation
The death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.
Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee
Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving. Amen.
Many years ago, in trying to explain something in Scripture to a
woman, I recited a portion of this hymn. Her only reaction was,
“Ah, holy Jesus” sounds “too Catholic.” I was speechless but later

3. Ibid., 103.

thought that it would perhaps have suited her more if a hymn be-
gan, “Ah, holy Me.” Heermann’s hymn is a song about grace be-
cause it is a song of confession. The church is today impotent
because it has a false gospel of cheap grace, because it has down-
graded confession, and because it therefore worships an idol created
by its evil imagination. Success in a humanistic sense comes easily
to those who proclaim this false gospel. The 1980s saw some of the
scandals related to antinomian, cheap-grace evangelists. All the
same, others prosper, because the Scriptures are in practice denied.
How can men be “the servants of righteousness” or justice, a power
in the world for Christ and His Kingdom, if they are not truly “free
from sin” (Rom. 6:18)? At best, the confessions accompanying the
cheap-grace churches are cheap confessions, worthless too often in
their effects. I have known men who claimed to have been “saved”
many times after many major sins. It was for them a convenient
public ritual to indulge their sin and then “go forward” and make
a confession at a revival meeting or some like occasion. Just as the
Catholic confession has over the years been often abused by many,
who take both sin and confession casually, so too all too many Prot-
estants have reduced the meaning of sin and confession to trifling
matters and words.
Heermann in his hymn called sin “treason,” and rightly so.
The old negro spiritual, “Were You There When They Crucified
My Lord?,” may well be an echo of Heermann’s poem.
Sin, said Heermann, is treason. Adam’s rebellion against
God, and the sin of all men since, is rebellion, a revolution against
the sovereign God, His government, and law. We cannot grasp the
meaning of grace unless we see our every sin, however great or
small, as treason against the triune God. Knowing this, we can then
understand the magnitude of His grace and the necessity for our
We poor and miserable rebels, proud and angry sinners all,
believe that because our sins are trifles in our arrogant minds, they
are also trifles to God and to man. We choose to forget our sins,
and we assume that because we have put them out of our minds,
God has done the same also. We expect to set the character of our
relationship to the triune God, as though we were in the driver’s

seat, the place of power. The influence of the false cheap-grace

advocates has infiltrated us all, so that, while against them, we are
with them.
Hence the need for confession. We need to purge ourselves
of all our darling sins and lusts; we need to see ourselves, naked and
open to the eyes of God. Because salvation begins with the forgive-
ness of sins, it is the continuing confession of sins that strengthens
and empowers us in the grace of God.

Death and Confession

W e often forget that Luther and Calvin were both closer to

the medieval Catholic Church than to us, and to modern
views of Lutheranism and Calvinism, and, at the same time further
from Rome than we are. First, they saw the differences very sharply,
and, second, Rome after the Council of Trent moved further away
theologically from the church Luther and Calvin grew up in.
Morals were reformed, but doctrines were developed which sharp-
ened the differences.
The same is true of John Knox; he was born in 1505, and it
was not until 1542 that he turned to the Reformed faith. In
between, he had become a priest.
Knox, like the other reformers, was thus very familiar with
Roman Catholic practices, among them extreme unction. This was
not exclusively a Roman practice but was common to other
churches as well, including the Church of Armenia. It came to be
called in time a sacrament, but its origins were in an apostolic prac-
tice and in a text still cited in all such services, James 5:14-16:
14. Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church;
and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of
the Lord:


15. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall
raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven
16. 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.
In origin, extreme unction, meaning last anointing, was not
reserved to deathbeds but was used for the sick. It was marked by
1) the visitation of the sick or dying by an elder or elders; 2) prayers
were to be said over the sick man; 3) he was to be anointed with oil;
since the word anoint is in Greek related to the word Christ, the sick
or dying man was thereby designated as belonging to God’s
anointed One, Jesus Christ, although this does not exhaust its
meaning; and 4) confession was to be made by the sick or dying
man. At the same time, 5) the hope of healing by God’s grace was
declared. Over the centuries, this rite tended to be reserved for the
dying. In my childhood and youth, this practice, although not
called extreme unction, was common to many Protestant groups. It
began to wane, however, for various reasons: 1) a theological
decline and indifference; 2) a hostility to Rome; and 3) because
Pentecostals and Charismatics began to practice anointing in some
healing services. None of these are good reasons for abandoning
James’s instructions.
The Roman Catholic service, as it developed, proved to be
most interesting. In The New Saint Andrew Bible Missal (1966),
there are some elements to this order of service that are of particular
note. First, the service invokes James 5:14-16 as its foundation. It
also cites in detail Matthew 8, in particular 8:5-13, the episode of
the centurion and his faith. There is much here in the way of a
stress on God’s sovereign grace. Second, this service is very
“Roman” in that it includes appeals for the prayers of the saints, at
some length. Third, there is both an anointing of “full pardon and
the remission of all your sins…” “by the power given to me by the
Apostolic See.”
It is clear why the reformers broke with the Roman Catholic
doctrine of extreme unction, but they obviously did not break with
the admonition of James, nor with the reliance on confession and
a trust in grace. A total trust in God’s sovereign grace was common

to deathbed scenes, and there was, as men approached the end, so

great a reliance on God’s grace and on the Holy Spirit’s as one’s
mainstay that the last days of these men fill us with awe. As John
Knox aged, he was unable to walk without being held by younger
men, and his voice was feeble. Yet when he began to preach, men
could sense the mantle of the Spirit descend upon Knox and
empower him so that, whereas his voice had become feeble, he
would thunder out from the pulpit. We read in Mc’Crie,
While he was engaged in these contests, his bodily strength was ev-
ery day sensibly decaying. Yet he continued to preach, although
unable to walk to the pulpit without assistance; and, when warmed
with his subject, he forgot his weakness, and electrified the audi-
ence with his eloquence. James Melville, afterwards minister of An-
struther, was then a student at the College, and one of his constant
hearers. The account which he has given of his appearance is ex-
ceedingly striking; and as any translation would enfeeble it, I shall
give it in his own words. “Of all the benefits that I had that year
(1571), was the coming of that maist notable profet and apostle of
our nation, Mr. Johne Knox, to St. Andrews, who, be the faction
of the queen occupeing the castell and the town of Edinburgh, was
compellit to remove therefra, with a number of the best, and chusit
to come to St. Andrews. I heard him teache there the prophecies of
Daniel, that simmer and the winter following. I had my pen and
my little buike, and tuke away sic things as I could comprehend.
In the opening up of his test, he was moderat the space of an half
houre; but when he entered to application, he made me so to grew
and tremble, that I could not hald a pen to wryt. He was very weik.
I saw him every day of his doctrine, go hulie and fear (i.e., slowly
and warily) with a furring of marticks about his neck, a staffe in the
ane hand, and gude, godlie Richard, and another servand, lifted up
to the pulpit whar he behovit to lean at the first entrie; bot, ere he
had done with his sermon, he was sa active and vigorous, that he
was lyk to ding the pulpit in blads (i.e. it appeared as if he would
beat the pulpit in pieces), and flie out of it.”1
For generations, godly men spent their final years, months,
or days in such a state of preparation and service. Their final
anointing or extreme unction came from the Lord and His Spirit.
On the last day of his life, some hours before his death, Knox

1. Thomas Mc’Crie, Life of John Knox (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Pub-
lication, [1813] 1905), 324.

“I have formerly, during my frail life, sustained many contests, and

many assaults of Satan; but at present he hath assailed me most
fearfully, and put forth all his strength to devour, and make an end
of me at once. Often before he has placed my sins before my eyes,
often tempted me to despair, often endeavoured to ensnare me by
the allurements of the world but these weapons were broken by the
sword of the Spirit, the word of God, and the enemy failed. Now
he has attacked me in another way: the cunning serpent has la-
boured to persuade me that I have merited heaven and eternal
blessedness by the faithful discharge of my ministry. But blessed be
God, who has enabled me to beat down and quench this fiery dart,
by suggesting to me such passages of Scripture as these:— “What
has thou that thou has not received? — By the grace of God I am
what I am:—Not I, but the grace of God in me.’ Upon this, as one
vanquished, he left me. Wherefore I give thanks to my God
through Jesus Christ, who has been pleased to give me the victory;
and I am persuaded that the tempter shall not again attack me, but,
within a short time, I shall, without any great pain of body or an-
guish of mind, exchange this mortal and miserable life for a blessed
immortality through Jesus Christ.”2
Within a few hours, Knox was dead.
I cite this to illustrate my statement at the beginning of this
section, namely, that the reformers were closer to the medieval
church than to the modern churches which invoke their names.
They disagreed with the theological aspects of extreme unction, but
they agreed fully with the need for grace for dying and a submissive
The modern temper is best summed up by citing “Ilico”
(Nathaniel Micklem), who wrote:
The present generation is not morally serious enough to believe in
hell; it can scarcely understand Calvin’s words, “Without judg-
ment there can be no God”; it has sympathy with the gibe of Hei-
ne, “The good God will pardon me, for that’s His job.”3
Micklem’s observation was first published in the 1930s. It is now
more true than ever. Sin is not taken seriously because God is not
taken seriously.
Some years ago, not long after World War II, a number of
leading men in a moderately sized city, were involved in a night of

2. Ibid., 338.
3. Ilico, No More Apologies (London, England: Religious Book Club, 1941), 76-77.

lawless sexuality, openly practiced with whores, with much free

liquor, and with the men volunteering to perform on stage various
acts with the whores. A number of wives, tipped off about the event
when it was in progress, broke it up. Because of the politicians
involved, the episode was police protected, but, because their heart
was not in it, some of the officers allowed the wives to “break-
through.” The next day I learned, at a popular restaurant, that
some of these men had breakfasted together, and the group
included Protestants, Catholics, and agnostics, all better described
as indifferentists. Their common complaint, stated in very crude
language, was that their wives were making much ado about
nothing. After all, their wives were financially privileged to be mar-
ried to them; an occasional adultery was “no big deal” when
weighed against all that their marriage gave them. What they were
confessing was that sin is a trifling matter; so too is marriage and
faithfulness, and so too is life. Their naked acts when drunk made
them lower than the whores, but they felt injured by their wives’
Some Protestants are ready to be critical of extreme unction.
Certainly, it cannot meet a Biblical standard at all points. But our
real problem today is the moral indifferentism of men and women.
It is the kind of horrifying complacence before God cited by Ilico.
Agur gives us a very vivid picture of the moral indifferentism
in Proverbs 30:20:
Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth
her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.
To eat, and then to wipe one’s mouth of any traces of food or
drink, leaves no outward evidence; the adulterous woman treats her
adultery, if undetected, as similarly of no consequence. In other
words, God is not in the picture; sin is not essentially against Him,
and what a man does not know will not hurt him.
When the confession of sins in life is now nothing to be taken
seriously, it is not surprising that it is equally meaningless at the
time of death. Of course, we live in an age when the world and its
apostate cultures are dying, and they do no know it. They dream
and plan in terms of a new-world order. Its name is death.

Congregational and
National Confessions

C onfessions are not limited to individuals, although, as we have

seen, personal confessions are of necessity specific and partic-
ular, whereas congregational and national confessions are com-
monly, although not exclusively, general. National days of prayer
and confession were once commonplace, whether proclaimed by
Church or State, in terms of a specific cause or national sin.
Of the general, congregational confessions, that of the Book
of Common Prayer is certainly a classic:
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and
strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much
the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended
against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we
ought to have done; And we have done those things which we
ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But, thou, O
Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those,
O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are pen-
itent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ
Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake;
That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To
the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
This is a magnificent statement, and it certainly expresses a sound
doctrine of confession. Of course, Anglicans have not been pre-
served from sin, from Phariseeism, and from hypocrisy thereby.

Only those who have been redeemed by God’s grace can grow by
means of various instruments of grace.
We read in Ezra 9:4 that all, who knowing their sin and the
nation’s history of sin, had assembled themselves together with
Ezra. In Ezra 9:6-15, we have Ezra’s prayer of confession for these
people and the nation. It is a citation also of certain laws against
mixed marriages, laws which the people had broken by marrying
ungodly peoples. Ezra thereby confesses a specific sin to God, as
well as an apostasy and a contempt for God’s law-word. Ezra
6. And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face
to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and
our trespass is grown up unto the heavens.
7. Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass
unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our
priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to
the sword, to captivity, and to a spoil, and to confusion of face, as
it is this day.
8. And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the
LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a
nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give
us a little reviving in our bondage.
9. For we were bondmen; yet our God hath not forsaken us in our
bondage, but hath extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings
of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and
to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and
in Jerusalem.
10. And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have
forsaken thy commandments,
11. Which thou has commanded by thy servants the prophets, say-
ing, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land
with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abomina-
tions, which have filled it from one end to another with their un-
12. Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither
take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their
wealth for ever: that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land,
and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever.
13. And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for
our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less
than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as
14. Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity
with the people of these abominations? wouldest not thou be angry

with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no

remnant nor escaping?
15. O LORD God of Israel, thou art righteous: for we remain yet
escaped, as it is this day: behold, we are before thee in our trespass-
es: for we cannot stand before thee because of this. (Ezra 9:6-15)
First, although as a priest Ezra here makes confession for all the
people, and for Israel from Sinai to the present, it is also a very per-
sonal prayer as well. It can be called a high priestly prayer because
Ezra speaks as the voice of all repentant Hebrews. He feels intensely
and personally the sins of Israel’s past and present history. Al-
though it is Judea, and not the northern kingdom of Israel, that is
being reconstituted, he speaks for all the Hebrews, and he is deeply
ashamed of their total history.
Second, Ezra’s confession has central emphases, God’s grace
and glory on the one hand, and Israel’s sin and presumption on the
other. The abounding grace of God had been answered by sin. The
chosen-people mentality had led to an arrogance on the people’s
part. When Paul asked the Romans (mainly Jewish converts in
Rome), “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that
grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1), he was satirizing and pinpointing
a central aspect of the chosen-people mentality. It marked the Jews
then as it marks churchmen today. Ezra sees it as beginning after
Abraham’s day, “since the days of our fathers” (v. 7).
Third, Ezra cites a fundamental fact of the covenant: no cov-
enants with ungodly peoples are permitted, and marriage is a form
of covenant. Israel had not hesitated to intermarry with unbe-
lievers, and this sin was again commonplace in Ezra’s day. Such
marriages were revelatory of the people’s apostasy, because primary
to their marriages was personal advantage, not obedience to God’s
covenant. Such marriages broke the covenant. Ezra chose this par-
ticular transgression as representative of all their sins, and with
good reason. The family is the basic covenanted unit, and if God’s
covenant is treated with contempt in contracting marriages, then it
is despised readily in other areas.
Fourth, God’s patience exhausted, He had delivered up both
Hebrew states to their enemies, “to the sword, to captivity, and to
a spoil” (v. 7). The penalty for breaking God’s covenant is death,

and God had brought death to both Israel and Judah, but not to all
the people. Their cities had been laid waste, the walls of Jerusalem
destroyed, the temple leveled, their women and virgins ravished,
their people carried into alien lands in chains, and judgment passed
on them in a radical manner. With all this vivid in their memories,
and with the ruins around them, they were again entering into cov-
enants with the ungodly through marriages.
Fifth, God had brought them to “confusion of face,” to utter
disgrace, and they were not even aware of it! They were returning
to their ancient sins as though they were virtues. Instead of seeing
their return as the grace of God (v. 8), they saw it as their just and
lawful restoration, as a license to sin again. They were acting as
though they could sin and yet grace would naturally abound to
them as God’s people! It was as though shamelessness had become
a virtue to them. We see a like attitude today in the churches; anti-
nomianism is shamelessly paraded as a privilege of grace.
Sixth, the people over the centuries had been repeatedly
warned by God’s “servants the prophets” from the days of Moses
on. All these warnings had usually been in vain. The history of the
people was more marked by sin and apostasy than by covenant
Seventh, God had been merciful in the face of all these things,
yet they had despised His mercies. Ezra confesses that God now has
every reason to abandon His people forever. This final casting off,
however, had to wait until the coming of the Messiah. The
churches should remember that there is now no similar restraint on
God’s judgment.
Eighth, there is not a single request, not a single plea for
mercy in Ezra’s prayer. It is a prayer of confession, a true prayer.
False confessions demand full restoration in return for a few words.
Ezra knew that God had every reason to write finished across Israel’s
Ezra’s confession was national and congregational, and, at
the same time, intensely personal. Its public nature does not elim-
inate its private character. Normally, a national day of repentance
and confession is marked by more formal prayers.

Turning again to the Book of Common Prayer, we find, in the

form for a family’s prayers at bedtime, the following confession:
Most merciful God, who art of purer eyes than to behold iniquity,
and hast promised forgiveness to all those who confess and forsake
their sins; We come before thee in an humble sense of our own un-
worthiness, acknowledging our manifold transgressions of thy
righteous laws. (Here let him who reads make a short pause, that
every one may secretly confess the sins and failings of that day.)
But, O gracious Father, who desirest not the death of a sinner, look
upon us, we beseech thee, in mercy, and forgive us all our trans-
gressions. Make us deeply sensible of the great evil of them; and
work in us an hearty contrition; that we may obtain forgiveness at
thy hands, who art ever ready to receive humble and penitent sin-
ners; for the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ, our only Saviour and Re-
deemer. Amen.
At one time, evangelical and reformed children, in their evening
prayers, were taught not only to thank God for the blessings of the
day but also to confess their disobediences.
The strength of the formal prayer of confession is that it does
for a moment require a person to think of himself as a sinner; its
weakness is its generality. The weakness of the extemporaneous
prayer is that it easily skips over the matter of sins to concentrate
on things desired; its strength is that, when it is fully conscious of
its duties toward the Lord, it is specific and exact in its private con-
fession of sin.
In Ezra’s prayer, as Kidner noted, “he had a high sense of the
glory they had betrayed, and he could not be reconciled to what
they had become.”1 This states the case powerfully. Nothing is
more presumptuous or untenable than to believe that a personal,
congregational, or national prayer of repentance means automatic
forgiveness and restoration. Sin is betrayal; it is treason against
God. The sin of the Christian is a casual disregard or even con-
tempt for the agony of Christ’s crucifixion, the source and ground
of our atonement and forgiveness.
Confession, whether personal, congregational, or national,
becomes a further offense if done lightly. Heine’s repulsive death-

1. Derek Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press,
1979), 69.

bed comment, “The good God will pardon me, for that’s His
job,” was perhaps Heine’s crowning sin and very revealing of his
reprobate mind.

and Collection

O ne of the more baffling texts of Scripture is found in Malachi

8. Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Where-
in have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
9. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this
whole nation.
10. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be
meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD
of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour
you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive
11. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not
destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her
fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts.
12. And all the nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a de-
lightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts.
What is baffling about this text is that something so obvious, and a
promise so clear, should be routinely overlooked and neglected by
professing Christians.
Tithing, and going above and beyond the tithe, is a form of
confession. We confess that the Lord is sovereign, and that He is
the landlord over all creation (Ps. 24:1). We therefore give Him


His due when we tithe, and we confess His lordship. When we fail
to tithe, we rob Him.
St. Paul, in summoning believers to give for special collec-
tions, did so because of “his awareness that salvation comes to men
only as the free gift of the grace of God.”1 Our Lord says, “freely ye
have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8).
Paul took up a special collection for the poor (Gal. 2:10).
He had no hesitancy in doing so, because it was for him an impor-
tant expression of the fact that “we are members one of another”
(Eph. 4:25).
The Mosaic law is full of requirements that covenant mem-
bers help fellow believers in need. The church as the new Israel of
God (Gal. 6:16) has this same obligation. To help one another, and
to tithe to the Lord, is thus a means of confession, of confessing
In Judaism, voluntary contributions were also gathered for
scholars.2 In the medieval and Reformation eras, scholars were sup-
ported by Christians as a necessary ministry. In Ephesians 4:11,
“pastors and teachers” (or scholars) are placed together.
According to Nickle, the collection had a theological signifi-
cance for Paul. First, it expressed and put into practice Christian
charity. Paul was here thinking of gifts above and over the tithe.
Second, such gifts for diaconal mercies expressed Christian unity.
Third, it represented “the anticipation of Christian eschatology.”3
Christ is for the Christian “the blessed and only Potentate, the King
of kings, and the Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). By means of our
giving, Christians command the various spheres of life, worship,
health, education, welfare, and more. We witness thereby to
Christ’s Lordship, His dominion and sovereignty over all spheres
of life and thought. To tithe, and to give more than the tithe, is to
confess Christ as Lord; failure to tithe and give is a confession of
sin, of a disregard for God’s claim on us.

1. Keith F. Nickle, The Collection: A Study in Paul’s Strategy (London, England:

SCM Press, 1966), 10.
2. Ibid., 96-97.
3. Ibid., 100.

It was characteristic that at the common meals of the community

during which the most intense liturgical service was rendered to
Christ in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the provision for the
needs of the poor occupied an essential place. It was simply a
broadening of this function within a Christian community to ex-
tend the charitable relief from one Christian community to anoth-
er which resulted in the application of the term “service” to a
monetary collection.4
Thus, the collection of money was not only a part of worship,
but it was also a confession of faith and of community. A wor-
shipper’s giving is thus an act of faith and an expression of grace.
The early church, by obeying God’s law in this respect, con-
fessed and declared itself to be the true Israel of God (Gal. 6:16;
Rom. 9:6ff; 11:5, 17ff; 1 Cor. 10:18; Gal. 3:7, 4:28; Phil. 3:3, etc.).
The collection witnesses to the presence of God’s Kingdom on
earth, and to its necessary rule. Not only the church collection but
also all giving to Christian ministries is an expression of that faith.
Thus, when Paul took the relief money to Jerusalem, col-
lected from Gentile churches, he took with him men from these
Gentile churches (Acts 21:16). This was a witness to Jerusalem that
the church was now the true Israel of God, into which all the
nations would come.
Thus, Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem was a mighty witness to an
eschatological fact. It declared that the fulfillment was coming only
in Christ. It is no wonder that Paul’s arrest followed. His act of
charity was a confession of faith that the fulfillment of all the
prophecies of old are in Jesus Christ and Him alone. This was a
direct contradiction of the hope and faith of the Pharisees.
Not surprisingly, many dispensationalists, who are antino-
mian and do not tithe, see God’s love of the Jews as unconditional.
Hence, there is for them no dominion mandate, no law, no belief
that Christ’s Kingdom will prevail in history. It will for them come
only through old Israel.
For the logical dispensationalist, tithing is no longer necessary.
And in rejecting the requirement of the tithe, dispensationalists

4. Ibid., 107.

unconsciously confess a hope in the Pharisees’ Messiah, not in Jesus

Christ as King and Lord.
Giving thus to the church and to various Christian ministries
is a confession of faith. When we tithe, and when we give above and
over the tithe, we confess that Christ as King requires our taxes in
order to establish His dominion in and through us. The offering is
therefore a confession of faith; it is an admission that we and all that
we have are God’s property. Many of the offertory responses state
this. A familiar one is, “All things come of Thee, O Lord; and of
Thine own have we given Thee. Amen.” Another, by John Green-
leaf Whittier (1807-1892), declares:
All things are Thine: no gifts have we,
Lord of all gifts, to offer Thee,
And hence with grateful hearts today,
Thine own before Thy feet we lay.
Another, by the Reverend Samuel Longfellow (1886), confesses
Bless Thou the gifts our hand have brought;
Bless Thou the work our hearts have planned;
Ours is the faith, the will, the thought;
The rest, O God, is in Thy hand.
Perhaps most familiar is the offertory response written by Bishop
W. Walsham How (1864):
We give Thee but Thine own,
What-e’er the gift may be:
All that we have is Thine alone,
A trust, O Lord, from Thee.
Various communions have other offertory responses. Let us
consider for a moment the meaning of that familiar term, “offer-
tory responses.” These are all brief hymns of thanks to the Lord for
the privilege of giving and of being members of His Kingdom of
grace. This is an unusual and remarkable fact. No sane man sings a
hymn of thanks as he posts or delivers his tax payment to the Fed-
eral Internal Revenue Service. Perhaps that agency would itself call
the police if someone burst into a grateful song on delivering his tax
money, and rightly so. Christians, however, commonly sing as their
offerings are presented; more, they usually stand and sing.

Now, in our time, as often before, this has become no more

than a thoughtless ritual, and its meaning is forgotten or neglected.
However, not only are hymns a confession (often of both sin and
of God’s grace), but so too is the offertory.
We cannot limit it to the offering in the church but must see
all giving to Christian ministries in any and every field as a form of
confession. If we give primarily to ourselves, we confess thereby
that we are our own gods (Gen. 3:5); if we give perfunctorily to the
church, we can thereby show that we are mindful of the forms and
are keeping a toe in Christ’s house. If we tithe, and give above and
over a tithe, and if we give wisely to those ministries best serving
Christ and His Kingdom, we then make a good confession.

Turning Ourselves In

O ne of the curious aspects of the 1990s is that often the comic

strips manifest more Christian insight than do the editors,
newswriters, and many pulpiteers. Thus, on Thursday, July 18,
1991, the cartoon, “Dennis the Menace,” shows the small boy
Dennis kneeling in prayer at his bedside and saying, “I’m here to
turn myself in.”
At the same time, supposedly Christian psychologists have
been outraged over the chapters on the counseling heresy published
in The Chalcedon Report in late Spring of 1991. In the 1980s, in
some state legislatures, bills were introduced to require “profes-
sional” training, examination, and licensure by a board of psychia-
trists and psychologists for all pastors. None of these “Christian”
psychologists protested this step.
Recently, a pastor in a California city was attacked for coun-
seling a couple. Both church pastors and their staff psychologists
expressed hostility towards his work. The wife in the counseled
couple is an innocent and submissive young woman; the husband
is a moral wretch; it would require a long chapter to chronicle his
offenses. Not liking the conclusions of the counseling pastor, the
husband went to another church, one which had staff psycholo-
gists. The results there gave him a conclusion far more agreeable to

him. He summoned his wife to “admit” her nonexistent offenses,

and he concluded thus: “We are both victims.”
This is Satan’s wisdom in Genesis 3:1-5: all men are the vic-
tims of God; He, who could have created man free of sin (in that
case, an automaton or robot), chose to create man so that he would
fall into sin. Although He could have made man capable, like Him-
self, of creating anything by his fiat word, God instead decreed that
man could only attain his goals by hard work. Satan’s implication
to Eve is this: we are all victims of God; therefore, declare yourself
independent of Him.
Sin is man’s declaration of independence from God. It is
man’s insistence that the fundamental promise of life should be,
“My will be done,” not God’s. God’s law is the expression of His
will; antinomianism is the denial of God’s will in favor of man’s
sanctimonious, hypocritical, and sinful spirituality.
Confession is basic to prayer. It is saying, with Dennis, “I’m
here to turn myself in.”
Confession does have a broader meaning than simply the
confession of sins. Richard Watson defined it thus:
CONFESSION signifies a public acknowledgment of anything as
our own: thus Christ will confess the faithful in the day of judg-
ment, Luke xii, 8. (2) To own and profess the truth of Christ, and
to obey his commandments, in spite of opposition and danger
from enemies, Matt. x, 32. (3) To utter or speak the praises of God,
or to give him thanks. (4) To acknowledge our sins and offences to
God, either by private or public confession; or to our neighbour
whom we have wronged; or to some pious persons from whom we
expect to receive comfort and spiritual instruction; or to the whole
congregation when our fault is published, Psalm xxxii, 5; Matt. iii,
6; James v, 16; I John i, 9. (5) To acknowledge a crime before a
judge, Josh. vii, 19.1
In Israel, there was an annual day of atonement, and the high
priest confessed the sins of all the people. However, believers, in
offering certain sacrifices, confessed their sins as they laid their
hands on the sacrificial animal, their representative sin-bearer.

1. Richard Watson, A Biblical and Theological Dictionary (New York, NY: T. Mason
and G. Lane, [1832] 1840), 256.

An early Christian form of confession is the Apostles’ Creed.

The believer confesses thereby his own faith, saying, “I believe….”
Believing those things set forth in the Creed, the confessor of faith
comes to God’s House “to turn himself in” for Christ’s service, to
be instructed and commanded for the Kingdom. The first confes-
sion required of believers in the early church was this: “Jesus Christ
is Lord” (as against the mandatory “Caesar is Lord”). There is a ref-
erence to this confession in Philippians 2:9-11:
9. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a
name which is above every name:
10. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in
heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Paul then adds something which tells us more about this confession:
12. Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my
presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your
own salvation with fear and trembling.
13. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of
his good pleasure.
The Philippians were obeying God now, not because Paul was
present, because he was plainly absent, but because God was
present in their lives and working through them. Their obedience
was thus a confession to the indwelling presence of God. “Ye have
always obeyed” is literally “ye did always obey.” They were working
out their own salvation, i.e., learning to walk alone. They were now
not dependent on Paul (although still learning from him), because
their confession of faith was now the work of God the Spirit in
them. “Salvation” is used here in the sense of their final glory in
Christ, not their redemption from the fall. “Work out” does not
contradict the doctrine of justification by faith, any more than the
reminder of obedience (v. 12). Man reveals the grace of God in him
as he works out the implications of salvation by the obedience of
faith. “With fear and trembling” does not mean with “tormenting
misgiving” but in awe of God’s grace and calling, and our holy des-
tiny in Christ. In all this, “it is God which worketh in you.”
We confess our sins, and we confess our faith, that Jesus
Christ is Lord. This confession continues in the work God does in

and through us, so that true confession manifests itself always in

God working in and through us. A true confession thus has the wit-
ness of the triune God in our lives. We cannot play the pagan,
Greek game of excusing a man’s evil life by saying that we cannot
know his heart. This is a denial of our faith and in contradiction to
Jesus Christ and His radical insistence that men are known by their
fruits or works (Matt. 7:15-20). Those who insist on separating
works from the heart of man belong, according to our Lord, in the
ranks of false prophets and ravening wolves (Matt: 7:15).
According to H.C.G. Moule, the word “worketh” is a Greek
word with “a certain intensity about it, worketh effectually.”2 God
governs our willing and our doing, so that, when we faithfully con-
fess Him, we are faithfully used to His glory.
What we do is “his good pleasure,” not our own (v. 13). We
are a new creation in Christ, and our center is no longer our will
but His will, His will as set forth in His infallible word. We are now
not our own: we are His instruments.
The beginning of all this is when, like Dennis, we turn our-
selves in: we confess ourselves to be sinners deserving only condem-
nation. Christ by His grace empowers us to make a good
confession, that He is both Christ and Lord. God then works in
and through us, to empower us in His Kingdom work.
All this begins with the confession of sins, turning ourselves
in, not only at the time of our conversion, but daily in our private
Bishop Thomas Wilson of Sodor and Man (1663-1755), an
Anglican prelate, in Sacra Privata, wrote, “Thou has sent us into
the world, not to do our own will, but Thine.”3 Wilson’s notes on
Luke 22:42, “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done,” are
very moving:
O God, who takest delight in helping the afflicted, help a soul too
often distressed with an inward rebellion against Thy just

2. H.C.G. Moule, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians (Cambridge,
England: Cambridge University Press, [1889] 1907), 73.
3. Thomas Wilson, Sacra Privata: Private Meditations and Prayers (New York, NY:
Thomas Whitaker, 1879), 55.

Who am I, that I should make exceptions against the Will of God,

infinitely great, wise, and good?
I know not the things that are for my good.
My earnest desires, if granted, may prove my ruin.
The things I complain of and fear, may be the effects of the greatest
The disappointments I meet with, may be absolutely necessary for
my eternal welfare. I do therefore protest against the sin and mad-
ness of desiring to have my will done, and not the will of God.
Grant, gracious Father, that I may never dispute the reasonableness
of Thy will, but ever close with it, as the best that can happen.
Prepare me always for what Thy providence shall bring forth.
Let me never murmur, be dejected, or impatient, under any of the
troubles of this life; but ever find rest and comfort in this, THIS IS
Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.4
Proceeding on our own wisdom, “we are really blind as to what
concerns our true good, and should infallibly ruin ourselves, if left
to our choices.”5 Our confession of sin helps clarify our vision,
prompts us to obedience, and makes us more zealous to be faithful.
When we turn ourselves in to the Lord, we do not see our-
selves as victims but as sinners. We, redeemed in Christ, are then
His agents of power and witness in a fallen world. We have a calling
then to place ourselves and our spheres of activity under the
dominion of God in Christ.
But first we must turn ourselves in!

4. Ibid., 84-85. (I first read Sacra Privata February 1- April 26, 1951; I have learned
much from it, and have much more to learn.)
5. Ibid., 122.

Why True, Biblical

Confession is Unpopular

C onfession is no longer a popular subject, neither with Catholics

nor Protestants, in Christian circles because confession in the
Biblical sense means, first, a confession of sins, and, second, a con-
fession of Christ, a confession of faith.
It is our concern now to examine the reason or reasons why
the confession of sin or sins is now avoided in any Biblical sense,
because the failure to confess our sin means that we do not truly
recognize our Savior from sin.
One of the characteristics of peoples in the second half of the
twentieth century is their desire and lust for instant gratification.
This implies a related outlook: an insistence on no frustration.
In my childhood, I knew of no child who ever rejected the
food set before him; none dared do so, because the punishment
would have been immediate. Perhaps it was because I was in an area
of immigrants, mainly from Sweden, Portugal, Italy, and Armenia.
As an Armenian, I was reminded, if I failed to devour what was set
before me, of starving fellow Armenians who would thank God for
the food I had before me. This was not a statement a child could
answer! Other children, non-Armenians, told me that they, or,
more often, their fathers, on complaining of the frequency of a


cheap food, were reminded also of the starving Armenians.

Mothers then had an easier job in preparing meals! More than a few
very aged women have told me that mothers today have a difficult
job with economy in cooking because of the “picky” adults and
This is a small matter, but it is a part of the general rejection
by young and old of any frustration: give me what I want, this is
the requirement of children and parents. “Do not frustrate me.”
This goes hand in hand with the demand for instant gratifi-
cation. For example, because of their generally undisciplined
nature, it is common for young males (and older ones as well) to
believe that sex in men is an ungovernable drive and urge. Such a
belief is an indictment of God; it is an insistence that chastity is a
physical impossibility. I recall when I was young hearing an arro-
gant pastor treat male sexual offenses lightly, insisting it was all due
to those “male gonads.” He was in that opinion rather vocal, and
so rightly not well thought of.
Today, however, schools, counselors, and pastors are too
often ready to share this view. They trivialize sin, and they trivialize
the Bible. What room is there for confession if a person’s sin is due
to his or her biology? Again, what if the excuse rendered is heredity
or biology, environment, or some like factor?
What, then, remains to be confessed? What need is there
then to confess anything other than God’s “offense” because “He
made me so. How can I help it?” Confession is replaced by the
indictment of God.
Sin and confession are both trivialized, and grace as well.
Everything is reduced to a matter of words, a simple formula, no
restitution, no penalty for sin, and no thought of sin’s offense to
God as well as to men.
To cite some instances of this, first, a few years ago a woman
separated from her husband and divorced him for incest with
their very young daughter. The daughter is in her teens, the
mother unmarried and working. Members of the former church
are still praying faithfully that the woman and her husband will
be re-united. After all, they say, “he only did it once, and he’s

sorry.” Biblical law speaks of incest in such texts as Leviticus 18:6-

18, 20:11-12, 14, 17, 20-21; Deuteronomy 22:30, 27:20, 22-23.
These false believers, however, tend to believe anything other
than God’s word.
Second, a woman learned that her husband had committed
adultery with a woman known for her promiscuity. She returned
home from a visit with her mother, learned of the brief affair, and
locked her husband out of the house. Like her, he was a member of
a large fundamentalist church. She decided to divorce because of
his adultery; he had also contracted a venereal disease and had
undergone treatment. On top of that, she feared that AIDS might
be involved. His statement was, “I’ve said I’m sorry. So why doesn’t
she take me back and sleep with me?” The church agreed; both the
church and the husband trivialized sin. He had excuses for his sin
which the church agreed with. His wife was away for some time,
caring for her sick mother, and so he “fell into temptation.” The
truth is, he welcomed it.
Not surprisingly, this church also trivialized the gospel,
preached easy believism, cheap grace, and a God who is always
there to help us, not to judge us.
Another related example of the dereliction of many churches
can be cited. Because portions of this work on confession appeared
in The Chalcedon Report in 1991, I learned second-hand of a
pastor’s opinion that “Rushdoony is on the road to Rome!” If to
believe that sin must be confessed is “Romanism,” then these
people are not reading their Bibles.
The lust for instant gratification has meant that popular cul-
ture has substituted drugs for confession. The result of a Biblical
confession is restitution and then absolution. This requires a
change in the man. He must see himself as a sinner, a transgressor
of God’s law; he must recognize that he has offended God, and this
must grieve him for having so abused God’s gift of life. He must
then make restitution; if, because of death or some other reason,
the sinner cannot make restitution to the offended person or his
family, he must make it to the Lord.

As against this, drugs offer an instant euphoria; sins, prob-

lems, and duties disappear, and a cheap bliss prevails. This leads to
addiction, because the euphoria of drugs is an escape from respon-
sibility into a god-like world of no responsibility and no guilt.
Another factor important in the decline of confession is the
prevalence of the myth of evolution. This myth has seeped into
churches which still call themselves “Bible-believing.” It is basic to
the perspective of men outside the church. Thus, David Loyn, in
writing about the Soviet agent, George Blake, who defected from
Britain to Russia, states that, as of 1991, he still vindicates his
“noble aim” of the 1950s, to assist the Soviet Union to build “a new
Blake, the would-be priest, has no sense of his own sin — it
is mankind which has failed, not communism — “My belief is that
humanity is not ready for socialism at this state.” This shields
against remorse for ruining the lives of the people he betrayed, and
sending many to their deaths.1
This attitude is not unusual. It exists outside the church and
within it. I was a seminary student when a prominent pastor,
assuming that I was a modernist, because I was a student at the
Pacific School of Religion, told me that mankind was developing,
as was God, and so a new sexual “morality” was necessary, one
grounded in love, not law. When he discovered what I believed, he
became my continuing enemy.
Given these things, the place of confession in the life of the
Christian cannot be restored unless our perspective is rigorously
Biblical. The culture of no frustration and instant gratification
must give way to Godly responsibility, and patience in faith. We
must see the decline of confession as one aspect of a general theo-
logical decay, and of a widespread refusal to believe in the living
God rather than the god of man’s silly imagination.

1. David Loyn, “A Traitor’s Apologia,” Spectator (London, England), July 6, 1991,


versus Litigation

T he stories multiply year after year. A burglar, while robbing

a California high school, falls through a skylight and wins
$260,000 in damages plus a $1,200 monthly stipend from
the local school board. In Washington D.C., one study claims that
every neurosurgeon has been sued at least once, while in Miami,
neurosurgeons each pay some $220,000 a year in malpractice in-
surance. In Texas, a plaintiff receives $248,000 after an “expert”
witness testifies that an auto accident had caused or contributed to
Typical? Maybe not, but these horror stories are symptomatic of an
ever deepening mess in America’s legal system.1
Stories like this are many, and they point to a worldwide evil. It is
certainly true that the United States leads the world in the percent-
age of lawyers and lawsuits in ratio to population. This does not,
however, mean that the other countries are less litigious. They are,
in fact, far worse. Because they are deeper into the quagmires of so-
cialism, what lawyers, courts, and juries handle in the United States
a civil bureaucracy adjudicates elsewhere, more slowly but with like

1. David Gergen, “America’s Legal Mess,” U.S. News & World Report, August 19,
1991, 72.


We cannot blame lawyers and courts alone. The juries are

equally bad, and even worse. The juries rarely represent a superior
element, and, as one lawyer said to me, “To get a jury of your peers,
you usually need to be a skid row bum.” While this is not always
true, American juries do not represent people fairly. Moreover, as
men who have dutifully served on juries have told me, the attitude
of most jurors is that justice is irrelevant; let the rich, or the insur-
ance companies, pay, because they have the money.
Now this is a confession in itself, a confession of envy, and a
desire to penalize all who are successful or prosperous. The envious
man confesses the ostensible sins of his betters. He is the enemy of
justice, because for him the fundamental “moral” premise is
equality, or leveling his betters downwards. An envy-oriented cul-
ture will confess the sins of others; socialists are untiring in
dredging up the sins of capitalists, real or imagined, to vindicate
this envy. For Karl Marx, the capitalists were the exploiting class,
so that his rape or seduction of his wife’s servant was concealed, and
his exploitation of Engels was simply getting what was his due.
During the 1960s, one girl who joined a “new-life” group
which talked much of the exploitation of the people, soon found
that her function was to serve as one of the group’s private whores.
When they exploited her sexually, it was fellowship in a noble
cause! She left them finally, a broken young woman.
Litigation has become a form of humanistic confession, the
confession of the other person’s supposed sin. Many nuisance suits
are filed with the expectation that the insurance company will settle
the case out of court rather than risk, first, long and costly litiga-
tion, and, second, an irresponsible jury whose contempt for justice
is flagrant.
Perjury is routine in such cases, and it commonly goes
unpunished. In litigation the purpose is rarely the truth but more
commonly the pleasure of hurting someone else. It is not surprising
that the rise of litigation has coincided with a decline in the place
of confession in the lives of men.
Now it must be remembered that confession is a legal fact. In
the court of Almighty God, we are sinners — lost sinners, or sinners

saved by grace. In confession, whether to a pastor, priest, church

board, congregation, or to an aggrieved person, we confess that we
have transgressed God’s law. Our offense is primarily against God
and secondarily against persons. In confession, we acknowledge that
God is right about us; it is not our opinion of ourselves that is the
truth about us, but God’s knowledge of us. David, in Psalm 51:1-4,
1. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness:
according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my
2. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from
my sin.
3. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before
4. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy
sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be
clear when thou judgest.
Some people have trouble with David’s statement, “Against thee,
thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight” (v. 4). It is
true that David’s sin affected Uriah, Bathsheba, and all Israel, and
David knew this. But he was pleading guilty in God’s court, and
the law he had violated was God’s law, not man’s. When Nathan
confronted David with what he had done, David’s response was
simply, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam. 12:13). All sin
is primarily against God, because it is the violation of His law. As
1 John 3:4 tells us,
Whosoever commiteth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the
transgression of the law.
In sinning, we replace God’s law with our will or with man’s law.
We enter into litigation with God: we contend with our Maker in
hostility to His law.
As A. F. Kirkpatrick pointed out, with respect to Psalm 51:1-4,
Sin is described, as in Ex. xxiv. 7 (cp. Ps. xxxii. 1, 2), in three dif-
ferent aspects, as transgression, iniquity, sin; the Heb. words thus
rendered meaning respectively, (1) defection from God or rebel-
lion against Him; (2) the perversion of right, depravity of conduct;
(3) error, wandering from the right way, missing the mark in life.

The removal of guilt is also triply described. (1) Blot out (cp. v. 9):
sin is regarded as a debt recorded in God’s book which needs to be
erased and cancelled (cp. the use of the word in Ex. xxxii. 32; Num.
v. 23); and see… Ps. xxxii. 2): or the word may be used more gen-
erally (wipe out) of cleansing away defilement so that no trace of it
remains (2 Kings xxi. 13). Cp. the promise in Is. xliii. 25, xliv. 22;
and also Neh. iv. 5; Jer.xviii. 23. (2) Wash me: the word means
properly to wash clothes, as a fuller does… and is frequently used
in ceremonial purifications (Ex. xix. 10; 14, &c.): here it denotes
that inward cleansing of which external washings were the type.
Cp. Jer. ii. 22, iv. 14. He prays, “wash me throughly,” or abundant-
ly, for “the depth of his guilt demands an unwonted and special
grace.” But if transgression abound (Lam. i.5), so does mercy. (3)
Cleanse me (cp. be clean, v. 7); like wash, a common term in the
Levitical ritual, especially in the laws concerning leprosy. Cp. Lev.
xiii. 6, 34,&c.; 2 Kings v. 10,12,13,14.2
Confession is related to litigation and a court of law, God’s court.
Confession means entering a guilty plea by a full acknowledgment
of our law-breaking; we throw ourselves on God’s mercy and ask
for His forgiveness. We also pledge ourselves to make restitution
and to change our ways.
Now, in a fallen world, civil and criminal litigations are a
necessity, as are lawyers. An attorney at law pursues, if he is Godly,
a legitimate vocation. As with ministers in the church, the lawyer’s
legitimacy before God depends upon his faithfulness to Him.
We have, however, a generation whose ways are highly liti-
gious. Having forsaken the living God, and having made them-
selves their own gods (Gen. 3:5), they see every questioning of their
“majesty” as grounds for legal action. The choice has indeed been
for many one between confession and litigation.
Biblical confession rests on the fact of the atonement. We can
confess our sins unto God because we have the assurance that He
has provided His Son as our sin-bearer and Redeemer. Thus, to
confess our sins is to confess our trust in Christ and His atonement
for us. Isaiah 53:5-7 declares,
5. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for
our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and
with his stripes we are healed.
2. A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms (Cambridge, England: University Press,
[1902] 1906), 288-89.

6. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to
his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his
mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep be-
fore her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
In litigation before criminal or civil courts, someone loses, or,
sometimes both sides lose. The joy of confession is that, when our
confession is a faithful one, we are always delivered and blessed.
Although our sins merit hell, confession gives us God’s favor and
grace. Confession means deliverance from the burden of sin and
Those who avoid confession are lovers of misery.

Confession and Liberation

D euteronomy 28 tells us that faithfulness to God’s law leads to

irresistible blessing which shall come upon us and overtake us
(Deut. 28:2), whereas disobedience leads to irresistible curses
(Deut. 28:15). Sin must be dealt with. It is a condition of man’s
being, a revelation of his inner nature, and no cosmetics can
remove it or cover it.
Modern man compounds his sins by failing to take them seri-
ously. In God’s sight, sin is in essence anomia, lawlessness; this is
man’s original sin; it is the mark of fallen man. Sin as hamartia is
missing the mark, or falling short; it normally refers to specific sins
rather than to a general lawlessness. In either case, sin must be dealt
There are two extremes with regard to sin. The Hindu view
of Karma sees sin as a burden which can only be expiated with end-
less reincarnations. Hinduism does not produce good works
because the expiation of sins is personal and egocentric. It assumes
a capability on man’s part which does not exist.
At the other extreme is the kind of sinner described in Prov-
erbs 30:20; “Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth,
and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.” Sin


is not seen as having consequences any greater than a little food on

the corner of one’s mouth; it is easily wiped off, with no repercus-
sions. So too sin is regarded as a trifle, not to be taken seriously.
Today, in many churches, sin is taken very casually; love should
prevail, and love should lead to a forgiveness of sins. This is
humanism. If sin meant the cross for Christ on our behalf, it is no
light matter, and to treat it as such is to show contempt for Christ.
But too many who profess to believe the whole word of God dis-
miss sin by saying, “It’s all under the blood,” as though this means
that sin need no longer be taken seriously.
The late medieval doctrine of indulgences, against which
Luther fought, exacted a financial price for sins; it was a good
money-raising idea but evil theology. Modern Protestant evangeli-
calism has its own doctrine of indulgences: the sinner has only to
say, “I’m sorry,” and the matter is wiped out. There is no restitu-
tion to God and man, no consideration of the seriousness of sin. If
we do not release a murderer if he says, “I’m sorry,” why should
words suffice for any other sin? If a man robs us of our money, and
stands in front of a pastor with the money in his pocket and says,
“I’m sorry,” should he be forgiven and allowed to keep the money?
Unhappily, civil and criminal courts and church courts seem, at
times, too often, in fact, ready to overlook restitution.
If there is no restitution, there is no repentance, and there can
be no forgiveness. Cheap, antinomian forgiveness is anti-Christian
to the core because it treats sin as a trifle and shows contempt for
God and His law. It is an evil, not a virtue, and none of the insis-
tence of ungodly men in and out of the church can alter that fact.
Christ’s atonement, His death on the cross, made restitution
for the sin of His people. In capital offenses, death is required as
restitution. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood
be shed: for in the image of God made He man” (Gen. 9:6). By His
law, He makes it clear that in our sinning, we must repent, confess
our sins, and make restitution for our offenses against one another
(Ex. 22).
Without repentance, confession, and restitution, men
remain past-bound, as cultures governed by Karma doctrines have

been. The sinner is past-bound because he has no valid atonement

for his sins. He tries, through sadomasochistic activities, to make
atonement for his sins, either by punishing others or by punishing
himself. Neither strategy works. His sin, and the burden of guilt,
remains. It does more than remain. It becomes a growing factor
that wages war on all his being. Because he is sin-bound, he is past-
A culture which is not truly Christian may plan grandly for
“a new world order.” It may imagine that all problems are to be
solved by its wisdom, and it has a great deal of self-admiration. Is
there a major country in the world today which does not see itself
as the earth’s true center? Each seeks to direct itself and the world
in terms of its ostensibly superior eminence and wisdom.
Jotham (Judg. 9:7-21) gives us a parable of the king of the
trees; the trees sought to name a king over themselves, but all the
useful trees rejected the proffered kingship. Only the bramble bush
accepted the kingship, and his rule meant tyranny. The nations of
our time have made themselves into bramble bushes and tyrannies.
They represent, not liberation, but slavery.
Some of the medieval rulers were hard and brutal men, but
their readiness to confess their sins and to make some kind of pen-
ance gave them a vitality and power lacking in modern leaders.
True liberation is from sin unto holiness, and, without repen-
tance, confession, and restitution, there is neither liberation nor
holiness. Berkhof defined the ethical holiness of God as “that per-
fection of God, in virtue of which He eternally wills and maintains His
own moral excellence, abhors sin, and demands purity in his moral
creatures.” Berkhof said, of the manifestation of holiness,
The holiness of God is revealed in the moral law, implanted in man’s
heart, and speaking through the conscience, and more particularly in
God’s special revelation. It stood out prominently in the law given
Israel. That law in all its aspects was calculated to impress upon Israel
the idea of the holiness of God, and to urge upon the people the ne-
cessity of leading a holy life. This was the purpose served by such
symbols and types as the holy nation, the holy land, the holy city, the
holy place, and the holy priesthood. Moreover, it was revealed in the
manner in which God rewarded the keeping of the law, and visited
transgressors with dire punishments. The highest revelation of it was

given in Jesus Christ, who is called “the Holy and Righteous One,”
Acts 3:14. He reflected in His life the perfect holiness of God. Final-
ly, the holiness of God is also revealed in the Church as the body of
Only insofar as the church is truly the body of Christ does it reveal
the holiness of God. Since God’s law reveals His moral holiness, to
depart from the law of God is to forsake holiness for sin. An anti-
nomian church is thus a false church.
Confession and restitution lead to restoration. This restora-
tion has more than one fact. First, it is a restoration of one’s rela-
tionship to the triune God. Without this restoration, man cannot
have peace with God. We have virtually forgotten two once impor-
tant words: shriven, and unshriven. The word shrive comes from the
Latin, scribo, to write. It has reference to a legal pardon from
Almighty God; a shriven soul is a confessed and pardoned man. To
be unshriven means that no valid pardon for sin has been secured
from Christ through His church.
Second, with true confession and restitution, there is a resto-
ration of our relationship with our fellow man, with the one
offended and also all who know of the sin. Community again pre-
vails. Confession is closely related to the sacrament of communion;
in some form, either by personal or by a general confession, we
approach Christ’s table as forgiven sinners. He who forgave our sins
by His atonement requires us to make restitution one to another.
Third, the society is restored, because unconfessed sins, and
failures to make restitution, damage the relationships between peo-
ples. Instead of community, there is hostility.
Fourth, confession and restitution correct as far as is humanly
possible past evils and liberate men and communities from the
burden of the past into the possibilities of the future. Released from
their bondage of the past, men and peoples, nations and churches,
can then be future-oriented.

1. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, [1941] 1946),

Nothing is Good of Itself

I am fond of proverbs, and various peoples of the world have

made their contributions to folk wisdom. But some proverbs are
wrong; they represent a humanistic rather than a Biblical faith.
One of these is, “Murder will out.” But many murders go unsolved;
many are not even investigated. I once performed a funeral for a
man whose skull was shattered and soft to the touch, but the offi-
cial report read that he was officially dead due to “natural causes.”
Murder will out only in God’s supreme court. In a fallen world, too
often murder goes unpunished.
The world is fallen, but it pretends to be good, and nature is
seen as normative and a valid source for moral standards. This
argument, that nature is normative and good, leads straight to the
Marquis de Sade. This is an argument which is used in other than
Sadean circles. It is used, with variations, by both church and state.
The modern humanistic state sees itself as the order for law
and morality and their source. The state is judge and prosecutor,
the final authority, and naturally good if it conforms to the
reigning ideology, so that the Marxist state sees itself as good, the
democratic state is sure that it is good, and so on. Each form of the
state confesses itself to be justice incarnate, or in the process of
becoming so. It will not confess itself to be fallen, apostate, and

under the judgment of God. The state sees itself as the form of the
good in man’s life.
The church has similar delusions. It is good because it calls
itself Christ’s church. Our Lord, however, in Revelation 2:1-3:22
has some harsh things to say about some of the churches, very early
churches, and He calls one “the synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9). We
would have to say that the element in the Smyrna church was prob-
ably far better than many churches today who believe that the odor
they reek of is sanctity.
To cite an example of the abomination common to many
churches, I have a letter, received yesterday, from a woman I met
about thirty years ago, when we were both younger. A Godly
daughter of very Godly parents, her husband, from a prominent
family in that city, left her to travel across the country with another
man’s wife. He left her a few months later to live with another
woman. A few months later, he married, with a Mexican divorce, a
school teacher. A friend who visited him found that a drunken sex
orgy was underway, with all naked. The school-teacher wife was
mounted by one man, with others waiting their turn, and the hus-
band and others were busy with other women. A lawyer advised the
original and Godly wife to get a divorce, since her state did not rec-
ognize Mexican divorces, and consequently she could lose her
hard-earned house.
The home church did not condemn the husband but the
wife. She was expected to sit by the window with a light on, praying
for her husband to return. The very prominent, nationally known,
and published pastor told her to leave the church; they wanted no
divorced women. Moreover, he said, she was probably guilty and
drove him into sin by “keeping her legs crossed.” This outrageous
and insulting lie came from a pastor who died later in the sickly
odor of sanctity.
All this happened thirty years ago. Since then, the ex-hus-
band has twice eluded warrants for his arrest for swindling aging
widows of large sums of money. His ex-wife is still abused by the
church for “her part,” but nothing is said about the man.

Is this unusual? No, it is routine from coast to coast in Prot-

estant and Catholic circles. Is the church good? Not because it is a
church, but only when it is faithful to Christ. The church in itself is
no better than a Buddhist temple or a Moslem mosque, and worse
when it blasphemes the name of Christ.
The state in itself is a band of robbers, as Augustine said long
ago. More recently, Philip M. Stern documented this fact in The
Best Congress Money Can Buy (1988).
A woman is not good if she be a whore, nor is man good if
he is a whoremonger. God did not create church and state as good
in themselves but only in Him and His Son, the ordained King (1
Tim. 6:15).
Our Lord tells a ruler, “Why callest thou me good? none is
good, save one, that is, God” (Luke 18:19; Matt. 19:17). If the
ruler had recognized Him as God’s Messiah and incarnate Son,
then the title would have been acceptable. There is no goodness or
virtue floating around in nature. It is an attribute of God, a com-
municable attribute, which we can share only when we live, as our
Lord requires of us, “by every word that proceedeth out of the
mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4), because, as His redeemed people, we
find in His law-word our way of life. We are then good in our direc-
tion, while not perfectly sanctified in this life.
In spite of all Phariseeism, our lives are a confession of sorts,
an open confession to Almighty God, for, we are told,
Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but
all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom
we have to do. (Heb. 4:13)
Our lives are an open confession to God; there is not a corner in
the universe where we can hide from Him, or conceal our being
(Psalm 139:7-12). It is the epitome of futility to lie to God, al-
though many, in and out of the church, do so regularly.
A man’s life is also unwittingly confessional in due time, even
though men may be unwilling, or, at times, unable yet to see it, for
“by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20). According to
Proverbs 28:13, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but

whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” This verse
is related to Psalm 32:5:
I acknowledged 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.
We began by calling attention to the fact that neither church
nor state is of itself good, nor is any man. The same applies to con-
fession. In some church circles, it is assumed that confession of itself
requires forgiveness and restoration. This means reducing the Bib-
lical meaning of confession to empty words.
When Saul disobeyed God with respect to Amalek, he con-
fessed his sin when confronted by Samuel (1 Sam. 15:1-35). Saul’s
verbal confession was a “good” one:
24. And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have trans-
gressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because
I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.
25. Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with
me, that I may worship the LORD. (1 Sam. 15:24-25)
Saul said that he had sinned; he wanted restoration “that I may
worship the LORD.” His reason for sinning was “because I feared
the people, and obeyed their voice.” He gave an excuse for sin-
ning. David could have said that Bathsheba had inflamed him
sexually by bathing where she could be seen naked (2 Samuel
11:2). All that David said was, “I have sinned against the LORD”
(2 Sam. 12:13). He was ready to pay the price for his sins, death.
But God told David through Nathan, “The LORD also hath put
away thy sin; thou shalt not die,” although death would strike his
house (2 Sam. 12:13-14).
People are now casual about both sin and confession. An
American proverb of some wisdom says, “Commit a sin thrice and
you will think it allowable.” This easy acceptance of sin as a fact of
life, (when it is a fact of death) is very prevalent. Another American
proverb says, “A sin concealed needs two forgivings,” because the
concealing is itself a sin. In a generation given to despising God’s
law and either concealing sin or treating it as nothing, the time of
forgiveness is being replaced with the necessity for judgment.

The “Sinne Eater”

T oo often confession in the modern mind is misdirected. In

psychotherapy, it is to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or coun-
selor. In the church, it is to a priest or pastor. This misdirection in
the church is especially sad and wrong. In sinning, we break God’s
law, and our confession must be to God our Creator, Lawgiver, and
Redeemer. The fact that the confession is often directed to a man
does not eliminate the necessity of recognizing the theological char-
acter of sin. Our sin may require confession also to another person,
whom we have wronged, but it is first and foremost to God.
What we have in common with all other men is that we are
God’s creatures and are responsible to Him, and that we are sinners
in His sight. What the humanist insists that we have in common
with all men is our humanity; a common nature is assumed, and no
distinction is made between the saved and the lost. This false doc-
trine of commonality leads to serious trouble and the wrong kind
of expectations about people. To cite an example, not an
uncommon one, but one that still disgusts and angers me because
of its immorality and stupidity: A girl, a university student, was an
earnest believer in all of the humanistic articles of faith. Her min-
imal and liberal church background only confirmed her illusions.
Since the blacks she knew in her classes were earnest students (this


was some years ago), they were not “true” blacks to her. As a
humanistic do-gooder, she befriended a black hoodlum, who raped
her. He said she asked for it; she excused his behavior as an effect
of racism. Such incidents have not been uncommon, and black
girls have also been raped by white students whom they assumed
were more moral than black men.
There is an implicit confession in such incidents. It is that
humanity is one family, and a good environment and decent treat-
ment brings out the good in people. People are unable to recognize
the very substantial moral differences among people. There is a
remarkable episode from the 1930s: a committee was investigating
the control of prostitution in a major city by a criminal syndicate
leader. In hearing the testimonies of the prostitutes who had been
controlled and exploited, the committee heard one prostitute
describe how much she was worked and exploited: on one occa-
sion, she had taken some sixty men upstairs for sex. A horrified
society matron on the civic commission exclaimed in dismay,
“That must have been terrible!” The prostitute answered, “Yeah,
those stairs really get you down after a while.” The society matron
had expected the prostitute to feel degraded, whereas it was sore
feet the prostitute complained about.
Did this episode mean that the whore and the matron were
two different kinds of being? Far from it: both were sinners, but
their sinning took different directions. A bank robber and an
embezzling bank officer are alike sinners before God, whatever
their outward differences.
People must be viewed in terms of their relationship to God,
not in terms of their social status. All must make their common
confession to God. The old saying, now forgotten or ridiculed, was,
“There but for the grace of God go I.” What we are, we are by
God’s grace. We did not choose our race, sex, aptitudes, century of
birth, or anything else. We are God’s creation, and to Him we must
confess our sins, and to Him we must render thanks. Paul says,
4. Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.
5. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at

6. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and suppli-

cation with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto
7. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall
keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)
James Moffatt rendered “moderation” thus: “Let your forbearance
be known to everyone.” “Be careful for nothing” is “Never be anx-
ious.” The last verse in Moffatt’s version is, “So shall God’s peace,
that surpasses all our dreams, keep guard over your hearts and
minds in Christ Jesus.”
This peace comes only with Godly confession to the Lord,
accompanied by the necessary restitution. If we see confession as
man-centered, or primarily to a priest, pastor, counselor, or psy-
chotherapist, our confession may bring temporary relief, but not
peace with God.
We must not underrate this quest for relief. Man seeks atone-
ment always, either in truth before God and by His atonement, or
by self-atonement. Self-atonement means sadomasochism, either
self-punishment to make atonement thereby, or by laying the sin
on someone else, to make him the sin bearer, punishing him as the
reason for our sinning. Laying one’s sins on another person can be
done by means of false confession. A relative stranger sought me
out once to “confess” his sins. He avoided the pastors he knew
either through service club or sports club activities. He was a man
without any true faith, with a very guilty conscience and a need to
confess. He had no desire to pay any psychotherapist; also, he knew
them professionally. His was a repulsive story, and a burden to
hear. When I asked what he intended to do, he was surprised. He
had “confessed,” had he not? Was I not supposed to absolve him by
some kind of pronouncement? He was resentful that I was
demanding more than words and refused to go beyond them. I told
him that his confession was invalid and I was “returning” it to him,
with all the guilt thereof.
People regularly use pastors and others in the vain attempt to
transfer guilt. They are schooled too often by the church and by
psychotherapy to expect a verbal absolution on confession.

But the pastor, priest, or counselor is not God; he is not Jesus

Christ, and he must never allow the person confessing to treat him
as a sin-bearer. To do so is blasphemy; it is a form of arrogance
which can place one in a position of fearful judgment from the
hand of God. No man can forgive sins of himself. Even Christ’s
enemies knew better. They asked, when our Lord forgave the sins
of a man sick with palsy, before healing him, “Who can forgive sins
but God only?” (Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21). Our Lord declared Himself
God’s “Son of man” who “hath power upon earth to forgive sins”
(Luke 5:24; Mark 2:10). The confession is ours; the forgiveness is
According to Richard Watson,
CONFESSION signifies a public acknowledgment of any thing as
our own: thus Christ will confess the faithful in the day of judg-
ment, Luke xii, 8. (2) To own and profess the truths of Christ, and
to obey his commandments, in spite of opposition and danger
from enemies, Matt. x, 32. (3) To utter or speak the praises of God,
or to give him thanks. (4) To acknowledge our sins and offenses to
God, either by private or public confession; or to our neighbor
whom we have wronged; or to some pious persons from whom we
expect to receive comfort and spiritual instruction; or to the whole
congregation when our faith is published, Psalm xxxii, 5; Matt. iii,
6; James v, 16; I John i, 9. (5) To acknowledge a crime before a
judge, Josh. vii, 19.1
Confession thus in every form is “a public acknowledgment of any
thing as our own.” This does not always mean a public statement
of the sin or sins committed, although this in some cases is neces-
sary, but it does mean that restitution is made: this is a form of pub-
lic acknowledgment.
John Aubrey, in the Restoration era in England, wrote about
“sinne eaters.” In Hereford County, in Aubrey’s day, poor people
were hired at funerals to eat a meal which represented the sins of
the deceased. In North Wales, too, this custom then existed. It was
a superstitious form of atonement and absolution.2

1. Richard Watson, A Biblical and Theological Dictionary (New York, NY: Mason
and Lane, [1832] 1840), 256.
2. See Oliver Lawson Dick, ed., Aubrey’s Brief Lives (Ann Arbor, MI: University of
Michigan Press, 1957), lix-lx. See also R. J. Rushdoony, Revolt Against Maturity
(Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, [1977] 1989), 189ff.

This custom is strange to us in form only. If a verbal confes-

sion is accepted, with no restitution required, no necessary recon-
ciliation with God and man, then the pastor, priest, or counselor is
turned into a modern day “sinne eater.” He is no better if not worse
than the “sinne eater” of old, and because of the knowledge of
God’s word, he becomes in the process a conscious blasphemer and
an offender against God’s majesty. He thereby treats God and His
law either casually or with contempt.

The Need to Confess

B oth the police and reporters are familiar with the criminal’s
need to confess. While the “third degree” once existed, one
police detective told me that it was not necessary; many criminals
were eager to confess. According to an old proverb, “Open confes-
sion is good for the soul.” But it is not only the police and priests
to whom confession is made; it is made often to friends and to
strangers, to someone who seems receptive or kindly, often on the
belief that a sin confessed is a sin half-atoned.
Some confessions are made without any apparent shame and
even with pride, in effect saying, “No one is half as bad as I am.” I
heard of a girl, a long distance from home, working at a bar as a
nude waitress; she boasted that she received more tips than any
other girl without doing things the other girls did; at the same time,
she made her friend swear to never tell her parents what she was
doing. Here there was a mixture of pride and shame. At the same
time, her demand of her friend, “Swear you won’t tell,” was inter-
esting. Swear by what? The God she had heard about as a girl in
church, in whom she did not believe?
The whole area of confession is now a murky abyss. Because
the churches have more or less abandoned confession does not


make it any the less a moral and psychological necessity. Psychoan-

alysts and others have built empires on this need.
Perhaps the best of the psychoanalysts was Theodore Reik,
whose study of masochism is a very important account of man’s
self-confession by means of self-punishment. Masochism is a
deeply rooted fact in modern man because of this need to confess.
Reik’s Masochism in Modern Man (1941) is a classic, but an impo-
tent one. He speaks of “the need for punishment.” He says that to
be punished is to be loved. The premise of the masochist is, “to put
it theologically, first the atonement, then the sin.”1 His solution to
the problem is nonsense. High moral demands are incompatible
with our human nature, he says. True enough, since we are fallen
creatures. So what are his solutions?
We all live beyond our moral means. Let us be more tolerant to-
wards our aggressive feelings, towards our mean, cruel, and vindic-
tive thoughts. We should at least in our daydreams dare to give the
devil a fair chance.2
In other words, grin and bear it, because there is no hope. Reik, in
another context, returns to the same conclusion:
One of the most serious factors impairing the strength of the ego
is unconscious guilt-feeling. An oversevere conscience frightens
and terrifies the person. “Thus conscience doth make cowards of
us all.” One of the most important tasks of the psychoanalyst is to
strengthen the self-confidence of his neurotic patients by reducing
the demands of a too severe superego and to accept himself. This
difficult task must be approached also in convincing the patient
that he has kindness besides hostility, love besides hate and help-
fulness besides maliciousness.3
A little later, Reik speaks of sex as “redemption.” “In this sense sex-
ual satisfaction in a mature sense is comparable to an oasis desired
on a march through the desert.”4
Modern education has followed the psychoanalytic model.
Its sex education classes offer redemption through sexual

1. Theodore Reik, Masochism in Modern Man (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus,
[1941] 1949), 10, 89, 123.
2. Ibid., 390.
3. Theodore Reik, Sex in Man and Woman: Its Emotional Variations (New York, NY:
Noonday Press, Farrar, Straus, 1960), 99-100.
4. Ibid., 120.

satisfaction and encourage, instead of confession, tolerance towards

sins and building up self-esteem.
One result is that morally delinquent children and young
people are outraged when parents call attention to their sins and
offenses. The parents do not understand! Their ego is threatened by
such indictments, when what they need is to have their self-esteem
Even worse, the churches are teaching the same self-esteem:
“the power of positive thinking,” “possibility thinking,” “Jesus
loves you no matter what you do,” and so on and on.
Confession has not disappeared because the churches have
abandoned it. It has reappeared in other forms. The amount of
confession without grace that goes on, for example, among youth,
is startling. It is also very graphic, pornographic, and sometimes
Quite obviously, there has been a dramatic shift in man’s
thinking about himself. Dr. Richard L. Jenkins, M.D., former
Chief of Psychiatric Research, Psychiatry and Neurology Service,
Veterans Administration, Washington, D.C., cited the difference
in 1954. The term conscience, he said, is religious; we would add,
Christian, in the Western world. Another concept has replaced it,
the Freudian superego, primitive, infantile, and irrational,
something in man which is a product of his environment, not of
Conscience leads to guilt feelings when we sin, and the need
for repentance, confession, and restitution. The superego concept
leads to a need to sever ourselves from the teachings of the faith, the
family, the school, and the past. The superego idea leads thus to
moral and social anarchism. State schools do not use the Freudian
terminology while using the idea, and they fail to realize that they
are committing suicide in the process. Their products will destroy
them and their world. The offhand remark of a teenager,
unreflecting and without any but an existential and momentary
meaning, is very telling: “Who needs school?” Indeed, in a world of

5. Richard L. Jenkins, Breaking Patterns of Defeat (Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott,

1954), 102.

rebellion against the superego, who needs church, state, school,

family, or civilization? Our state schools are now schools for
There is now a rejection of the fact that guilt feelings are a
healthy reaction to sins committed, and that repentance, confes-
sion, and restitution are moral necessities.
To repent is to recognize our guilt. This is very important,
because there can be no advance in any society where sin and guilt
are not recognized and dealt with. Sin and guilt remain to fester
and to lead to even more evil.
As we have seen, humanistic confession has become popular,
to other youths, men, women, anyone but God. The Dominican
scholar, Antonio Moreno, refers to Jung’s idea of confession and
sums it up tellingly:
Confession is a therapeutical necessity in confronting our shadow,
our sins, and our guilt. A secret shared with several persons is as
beneficial as a merely private secret is destructive; the latter, Jung
says, works like a burden of guilt, cutting off the unfortunate pos-
sessor from communion with his fellows. But if we are conscious
of what we are concealing, the harm done is decidedly less than if
we do not know what we are repressing. In this case, the hidden
content is kept secret even from ourselves, hence, generally speak-
ing, an unconscious secret is more injurious than a conscious one.
All personal secrets, therefore, have the effect of sin or guilt, wheth-
er or not they are, from the standpoint of popular morality, wrong-
ly secrets. Through confession, we throw ourselves into the arms of
humanity again, freed at last from the burden of moral exile.6
God is replaced by humanity, and confession is made to humanity.
This need to confess was most brutally and savagely used by Stalin
and the Soviet Union. The goal, beginning with the purges of the
1930s, was to compel the victims to confess publicly their mis-
deeds. The so-called court trials became a form of public confes-
sion. One victim after another stood up to recite a required
confession. All these men had been broken because their god was
humanity, the Revolution, and, for the sake of the Revolution, they
were required to play their part.

6. Antonio Moreno, O.P., Jung, Gods, & Modern Man (Notre Dame, IN: University
of Notre Dame Press), 43-44.

This was no freakish event. The U.S. Congress, by suppos-

edly granting immunity, requires confession from all whom it
legally compels to come before it. Self-incrimination is set aside by
Congress, and the Constitutional immunity waived. While not as
brutal as the Soviet version, the U.S. Congress grows steadily more
brutal in its enforced confessions.
If we will not confess to God, we will be compelled to con-
fess to men. Confession is a moral necessity; if we deny its Chris-
tian form, we will soon face its anti-Christian and demonic

Turning Men
into Moral Zeroes

A s the church abandons confession for a system of counseling

that transfers guilt and sin to others, the state increasingly
compels confession by various devices. We have seen how the U.S.
Senate compels confession by denying the jurisdiction over it of the
Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The various Marxist
states are intense believers in the necessity of confession. If the state
decides that a person is a dissident, the individual in question is
summarily arrested and then tortured until he makes all kinds of
confessions to sins invented by the torturers.
Armando Valladares, a prisoner in Fidel Castro’s torture
prisons for twenty-two years for the expression of an opinion,
wrote an account of his experience, Against All Hope, a title taken
from Romans 4:18. The demand of the Soviet Union of all such
satellite states was and is that, after a season of savage tortures, the
prisoners be given the “opportunity” to join a Political Rehabilita-
tion Program. This did not give them freedom, only relief from
incessant torture. The sadistic guards disliked the measure of
restraint placed upon them, but
They were made to see that the ultimate aim of Political Rehabili-
tation was the internal annihilation of the prisoner, the destruction


of all his principles. Turning a man into a moral zero would be the
supreme vengeance.1
Thus, the state retains the idea of sin to charge men with imaginary
sins, in order to destroy them and to reduce them into a moral zero.
Whereas God created man a moral being in His own image, with
knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and dominion (Gen. 1:26-28;
Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24), man seeks to destroy God’s work and reduce
man to a moral zero.
This we would expect of the humanistic state. But why
should the churches, evangelical and reformed, work to do the
same thing? Martin and Deedre Bobgan have written extensively
on anti-Christian counseling programs within the church, most
recently in 12 Steps to Destruction: Codependency Recovery Heresies
(1991). Too often the victim is made the target of a counseling pro-
gram wherein guilt is transferred from the offender to the parents
or the community.
To make a man into a moral zero leaves society with an
impossible problem, i.e., impossible to solve in terms of the pre-
mises of the psychotherapy. After all, crime happens; husbands
and/or wives sin, abuse one another, commit adultery, and so on.
If the acting offender is not guilty, then there is no effective
restraint on sin. Then all sin and crime have a justification and a
vindication as against their accusers.
What happens then? Of late, several women have consulted
me, and have provided documentation of their victimization by
their husbands and by their churches. To illustrate (and this illus-
tration fits several situations), the husband is on drugs (or, an alco-
holic); he is flagrantly adulterous; he may have a venereal or
sexually transmitted disease, including AIDS; he has robbed his
wife of the money she has earned with her work, trying to provide
for the family (or, in some instances, sold items belonging to her,
or inherited by her); he has lied to her repeatedly; and so on and
on. The church does not contest these facts! Rather, it says to the

1. Armando Valladares, Against All Hope (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, [1986]
1987), 92.

wife, return to the family home, and we will work this out; your
husband has agreed to this. The fact that he has agreed to this more
than once, sometimes five or six times, and then continued his law-
less living once she is home does not upset the church. They are,
after all, committed to a no-divorce faith, now a common Protes-
tant error. If God could speak of divorcing Israel, and if God’s law
permits divorce on certain grounds, this means nothing to churches
determined to be holier than God, a position first held by Satan
(Gen. 3:1-6).
What happens if the wife refuses to submit to these ungodly
terms? Excommunication. What happens to the husband? Usually,
nothing. The Roman Catholic Church would once as a rule
demand some kind of penance. Our more “enlightened” Roman
Protestant Churches do not.
But what about our Lord’s word in Matthew 18:21-22?
21. Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my
brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?
22. Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times:
but, Until seventy times seven.
These words bring out a form of idiocy in churchmen: they speak
of the “necessity” for unconditional love and unconditional for-
giveness. But, as always, a text without a context is a pretext. Im-
mediately prior to this, our Lord, in Matthew 18:15-20, deals with
the man who refuses to right a wrong: his wronged brother is to go
to him first, alone; then with witnesses; then the church is notified,
not of charges, but of a verified offense, and if the offender “neglect
to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a
publican” (Matt. 18:17). Where is the unconditional love and un-
conditional forgiveness here? It does not exist! What then is our
Lord saying?
We must begin by recognizing that all our modern defini-
tions of forgiveness, especially since the Renaissance, are false and
heretical. The word forgive has reference in Scripture to God’s law,
to the Supreme Court of the universe. It can mean either 1) charges
dropped because satisfaction has been rendered, or 2), as in Luke

23:34, charges suspended for the time being. The word is a juridical
term, not an emotional one. It does not give us the right to forgive
on our terms because it is God’s law that is at stake, and restitution
or deferment rest on His law. Confession in the church is now a
formality, because forgiveness has been made emotional and
In writing on our Lord’s words on the cross, Dr. K. Schilder
said, with respect to “Father, forgive them; for they know not what
they do” (Luke 23:34), words spoken by our Lord concerning the
Roman soldiers,
… Suffice it to say that the word “forgive” as it is used here in our
text can mean: to release someone, not to put the charge or sen-
tence against a person into execution at once, not yet to effect the
penalty which the transgression according to reason and right
probably deserves.
Hence there are two kinds of forgiveness. There is a forgiveness
which, on the basis of law, says to someone: I shall cancel that
which you have done amiss. The legal issue has been carefully
considered, the verdict of the court has in no sense been
postponed, nor its effect mitigated; but we have found a legal basis
according to which the letter and the spirit of the law sets you free
forever from the persecution of the law. Such forgiveness has a
place, among other things, in the justification of the sinner. But
there is also a forgiveness which consists solely of a temporary
suspension of the charge or of the sentence. With or without a legal
sentence someone whose breach of law has been alleged or proved
can temporarily be freed from the persecution of law. Two
possibilities for the future arise from such a temporary dismissal of
action: later the man who has temporarily been dismissed from the
course of law can be arrested and condemned anew; or, in the
interim which ensues, a legal basis may be found by means of
which he definitively and strictly according to the requirements of
law is forever acquitted.
It was such a detention of the execution of law, preliminary and in-
cidental, which Jesus had in mind.2
The sentimental and emotional definition of forgiveness comes
more out of Boccaccio’s Decameron than out of Scripture. It is evil,
2. K. Schilder, Christ Crucified (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, [1940] 1948), 134-

first, because it is not Biblical. It transfers the legal fact of forgive-

ness from the realm of God’s law to the sphere of human feelings.
It is humanistic, not Biblical. It is not surprising that, as forgiveness
has become humanistic, so too has excommunication: it has be-
come grounded in church law, not God’s law, so that its canon or
rule is man, not God’s word.
Second, the false definition of forgiveness undermines and
finally destroys the doctrine of the atonement. God regards sin so
seriously that it can only be forgiven or atoned for by the cruci-
fixion of the incarnate Son of God. For someone on personal
grounds to say, I forgive you, is to usurp the prerogative of God. It
is to say that sin can be wiped out by my feelings, not by Christ’s
atonement, or, with those who are redeemed, as well as those who
are not, without restitution. Such a perspective wipes out the foun-
dation of Christian faith, doctrine, and life. It undermines the
Church of Christ to make it the Church of Sanctimonious
Humanism. I believe that there is a close connection between the
erosion of the church and its adoption of a false doctrine of forgive-
ness. Later medieval pietism did much to promote this false doc-
trine, and the reformers, while setting forth the classical doctrine of
the atonement, reflected at times their medieval heritage with
respect to views of forgiveness.
Third, we began by citing the Marxist goal, to turn people
into moral zeroes, to remake them into a humanistic and material-
istic image of man. Without atonement, and with all of this
humanistic indoctrination, man still remains man, a creature made
in God’s image. He is a sinner, not a moral zero. Humanistic coun-
seling and humanistic forgiveness leave him a sinner still. In fact,
his problem has been worsened, because, instead of being justified
by Christ’s atonement, he is given a pseudo-justification by evil
counselors, so that he is made more evil.
Our Lord says,
43. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh
through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.

44. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came
out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and gar-
45. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits
more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and
the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be
also unto this wicked generation. (Matt. 12:43-45)
This was a parable by our Lord to an ungodly nation and church,
and it was a promise of judgment on Judea. How much more will
it not apply to our generation? The first demon is not even cast out!
Men are reduced to moral zeroes by both church and state. The rea-
son is clear: “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom.
3:18ff.; Ps. 36:1).

Confession or Curse

A prevalent heresy of the modern age is the belief that, outside

of the walls of the church, our lives shift into neutral. Worship
and the church are reduced to one realm among many, and each
area of life is a separate universe. The logical conclusion to all that
was made by President Clark Keer of the University of California
in calling for the recognition of multiverses instead of universes,
and the multiversity to replace the university.
This perspective, a return to pagan polytheism, with its many
multiverses, developed rapidly after the Darwinian mythology
spread throughout the world. It prompted the revival of many false
religions and beliefs. A British rock performer, Freddy Mercury,
died of AIDS in November 1991. He had previously declared him-
self a Zoroastrian. This dualistic faith has long been an undercur-
rent, taking many forms, in Europe and elsewhere. Its fundamental
belief is that two equal gods or life-forces exist, the one calling itself
good, and the other bad. Both are equal powers or forces; both have
equal validity. If rape, incest, sodomy, abortion, euthanasia,
murder, and theft are your “thing” or taste, then your lifestyle has
equal validity with the Christian way of life. In fact, because the
Christian is “intolerant” of your lifestyle, you are probably morally
superior and are the enlightened one.


Not all men are as open as the homosexual Mercury in their

beliefs, nor as self-conscious. This perspective, however, is very
prevalent. In its milder forms, its thesis is that all consensual acts
between adults are morally valid; they are simply doing “their own
thing.” To criticize them is to transgress the “inviolability” of a
freely chosen lifestyle and a religious way of life.
Now, given the prevalence of such thinking and acting, it
should not surprise us that it has infiltrated the churches, Protes-
tant and Catholic, both clergy and laity. Confession then becomes
an empty form.
The British edition of Vanity Fair, December 1991, carried a
long report on “Unholy Alliances,” by Leslie Bennett. There is an
extensive history now of pedophilia in the priesthood. Instead of a
housecleaning, there have been payouts to hush up offenses, and
even a promotion into a tenured college professorship for one priest
with a history of offenses. In the United States, two televangelists
have been exposed for their sexual sins, and many pastors go unex-
posed. The problem is there. No endless catalog of offenses by
laymen and laywomen, by priests and by pastors, will provide an
answer to the problem. Many charges are made, too often true,
about one group or another. Sexual harassment and molestation of
women has obviously increased, and of children also, but sexual
molestation of men and children by women has also increased. The
problems are all around us.
Some vague “confessions” are made when public exposure or
criticism reaches a high level, as with a U.S. senator recently. What
seems clearly to be lacking is the day by day confession of sins, and
such confession means repentance and restitution.
In Luke 19:1-10, we read of Zacchaeus (the Greek form of
Zaccai, cf. Ezra 2:9) that, on his conversion, declared:
8. … Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if
I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore
him fourfold.
9. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this
house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
10. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was
lost. (Luke 19:8-10)

Our Lord declares Zacchaeus to be a true son of Abraham, an heir

of the Kingdom because of his faith. As Joseph McAuliffe has
pointed out, Jesus did not say, “Forget it, Zacchaeus, I know You
believe, and that you have a good heart.” Rather, he commended
Zacchaeus, who met the requirements of the law, which are the re-
quirements of faith. First, Zacchaeus repented; to repent means to
reverse the direction of one’s life, faith, and action. True repen-
tance is not simply a matter of words. Second, having repented, he
confessed his sins. His sins had been public, and so too was his con-
fession. Third, he declared that he would make full restitution and
more. Zacchaeus had moved from a world of self-determination to
a world of total accountability under God.
This is why the alternative to confession is the curse of God.
Humanistic man is much given to cursing. The words, “God damn
you,” come readily to his lips, but not their meaning, nor the fact
that he may truly be accursed by God.
Blessings and curses by God are not merely verbal expres-
sions: they are legal decrees. We can not only be accursed, but we
can be made a curse by God (Num. 5:21). The Lord God pro-
nounces us accursed if we violate His law, refuse to submit to Him
or believe in Him, or if we become a walking anti-law.
The curse, like the blessing, can also be a prayer in the mouth
of man. We must ask God to bless those who serve Him and His
Kingdom, and we must ask His curse and judgment on the high-
handed and arrogant sinner, on men to whom authority is given
and who violate it, and on the enemies of His Kingdom.
In Ezekiel 39:11-24, God pronounces a fearful curse on cov-
enant-breaking Jerusalem and its King. Where their covenant oath
has been despised and broken, there God will despise and break
them. This gives us the pattern of God’s way with us. If we despise
His covenant, His Son who established it in His own blood, and
the law of the covenant, He will despise us and break us.
Every covenant involves blessings for obedience and curses
for disobedience. We see God’s curses on covenant violations set
forth extensively in two passages, Leviticus 26:14-43, and Deuter-
onomy 28:15-68.

A curse presupposes an ultimate power and authority over us

who is the ultimate and legitimate Judge over us, God our Creator.
It is closely related to the death sentence (Deut. 21:22-23). It is also
essentially related to God’s law. Paul declares, in Galatians 3:10-14,
10. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse:
for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all
things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
11. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it
is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
12. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall
live in them.
13. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made
a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on
a tree:
14. That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles
through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the
Spirit through faith.
The law is not set aside by Christ’s atonement but simply the curse
of the law, its death penalty. If, however, our lives reveal no true
faith nor repentance, and we despise God’s law, we are given a very
grim warning:
26. For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge
of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
27. But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indig-
nation, which shall devour the adversaries. (Heb. 10:26-27)
Our failure with respect to Jesus Christ makes us accursed. Thus,
Paul tells us,
If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema
Maranatha. (1 Cor. 16:22)
8. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gos-
pel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him
be accursed.
9. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any oth-
er gospel unto you than that he have received, let him be accursed.
(Gal. 1:8-9)
This issue is clear. Either we, by confession and restitution,
remain in God’s grace, or we, by assuming our freedom to live our
lives by our private gospel of independence from God, end,
thereby, lacking a true confession of sin or of faith, and we pass
under God’s curse.

Marital Counseling

T he two areas of major concern to people who seek pastoral

counseling are money and marriage. In citing marriage, all
sexual problems are included for the simple reason that, for a Chris-
tian, marriage is the norm; all nonmarital sexual activity is a depar-
ture from it.
The variety of opinions on sex, marriage, and divorce are dis-
tressingly many. To cite one opinion, earnestly held by at least one
pastor, it is affirmed that any sexual act with any woman immedi-
ately establishes marriage and the obligation to go through the mar-
riage rite. The “justification” for this is found in 1 Corinthians
15. Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall
I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of
an harlot? God forbid.
16. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one
body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.
Now this is marvelous “logic,” but it has no warrant in Scripture.
Our union with Christ, Charles Hodge said, is a community of life;
the purpose of marriage is a community of life between a Godly


man and woman. It is a violation of God’s purpose for sexuality to

join our bodies to a whore.1
Others, Catholic and Protestant, have concluded from Mat-
thew 19:3ff. that Christ forbids divorce. Moreover, they insist on
reading “fornication” as the same as adultery. In Institutes of Bib-
lical Law, I made it clear that the meanings are very, very different.
Moreover, some hold, all remarriages of women wrongfully
divorced constitute adultery on the part (not of the woman) of the
new husband (Matt. 19:9), as does remarriage by the man securing
the divorce. Again, the meaning of this depends entirely on the
word fornication, which is broader by far than adultery. Our Lord,
in Mark 7:21, clearly differentiates between the two. Fornication
does mean sexual conduct between unmarried persons; it applies
also to sexual sins in general. But what does it mean in marriage? If
our Lord had meant adultery, He would have said so. The death
penalty for adultery was already a part of the law; Leviticus 20:10
is very clear, and all our Lord’s hearers knew of it. Fornication
meant rebelliousness against God and His authority in any sphere;
it is equated with uncleanness and covetousness in Ephesians 5:3,
and so on and on. Its meaning is a broad one: it means persistent
Having said this, we must ask another question: to whom
does this law apply? For example, God forbids His holy people to
eat any animal that dies of itself. But many peoples then and since
have enjoyed such foods. The law thus reads,
Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself: thou shalt give it
unto the stranger that is in thy gates, that he may eat it; or thou
mayest sell it unto an alien: for thou art an holy people unto the
LORD thy God. (Deut. 14:21)
In brief, God does not expect the ungodly to live as the Godly do.
His law for all men is, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex.
20:14), but God also knows the adulterous hearts of fallen men.

1. Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans, 1950 reprint), 104-5.

We must recognize that there is a difference between Godly

and ungodly marriages. Very clearly, Godly marriage is cove-
nantal (Mal. 2:14). A people in covenant with God will marry
At this point, Roman Catholics (and here and there some
Protestant churches) have recognized the difference between a cov-
enantal marriage and a non-covenantal, however varied their termi-
nology. Thus Roman Catholics have not recognized the validity of
marriages contracted outside the church, so that the marriage so
made is a nullity, as is the divorce: the person has not been truly
married. The validity of this stand is that a difference between
Godly and ungodly marriages is recognized. The fallacy is that
church membership and covenant status are equated, a false
In the 1920s and 1930s, and, to a limited degree in the
1950s, more than one fallen-away Catholic or Protestant would
return to the church to seek a bride because he wanted a virgin; his
motives were clearly not covenantal. In one instance in the 1920s,
a pastor, suspicious of the young man, insisted that he undergo a
medical examination before any premarital counseling. It was
quickly discovered that he was venereally diseased; the marriage
was cancelled, and the pastor was sued but won.
Several other related instances can be cited. I know of several
where a Godly girl simply married a man out of shame, feeling she
had no other choice, because he had raped and/or seduced her.
Could such marriages by any stretch of the imagination be called
covenantal? They may be legal in civil law, but how can we call
them valid before God? Why look only at the divorce action and not
at the original act and all the abuse between marriage and the end
thereof? How can the law of God be invoked to validate a lawless
marriage? One woman, savagely abused by her husband, and her
daughter molested, was turned away by all the churches in one
small city save one, where a courageous pastor helped her gain a
divorce and a favorable settlement.

I heard today of a woman beaten and robbed by two hood-

lums who kept repeating to them, “Jesus loves you.” The two black
men were evil; this white woman was blasphemous.
Is it not blasphemy to approach marriage which is totally
alien to God’s covenant as though it were a covenantal relationship
rather than an ungodly one? Some men and some women have
spent their marital lives doing evil one to the other. Can we call it
a Godly marriage because neither one committed adultery? In one
marriage, the husband would stand by the window, watch the
women going by, and masturbate openly. Was this a covenantal
marriage, and was the wife bound to her husband until he com-
mitted adultery? Was this not a form of fornication and a desertion
of his duties as a husband?
Paul sees the believing partner in a marriage as free “if the
unbelieving depart” (1 Cor. 7:15). To depart from a marriage has,
over the generations, meant not only a physical departure but also
a departure from one’s duties; it has meant willful nonsupport,
drunkenness, and so on. But the new Phariseeism will have none of
this. It is holier than God when it comes to divorce.
God divorced Himself of faithless Israel, but our modern
Pharisees will have a Christian remain in ungodly bondage no
matter what takes place. I have found a correlation between such
Phariseeism and child abuse.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that “man’s
chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” To suffer
lawlessness is no way to glorify God.
Basic to the Bible is God’s covenant with man. Every sphere
of life is either a covenant sphere or a lawless one. We have no place
in the sphere of lawless and uncovenanted life. To condemn men
and women to a lifelong bondage to an evil person whose great
pleasure is to defile a righteous person is evil. And too many
churches exalt evil as holiness.
Marital counseling is thus too often especially evil because it
does not begin with the fact of the covenant. The church has much
confessing to do.

Covenant and Confession

A theology of confession must begin with the fact of the triune

God and His covenant with man. It must be God-centered. It
cannot begin with confession itself, or it will then be man-centered.
The Puritans tended to emphasize confession very strongly.
Puritan pastors, in their record books, referred to the many confes-
sions made by people distressed by their “apparent” lack of suffi-
cient faith, grace, mercy, or obedience.
As against the formal worship of the Church of England, and
the publicly recited general confession of the Book of Common
Prayer, they sought a more personal confession and relationship
with the Almighty. They took very intensely and earnestly Paul’s
words in 1 Corinthians 11:28, “But let a man examine himself, and
so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.”
The result was a strong belief in self-examination. This led to
a heightened self-consciousness. Both the Roman Catholic confes-
sional and the Puritan stress on self-examination did contribute to
the modern introspective mind. Modern man is prone to analyzing
himself and others in terms of Freud. Freud himself represented
another strand in this heightened self-consciousness, that of


Now, in our Lord’s time, the Pharisees had developed self-

examination into a vast system whereby what constituted good and
evil was prescribed by much analysis and man-centered thinking.
The number of steps a person could walk on the Sabbath was care-
fully prescribed, as were all his activities. Not the plain law of God,
but the law of the Pharisees prevailed, and the apostles described it
as a yoke.
For some Protestant evangelicals, the antidote to sin is end-
less involvement in “spiritual” activities, i.e., a church-centered
rather than God-centered life. Sin is related to church activities and
personal failures in “spiritual” exercises rather than to God’s law,
despite the very plain statement of 1 John 3:4 that “sin is the trans-
gression of the law.”
In Roman Catholic circles, faithfulness to God’s law is often
replaced by an attitude which sees activities outside the church as
defiling. Thus, we are told that Patricia Kennedy Lawford, sister of
President John F. Kennedy, “would cross herself before each and
every sexual encounter” with her husband.1 This, if true, is sad; it
indicates a desire for holiness, but a misdirected one. After all,
Scripture is clear on the subject:
Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whore-
mongers and adulterers God will judge. (Heb. 13:4)
To reduce the faith to “spiritual” concerns is an implicit Manichae-
anism. (The Phariseeism of old and of our time in Judaism was
rooted in a legalistic precisionism.)
God’s covenant is a covenant of law and grace. It requires
that the focus of our lives be covenant faithfulness, not a human-
istic concept of spiritual perfection. The ground of our peace with
God is not of ourselves nor in us, but in Jesus Christ and His
atoning work. Those who torment themselves with their sins are
not trusting in Him nor in His salvation.
At the other extreme, we have those who take no account of
sin. In analyzing the thinking of Albrecht Ritschl, B.B. Warfield

1. James Spade, The Man Who Kept the Secrets (New York, NY: Bantam Books,
1991), 183.

Holding firmly to this irreducible either-or — that there can be no

love of God present where His wrath is in any measure active —
Ritschl could not allow that the reconciled sinner could justly suf-
fer under a continuous sense of guilt. No clouds could be admitted
to obscure the Father’s countenance. The reconciled believer must
not only bask in an unbroken but in an unsullied sense of the di-
vine love. The Reformation doctrine that the Christian life is a
continuous repentance, that the believer is conscious of continual
shortcomings which, he knows, deserve the wrath of God, and is
continually receiving unmerited forgiveness, was not merely repug-
nant, but impossible to him. He was compelled to develop a con-
ception of the Christian life which inferred perfection. There could
be no room in it, we do not say merely for distrust, fear, despon-
dency, but for contrition, repentance, self-abasement. The very es-
sence of the Christian life is for him necessarily freedom from these
things. Precisely what “reconciliation” is to him is the discovery
that God takes no account of sin in us. Not that we are freed from
sin. But that it makes no difference whether we sin or no: God clos-
es His eyes to our sin. This is of course an antinomian attitude. All
perfectionist doctrines run into antinomianism. It is intrinsic in
Ritschl’s low view of sin. What is at the moment important for us
to note is that it enables us to understand that Ritschl is not willing
to have the perfection which he proclaims for Christians measured
by the standard of the moral law. Whatever the Christian may ac-
tually do, he is no “sinner,” and his conscience must not accuse
Ritschl’s influence on modernism was a deep and important one.
Among other things, it led Modernists and their evangelical camp
followers to abandon confession for psychotherapy; they now saw
their problems, not as sin, but as mental burdens brought on by
family and church. Psychotherapists should erect a memorial to
Ritschl: he has contributed profoundly to their success.
Warfield’s thinking in Perfectionism is very important in this
context. Both sin and grace must be taken very seriously by
covenantalism. Too much confession is based on individualism
and perfectionism. As we have seen, Warfield calls attention to the
fact that “all perfectionist doctrines run into antinomianism.” They
do so because they abandon the covenant for individual salvation,
or, if modernists, for social salvation, for a political utopia. In both
cases, God’s covenant and the covenant law are replaced by a

2. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Perfectionism, vol. 1 (New York, NY.: Oxford

University Press, 1931), 94.

perspective which fractures Scripture to separate love and grace

from law.
For covenantalism, God’s sovereign grace redeems us, and
God’s sovereign law guides us: it is a lamp unto our feet, and a light
unto our path (Ps. 119:105). We therefore are not left in doubt,
nor do we need to exercise ourselves emotionally to know our status
before God: it does not depend upon us, but upon Him, and He is
always faithful. Again citing Warfield,
It belongs to the very essence of the type of Christianity propagated
by the Reformation that the believer should feel himself continu-
ously unworthy of the grace by which he lives. At the center of this
type of Christianity lies the contrast of sin and grace; and about
this center everything else revolves. This is in large part the mean-
ing of the emphasis put in this type of Christianity on justification
by faith. It is its conviction that there is nothing in us or done by
us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we
are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s
sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only
“when we believe.” It is just as true after we have believed. It will
continue to be true as long as we live.3
Perfectionism rests on Arminianism and it leads commonly
to a belief in the plenary power of man to save himself; in the
Arminian system, man accepts God, or he rejects Him. Man makes
the decision, a key word to Arminians. Because man does all this,
man’s state of mind becomes very highly self-conscious. If every-
thing depends on man’s decision for Christ, then everything
depends on emotional confessions, witnessing, and enthusiasm.
Hence, the Arminian needs continual revivals because he needs a
freshening of his enthusiasm and a renewal of his ostensible salva-
tion. All this, over the centuries, has given a very false emphasis to
confession and to the whole of the Christian’s life. It becomes a
continual self-exercise in “spiritual” helps. If God’s relationship to
us is determined by our decisions and our confessions, then an
impossible burden is placed on us as individuals. And then our
minds are reduced to continual turmoil. For some people, this leads
to serious mental problems as they try to dredge up every conceiv-
able sinful thought or act in order to confess them and cleanse their

3. Ibid., 113.

soul. Instead of spiritual assurance, they have instead spiritual

uncertainty, or else they lapse into a weary indifferentism.
They become the center of the world. Everything is read in
terms of their lives. It is true that all events come from the hand of
God. His providence rules and overrules all things, so that all
things are not only from Him but also have as their goal the pur-
poses of the Almighty. We are not the center of God’s universe: He
is. Our confessional life cannot be centered on ourselves. Here
again, Warfield is devastatingly accurate in his analysis:
Because God is in all that occurs, each thing that exists may be tak-
en in turn as a center from which we may look out upon the all-
embracing providence of God, and in relation to which we may
contemplate all that occurs. It is not in itself wrong, therefore, that
each individual soul should look upon all that occurs to it, and to
all that circle of existence which closely surrounds it, as part of
God’s providential dealing with itself, and should utilize it from
that point of sight. Nevertheless, some very curious — some very
undesirable — results are apt to grow out of this entirely right and
useful habit, when it is one-sidedly indulged. It may, often does,
end in erecting our individual self into something very like the fo-
cus of the universe and conceiving of everything and everybody in
the circumference of the circle thrown out from ourselves, as a cen-
ter, as existing for us alone. A death of someone in our circle, for
example, comes to be viewed only in its relation to our own person,
and is thought of as if it were brought about by the Divine Gover-
nor of the world solely for its effect upon us. We read, for instance,
in Upham’s “The Life of Madame Guyon,” of the deaths of her fa-
ther and daughter, and from all that appears from the expressions
of feeling quoted from Madame Guyon, or from Upham’s com-
ments, they seem to have been looked upon by her and to be rec-
ommended to our consideration by him, so prevailingly from the
point of view of her own disciplining, as to suggest that they were
brought about by God for no other purpose than to benefit her.4
The whole course of human affairs revolves around such people, if
they are to be believed! Both confession and prayer can become ex-
ercises in egocentricity unless the praise of God becomes para-
mount in our lives, in our confessions, and in our prayers.
The failure to ground confession in sound theology, in
covenantalism, warps the whole of Christian faith and life into

4. Ibid., vol. 2, 430.


something man-centered, pietistic, and ineffectual. Warfield wrote

of Madame Guyon,
Everything therefore which was transacted in the person of Christ
here on earth, and found its completion in Him, she transferred to
the heart of the individual and had transacted over again there. It
is only in this sense that she enthrones Christ in the center of her
religious life. It is not the fact of the redemptive work of Christ on
which she rests; and it is not the forming of Christ within, as a re-
sult of faith in this redemptive work, for which she hopes.
She suspended her hope on the repetition in the soul, by its own
exercises, of the experiences of Christ, until, having reproduced in
itself the qualities that characterized Christ, it becomes sharer in
the divine favor which rested on Him. Christ ceases in this view to
be our Savior and becomes our model. He is not Himself the Way
by which we reach God, but only the Guide who shows us the way;
not the blood of Christ but imitatio Christi has become the ground
of our hope.5
In such thinking, faith is Pelagianized. 6
A confession of sins is worthless unless there is the praise of
God and a confession of faith. A valid confession has consequences.
As James 1:26-27 makes clear,
26. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not
his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
27. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep
himself unspotted from the world.
Such a man is in God’s covenant.

5. Ibid., 378.
6. Ibid., 608.


A s we have seen, a sound covenantal theology is basic to true

confession. The forms of confession can be observed without
meaning. From the medieval era, if not from the earliest days of the
church, however confession was made, it had essentially these ele-
ments. First, the sinner had to be repentant. There had to be con-
trition, sorrow for sin, and a desire to make amends. Then, second,
the sin had to be confessed; this, as we have seen, has taken different
forms: to the congregation, to the offended person or persons, to
the priest, or to the pastor, depending on the era and the church
laws; third, the sinner had to make some form of amends, satisfac-
tion, or restitution, in order to be forgiven.
This requirement was early tied to being allowed to receive
communion. This had and has the best of reasons: the church
cannot treat communion as a rite to which any man, any unrepen-
tant sinner who has not made restitution, can have access. At this
point a difference sets in which, from one perspective, is a hair’s
width, and from another, an unbridgeable canyon. The church acts
as the agency for the confessional. The confession, however, is to
God through Christ. If, in the mind of the sinner, or in the
thinking of the church, the church and its functions take priority
over God and His law-word, then the church compounds the sin


and becomes the greater sinner. When, for example, the church
compounds the evil by insisting on forgiveness and reconciliation
where no restitution has been made, then the church’s sin is much
greater before God.
The church radically changed societies for the better by
insisting on restitution rather than vengeance. We have no histo-
rian, to my knowledge, who has studied the social revolution
wrought by this insistence. It was a major battle against paganism,
and it made civilization and a Godly law-order possible. The basic
premise of God’s law is to substitute God’s law-word, His ven-
geance against sin, for man’s vengeance. As God’s law is bypassed,
human devices take over, and justice wanes.
When pilgrimages were imposed in the medieval era for res-
titution as the penance for sin, the results were a boon to the
economy of the pilgrimage cities, but no moral advancement for
society. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales give us a telling account of how
superficial these trips were to most pilgrims. This is not to deny
that some pilgrims were truly contrite, but the pilgrimage could
not replace restitution to God and to man.
Pilgrimages became good business, big business. They were
in a sense precursors to the foreign travel plans of many a current
travel agency. More than a few fundamentalist and evangelical
churches sponsor trips to “The Holy Land,” and returning travelers
are ecstatic on what a “blessing” the trip was. The Godly went and
returned Godly people; the sanctimonious sinners were no dif-
ferent, despite their gush. The trips are minor semi-historical
guided tours.
Erasmus, near the Reformation era, denounced pilgrimages
as “tourist excursions.”1 The pilgrimages became less than holy,
and a statute of Richard II in England, 1388, decreed that all per-
sons claiming to be pilgrims who could not produce “a letter of pas-
sage” were to be arrested, unless infirm.2

1. Andrew McCall, The Medieval Underworld (New York, NY: Dorset Press, 1979),
2. Ibid., 35n.

Pardoners were created by the medieval church to sell par-

dons, a fund-raising device which rapidly fell into disrepute. The
Council of Trent abolished the office. Long before then, pardoners,
more than any other churchmen, perhaps, were held in disrepute.
In The Canterbury Tales (c. 1380s or 1390s), when it is the Par-
doner’s turn to tell a story, the other pilgrims at once tell the host,
“No, don’t let him tell us any ribaldry! Tell us some moral thing so
that we can be instructed, and then we shall be glad to listen.” The
pardoner, an able preacher, gives them a good tale, but, at the
finish, he adds:
But, sirs, I forgot one word in my tale: I have relics and pardons in
my bag, as fine as any man’s in England, which were given to me
by the Pope’s own hand. If any of you wish, out of piety, to make
an offering and to receive my absolution, come up at once, kneel
down here, and humbly receive my pardon. Or else you can accept
pardon as you travel, fresh and new at the end of every mile, just
so you make another offering each time of nobles and pennies
which are good and genuine. It is an honor to everyone here that
you have available a pardoner with sufficient power to absolve you
as you ride through the country, in case of accidents which might
happen. Perhaps one or two of you will fall off your horses and
break your necks. See what security it is to all of you that I happen
to be in your group and can absolve you, both high and low, when
the soul passes from the body. I suggest that our Host, here, shall
be first; for he is most enveloped in sin. Come on, Sir Host, make
the first offering right now, and you can kiss each one of the relics.
Yes, for just a groat! Unbuckle your purse at once.3
The host’s answer is a very profane one: Pardoners were not held in
respect long before Erasmus. A pardoner, and many were “fakes,”
could make more money in one day than a parson could in a
month or more. Pardoners would disrupt church services and
drown out the Mass with their loud preaching in church yards.
Such indulgences were profitable to Rome and were therefore
There is a very important aspect to indulgences, in that what
the church did, the kings soon imitated. In the place of God’s law,
the king’s law began to prevail, and the sentence would be a long

3. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, trans. R. M. Lumiansky (New York, NY: Washington

Square Press, 1960), 298-99.
4. McCall, Medieval Underworld, 38.

imprisonment unless the convicted person paid a heavy “fine” or

ransom. Royal and presidential pardons have as their origin this
precedent, now accepted as a privilege of being a high officer of
state, in the United States, a governor or a president. There is no
reason to believe that the medieval payments to the crown for the
release of an offender have disappeared. Some current pardons and
paroles are difficult to relate to justice. Kings assessed the ability of
the offender to pay, and they assessed him accordingly. In McCall’s
Far more important, in their eyes, was the profit to be made out of
granting pardons: so that on the whole, in the later Middle Ages,
the buying of a pardon became a straightforward financial transac-
tion; and once again, therefore, an important means of evading the
full ferocity of the law was generally available to all but the impe-
cunious, the friendless and those people who, whether as a group
or individually, excited the particular enmity either of the King
himself or of his judicial representatives.5
Many Protestants are very prone to cite the indulgences cor-
ruption that Luther confronted, but they are too obtuse to see our
modern courts and legal system as an heir to the medieval indul-
gences system. Once men depart from God’s law, they must create
some kind of system to supplant it. Any substitute for God’s law is
evil. Thus, in considering the meaning of Biblical confession and
restitution, we must also face up to what its alternatives have been
and are. They are all around us, in church and state, and they are
varying forms of sins, whether practiced by men, churches, or
There would be a hue and cry today if any church attempted
to sell indulgences. Why is there no like hue and cry when the same
premise of indulgences is practiced by the state in a far worse form?
Prisons are schools of crime and sodomy. Fines enrich the state:
they do not make restitution to the offended person. Pardons often
have reference to political pressure, not to justice. Protests against
the death penalty for capital offenses are protests against God’s

5. Ibid., 81.

Anyone who condemns the medieval system of indulgences

without at the same time condemning our statist and humanistic
legal system is a hypocrite.
The whole system of indulgences, whether by church or by
state, denies that crimes and sins are essentially against God and
His law. Luther’s work is only half done, and the abolition of indul-
gences by the Council of Trent did not abolish its use by the state.
Chaucer’s pilgrims ridiculed the Pardoner and held him in
contempt, as does modern man the state. The pilgrims, however,
had no answer to what they knew to be an evil because they did not
know the law-word of God. The modern citizen is more evil than
the pardoners of old; he tolerates and supports an evil system of
state indulgences as though it were justice. God’s vengeance will
not fail to exact His price.

The Indulgence Society

I t is commonly believed that the system of indulgences is an insti-

tution limited to the Roman Catholic Church. It is my purpose,
as should now be apparent, to show that it is commonly found in
all the churches and is very much the policy of the modern state. As
we have seen, the state in the Christian era borrowed the doctrine
from the church. Our modern pardoners, or peddlers of indul-
gences, are judges, juries, parole boards, governors, and presidents.
Let us examine first the Roman Catholic doctrine, as briefly
stated in the Grounds of Catholic Doctrine:
It is a releasing, by the power of the keys committed to the Church,
the debt of temporal punishment which may remain due upon ac-
count of our sins, after the sins themselves, as to the guilt and pun-
ishment, have been already remitted by repentance and
This is a careful statement which avoids reference to the actual
practices attacked by Martin Luther but sanctioned by the papacy.
The morally licentious John Tetzel sold indulgences which

1. Cited in “Indulgences,” in John M’Clintock and James Strong, Cyclopaedia of

Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol. 4 (New York, NY: Harper and
Brothers, [1871] 1894), 563.


May our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon thee, and absolve thee
by the merits of his most holy passion. And I, by his authority, that
of his apostles Peter and Paul, and of the most holy pope, granted
and committed to me in these parts, do absolve thee, first, from all
ecclesiastical censures, in whatever manner they have been in-
curred; then from all thy sins, transgressions, and excesses, how
enormous soever they may be: even from such as are reserved from
the cognizance of the holy see, and as far as the keys of the holy
Church extend. I remit to thee all punishment which thou de-
servest in Purgatory on their account; and I restore thee to the holy
sacraments of the Church, to the unity of the faithful, and to that
innocence and purity which thou possessedst at baptism: so that
when thou diest the gates of punishment shall be shut, and the
gates of the Paradise of delights shall be opened; and if thou shalt
not die at present, this grace shall remain in full force when thou
art at the point of death. In the name of the Father, the Son, and
the Holy Ghost. 2
The Council of Trent affirmed the theological “validity” of indul-
gences while curbing their practice. Their sale, however, did con-
tinue in some areas at least until 1800. In our time, Cardinal
Ratzinger has affirmed the validity of the doctrine.
The fallacy in this doctrine and practice is that what should
be reserved to God and His law is usurped by the church. Instead
of repentance and restitution, a moral change, a financial transac-
tion takes its place. The subject is one of embarrassment to Catho-
lics but a delight to Protestants and humanists in criticizing the
Roman Catholic Church.
Certainly it must be criticized and condemned, but we must
be careful that we are not guilty of the same sin before we cast a
stone (John 8:7). We are commanded by our Lord to “judge righ-
teous judgment” (John 7:24), which means judging according to
God’s justice or law. There is no relationship between indulgences
and God’s law. We are, however, forbidden to judge, first, on purely
personal grounds, i.e., out of trifling reasons and dislikes, or,
second, when we ourselves are guilty of the same or worse offenses
(John 8:1-11). We are told:
1. Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with
what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
2. Ibid., 565

3. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye,
but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote
out of thine eye; and behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5. Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye;
and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy
brother’s eye. (Matt. 7:1-5)
Now, let us consider some instances of Protestant indul-
gences. First, a young businessman, his company of a few years’ his-
tory flourishing, hired as an accountant a church member. Before
long, he found himself near bankruptcy: the accountant had stolen
approximately $450,000 to invest in schemes he felt would enrich
him greatly and had lost it all. In the process, he had given gener-
ously to the church. The church called the businessman’s demands
for restitution harsh and unforgiving. As a Christian, he should for-
give his erring brother, who had neither repented nor asked for for-
giveness. An investigation by the businessman turned up the
embarrassing fact that the thief had done the same thing in three
other cities, only to be forgiven by the church. This discovery only
enraged the church leaders all the more, and the businessman was
censured as “unchristian.” Several like instances involving sums of
money, great and small, could be cited, in fact, all too many cases.
Second, again a too common instance, a man or a woman is
guilty of adultery, in many cases habitually so. If the guilty party
cries or acts contrite, the innocent spouse is ordered to take them
back. If the innocent party objects that there is no repentance, no
evidence of abandoning also either alcoholism or drugs, and no
clean bill of health with respect to venereal diseases or AIDS, the
church authorities denounce this because it supposedly introduces
materials “extraneous” to the spirit of forgiveness in Jesus.
In these and countless other kinds of incidents that occur
daily, God’s law is despised by the Protestant doctrine of indul-
gences. Forgiveness can only be in terms of God’s law, as a satisfac-
tion of His justice.
The modern state, too, has its indulgences, fines, prison sen-
tences, and so many hours or months of community services. An
unrepentant and particularly vicious rapist, out on parole,
expressed anger at the protest of many. “I’ve paid my debt to

society,” was his statement. First, his debt was not to society but to
God, whose law he had broken, and he deserved to die. Second,
there was no moral change in the man, neither repentance, confes-
sion, nor restitution. He had spent time in prison; he was involved
there in homosexuality; he had practiced the routines needed to
impress a parole board (a collection of modern pardoners and
indulgence peddlers), and, within a year after his release, he was
arrested for another serious crime. How many he had committed
which remained as “unsolved crimes,” no one knows.
Our modern legal system is far worse than John Tetzel and
his associates, and yet one and all accept it as justice! Someone has
said, “When people have to worry about being protected from our
legal system, rather than being protected by it, it’s time to do some-
thing!” Well, during most of history, the state and its legal system
have been as much an enemy to the people as criminals, sometimes
more so.
Justice will escape every legal system, every church and state,
if God’s law is set aside. We will then have exactly what we do have,
a system of indulgences. When the black prize fighter, Mike Tyson,
savagely raped a young woman, a black, and a Sunday school
teacher, a number of black pastors called for mercy for Tyson, com-
munity service, and the like. White pastors too often kept silent,
lest they be accused of that great modern sin, racism!
The indulgence society of the early 1400s was seemingly very
powerful, and the peddling of indulgences highly profitable and
successful. It was, however, both evil and vulnerable. So too today,
churches and states, following their self-hallowed indulgence sys-
tems, are highly vulnerable and will either be reformed or decay.
We live in an indulgence society and are too blind to see it.

and Inquisition

G od requires confession, both a confession of sin and sins, and

a confession of faith. Confession is thus in a double sense an
important aspect of the Christian life, a mandatory one. The
important question, however, is this: can the state or church
require it?
First, in Biblical law, there is no permission for the civil order
to require confession. In Joshua 7, the sin of Achan led to Israel’s
defeat. God then supernaturally made it clear that Achan was the
guilty man, together with his family. Joshua then said
... unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God
of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what
thou hast done; hide it not from me. (Josh. 7:19)
Achan was asked to give honor to God whose supernatural action
had uncovered Achan’s guilt, because sin uncovered and judged is
less fearful than sin covered and unjudged. However, even though
God Himself had uncovered Achan’s sin, and Achan confessed,
civil legality still required, in terms of God’s law, corroboration.
This was found, and Achan and his family were executed. (It is ev-
idence of how far Judaism strayed from the faith that Rashi held
that Achan was executed “because he had violated the Sabbath”!)1
Two witnesses, or two forms of witness, were required (Num.

35:30; Deut. 17:6, 19:15-16; etc.). God nowhere empowers man

to seek confession in civil matters, although He on occasion can
Himself confront men with their guilt.
Second, in the church, again two or more witnesses are
required. Thus, in Matthew 18:15-17, our Lord declares:
15. Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell
him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee,
thou hast gained thy brother.
16. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two
more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may
be established.
17. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but
if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen
man and a publican.
St. Paul declares, with regard to sinners in the Corinthian church:
In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be
established. (2 Cor. 13:1)
Again, with respect to accusation within the church, Paul writes:
Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three
witnesses. (1 Tim. 5:19)
This is a telling statement because St. Paul here forbids even hear-
ing charges, let alone trying them, unless there are two or three wit-
nesses to the charges made. There is another reference to this
matter of the witnesses necessary for civil conviction in Hebrews
10:28, so that the law of witnesses obviously applied to church and
state. Confessions were not alone valid, nor could they be extracted
from any man.
Roman law favored forced confessions, as did all pagan laws.
The church in its development within Rome disentangled itself
from the compulsory confessional system of the Empire. Its
requirement was rather that men, led of God, confessed their sins
and made restitution. It was thus a moral requirement in the main.
The issue is a very, very important one. Mandatory confes-
sion in either church or state leads always to torture. Robert Held,
in Inquisition (1985), called attention to the fact that the incredibly

1. Rabbi Reven Drucker, The Book of Joshua (Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications,
1982), 209.

evil instruments of torture used in inquisitions are still used by

many “modern” states in various continents. He cited three eccle-
siastical inquisitions: 1) the medieval or papal one against primarily
the Albigensians, but also used elsewhere, 1231-c. 1400; 2) the
Roman inquisition for the suppression of Protestantism, estab-
lished in 1542 by Pope Paul III; and 3) the Spanish inquisition,
used by the crown to centralize its power.2
Can we call it an accident in history that auricular confession
was made mandatory at least once a year before communion by the
Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, and that in 1215 that same
Council made the persecution of heretics the business of synodical
courts? (In 1148, the inquisition began its work against the
Albigensians in southern France.) Consider the implications of
mandatory confession. It requires implicitly a confession not only of
sin but also of faith, faith as the church defines it. This gives
enormous powers to the church. It compels the faithful to make a
double confession.
If the church can compel confession, it can logically also
compel an undeviating, unswerving obedience to the church’s con-
fession of faith. This then vindicates an inquisition.
The same is true in the state. The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth
Amendment was intended to prohibit all coerced confessions. No
man could be compelled to testify against himself. This, however,
is precisely what Congress compels witnesses to do, pretending to
grant them immunity from prosecution. This immunity is rapidly
eroding. Even the idea of compulsory self-incrimination, with or
without immunity, is ungodly.
The question of the relationship of confession and inquisi-
tion is an essential one. Confession is a spiritual necessity before
God, and, on occasion, before men. But to coerce men into con-
fessing is the essence of all civil and ecclesiastical inquisitions.
Inquisitions by civil governments are now commonplace in every
continent, and their prevalence goes largely unnoticed.
One of the great evils of all forms of inquisition is that they
are justified in the name of protecting society, or, at one time, the

2. Robert Held, Inquisition (Florence, Italy: Ina D’Arno, 1985), 13-15.


church. True protection is a moral fact rather than a resort to tor-

ture. Pastors and teachers are the necessary line of defense, but,
above all, Godly families.
What we have seen thus far is that confession is a moral neces-
sity; confession can be made to the church or the clergy; it can be
made to the person offended. Depending on the context, one or
another of these can be morally required, but they cannot be
It is a great evil to assume that, because a particular goal is
good, any means to it partakes of that good. In fact, evil means
create evil ends. Churches have suffered for their failures here; psy-
chotherapy is more and more discredited, and the power state is
committing suicide.
The link between confession and inquisition must be broken
morally, legally, and in practice. The world is moving into ter-
rorism because its premises are very agreeable to it, civilly and eccle-
siastically. Terrorism justifies itself by pointing to the ostensible
evils of its targets. This has been the justification of tyrants over the
It is particularly reprehensible that the church has involved
itself in this justification. The decline of religious confession is both
very sad and yet very necessary. The connection with the evil abuses
of the concept over the centuries needs to be broken.

Confession as Government

A t about the year 1936, I reacted very negatively to the

confessional of the Roman Catholic Church because of my
sister’s experience, working as a clerk at a five-and-ten-cents store.
Except for herself, all the sales girls were Catholics; the manager
was Jewish. The other girls routinely stole small items and could
not understand why my sister refused to do it. All you have to do
is to confess it, and it’s all right, they told her. Yes, observed
someone listening to my sister; say a few Hail Marys, and it
supposedly clears your record. I was offended at this trivializing of
the faith and confession.
About a year later, I was enrolled in a class of twenty on
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; the professor was a renowned Chau-
cerian scholar. Among the students were two nuns, in habit, who
at times chatted with me because my perspective they recognized as
Christian. I do not recall what the professor said about confession
that left the sisters shaking their heads as they discussed it with me
later. They made it clear that he was ignorant on the subject. As
they called attention to his misconceptions, they made clear that
they knew from historical studies and present practice in the con-
vent what confession is about. I remember only one statement they
made: confession and the confessor made peace between God and


man, and between one person and another. Their talk made me
realize something I had never thought of before. A constant
problem in Protestant churches is quarreling women. Even St. Paul
had to deal with this problem and had to write to the Philippians
beseeching two women to “be of the same mind in the Lord” (Phil.
4:2). It occurred to me that a convent full of women would be a
potentially stormy place; however strict the discipline, the resent-
ments and disagreements would be there. A good confessor would
be truly a peacemaker, and to be a confessor to nuns would require
a wise and patient priest.
The nuns did not use the word, but I recognized that confes-
sion is a form of government. The responses of a good confessor
would be corrective, humbling, and governmental. Not only an
abbess governs a convent: the confessor does also.
As I write this, I recall a long life of many prayers of confes-
sion, not as many as there should have been, no doubt, but many.
A confession is of sin, and also of burdens. It is a plea for govern-
ment. In Psalm 51, we have David’s great confessional prayer. He
prays, not only for mercy and forgiveness, but also for a clean heart
and an inward renewal. He asks to be restored in the joy of salva-
tion and to be upheld by the Lord. Having been a transgressor, he
wants the blessing of God to enable him to teach other transgres-
sors. All this and more is in David’s confessional prayer. He asks for
peace with God, the government of God over him and in him, and
the power to become effectual in God’s service.
That confession to a priest or pastor has been abused and per-
verted is an obvious fact. In a fallen world, what has not been
twisted into evil? The Fourth Lateran Council, A.D. 1215,
required confession to a priest once a year by all believers under
penalty of excommunication. This step has been offensive to Prot-
estants on the ground that the prerogatives of God cannot be given
to men or to the church. To require confession is to place very great
powers of government in the hands of men and the church; for
Protestants, confession to God is a necessity, and confession to
another believer or to a pastor is an option, not a law.

The purpose of the Fourth Lateran Council was “a massive

and varied endeavor to save the souls of men through instruction
and confession.” 1 There is no doubt that this step greatly advanced
the impact of the faith in the life of men then and for centuries to
come. The question remains, however, was it Biblically valid? And
was the impact in the long-run a sound one? On both counts, the
conclusion is that it was not. Confession is a form of government,
a very powerful one. In the twentieth century, humanistic confes-
sions have created a great dependency on the psychotherapists,
often a dangerous one, and the governing power has been a serious
Confession did not originate with Biblical religion. It existed
in Assyro-Babylonian cultures, but the emphasis seems to have
been on ritual acts more than a moral transformation. If we bathe
daily, or twice a day, we do not thereby increase our ability to stay
clean. The ritual of confession may well leave the inner man
unchanged, as it did in pagan antiquity. Confession in the church
always runs the same risk.
James Baikie called Egyptian confession as a form something
radically lacking any acknowledgment of sin or repentance for it. It
was rather a formal repudiation of sin, not a repentance for it.2
This is the very substantial danger of mandatory confession
in the church. It replaces true repentance with ritual, and a cleansed
heart with a conventional submission. The person is then gov-
erned, not changed. The goal becomes a pattern of church rites and
not regeneration.
In the early church, liturgical confession prevailed widely.
For example, the Mozarabic Rite contains this prayer:
We bear, O Lord, the yoke of our iniquities with a hard neck, a
downcast countenance, a contrite heart. And scarcely have we
learned by our punishment to repent, who before it would not rec-
ognize our guilt. But Thou, O Lord, who has made tame wild
beasts in the den, and hast made cool the flames in the heat of the
furnace, lift up Thy hand to help us, and grant us the most safe

1. Peter Heath, Church and Realm, 1272-1461 (London, England: Fontana Press,
1988), 163.
2. James Baikie, “Confession (Egyptian),” in James Hastings, ed., Encyclopaedia of
Religion and Ethics, vol. 3 (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T. Clark, [1900] 1932), 827.

support of Thy defense in affliction. That us, whom the weight of

sins bows down, the virtue of thy long-suffering may lift up; and
that, since by our iniquities we have fallen to the ground, we may
be mercifully raised by Thy ineffable goodness, that us whom the
actions of divers transgressions convict, the indulgence of Thy
mercy may acquit. 3
With Calvin and Knox, a general confession was made by the
pastor, but, even more, the stress was on the redeemed and forgiven
man going forth in the power of the Lord. Near the conclusion of
a prayer in the Church of Scotland, written by John Knox, we read:
Let not the enemies of thy truth too miserably oppress thy word
and thy servants which seek thy glory, tender (regard with kind-
ness) the advancement of thy pure religion, and above all things
wish in their heart that thy holy name alone may be glorified
among all nations. Give unto the mouth of thy people truth and
wisdom which no man may resist. And although we have most
justly deserved this plague and famine of thy word, yet, upon our
true repentance, grant, we beseech thee, we may be thereof re-
leased. And here we promise, before thy Divine Majesty, better to
use thy gifts than we have done, and more straightly to order our
lives according to thy holy will and pleasure. And we will sing per-
petual praises to thy most blessed name, world without end,
through JESUS CHRIST our Lord. Amen.4
Knox takes us into a different world. The focus is not so much on
the person as on the faith, and the goal is victory. His is a postmil-
lennial confession: “Give unto the mouth of thy people truth and
wisdom which no man may resist.” Not surprisingly, the Reforma-
tion began to stress confessions of faith and catechisms.

3. R. C. West, Western Liturgies (London, England: Society for Promoting Christian

Knowledge, 1938), 60-61.
4. Charles W. Baird, The Presbyterian Liturgies (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book
House, [1855] 1957), 94-95.

The Joy of Confession

P salm 32 is a psalm of confession, and about confession David

1. Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is
2. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not
iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
3. When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring
all the day long.
4. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is
turned into drought of summer. Selah.
5. I acknowledged 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. Selah.
6. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time
when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters
they shall not come nigh unto him.
7. Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble;
thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah.
8. I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt
go: I will guide thee with mine eye.
9. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no
understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle,
lest they come near unto thee.
10. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the
LORD, mercy shall compass him about.


11. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for
joy, all ye that are upright in heart.
This is a psalm of confession and therefore of praise. There
is a reason for this: “in Christian terms confession is also confession
of faith.”1
Psalm 32 is about the blessedness or happiness of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is in verse 1 declared to be the covering of sin. The for-
given man is he who comes honestly to God to confess and
acknowledge his sin (v. 2). The imputation of guilt is removed
from him by God. A. F. Kirkpatrick very ably described the
meaning of this:
Forgiveness is also triply described (1) as the taking away of a
burden; cp. John i. 29, and the expression “to bear iniquity”: (2)
as covering, so that the foulness of sin no longer meets the eye of
the judge and calls for punishment; (3) as the canceling of a
debt, which is no longer reckoned against the offender: cp. 2
Sam. Xix. 19.2
The temporal consequences for sin may remain, as they did
for David, but the eternal consequence was mercy and forgiveness.
The reference to guile in verse 2 is to self-deception and dissimula-
tion before God.
David confesses that for a time guile was his stance, or, at
least, silence (v. 3). As a result, he admits, his bones wasted away,
i.e., his evasion had total consequences for his being. His health was
affected: sin aged him. H. C. Leupold rendered “roaring” in verse
3 as “grieving.” By refusing to confess his sin, David found sin to
be a destructive force to his being; his body grew old. It was sin that
brought death into the world by Adam’s sin, and sin always works
towards the death of the sinner and society. David’s time of impen-
itence aged him.
In verse 4 David says that day and night the judgment of God
for his sin was upon him like a working death sentence. He felt like
a man stranded in a desert place, parched for lack of water or mois-
ture. He was withering away.
1. Stuart G. Held, Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church (Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, [1991] 1992), 192.
2. A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms (Cambridge, England: University Press,
[1903] 1906), 162.

David’s way of recovery was his confession of his sins. Instead

of deception, he resolved on confession as the course of hope. “I
acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid.”
David asked nothing of God: rather, he simply confessed his trans-
gression, and God forgave “the iniquity of my sin.” The iniquity or
guilt of his sin was a very great one; in no way was a human solution
possible, yet God in His sovereign mercy and grace forgave David.
David, having been forgiven, at once appeals to all sinners to
seek God’s forgiveness also. The Godly must pray to the Lord; they
must seek His forgiveness. If they do so, “Surely in the floods of
great waters they shall not come nigh unto him” (v. 6).
God is the refuge and “hiding place” of sinners saved by
grace. The Lord preserves them from trouble, so that, even in the
face of grievous consequences, the most notable fact is that God
compasses us “with songs of deliverance” (v. 7). Thus, the man who
truly and honestly confesses his sins goes from a physical decline
into being surrounded with jubilant songs of deliverance. Confes-
sion effects a transformation.
In verses 8-9, God instructs the believer. Leupold translates
these lines ably:
8. I shall instruct you and teach you the way which you shall go; I
will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9. Be not like the horse or a mule without insight, whose mouth
must be filled with a bit and bridle, else one cannot approach
Apart from God, we behave like unruly animals. God keeps His eye
upon us to keep us from the evil or rebellion in us. As Kirkpatrick
commented, the “man who will not listen to God’s teaching ‘be-
comes brutish.’” The reference to the mule is an ironic one, because
being “mulish” meant then and means now being intractable. As J.
A. Alexander noted, “The mule is, among various notions, a pro-
verbial type of stubborn persistency in evil, and we find analogous

3. H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Columbus, OH: Wartburg Press, 1959),


allusions to the horse in Jer. v.8, viii.6.”4 The reference to animals

stresses the irrationality of sin.
In verse 10, David stresses that the contrast is between
unconfessed sinners and confessing sinners:
Here again,… we may observe that the antithesis is not between
the wicked and the absolutely righteous, but between the wicked
and the man trusting in Jehovah, and that the effect ascribed to this
trust is not the recognition of the man’s inherent righteousness,
but his experience of God’s mercy, which implies that he is guilty
and unworthy of himself, and can only be delivered from the nec-
essary consequences of his sin, by simply trusting in the mercy of
the very Being whom he has offended.5
This is the heart of the matter. We are all sinners, and we “can only
be delivered from the necessary consequences of sin” by confession.
In verse 11, the psalm ends with a note of joy. True confes-
sion restores a right relationship with God, and it is health to all our
being. Instead of storing up wrath by impenitence, we by confes-
sion enter into the joy and freedom of grace. All Godly men are
called upon to share in the joy of the pardoned soul, and in grati-
tude for God’s grace to His people.6
Paul in Romans 5 tells us that, even as death came into the
world by one man’s sin, Adam’s, so by one man’s atoning work
shall the gift of righteousness reign in life. God’s grace to us in
Christ’s atoning work should always arouse in us thanksgiving and
joy. Our life in Christ gives us the privilege of confession as a step
in the revocation of sin and death into the life of a confessing faith
in the service of Christ’s Kingdom.

4. Joseph Addison Alexander, The Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, reprint of
1850 edition), 141.
5. Ibid., 140
6. Kirkpatrick, Book of Psalms, 165
Scripture Index
Genesis Numbers
1:26-28 – 41, 230 5:23 – 206
3:1-5 – 108, 194 5:5-7 – 89
3:1-6 – 231 5:6-7 – 89
3:5 – 45, 120, 157, 162, 191, 5:5-10 – 103
206 5:21 – 237
3:9-13 – 105 35:30 – 259
3:12 – 162 Deuteronomy
3:13 – 162 14:21 – 240
4:9 – 105 17:6 – 260
4:13 – 43 19:15-16 – 260
4:23-24 – 163 21:1-9 – 73
9:6 – 210 21:18-21 – 72-73
Exodus 21:22-23 – 238
19:10 – 206 22:22-23 – 201
19:14 – 206 22:30 – 201
20:14 – 240 26:4-5 – 89
22 – 210 27:20 – 201
22:1-31 – 22 28:2 – 209
24:7 – 205 28:15 – 209
32:32 – 206 28:15-68 – 237
Leviticus Joshua
5:1-19 – 89 7:19 – 43, 46, 56, 104, 194,
5:5-6 – 89 220, 259
13:6 – 206 Judges
13:34 – 206 9:7-21 – 211
16:21 – 99
18:6-18 – 201 1 Samuel
20:10 – 240 15:1-35 – 216
20:11-12 – 201 15:24-25 – 216
20:14 – 201 2 Samuel
20:17 – 201 11:2 – 216
20:20-21 – 201 12:13 – 205, 216
26:14-43 – 237 12:13-14 – 216


19:19 – 268 51:9 – 206

2 Kings 51:10 – 104
5:10-14 – 206 53:1-3 – 102
21:13 – 206 97:7 – 47
98:19 – 47
2 Chronicles 100 – 46
7:13-14 – 44 119:105 – 246
30:22 – 56 139:7-12 – 45, 215
Ezra Proverbs
2:9 – 236 28:13 – 215
9:4 – 182 30:20 – ix, 39, 68, 179, 209
9:6-15 – 182-183
9:7 – 183 Isaiah
9:8 – 184 5:11 – 126
28:1 – 126
Nehemiah 30:1 – 110
4:5 – 206 43:25 – 206
Psalms 44:22 – 206
14:1-3 – 102 53:5-7 – 206
19:7 – 104 58:10 – 44
24:1 – 187 Jeremiah
32:1-2 – 205 2:1 – 44
32:1-11 – 267 2:22 – 206
32:2 – 206, 268 2:35 – 44
32:3 – 46, 268 3:13 – 44
32:4 – 268 4:14 – 206
32:5 – 194, 216, 220 5:8 – 270
32:6 – 269 8:6 – 12, 270
32:7 – 269 13:23 – 111
32:8-9 – 269 18:23 – 206
32:10 – 270 31:33 – 104
32:11 – 270
36:1 – 234 Lamentations
51 – 264 1:5 – 206
51:1-4 – 205 Ezekiel
51:4 – 205 18:30-31 – 12
51:7 – 206 36:26 – 104
Scripture Index 273

39:11-24 – 237 18 – 93
Daniel 18:15-17 – 260
9:4-5 – 56 18:15-20 – 231
18:17 – 231
Hosea 18:21-22 – 231
4:12 – 110 19:3 – 240
14:1 – 44 19:9 – 240
Joel 19:17 – 105, 215
1:5 – 126 21:28-32 – 20
2:12-13 – 12 22:25 – 47
Amos Mark
3:2-3 – 56 2:5-7 – 99
9:7 – 126 2:7 – 220
2:10 – 220
7:21 – 240
3:8 – 44
5:21 – 61, 220
2:14 – 241
5:24 – 220
3:8-12 – 187
12:8 – 194, 220
Matthew 18:19 – 215
3 – 93 19:1-10 – 236
3:6 – 194, 220 19:8-10 – 236
3:8 – 12 21:34 – 126
4:4 – 215 22:42 – 196
6:32 – 110 23:34 – 39, 231-232
6:33 – 110
7:1-5 – 257 John
1:12-13 – 113
7:15 – 196
1:29 – 268
7:15-20 – 63, 196
3:16 – 167
7:20 – 215
7:24 – 256
8:5-13 – 176
8:1-11 – 256
10:8 – 188
8:7 – 256
10:26 – 101
8:34 – 21
10:32 – 194, 220
10:32-33 – 104 Acts
12:43-45 – 234 3:14 – 212
3:21 – x

5 – 160 3:7 – 189

21:16 – 189 3:10-14 – 238
Romans 4:28 – 189
1:18 – 143 5:19-21 – 126
3:10 – 102 6:7 – 53
3:18 – 234 6:15 – 113
4:18 – 229 6:16 – 188-189
5 – 270 Ephesians
6:1 – 183 2:1 – 127
6:1-2 – 35 2:4-5 – 127
6:18 – 170, 172 2:8-9 – 127
7:18 – 105 4:11 – 188
9:6 – 189 4:24 – 41, 230
10:1-11 – xi 4:25 – 188
10:8-11 – 22 5:3 – 240
10:10 – 56 5:18 – 126
10:17 – 95, 113 Philippians
11:5 – 189 2:9-11 – 195
11:17 – 189 2:12 – 195
13:13 – 126 2:12-13 – 195
1 Corinthians 2:13 – 196
5:1-8 – 13 3:3 – 189
5:11 – 126 4:2 – 264
6:15-16 – 239 4:4-7 – 219
7:15 – 242 4:6-7 – 133
10:18 – 189 4:11 – 133
11:28 – 243 Colossians
16:22 – 238 3:10 – 41, 230
2 Corinthians 1 Thessalonians
5:17 – 113 5:7 – 126
7:9-10 – 124
7:9-11 – 88 1 Timothy
13:1 – 260 4:2 – 54
5:19 – 260
Galatians 6:6-8 – 133
1:8-9 – 238 6:13 – 56
2:10 – 188
Scripture Index 275

6:15 – 188, 215 1 Peter

Hebrews 4:3 – 126
4:12-13 – 46 1 John
4:13 – 37, 215 1 – 93
10:26-27 – 238 1:8-10 – 101, 159
10:28 – 260 1:9 – 194, 220
11:32-40 – 136 3:4 – 108, 205, 244
13:4 – 244 Revelation
James 2:1-3:22 – 214
1:26-27 – 248 2:9 – 214
2:2 – 13 20:11-13 – 40
5:14-16 – 175-176
5:16 – 50, 155, 159, 194, 220
A Theological Word Book of the Anglicans, 181
Bible, 103 Anointing, 175-177
A World I Never Made, 135, 139 Anomia, 66, 209
Abel, 43 Ante-Nicene Christian Library,
Abolitionists, 138 62
Abortion, 33, 235 Anthropology, 41
Absolution, 17-19, 21, 30, 38-40, Antigone, 161
48, 52, 59, 61-68, 75, 82- Antinomianism, 45, 109, 111,
83, 92, 133, 164, 201, 219- 115, 172, 184, 189, 194,
220, 251 210, 212, 245
Achan, 43-44, 56, 104, 259 Apostles’ Creed, 21, 47, 195
Acosta, Uriel, 14 Apostolic See, 176
Adam, 66, 105, 162, 172, 268, 270 Aquinas, Thomas, 29
Addictions, 125 Aristotle, 55
Adultery, 55, 63, 81, 98, 100, 109, Armenians, 87, 199-200
119-120, 127, 138-139, Arminianism, 112-113, 115, 246
154, 165-166, 170, 179, Arnold, Matthew, 32
201, 230, 240, 242, 257 Assyro-Babylonian life, 25
African Americans, 130 Astrology, 67
Against All Hope, 229 Athanasius, 114
Agnostics, 179 Atonement, 13, 30, 43, 66, 83,
Ah, holy Jesus, 171 90, 99-102, 105, 109, 171,
AIDS, 151, 201, 230, 235, 257 185, 194, 206, 210-212,
Albigensians, 165, 261 219-220, 224, 233, 238
Alcoholism, 125-126, 230, 257 Aubrey, John, 220
Alexander, J. A., 269-270 Aubrey’s Brief Lives, 220
Ali, Mohammed, 163 Augustine, 12-13, 29, 46-47, 160,
“All things come of Thee,” 190 215
American Civil Liberties Auld, Thomas, 137-138
Union, 86 Autobiography, 25, 29, 143, 160
American Indians, 37, 131 Autonomy, 120
Anabaptism, 63
Ananias and Sapphira, 160 Baikie, James, 25, 265
Anarchism, 225 Bainton, Roland, 90, 92
Angels, 47 Baird, Charles W., 266

Baltimore Catechism, 22 Caesar, Julius, 68

Baptism, 15, 61, 63, 90, 256 Cain, 43, 105
Barak, 136 Calvin, John, 29, 47, 49-51, 155-
Barbarians, 163, 226 156, 166, 168, 175, 178,
Barkowski, Zenon, 41 266
Bartlett, Robert, 27-28 Calvinism, 33, 60, 167
Bathsheba, 205, 216 Camisards, 63
Bennett, Leslie, 236 Canterbury Tales, 250-251, 263
Bergler, Edmund, 33, 157 Capitalists, 136, 204
Berkhof, Louis, 211-212 Captain White, 54
Berman, Harold J., 66 Carlin, George, 85, 87
Bernard, St., 50 Carter, Rev. Steve, 125-127
Bestiality, 85 Casey, John, 39
Bigham, Thomas J., 87-88 Caspari, W., 18
Bingham, Joseph, 15 Castro, Fidel, 229
Blacks, 130, 217-218 Catholic Confraternity, 12
Blake, George, 202 Catholic Encyclopedia (1911),
Blasphemy, 61, 99, 101, 220, 242 11
Blessings and curses, 237 Catholic University of Leuven,
Blumert, Burton S., 69 41
Boase, T. S. R., 114 Catholics, 12, 92, 96, 109, 124,
Bobgan, Martin and Deedre, 179, 199, 241, 256, 263
230 Chalcedon, 170
Boccaccio, 157, 232 Charismatics, 15-16, 176
Boehmer, Heinrich, 92 Charity, 188-189
Book of Common Prayer, 181, Charles II, 82
185, 243 Charnock, 113
Born-again, 15 Chaucer, 250, 253, 263
Borromeo, St. Charles, 29 Cheap forgiveness, 68, 210
Bossy, John, 29-30 Cheap grace, 170, 172, 201
Brainwashing, 148 Cheap virtue, 131
Broekman, Jan M., 41 Cheka, 53
Buchmanites, 13 Child molester, 100
Buddhism, 215 Christ
Bureaucracy, 203 atonement of, 170, 210
blood of, 248
Caesar, 195 cross (crucifixion) of, 210,
Index 279

232-233 Churchmen, 27-28, 72, 78, 99-

death of, 89 100, 114, 183, 231, 251
dominion, 188 Ciapelletto, 157
holy, 212 Cicero, 68
incarnation, 68, 169, 171, 215, Civility, 149
Clarkson, David, 113
justice, 169
Clay, Andrew Dice, 86
King, 188, 215
Clement VI, Pope, 91
Last judgment of, 27
Lord, 188, 195-197
Clementia, 68
Redeemer, 206 Clinebell, Jr., Howard J., 118
Savior, 169, 181 Clothing, 148-149, 165-166
sovereignty, 188 Codependency, 112
word from the cross, 39 Communicable attribute, 215
Christian Missions to the Communion, 12-13, 18, 22, 28,
Communist World, 53 51, 61, 97, 165-168, 190,
Christ-killers, 131 212, 226, 249, 261
Chrysostom, St. John, 51-52, Communism, 202
155 Communists (Korean), 148
Church, 13-14, 16-17, 28, 40, 45, Community, 212
47, 49, 51, 61, 65-66, 68- Confession, 11-18, 72, 82
69, 71, 87, 90-93, 95, 97- Assyro-Babylonian, 25, 265
99, 107, 109-110, 114, atonement, 99-102
118-119, 124-125, 132- auricular, 11, 49, 261
133, 142-143, 147, 149, autobiography, 25, 29, 143,
156, 159-160, 165-168,
boastful, 81
171-172, 181, 212, 214-
Cain’s, 43
217, 219, 229-233, 235,
(through) Christ, 87
241-242, 244, 249-250,
(to) clergy, 17, 38, 51, 155,
253, 255-256, 259-262, 157, 236, 262
264-266 coerced, 261
and state, 60, 65, 139, 213, (and) collection, 187-191
215, 234, 252, 258, (in) commerce, 153
260 (and) communion, 165-168
unity, 165 confessing the sins of others,
Church of Armenia, 175 132, 161-162, 204
Church of England, 243 congregational, 181-185
Church of Scotland, 266 consequences of, 87

(and) counseling, 239-242 mandatory, 92, 155, 195, 259-

covenant of, 53-57, 243-248 261, 265
(of) criminals, 13, 26, 38, 143, meaning of, 21, 47, 97, 172,
223 216, 252
(and) culture, 159-164 meaningless, 145
dangerous, 147-157 national, 44, 181-185
(and) death, 175-179 need of, 223-227
defined, 220 non-confessing, 93
Egyptian(s), 25, 265 (and) ordeal, 25, 27-28
entertainment, 84 (in) pagan societies, 26
Ezra’s, 182-184 past, 49-52
(of) faith, 21-22, 46, 99, 105, perfection, 135-139
138, 150, 168, 189- (to) police, 38, 223
190, 195, 199, 248, (as) praise, 43, 47, 50, 56, 104-
259, 261, 268 105, 247-248, 268
false, 19-23, 52, 79, 87, 108, (to a) priest, 11, 17, 22, 28, 50-
130-131, 157, 184, 51, 118, 147, 155,
219, 246 166, 205, 217, 219,
(and) freedom, 163-164 223, 249, 264
(to) God, 217 private, 12, 15, 18, 29, 44, 87,
“good for the soul”, 101, 105, 92-93, 105, 185, 194,
223 220
(as) government, 263-266 promiscuous, 154
(and) grace, 169 Protestant, 11-12, 21, 29, 54,
graceless, 81-84 91, 97, 118, 160, 172,
group, 147-150 199, 236, 264
(and) growth, 169 (and) psychotherapy, 20, 49,
humanistic, 30-35, 39-40, 54, 141-145, 219, 245
68, 84, 101, 129, 136, public, 12-13, 15, 18-19, 29-
150-151, 160, 204, 30, 82-83, 101, 136,
226, 265 142, 145, 156, 194,
hymns of, 171 220, 226, 237, 243
(and) indulgence, 89-93 (and) reconciliation, 28, 68,
inviolability, 147 73, 221
joy of, 267, 270 (of) sin, 11-18, 22, 25-26, 43,
(of kings), 101 45-47, 50, 56, 66, 87,
(and) liberation, 209-212 99, 104-105, 108, 124,
literary, 75-79 142-143, 150, 154,
(versus) litigation, 203-207 160, 163, 168, 173,
liturgical, 265 179, 185, 188, 194,
Index 281

196-197, 199, 236, Corinthian Church, 88

238, 248, 259 Council of Trent, 12, 167, 175,
(and) social order, 19, 69-73, 251, 253, 256
143 Counseling, 107-115, 130-132,
telephone, 82, 84 193, 229-230
television, 19, 151 Christian, 120, 124
(as) thanksgiving, 46, 51-52, definition of, 118-119
56, 73, 270 (and) goals, 117-121
tithing, 187-188 heresy, 107-110, 193
true, 40, 44, 50, 52, 54, 87, humanistic, 118, 123, 127, 233
101, 103-104, 129, marital, 239-242
132, 143, 147-148, non-directive, 117
196, 212, 238, 249,
pastoral, 96-98, 108, 111, 118,
156, 239
(in) twentieth century, 19 psychological, 145
ungodly, 38, 49 (and) reconciliation, 123-127
unpopularity of, 199-202 Court trial, 28
verbal, 18-20, 104, 216, 219,
Covenant, 53-57, 66, 183, 188,
237, 241-249
(and) victimization, 83, 160,
162 Covenant-breaking, 237
(and) victory, 47, 266 Cragg, Gerald R., 113
“Confession hot line,” 82 Credit, 105
Confession/creeds, 104 Crime, 17, 27, 30, 66, 70, 72-73,
Confessional, 11-12, 16-17, 19- 76, 230, 252-253
23, 28-30, 32, 39, 49-51, Crusades, 91
54, 76, 81-82, 84, 90-92, Culture, 150-151, 159-164, 201-
96-98, 118, 127, 141-142, 202, 204, 211
144-145, 147-151, 160, defined, 159
163, 215, 247, 249, 260, Cure of Souls, 95-98, 107-108,
264 111, 114
criticized, 163 Curse, 235-238
(and) non-confessional Cyclopaedia of Biblical,
societies, 144 Theological, and
Roman Catholic(ism), 90, 96, Ecclesiastical Literature,
118, 147, 243, 263 63, 255
Confessions, 29, 160
Congress, 64, 138, 227, 261 D’Emilio, John, 59
Conscience, 225 Daniell, Rosemary, 33-34

Darwin(ism), 76, 235 Drucker, Rabbi Reven, 260

“Date-rape,” 72 Drugs, 201-202, 230, 257
David, 45-46, 104, 136, 205, 216, Drunkenness, 71-72, 126-127,
264, 267-270 242
Day of Atonement, 13, 99, 105, Dualism, 235
194 Duchamp, Marcel, 75, 78
Death, 13, 27, 43, 60-61, 66, 68, Durkheim, Emile, 34
72, 76-78, 89-90, 124, Durrell, Lawrence, 67
157, 171, 175, 177, 179, Duvalier, 26
183, 185, 201-202, 210, “Dying Away,” 78
216, 238, 247, 256, 268, “Dynamic,” 120
Death penalty, 45, 238, 240, 252 Easter, 166
Deathbed, 176-177 Easy believism, 201
De-Christianization, 162 Eden, 25, 105, 163
Decisionism, 246 Education, 55, 65, 188, 224
Delphi, 160-161 Egyptian confession, 265
Demon(s), 32, 227, 234 Elders, 13, 16, 20, 73, 96, 98, 175-
“Dennis the Menace,” 193-194 176
Denvir, Bernard, 149 Election, 112
Depression, (the), 95 Electric shock therapy, 32
Desertion, 242 Emerson, James, 117
Dick, Oliver Lawson, 220 Encyclopaedia Judaica, 13, 43
Dictatorships, 149 Encyclopaedia of Religion and
Dictionary of American Ethics, 25, 44, 265
Proverbs, 101 Encyclopedia Press, 13, 90
Dispensationalists, 189 Engels, 204
Divorce, 55, 131-132, 200-201, Envy, 41, 204
214, 231, 239-242 Equality, 149, 204
Domineering women, 96, 98 Erasmus, 250-251
Dominicans, 226 Euripedes, 160
Dominion, 41, 163, 189-190, Eurocentrism, 52, 60
197, 230 Euthanasia, 235
Donaldson, James, 62 Eve, 105, 162, 194
Donatism, 63 Excommunication, 13-14, 17,
Douglass, Frederick, 137-138 97, 143-144, 231, 233, 264
Dowry, 100 Exomologesis, 15, 61
Index 283

Extemporaneous prayer, 185 264-265

Extreme unction, 175-179 Franks, 27
Ezra, 182-185, 236 Frederick Douglass, 137
Frederick II, 14
Fairbanks, Charles B., 54 Freedom, 33-35, 40-42, 52, 54,
Faith, 20-22, 29, 32, 40, 46, 55, 64, 119, 141, 143, 163-
60-61, 63, 65, 76, 78, 84, 164, 169-170, 229, 238,
95, 98-99, 103-105, 108- 245, 270
109, 113, 119-120, 124, Freeman, Estelle B., 59
133, 135-136, 138, 150, Freud, Sigmund, 20-21, 32-33,
156-157, 165, 167-168, 78-79, 107, 126, 150-151,
171, 175-176, 189-190, 225, 243
195-196, 199, 202, 213,
217, 219, 225, 231, 233, Gambling, 125
235, 237-238, 243-244, Gedeon, 136
246-248, 259, 261, 263, General Mills, 123
265-266, 268, 270 Gergen, David, 203
Family, 70-73, 139, 183, 185, 262 Ghetto, 82
Fate, 161, 163 Giving, 188-190
Fencing the Table, 167 Gladden, Washington, 114
Ferm, Vergiluis, 88 Glasser, Ira, 86-87
Fifth Amendment, 229, 261 Gluttony, 72
First Amendment, 139 God
Five Points of Calvinism, 167 covenant Lord, 57
Flagellants, 63 Creator, 40, 45, 57, 142, 217,
Flynn, Rev. Bernie, 125-127 238
For Whom the Bell Tolls, 135 forgiveness, 40, 220
Forbearance, 149, 219 goodness of, 215
Forgiveness, 18, 39-40, 50, 59-61, grace of, 45, 47, 51, 57, 68,
101, 105, 109, 126-
63, 66, 68, 89, 91, 97, 99-
127, 133, 160, 172-
102, 143, 150-151, 170-
173, 176-178, 182-
171, 173, 185, 206, 210,
184, 188, 191, 195-
216, 220, 231-233, 245, 196, 218, 238, 270
250, 257, 264, 268-269 holiness of, 211
Fornication, 120, 135, 165-166, law of, 28, 45, 61, 65, 67-68,
240, 242 86, 92, 99-100, 108-
Fourth Lateran Council, 261, 109, 119, 121, 143,

160, 168-170, 182, Hamartia, 66, 209

189, 194, 201, 205, Hamburger, Michael, 78
209, 212, 216-217, Hamlet, 53
231-233, 238, 241, Hanna, Edward J., 13
244, 250-252, 256-259
Harper, George McLean, 77
love of, 126
Harris, Frank, 31, 160
majesty of, 266
omnipotent, 45 Hastings, James, 25, 44, 265
omniscience, 38, 45 Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 60
sovereign, 40, 187 Heath, Peter, 265
truth, 143 Heaven, 22, 60, 67, 92, 114, 132,
will of, 194 170, 178
wrath of, 143, 163, 245, 270 and hell, 170
Gold coins, 69 Heermann, Johann, 171-172
Goodness, 215 Heine, 178, 185
Gospel, 170 Held, Robert, 260-261
Gossip, 54 Held, Stuart G., 268
Gould, Jay, 76 Hell, 83, 139, 207
Government, 71 Hemingway, Ernest, 135
Graham, Billy, 112 Hendrix, Scott H., 91
Great Socialist Revolution, 142 Heresy, 20, 39, 107-113, 193, 235
Greco-Roman, 35, 63 Hinduism, 209
Greek tragedy, 160 Hirsch, Edward, 76-77
Greeks, 55 Hodge, Charles, 239-240
Grounds of Catholic Doctrine, Hohenstaufen, 14
255 Holiness, 12, 29, 41, 67, 129, 211-
Group therapy, 148 212, 230, 242, 244
Guilt, 12, 18, 20-21, 28, 30, 32-33, “Holy Fairs,” 168
35, 71, 73, 75, 83-84, 107- Holy Spirit, 15, 45, 62, 66, 95, 97,
108, 126, 202, 206-207, 104-105, 113, 168, 177,
211, 219, 224-226, 229- 195, 238
230, 245, 255, 259-260, Homologeo, 56, 104
265, 268-269 Homosexual, homosexuality,
Guilt offerings, 43 29, 64, 139, 236, 258
Guyon, Madame, 247-248 How, Bishop W. Walsham, 190
Human worth, 120, 125-127
Habitual criminals, 72 Humanism, humanists, 30-32,
Hadfield, John, 149 34-35, 39-40, 52, 54-55,
Index 285

60, 68, 76-78, 84, 86-87, Institutes of the Christian

99, 101, 107, 109-112, Religion, 49-50, 155
114, 118-119, 121, 123- Internal Revenue Service, 190
124, 127, 129, 136, 139, Iocaste, 160-161
142, 149-151, 159-160, Irvingism, 63
172, 204, 210, 213, 217- Israel of God, 188-189
218, 226, 230, 232-233,
237, 244, 253, 256, 265 Jackson, Samuel Macauley, 18
Humanist Manifesto II, 55 Jebb, Sir Richard C., 161
Humanity, 66, 141, 202, 217-218, Jenkins, Dr. Richard, 225
226 Jephthae, 136
Hutchinson, Thomas, 77 “Jew-killers,” 131
Huxley, Julian, 31-33 Jews, 61, 87, 131, 165, 183, 189
Huxley, Juliette, 31-34 Jez, 163
Huxley, Thomas H., 32 Joshua, 43-44, 56, 104, 259
Hymns of confession, 171 Jotham, 211
Joy, 50, 77, 133, 207, 264, 267-270
Ideas, 60, 113, 145, 150, 159 Judaism, 13, 188, 243-244, 259
“Ilico,” 178 Judging, 256
Image of God, 41, 210, 230 “Juju man,” 27
Imitatio Christi, 248 Jung, 226
Incest, 21, 29, 127, 161, 200-201, Juries, 203-204, 255
235 Justice, 26-28, 104-105, 138-139,
India, 53 169-170, 172, 204, 213,
Indians, 37, 41, 130-131 250, 252-253, 256-258
Indifferentism, 179, 247 Justification (by faith), 92, 195,
Individualism, 149, 245 232, 246
Indulgences, 89-92, 210, 249-
253, 255-258, 266 Kant, 55
Indulgences (Protestant), 255- Karma, 161, 163, 209-210
258 Kennedy, John F., 244
Ingrem, Martin, 143 Kerr Jr., Hugh Thompson, 93
Innocent III, Pope, 165-166 Keys, 255-256
Inquisition, 14, 259, 261-262 Kidner, Derek, 185
Inquisition, 260 Kim, David, 101
Instant gratification, 199 Kim, Peter, 170
Institutes of Biblical Law, 240 Kingdom of God, 20, 110, 137,

189-190, 196, 237 Leo X, 30, 91

Kirkpatrick, A. F., 205-206, 268- Leo, John, 82, 84
270 Leupold, H. C., 268-269
Knox, John, 166, 175, 177-178, Levenstein, Harvey, 124
266 Life and Times of Frederick
Kurtz, Dr. Paul, 55 Douglass, 137
Litigation, 203-207
Laius, 160-161 with God, 205
Lamech, 163 Longfellow, the Rev. Samuel,
Langnas, Isaac A., 164 190
Last Judgment, 27, 40 Longinow, Michael, 31
Lateran Council, 165-167 Lord’s Supper, 166, 170, 189
Law, 22, 41-42, 45, 49, 57, 66, 70, Louis XV, 81
72-73, 87, 108, 120, 206, Loyn, David, 202
213, 240, 251, 260 Lumiansky, R. M., 251
man’s, 37 Luther, Martin, 30, 90-93, 168,
Mosaic, 188 175, 210, 252-253, 255
of God, 44-45, 51, 61, 65, 84,
89, 100, 104, 108-109, M’Clintock, John, 63, 255
119, 121, 143, 156, MacCormick, Neil, 41
160, 168-170, 189,
Machiavelli, 31
194, 201, 205, 209,
211-212, 216, 221,
Maimonides, 13
231-233, 237-238, Man as a moral zero, 229-234
241, 244-246, 250, Man as God, 206
252, 256-258 Man in God’s image, 41, 210,
pagan, 260 230, 233
Roman, 26, 28, 260 Manichaeanism, 244
Law and holiness, 211-212 Marcos, 26
Law and Revolution, 66 Marital counseling, 110, 239-242
Lawford, Patricia Kennedy, 244 Marriage, 59, 62, 71, 110, 114,
Lawlessness, 34, 209, 242 123-124, 127, 132, 162,
Lawyers, 203-204, 206 165, 179, 182-184, 239-
Lea, Henry C., 49, 70 242, 244
Leaves of the Tulip Tree, 31-32, Martinez, Governor Bob, 85
34 Marx, Karl, 204
Lenin, 53 Marxist law, 26
Leo the Great, Pope, 15 Marxists, Marxism, 52-53, 141-
Index 287

142, 213, 229, 233 Modernism, 114, 245

Masochism, 34, 83, 224 Moffatt, James, 219
Masochism in Modern Man, 224 Molestation, 131, 236
Mass, 119, 165, 167, 251 Montanism, 61-63
Massachusetts colonial history, Moralism, 60
59 Morality, 32, 55, 67, 108, 129,
Masturbation, 59, 242 165, 202, 226
Mc’Crie, Thomas, 177 Moreno, Antonio, 226
McAuliffe, Joseph, 237 Moses, 184
McCall, Andrew, 250-252 Moslem(s), 14, 163, 215
McCollum, Elmer, 123 Mould, H.C.G., 196
McFeely, William S., 137 Mozarabic Rite, 265
McGrath, Thomas, 76 Multiverses, multiversity, 235
McNeil, John T., 114 My Bondage and My Freedom,
Meaninglessness, 76 137
Medical model, 109
Medieval Church, 49, 63, 71, Narrative of the Life of Frederick
167, 175, 178, 251 Douglass, 137
Melville, James, 177 Nathan, 205, 216
Memorials of Mrs. Grundy, 54 National Endowment for the
Merchants, 69 Arts, 33
Mercury, Freddy, 235-236 Nature, 213
Meredith, William, 78 Neuharth, Allen H., 31
Merit, 50, 86-87, 91, 126, 143, 207 “New World Order,” 211
Messori, Vittorio, 91 Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers,
Micklem, Nathaniel, 178 47, 51
Middle Ages, 13-14, 27-28, 49- Nicene Creed, 21
50, 60, 63, 69, 95, 101, Nicki, 82
131, 144, 163, 165, 175, Nickle, Keith F., 188
188, 210-211, 233, 249- Nobel Prize, 67
250, 252-253, 261 Non-confessional societies, 144
Miles, Margaret R., 95 Novatianism, 63
Miller, Henry, 66-67 Nudism, 149
Milton, John, 83 Nuns, 263-264
Minoan excavations, 150 Nutrition, 123
“Miscellaneous Sonnets,” 77
Moderation, 219 Oath, 28

Obscenity, 86 260, 264, 270

Occultism, 67 Paul III, Pope, 261
Oedipus, 160-161 Paul, Ron, 41
Offertory, 190-191 Peace, 45, 68, 89-92, 109, 121,
Office of Compline, 132 138, 143, 163, 168-169,
“Omens,” 78 182, 206, 212, 219, 244,
Omnipotence, 95 263-264
Ordeal, 25, 27-28 Pedophilia, 236
Original sin, 45, 157, 159, 162, Penance, 11-12, 16, 18-19, 21-22,
209 26, 28-29, 38-39, 61, 65,
Oxford Movement, 13 82, 88, 92, 97, 101, 143-
145, 147-148, 151, 211,
Pacific School of Religion, 202 231, 250
Papacy, 91-92, 255 Penitentiaries, 26
Parable of the king of the trees, Penthouse, 81, 86
211 Perfectionism, 63, 245-246
Paradise, 256 Perjury, 204
Paradise Regained, 83 Persia, 182
Pardoner(s), 251, 253, 255, 258 Personal worth, 120
Passages Toward the Dark, 76 Peter, 256
Passover, 168 Peter the Chanter, 27
Pastor(s), 11, 16-17, 22, 30, 51, Pharisees, Phariseeism, 99, 126-
60, 82, 86-87, 92, 95, 97- 127, 130, 135, 170, 181,
98, 101, 107-109, 111, 189-190, 215, 242, 244
113, 117-119, 130-132, Philip, James, 103
147, 156, 160, 166-168, Philippians, 195
170, 188, 193, 200, 202, Pietism, 63, 233
205, 210, 214, 217, 219- Pilgrim(s), 250-251, 253
221, 236, 241, 243, 249, Pilgrimages, 250
258, 262, 264, 266 Pilpay, 53
Pastoral counseling, 96-98, 111, Pinches, T. G., 25
118, 132, 239 Playboy, 81
Patterson, James, 170 Plea-bargaining, 108
Paul, 13, 22, 35, 53-54, 88, 95, Political Rehabilitation, 229
105, 113, 124, 126, 136, Polybus, 160
143, 183, 188-189, 195, Polytheism, 235
218, 238, 242-243, 256, Poor, 188-189
Index 289

Pornography, 85, 125, 225 143, 224

“Portnoy’s Complaint,” 75 Psychologist(s), 20, 22, 34, 49,
Positive thinking, 225 115, 117, 130, 193, 217
Possibility thinking, 225 Psychotherapy, 18, 20-21, 23, 30,
Postmillennial, 266 38-39, 48-49, 75, 107,
Poverty, 76 118, 141, 144-145, 217,
Preaching, 98, 109, 119, 167-168, 219, 230, 245, 262, 265
251 Public schools, 55
Presidential pardons, 252 Purgatory, 63, 90-92, 256
Presuppositions, 76, 117, 150 Puritans, 59-60, 63, 78-79, 113,
Prierias, Sylvester, 91 243
Priest(s), 11, 22, 82, 86-87, 107,
117-119, 147, 155-157, Quakers, 117
166-167, 205, 217, 219-
221, 264 Racism, 60, 75, 218, 258
Priesthood, 211, 236 Ranike, Bin, 75-76
Prisons, 26, 60, 142, 229, 252, Rape, 39, 54-55, 204, 235, 257
257-258 Rapture, 167
Privacy, 19, 37-38, 148 Rashi, 259
“Prodigal Son,” 75 Ratzinger, Cardinal Joseph, 90-
Prostitution, 35, 60, 218 91, 256
Protagoras, 55 Realism, 84
Protestant(s), Protestantism, Reconciliation, 28, 68-69, 73,
11-12, 15, 21, 28, 54, 91, 109, 119, 123, 127, 221,
97, 109, 118-119, 154, 245, 250
156-157, 160, 166-168, Red China, 141
172, 176, 179, 199, 210, Red Terrors, 142
215, 231, 236, 240-241, Reformation, 30, 90, 95, 143-
244, 252, 256-257, 261, 144, 157, 163, 188, 245-
264 246, 250, 266
Proteus, 77 Reformed preaching, 167
Providence, 247 Regeneration, 26, 46, 66, 68, 105,
Psychiatrist(s), 18, 20, 49, 117- 108-109, 111, 114-115,
118, 130, 143, 193, 217, 123-124, 265
225 Reik, Theodore, 224
Psychici, 62 Reincarnation, 67, 109, 209
Psychoanalyst(s), 20, 49, 117, Relics, 251

Renaissance, 28, 81, 231 231, 255-256, 263

Repentance, 11, 17, 19-20, 26, Roman Catholic(s), 11, 19, 21,
38-39, 43, 59, 61-63, 72, 29, 49, 90, 96, 118, 175-
78, 82-83, 86, 88, 92, 97- 176, 241, 243-244, 255
98, 103-105, 108-109, 124, Roman inquisition, 261
132, 151, 184-185, 210- Roman law, 26, 28, 260
211, 225-226, 236-238, Romanism, 201
245, 255-258, 265-266 Romantic(s), Romanticism, 66,
Reprobation, 95, 100, 112, 186 77-78, 87
Restitution, 11-12, 15-16, 18-19, Rome, 91, 141, 175, 251, 260
21-22, 38-39, 44, 52, 59, Ron Paul Political Report, 41
65-66, 68-69, 71, 82-84, Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 160
88-93, 97, 100, 102-103, Ruef, Abe, 123
109, 114, 118, 121, 132, Rules of Sociological Method, 34
143-145, 147-148, 154, Rushdoony, Dorothy, 135
156, 200-201, 206, 210- Rushdoony, R.J., 21, 201, 220
212, 219-221, 225-226, Russian Proverbs, 164
232-233, 236-238, 249-
250, 252, 256-258, 260 Sabbath, 244, 259
Restoration, 17-18, 21-22, 51, 61, Sacra Privata, 196-197
63, 65-66, 68, 84, 90, 97, Sacrament, 12, 92, 167, 175, 212,
101-102, 125, 143, 169, 256
184, 212, 216 Sacrificial system, 99
Restoration era, 220 Sade, Marquis de, 213
Revival(ism), 28, 63, 112, 161, Sadomasochism, 211, 219
172, 235, 246 Sagan, Carl, 76
Revolt Against Maturity, 220 Saint Genet, 66
Revolution, 70, 133, 142, 172, Salic Law, 27
226, 250 Salvation, 11, 63, 76, 95, 112-114,
Revolution (Russian), 53, 226 124, 132, 167, 169-171,
Richard II, 250 173, 188, 195, 244-246,
Richardson, Alan, 103 264
Ritschl, Albrecht, 244-245 Samson, 136
Robbing God, 187-191 Samuel, 216
Roberts, Alexander, 62 San Diego Tribune, 55
Rock and Roll, 151 Sanctification, 63, 98, 130, 150
Roman Catholic Church, 147, Sanh, 13
Index 291

Sanhedrin, 16 84, 86, 88-93, 96-105,

Saracens, 165 107-108, 110, 112, 114,
Sartre, Jean-Paul, 66 118, 120-121, 126, 136,
Satan, 83, 178, 231 138, 142-145, 151, 153-
Saul, 216 157, 162, 168-170, 172,
Scarlet Letter, 60 178-179, 182-185, 194,
Schilder, Dr. K., 232 197, 200, 202, 205, 209-
Scholars, 90, 142, 188 212, 214, 219-220, 224-
Schools, 55, 71, 200, 225-226, 252 226, 229-230, 233, 236,
Scottish kirk, 16 238, 240, 244-246, 249-
Scripture, sufficiency of, 113 253, 255-256, 258-259,
Seduction, 204, 241 265-268, 270
Self-atonement, 219 confession of, 11-18, 25-26,
Self-esteem, 225 28, 43-47, 56, 66, 75-
76, 87, 99, 104-105,
Self-examination, 243-244
108, 124, 129-133,
Self-incrimination, 227
137, 148, 150, 154,
Separation of church and state, 156, 160, 191, 199,
139 201, 207, 216-217,
Sewing circle, 54 223, 237-238, 248,
Sex education, 224 259-261, 264, 269
Sex, sexuality, 32-34, 38, 49, 59, defined, 108
66-67, 75, 81-82, 86, 147, Sinclair, Gordon, 27
149-150, 179, 200, 204, Sindell, Gerald Seth, 67
214, 216, 218, 224, 230, “Sinne Eater,” 217-221
236, 239-240 Sinners, 19, 33, 50, 64, 68, 83,
Sexism, 60, 75 101-102, 127, 148, 153,
Sexual abuse, 17, 82, 236 159, 161-162, 172, 185,
Sexual morality, 202 196-197, 204, 212, 217-
Shakespeare, 53 218, 250, 260, 269-270
Shaw, George Bernard, 149 Slavery, 21, 137-138, 171, 211
Shepherding system, 16 Sleeping with Soldiers: In Search
Shunning, 14 of the Macho Man, 33-
Sibling rivalry, 32-33 34
Sin offerings, 43 Smyrna, 214
Sin(s), 20-22, 29-31, 33, 38, 41, Soap operas, 19
43-45, 50-51, 54, 60-64, “Sob sisters,” 19
66, 68, 70-73, 75-76, 81- Social gospel, 114

Social order, 19, 26, 69-73, 77, Stockton Metro-Ministry, 125

143-144 Stockton Record, 125
Socialism, Socialists, 142, 149, Stoics, 55
202-204 Strong, James, 63, 255
Society, 19, 21, 25-26, 65-66, 68- Suffrin, A. E., 44
69, 71, 73, 87, 90, 101, Suicide, 54, 151, 161, 225, 262
114-115, 133, 143-144, Superego, 224-226
150, 169, 202, 212, 226, Supreme Court, 86, 143, 231
230, 250, 255-258 Synagogue, 13-16, 43, 214
Sodomy, 235, 252
Solomon, 44 Taxes, 190
Sophocles, 160-161 Technology, 150
Sorrow, 50, 61, 88, 119, 124, 171, Teiresias, 161
249 Telex, 69
Soviet Union, 202, 226, 229 Ten Commandments, 170
Soviets, 52-54, 202, 227 Terrorism, 262
Spade, James, 244 Terry, Samuel, 59, 64-65
Spanish Inquisition, 261 Tertullian, 61-63
Spectator, 40, 202 Tetzel, Johann, 90-91, 255, 258
Sphinx, 161 Thanksgiving, 46, 51-52, 56, 73,
Spinoza, 14, 55 133, 219, 270
Srubov, Andrei, 53-54 The Best Congress Money Can
St. Andrews, 177 Buy, 215
St. Mary’s Church, 125 The Chalcedon Report, 193, 201
Stalin, 52, 226 The Christian Pastor and the
Stalin trials, 141 Working Church, 114
Stam, Clarence, 169-171 The Day America Told the
State, 14, 17, 28, 40-42, 65, 69-71, Truth, 170
73, 100, 114, 118, 149, The Decameron, 157
213-216, 225, 229-230, The Encyclopedia of Religion, 88
252-253, 255, 258-260, “The Entertaining of
262 America,” 84
State schools, 225-226 The New Saint Andrew Bible
Stauffer, Ethelbert, 68 Missal, 176
Stealing, 98, 154 The New Schaff-Herzog
Steele, Richard, 79 Encyclopedia of
Stern, Philip M., 215 Religious Knowledge, 18
Index 293

The Saturday Book, 149

“The Search,” 78 Valladares, Armando, 229
Theology, 39, 60, 109, 210, 243, Van Til, Henry, 159
247, 249 Vanity Fair, 236
Therope, 161 Vatican II, 118
Thieme, Bob, 171 Venus, Brenda, 66-67
Tillich, Paul, 34 Veroli, Robert Di, 55
Tithing, 189 Victimization, 83, 160-164, 194,
Torture, 26, 28, 52, 54, 141, 229, 197, 230
Totalitarianism, 26, 71, 147 Warfield, Benjamin
Transcendentalism, 60 Breckinridge, 244-248
Transubstantiation, 165 Watson, Richard, 194, 220
Triton, 77 Weaver, Richard, 159
True Confessions, 19, 29 Webster, Daniel, 54
Weekly communion, 168
Turk(s), 131, 163
Wenstrom, David, 125
12 Steps to Destruction:
Wesleyan holiness, 12
Codependency Recovery
West, R. C., 266
Heresies, 230
Westcott, B. F., 46
Tyson, Mike, 258
Western Civilization, 18, 55
Western history, 27, 70
U.S. Congress, 227
Western society, 142
U.S. Constitution, 229, 261 Westminster Confession of
U.S. News and World Report, Faith, 21
82, 86
Westminster Shorter
U.S. Supreme Court, 143 Catechism, 108, 242
Ulysses, 161 White America, 37-38
Unconditional forgiveness, 231 Whittier, John Greenleaf, 190
Unconditional love, 189, 231 Wilson, Bishop Thomas, 196
Unitarianism, 60 Wisdom, 161
United States, 203 Wise, Carroll A., 118-120
Upham, 247 Witchcraft, 161
Urban, Pope, 91 Witnesses, 259-261
Uriah, 205 Wloszczyna, Susan, 85
USA Today, 85 Word, 45-46
Utopia, 76, 245 Word of God, 45, 95, 98, 107,

113, 119, 156, 167-168, 178

178, 210, 253 World Wars I, 19
Wordsworth, William, 77-78 Worship, 188-189, 235
Work, 196
Works of Martin Luther, 93 Yadeh, 56
World, 31
World War I, 19 Zacchaeus, 236-237
World War II, 19, 117, 119, 160, Zoroastrians, 235
The Author
Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001) was a well-known
American scholar, writer, and author of over thirty books. He held
B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of California and
received his theological training at the Pacific School of Religion.
An ordained minister, he worked as a missionary among Paiute and
Shoshone Indians and pastored two California churches. He
founded the Chalcedon Foundation, an educational organization
devoted to research, publishing, and cogent communication of a
distinctively Christian scholarship to the world at large. His writing
in the Chalcedon Report and his numerous books spawned a gener-
ation of believers active in reconstructing the world to the glory of
Jesus Christ. Until his death, he resided in Vallecito, California,
where he engaged in research, lecturing, and assisting others in
developing programs to put the Christian Faith into action.
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