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Recovering 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 www.ChalcedonStore.com
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 publisher.
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
Chalcedon PO Box 158 * Vallecito, CA 95251 www.ChalcedonStore.com
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
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 culturewide 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 misrepresented, 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
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confession, both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism have distanced themselves from Biblical teaching concerning confession. For Protestantism, however, the term confession is so intimately bound up with its views of the Catholic confessional that the term has become a virtual shibboleth. As the phrase goes, Protestants 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 Christendom claim to possess the God-sanctioned perspective on confession, this book will offend readers in both camps who have canonized those perspectives so far as to insulate them against Biblical 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 reconstruction 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 fisticuffs. This isn’t merely an academic or abstract matter, as the author fully documents: the repercussions of this loss of the Biblical perspective have cut a wide swath of destruction and misery across all the societies affected by it. Why? Because, first, we’ve lost the benefits 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-justification. 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 psychotherapy) 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 interested in recovering its full meaning and importance; he consequently repudiates that cultural hijacking by reaffirming the core concept without apology:
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? (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 matter 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)
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Between the internecine conflicts within Christendom, internal compromise within the churches, and usurpation and assimilation of the concept of confession within humanistic frameworks, the entire 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 ramifications 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 ineffectual. He discusses this in connection with the so-called counseling 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 counseling pioneered by Dr. Jay Adams). The ineffectiveness of Arminian-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, counselors create a dependency syndrome, even as secular counselors do. If you alone, or as a couple, are counseled, then regular checkups, 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 connection 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 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 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 theological consequences, consequences that are rarely recognized but which plague the churches that turn their back on the Biblical doctrine 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 reprobate 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 confession, confessing our sins to receive God’s grace and mercy. More important for them than the state of grace is the state of compliance 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. (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 confession is particularly insipid and has thoroughly infected our cul-
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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 parents. This was good training in phariseeism, and it was an incentive to self-righteousness. With all too many psychiatrists, psychologists, 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 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. On the ecclesiastical scene, such confessions are a well-practiced 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 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 recognizing 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 suicide. The link between confession and inquisition must be broken morally, legally, and in practice. The world is moving into terrorism because its premises are very agreeable to it, civilly and ecclesiastically.
Terrorism justifies itself by pointing to the ostensible evils of its targets. (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 Rushdoony has here diagnosed.
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 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 failings, 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. 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. (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
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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 environmental 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 therefore 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, spontaneously 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, confessed your virtue. Do it loudly enough in Congress, and you confess near perfection. (p. 138)
In regard to this emphasis, we see a similar substitution of irresponsible tendencies in the place of Biblical confession and humble acceptance of our status as responsible creatures under God.
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. (p. 199)
Such an outlook makes for a soil that is utterly hostile to the planting 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 deliberately so that man need not confront the God whose law man has trampled underfoot. This is most evident in the context of modern psychotherapy.
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 confession 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 matter. 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 trivializes 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 repercussions. 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.… 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 require 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-
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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 confession and to understand the proper sphere and limits of confession to gain its intended benefits and avoid the hazards of distorted approaches 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 offense 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 maximum 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 focuses 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 confession as the first step towards healing, restoration, penance, and restitution. (p. 16)
Let us take stock, then, of the offense of Rushdoony’s position: 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 restitution. 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 material, 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
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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 inaccuracy 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 according to knowledge. 3. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves 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.
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n the mind of a Christian, the word confession is commonly associated 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 established 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 sins.
THE MEANING OF CONFESSION
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 summarized the sins of the church’s members and publicly proclaimed them. 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, Episcopal, 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 congregation, and with everyone being a penitent, all therefore had to kneel. 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 service 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
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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 disruptive 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.
THE MEANING OF CONFESSION
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 abolition 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 Scriptures. 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
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the sin (either to the elders of the church, or to the group or individual 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 primarily associated with the confession of sins but with confessing Christ. 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 righteousness: they sought to establish their own righteousness before God. When men seek to establish their own righteousness before God, they seek to do it by justifying themselves. One step in justifying themselves is to make atonement for their sins. Therefore, the Judaizing, legalistic influences working in the church led inexorably 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 certain 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
THE MEANING OF CONFESSION
through the performance of certain acts of penance. But the Reformation (and John Calvin in particular) clearly saw how Christ’s salvation 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 selfrighteousness. 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.
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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 circumstances, 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 confession 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 atonement 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 confess 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 penance, acts of contribution, acts of confession, to strive, to struggle,
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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 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. 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 confession 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
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 salvation means health, the physician is in Biblical thought a religious practitioner, and the culmination of physical salvation is the resurrection 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 “Auricular Confession,” but rather treats the subject under the title of
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“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 relenting 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 necessary 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 penance 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 resist, nor through shame add to his mortal wound a greater evil.1
THE CONFESSION OF SINS
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 doctrine. In the 1970s and the 1980s, many seemingly new developments have occurred, i.e., public confessions, public announcements 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 Buchmanites, 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 prerequisite for expiation and atonement.”2 In the medieval era, confession 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,  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.
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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 excommunications. 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 Portuguese 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 excluded 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 created 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.
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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 Americans aged eighteen and older professed to be born-again Christians; twenty years later, in 1988, this number was nearly ninetyone 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 synagogue 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.
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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 support system for one another which is linked to a confessional openness. All share their joys and failures and pray for one another. The shepherding system, now extensively abandoned, occasionally carried this to an extreme, but, on the whole, its benefits for many couples with undisciplined and unstructured lives was very substantial. 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 necessary. 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.
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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 proceeding 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-
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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 offenses. 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 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. As a result, in no ecclesiastical communion 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,  1972), 221.
n the twentieth century, confession has receded in the churches and proliferated in society. This new and popular form of confession 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 confessional 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-justifications 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 confession was and is the first step towards penance, restitution, and restoration, in this new and popular form, the act of confession was seen as itself constituting absolution. The verbal form replaced the
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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 you. 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 disobedient, 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 resulted 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 transferred 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 primordial ancestors. As long as men faced the burden of guilt, men would turn to religion, Freud held. No amount of “proof ” of the nonexistence 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 absolution 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 “understanding” 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 scientific perspective on the unreality of such a feeling except as an inherited aspect of the unconscious mind. In this psychotherapeutic confessional, thus, the entire process 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 slavery. 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 Publishing Company,  1973).
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Catechisms, the Baltimore Catechism, and so on. According to St. Paul,
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 restoration. This restoration has a double aspect. First, there is a restoration 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, depending upon the case (Ex. 22:1-31). The goal of confession is thus more than personal. It has reference 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 saints. 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 restoration.
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
he concept of confession as a social and religious necessity is as old as history. Studies have been made of the place of confession in various cultures. T.G. Pinches wrote of the place of confession 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 improvement for himself or for society.
1. T.G. Pinches, “Confession (Assyro-Babylonian),” in James Hastings, ed., Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 3 (Edinburgh, Scotland: T &T Clark,  1922), 825-27. 2. James Baikie, “Confession (Egyptian),” in ibid.,327-29.
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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 insistence, 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 coercion, 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 Godordained 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
FROM ORDEAL TO AUTOBIOGRAPHY
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 confession. In 1935, Gordon Sinclair wrote of an instance of the ordeal in central Africa. A minor chief became ill after eating and suspected 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), 191-95. 4. Ibid., 194-95. 5. Robert Bartlett, Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval Judicial Ordeal (Oxford, England: Clarendon Press,  1988), 64. 6. Ibid., 86.
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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 provide 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 torture 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. Previously, 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 prosecution 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 confession 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.
FROM ORDEAL TO AUTOBIOGRAPHY
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 overguided 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 penance, 1400-1700, has written:
Under the influence of Aquinas, the notion made headway that penance was as much “medicinal,” or directed to reforming the future 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 assassinate 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 University Press, 1985), 49. 10. Ibid., 132. 11. Ibid., 134.
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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 public. 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 confessional 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 barbarous 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 educators, science, and psychotherapy deny even the idea of sin, and crime is explained away in environmental terms. Sin will out, however, 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.
book published in 1989 has a thoroughly modern title, Confessions 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 autobiographies 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, November 18, 1989, 14.
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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” tormented 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 deeprooted 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 treatment thereof. He would have regarded the Christian confessional
2. Juliette Huxley, Leaves of the Tulip Tree (Topsfield, MA: Salem House,  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 separate 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.
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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 thinking is accompanied by a consciousness of guilt, has been the fundamental 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 freedom.
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 abound? 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.
Confession and the Image in Man
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-Christian. By his own admission, he assumed a cultural, religious solidarity 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 understandable 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, numbering 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,
THE CURE OF SOULS 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 peeping-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 invoked to act. At the same time, the personal security and privacy of a person began to recede steadily in American life. “The right to privacy” 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 confessions 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 repentance, penance, or restitution, some believe that confession automatically brings all these things. They can become, in fact, very
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indignant if they are not routinely granted forgiveness for confessing. 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 restitution 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 framework 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, concerning 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 precondition 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
THE CURE OF SOULS ago) is about as admirable as believing six impossible things before breakfast.1
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 Revelation 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 transactions, and more. At one time, the state’s information on the
1. John Casey, “Lest We Forgive,” Spectator (London, England), September 9, 1989, 17.
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people was limited to those with criminal records; now, all have records. There were no secrets among Indians who lived in small, roving bands. This was due to their closeness, and also to the prevalence of envy as a means of keeping one another on a common level. Now again envy is at work, and also a hostility to individuality. Former Congressman Ron Paul reported on an incident at the University of Pennsylvania. “One young white woman student” 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 statement, 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 state. 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 Faculty 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.
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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 antiquated ecclesiastical practice. It is a question of man’s life and freedom.
Confession as Praise
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 punishment because of his confession. “In the Bible, the confession of sin committed either individually or collectively is an essential prerequisite 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 confession:
1. Editors, “Confession of Sins,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 5 (Jerusalem, Israel: Keter Publishing House, 1971), 878.
THE CURE OF SOULS 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 confession with giving “glory to the LORD God of Israel.” The Hebrew 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 transgressed His commandments. It is in this respect an aspect of glorifying 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 confession. As A.E. Suffrin pointed out,
The mission of the prophets was “to declare unto Jacob his transgressions 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 themselves, 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 concludes 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,  1932), 829.
CONFESSION AS PRAISE
It is thus apparent that antinomianism undermines confession 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 perfunctory 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 creaturliness. 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 told,
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
THE CURE OF SOULS 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 singing. 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 pasture. 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 thanksgiving is again towdah, as in Joshua 7:19. Augustine wrote:
“Enter into His gates with confession.” At the gates in the beginning: 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  1952), 102.
CONFESSION AS PRAISE
good come from Him, in departing from whom thou hast caused thine evil. “Enter into His gates with confession.” Let the flock enter 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 commencement 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 entrance, he will confess. For what sins did our Lord Jesus Christ confess, 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 confession, 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 confession. 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,  1956), 490-91.
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In psychotherapeutic confession not only is there no absolution, but also neither victory nor song. The same is true of the unconfessed man within the church.
Confession and the Past
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 thereof. The fact remains that Lea’s account is a chronicle of abuses; the theological validity or nonvalidity of the Roman Catholic confessional is not his subject. A comparison is in order here. The modern psychotherapeutic confessional to psychiatrists, psychologists, 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 confessional 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
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and immoral priests. He did not do so: his concern was theological, not historical, in its essence. His critique of the late medieval confessional 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: “Sorrow for sin is necessary, if it is not perpetual. I advise you sometimes 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 salutary bitterness may restore our health, when it shall be drunk tempered 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 caterwauling 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 mancentered. Man-centered confessions can include some made to show how sensitive a soul the confessing person is! There is often a selectivity 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 (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1936), 666.
CONFESSION AND THE PAST
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 unchanging 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, because 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 numberless 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,  1956), 18.
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restitution of community with our fellow man. This is why Chrysostom 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 theologically valid. They are confessions to such vague offenses as imperialism, 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, policymaking 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
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.
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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 continue “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 humanistic, any true confession would be a surrender of their self-government 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 Christ. But, as Charles B. Fairbanks (1827-1859) said, in Memorials of Mrs. Grundy, “The sewing circle — (is) the Protestant confessional 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 AND COVENANT
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 Spinoza, Kant “and the whole, great Western ethical tradition,” said Kurtz. “This is the tradition which says ethics depends on man’s rational intelligence, that what you want to cultivate in the young is an appreciation 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 absolute, principles of morality. “Sincerity, honesty, loyalty, truth-telling all are general moral principles 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 morality. “Intelligent people know there are no absolutes,” he said, because moral principles often conflict and must be worked out by experience. 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 principle. 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: “Intelligent people know there are no absolutes.” By definition, intelligence means humanism! But perhaps we should not complain. After all, in Kurtz’s moral universe “it is always wrong to rape a 3year 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.
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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 confession to the LORD God of their fathers. (2 Chron. 30:22) 4. And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, 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, homologian; 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?
CONFESSION AND COVENANT
To be in covenant requires being in agreement. Since God’s covenant is not only a covenant of law but also of grace, and is a covenant 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 covenant is broken.
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 forgiveness 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.
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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 community 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 represented and echoed the world of early Unitarianism and its moralism. 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 environmentalism. 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 Calvinist! He was excommunicated from the academic community. Moreover, in this humanistic faith, forgiveness is conspicuously absent. 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 remission of sins, it was regarded by the Jewish religious leaders as blasphemy and as a claim to be God. The early church held that, because baptism had to be preceded by faith and repentance in adults, it was “the first repentance.” A problem arose in that many were fearful that after baptism there could be no further remission of sins for fresh sinning. Some thus postponed baptism until near death. Others held to a “second repentance,” and a second forgiveness 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 words:
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
THE CURE OF SOULS 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 writing he repudiated “On Repentance.” All the same, “On Repentance” 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 carnallyminded. 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 religion, 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 supranormal. 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 selfdebasement, 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 Flagellants, 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 sanctification. 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 manifest frenetic patterns of behavior. Now the word frenetic is related to the word frantic, and Montanism and its successors have provided a frantic version of faith. What happens in this perspective, if a man sins? The Montanists 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 Ecclesiastical Literature, vol. 3 (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers  1894), 530.
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As a result, there is no true deliverance from the past. A Samuel Terry can get ahead in the twentieth century only by concealing his past. At the same time, certain sins gain toleration because the people at large refuse to take them seriously. Homosexuals in Congress have not suffered as have other congressional sinners, past and present. 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?
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 presupposes 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 followed 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
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growth of an ever-increasing criminal class in our time, and, in the church, of rifts in community which are covered over but not healed. 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 reference 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 essentially covenant-keeping instead of covenant-breaking. Its sins are hamartia, falling short of the mark, rather than anomia, against or anti-law. 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 confession, 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 Concerned 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 holiness. 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 understood 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 justify 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 subverts 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,  1965), 81. 6. Ibid., 44-45. 7. Venus, Dear, Dear Brenda, 74; cf. 62.
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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 confession 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 trifles. Scripture describes this view as the way of the adulterous woman:
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.
Confession and Social Order
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
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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 committed, 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 proportionate 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 twentieth 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,  1971), 15. 2. Ibid., 16.
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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 employable 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. Government 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 government, one form of government among many. All these are interdependent governments, and none have a calling to dominate the others. That right belongs to God. To equate the state with government 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 essential 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
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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 despises 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
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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 murderer 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 reconciliation 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 news. 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 confession and thanksgiving stress the God-centered character of life.
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-confessing, 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 confession 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 University Press, 1978), 10. 2. Ibid., 69. 3. Ibid., 36. 4. Ibid., 44.
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Ranike’s epistemological self-consciousness is both remarkable and telling. Modern man eliminates any solution to his problem by denying that the problem exists. The solutions are variations 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 Selection” 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 Canyon 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 summoned 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 “Miscellaneous 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 borrowed from paganism, “a creed outworn,” mythical images and figures 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.
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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 repentance. 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 solution 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: pollution, fallout, the earth shrinking, expanding, cracking, or whatever 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), 43-44. 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 selfindulgent 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 Publications, 1989 reprint), 21.
n the 1920s and 1930s, a distressing aspect of associations with other boys in our neighborhood was to hear at times disrespectful 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 confessional 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
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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 reputation 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 fictitious 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 recover from the psychological and physical abuse she suffered while serving as a rock groupie in the ’60s. Then a long story of awful sexual 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 available to all who choose to listen? Why this desire to parade a variety 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 “confessions.” First, although the telephone form is new, public confessions 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 confession 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 masters 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 attention 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 intensification in their guilt in order to stress the reality of their guilt and confession. 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 murderous. 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 evidence of hypocrisy and dishonesty. Confession should lead to absolution and mutual confession; repentance and restitution do not enter into their thinking.
2. Paradise Lost, bk. 1, canto 11, lines 261-263.
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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 graphically portrayed in film. Although done in the name of realism, such depictions represent rather prurient tastes and desires, and a false view of realism. The realm comprehended as reality is a very limited and deformed one. Biblical confession has as its goal restitution and the restoration 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 judgment. A world which denies grace will receive none.
When Confession is not Confession
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 “comedians:”
Carlin defends a comic’s right to offend. “Comedy is a socially acceptable 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 affectionate 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 pornographic: “It’s brutalizing women. It’s bestiality. They’re not innuendoes, 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.
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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 interest as determined by community standards. A record that has sold 1.7 million copies must have some artistic merit. And it seems absurd 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 argument. Where humanism prevails, all standards are man-made and radically flexible. It is necessary to see this in order to understand what has happened 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.
WHEN CONFESSION IS NOT CONFESSION
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, Cambodians, 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
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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 repented 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 yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved 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 Corinthian Church repented of its sins, punished the evil-doers, made amends to Paul, and sought “to be clear in this matter.” Their repentance 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.
Confession and Indulgence
he origins of confession are clearly Biblical. Key texts are Leviticus 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 forgiveness 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
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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 confession, restitution, and restoration was fundamental to the Reformation. The Reformation began on the issue of an abuse of the confessional 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 motive.1
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 indulgences 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,  1913), 783. 2. Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York, NY: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950), 76-79.
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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 objected 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 indulgences 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 successors, 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 restitution. 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 prerogatives 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 Exclusive 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), 49. 5. Ibid., 9.
THE CURE OF SOULS 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 concern 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 confession to give Luther peace that led him to his doctrine of justification. 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 mandatory. 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 restitution 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 repentance. 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.
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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 confession, 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 favor, even though it cannot be proved from the Scriptures; it is useful 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 brother.11
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 restitution. The problem is a very serious one. Of all solutions it must be said that, in a fallen and sinful world, no “solutions” can eliminate any problem entirely. This does not mean that Biblical solutions 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.
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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 achievements 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 ways. 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, problems 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. 33.
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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 generally right, but very blunt and free with her tongue, and also domineering. 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 trembling 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 executive 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 abilities, could not be turned into rubber-stamp duplicates of her imagined 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
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to slide through glibly. There is no formula which assures valid confession. In Protestant circles, where persons come to the pastor on their own, unrequired, the confessional is informal; there is no systematic approach, and the person confesses usually to one particular 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 forgiven 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 restitution 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, confession, and, wherever possible, restitution. A mechanical confession 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 repentance? The answer of many churches has been to take steps against offenders, culminating in excommunication. Is this valid? Certainly for some offenses this is necessary. But let us consider the possibilities. 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
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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 identify 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 apparently 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
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 Scripture 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 declaration 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
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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 considerations 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 reference 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 publicity. 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 restitution 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 evil.
CONFESSION AND ATONEMENT
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 compliance 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 devastating 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.
THE CURE OF SOULS 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 denying his sin, he denies the reality about himself. He replaces selfknowledge 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 forgiveness 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 delusional.
The Two Aspects of Confession
ames Philip, in his comments on Numbers 5:5-10, called attention to the “twofold emphasis on confession and restitution” 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 confessed 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 Theological Word Book of the Bible (New York, NY: Macmillan,  1960), 191.
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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 activities 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 declares:
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
THE TWO ASPECTS OF CONFESSION
recognize the validity of God’s justice and order. Similarly, a confession 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 questioning 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 private 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 conversion. 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 AllRighteous 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
he church, all too prone to aping the world, has in the twentieth 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 counseling, psychotherapy, was to replace the work of priests and pastors 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
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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 effectual 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 provoked me into sinning!” There is another aspect to such confessions. 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: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” Apart from this fact, all attempts to deal with
THE COUNSELING HERESY
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 reconciliation, 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 Scripture, the need in many cases begins with regeneration. In other instances, where the persons are truly Christian, there must be confession and repentance, followed by restitution. Repentance means a reversal of direction, a total change in a person’s life and character. 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.
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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 Christian 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 Gentiles 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
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, antinomian 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 existence 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
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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 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 doing. 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 decision 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 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
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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 reduced 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.
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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 counseling 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.
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agency for the regeneration of man and society. Religious fervor for these men was transferred from God to politics. Second, in the personal 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
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 nondirective “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 counseling 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.
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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 affiliated 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 definition of counseling. A professor of pastoral psychology, Carroll A. Wise, defined it thus:
Counseling is essentially communication and as such is a two directional 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 understand the dynamic processes of personality as they find expression 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 counselor 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 Council 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.
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likely decline of the mass and the confessional, and the increase of preaching. His view was that the priest should not be given the freedom to share his thinking but should be strictly limited to an ordained 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 understanding. It is not necessary to agree with his views to recognize that in churches Catholic and Protestant both “worship” and counseling have become a two directional process in which God is left out. Second, Wise held that the important thing in this two directional 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 requirements be faithfully set forth, because reconciliation to God in Christ must be the goal of counseling. For the counselor to be concerned 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 himself.” This is not knowing much. Far more important is knowing and communicating the law-word of God. In some evangelical circles, 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 himself, 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-
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word as “dynamic.” To be free from the limitations of God’s law was seen as liberating, empowering, and “dynamic.” Power ostensibly 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 personal 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.
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Enough has been said to make it clear that humanistic counseling 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 reference 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 cure.
Counseling and Reconciliation
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 impression of a changed behavior for public relations purposes. The marriage 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 Francisco, 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
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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 self-aggrandizement. 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 Corinthians,
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 repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2 Cor. 7:9-10)
Paul distinguishes between a godly sorrow for sin as against ungodly sorrow, “the sorrow of the world” which leads to death. In the face of exposed sin, people are usually sorry, but too often their sorrow 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 confession, leads to hypocrisy. The weakness, too, of the counseling session is the limited and humanistic goal. Thus, a counselor will tell a couple, in so many words, we will try together to save this marriage. 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.
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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 Metro-Ministry.
The Rev. Bernie Flynn recalled seeing the alcoholics gathered outside St. Mary’s Church on Washington Street where he spoke Saturday 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 comfortable home, but he shares a deadly disease with the men and women slowly killing themselves on Washington Street — the disease of alcoholism.2
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 alcoholism. 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 disease. 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 Addiction,” Stockton (CA), Record, March 10, 1991, sec. B, 1. 3. Ibid.
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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 historic, 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 drunkenness 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 condition 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 sins…. 4. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
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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 yourselves: 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 ministers, 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 knowledge have engaged in the following offenses: drunkenness, adultery, 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 reconciliation to man as its primary goal. As such, it alienates one and all from God.
Confessing Other People’s Sins
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 “confess” 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 procedure. 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
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old-fashioned Christian family. The counselor’s “report” on this professor was libelous to the extreme; he was classified as a reactionary 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 incentive to self-righteousness. With all too many psychiatrists, psychologists, 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. 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 wonderful pastor of a large black congregation with many black university professors as members, had his pastorate terminated for calling attention to African American sins, including welfarism. The congregation 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 persons). 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
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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 incidents! 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 Jewkillers! 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 Christkillers! 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-practiced 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 scriptured 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 himself, 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,
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was disciplined by the church. She was told that she had no grounds for divorce. Unusual? Unhappily, no. The pastor had not asked the husband 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 exboss 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 salvation. Similarly, in counseling in nonmarital problems, there is a certainty of further dissension unless true confession and restitution 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
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employers became known. After all, if a man is ready to complain freely to one and all about present and past employers, it is reasonable 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 content. (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 raiment. 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 surviving 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.
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 heroine, after copulating, both swore that the earth shook! Their fornication 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 profound 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 forefathers had ostensibly created. They were the victims of a world they never made, and to carry the book, and to provoke discussions 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
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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, Christians, 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 resurrection: 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 goatskins; 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, received not the promise: 40. God having provided some better thing for us, that they without 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 suffered 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 glorious 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 confession 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 spectacle 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), 56.
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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 apologize 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 died.2 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), Frederick 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, homosexuality, 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 Amendment 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. Carrying it about marked one as a member of the fellowship of suffering 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 Psychotherapy
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 confession? 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 another. 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 themselves 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
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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 elsewhere, 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 congregation 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.
CONFESSION VERSUS PSYCHOTHERAPY
Confessions thus are not an obsolete relic. Whether practiced by psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, or evil courts, the purpose of confession 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 ungodliness and unrighteousness (or, injustice) of men,” says that evildoers “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 confession, no matter how strenuously they resist it. Confession is a cleansing and a peace they resist, because true confession results in restitution. 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 confession 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 liberated men and women, and to attest to their modernity. According to Martin Ingrem, English church courts (15701640) 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 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press,  1990), 3. 2. Ibid., 294
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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 forthcoming, 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 primarily 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 maintenance of society. We may disagree strongly with the medieval and Reformation era forms of confession, restitution, and public attention 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 offenses, 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 isolation. The mechanism used by people today to cope with such problems is psychotherapy. Its problems are many. First, it is usually
3. Ibid., 342.
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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 psychotherapy 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)
t is very important to recognize that confession can be a dangerous 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 Christian 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 persons, it was easy to attack their claims to innocence by telling them of various minor offenses they surely must have committed. By
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getting them to admit to non-perfection, then to minor confessions, 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 “unChristian,” 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
DANGEROUS CONFESSIONS (PART I)
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 forbearance. 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 them. 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 Saturday Book (Hutchinson of London, 1966), 189.
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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, represents 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 excavations. In a Christian culture, confession of sins is to God, the confession 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 culture represent a developing confession. The people develop the presuppositions 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
DANGEROUS CONFESSIONS (PART I)
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 convinced he was for having gone. He half-wished that he were Catholic 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 arrogant confessions of hatred, perversion, malice, and all kinds of evil. In the world created by Freud, there is no cure, only selfunderstanding. 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 braggadocio 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)
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 generalized but none the less real. Especially in the world of commerce, decisions are often made quickly and routinely, deals consummated 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 situation, 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?
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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 confess 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 knowledge 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 suspicion from others, then it is legitimate; then too restitution can and must be made. In fact, confession without restitution in such
DANGEROUS CONFESSIONS (PART II)
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 confessions. 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 presence of witnesses; let an inquisition into your transgressions be the work of your own thoughts; let there be no witness of this judgment; 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 upbraideth 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 physician.” 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 (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1936), 687.
THE CURE OF SOULS to such a degree of temerity, when he wrote those and similar passages, as to liberate the conscience of men from obligations imposed 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 person than a pastor. Faithful confession ought to be free, not required. 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 guidance 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 Protestant; 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.
DANGEROUS CONFESSIONS (PART II)
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 certainly 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 doctrine. It is necessary to view confessions with some degree of objectivity 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 deathbed 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 dangerous confessions can be in fooling the pastor and furthering sin. Our original sin (Gen. 3:5) is to be as gods, knowing or determining 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
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. Christianity, because it stresses the fact of original sin, requires us constantly 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 Christian. Not surprisingly, from the earliest days of the church, as with
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Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), confession was central to the believer’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 confession 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 Christendom. The shift away from a Christian to a humanistic confession 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,
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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 pestilence 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 sinner 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 victim. 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 victimization 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: Cambridge University Press,  1936), 172.
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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 tolerant 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
CONFESSION AND CULTURE
exploited persons. In every sphere of life, political, marital, economic, and so on, this belief in victimization is not only commonplace 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 Eden. 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 barbarians, 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 medieval 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
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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-Christian 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.
Confession and Communion
n the twentieth century, church councils have been held to promote 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 blasphemies. 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 Catholic faith; it affirmed the Old Testament as against the Albigensians; it affirmed the validity of the mass and of transubstantiation; and it required that the faithful partake of communion.
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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. Innocent 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 confession 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 profanation 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 protection. 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.
CONFESSION AND COMMUNION
Many orders of worship require a general confession prior to communion. 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 ones.) A pastor’s preaching may be correct and still false. A few illustrations 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 Catholic priest whose gospel was the Latin Mass and the Council of
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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 concentrate his preaching on various texts in the Gospel of John, all ably done, with careful exegesis, but the Bible is bigger than John’s Gospel. 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. Certainly 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 Protestant churches have seen as the solution the return to weekly communion. (At one time, in terms of the Passover, many churches, especially Reformed, celebrated communion once a year. In Scotland, 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 preceded 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
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 separation. Sin is also the destructive force among people, and in society 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 Revelation, 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.
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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 wrote,
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-standing 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 iniquity—no matter what iniquity it is! So the Lord calls us today to examine 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 Commandments. 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.
CONFESSION AND GRACE
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 nothing! 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.
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thought that it would perhaps have suited her more if a hymn began, “Ah, holy Me.” Heermann’s hymn is a song about grace because it is a song of confession. The church is today impotent because it has a false gospel of cheap grace, because it has downgraded 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 Protestants 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 confession. 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
CONFESSION AND GRACE
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 forgiveness of sins, it is the continuing confession of sins that strengthens and empowers us in the grace of God.
Death and Confession
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 sharpened 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 practice 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:
THE CURE OF SOULS 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 him. 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
DEATH AND CONFESSION
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 every 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 audience with his eloquence. James Melville, afterwards minister of Anstruther, was then a student at the College, and one of his constant hearers. The account which he has given of his appearance is exceedingly 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 said:
1. Thomas Mc’Crie, Life of John Knox (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Publication,  1905), 324.
THE CURE OF SOULS “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 laboured 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 anguish 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 spirit. 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 judgment there can be no God”; it has sympathy with the gibe of Heine, “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.
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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 “breakthrough.” 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 married 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’ anger. 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
onfessions are not limited to individuals, although, as we have seen, personal confessions are of necessity specific and particular, whereas congregational and national confessions are commonly, 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 penitent; 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 preserved from sin, from Phariseeism, and from hypocrisy thereby.
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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 prayed,
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, saying, The land, unto which ye go to possess it, is an unclean land with the filthiness of the people of the lands, with their abominations, which have filled it from one end to another with their uncleanness. 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 this; 14. Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest not thou be angry
CONGREGATIONAL AND NATIONAL CONFESSIONS
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 trespasses: 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 personal 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. Although 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 covenants with ungodly peoples are permitted, and marriage is a form of covenant. Israel had not hesitated to intermarry with unbelievers, 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 particular 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,
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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 covenants 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; antinomianism 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 faithfulness. 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 history. Ezra’s confession was national and congregational, and, at the same time, intensely personal. Its public nature does not eliminate its private character. Normally, a national day of repentance and confession is marked by more formal prayers.
CONGREGATIONAL AND NATIONAL CONFESSIONS
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 unworthiness, 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 transgressions. 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 sinners; for the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ, our only Saviour and Redeemer. 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 confession 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 contempt 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 death1. Derek Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1979), 69.
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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.
Confession and Collection
ne of the more baffling texts of Scripture is found in Malachi 3:8-12:
8. Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein 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 it. 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 delightsome 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
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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 collections, 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 important expression of the fact that “we are members one of another” (Eph. 4:25). The Mosaic law is full of requirements that covenant members 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 Christ. In Judaism, voluntary contributions were also gathered for scholars.2 In the medieval and Reformation eras, scholars were supported 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 significance 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.
CONFESSION AND COLLECTION
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 extend the charitable relief from one Christian community to another 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 worshipper’s giving is thus an act of faith and an expression of grace. The early church, by obeying God’s law in this respect, confessed 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, collected 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 antinomian 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.
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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 Greenleaf 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 thus:
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, “offertory 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 Federal 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.
CONFESSION AND COLLECTION
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
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 “professional” training, examination, and licensure by a board of psychiatrists and psychologists for all pastors. None of these “Christian” psychologists protested this step. Recently, a pastor in a California city was attacked for counseling 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 psychologists. The results there gave him a conclusion far more agreeable to
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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 victims 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 Himself, 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 judgment, 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,  1840), 256.
TURNING OURSELVES IN
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 confession required of believers in the early church was this: “Jesus Christ is Lord” (as against the mandatory “Caesar is Lord”). There is a reference 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 destiny 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
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and through us, so that true confession manifests itself always in God working in and through us. A true confession thus has the witness 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 confess 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 ourselves in: we confess ourselves to be sinners deserving only condemnation. 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 prayers. 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 appointments.
2. H.C.G. Moule, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press,  1907), 73. 3. Thomas Wilson, Sacra Privata: Private Meditations and Prayers (New York, NY: Thomas Whitaker, 1879), 55.
TURNING OURSELVES IN
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 mercy. The disappointments I meet with, may be absolutely necessary for my eternal welfare. I do therefore protest against the sin and madness 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 THE WILL OF MY FATHER, AND OF MY GOD: this for 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 ourselves 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
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 confession 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
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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 children. 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 gratification. 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 arrogant 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
WHY TRUE, BIBLICAL CONFESSION IS UNPOPULAR
sorry.” Biblical law speaks of incest in such texts as Leviticus 18:618, 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 culture 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.
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As against this, drugs offer an instant euphoria; sins, problems, and duties disappear, and a cheap bliss prevails. This leads to addiction, because the euphoria of drugs is an escape from responsibility 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 society.” 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 theological 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, 14.
Confession versus Litigation
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 insurance. In Texas, a plaintiff receives $248,000 after an “expert” witness testifies that an auto accident had caused or contributed to cancer. 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 percentage 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 socialism, what lawyers, courts, and juries handle in the United States a civil bureaucracy adjudicates elsewhere, more slowly but with like injustices.
1. David Gergen, “America’s Legal Mess,” U.S. News & World Report, August 19, 1991, 72.
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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 insurance 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 culture 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 litigation, 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
CONFESSION VERSUS LITIGATION
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, says,
1. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. 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 me. 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 different aspects, as transgression, iniquity, sin; the Heb. words thus rendered meaning respectively, (1) defection from God or rebellion against Him; (2) the perversion of right, depravity of conduct; (3) error, wandering from the right way, missing the mark in life.
THE CURE OF SOULS 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 generally (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 abundantly, 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 litigious. Having forsaken the living God, and having made themselves 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,  1906), 288-89.
CONFESSION VERSUS LITIGATION
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 before 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 guilt. Those who avoid confession are lovers of misery.
Confession and Liberation
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 seriously. 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 with. There are two extremes with regard to sin. The Hindu view of Karma sees sin as a burden which can only be expiated with endless 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 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
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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 repercussions. 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 dismiss 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 evangelicalism has its own doctrine of indulgences: the sinner has only to say, “I’m sorry,” and the matter is wiped out. There is no restitution 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 insistence 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
CONFESSION AND LIBERATION
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 pastbound. 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 penance gave them a vitality and power lacking in modern leaders. True liberation is from sin unto holiness, and, without repentance, confession, and restitution, there is neither liberation nor holiness. Berkhof defined the ethical holiness of God as “that perfection 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 necessity 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
THE CURE OF SOULS 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. Finally, the holiness of God is also revealed in the Church as the body of Christ.1
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 antinomian church is thus a false church. Confession and restitution lead to restoration. This restoration has more than one fact. First, it is a restoration of one’s relationship to the triune God. Without this restoration, man cannot have peace with God. We have virtually forgotten two once important 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 restoration of our relationship with our fellow man, with the one offended and also all who know of the sin. Community again prevails. 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 peoples. 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,  1946), 74.
Nothing is Good of Itself
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 official 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
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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 probably 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 husband and others were busy with other women. A lawyer advised the original and Godly wife to get a divorce, since her state did not recognize 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-husband 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.
NOTHING IS GOOD OF ITSELF
Is this unusual? No, it is routine from coast to coast in Protestant 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 communicable 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 direction, 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, although 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
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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 confession. In some church circles, it is assumed that confession of itself requires forgiveness and restoration. This means reducing the Biblical meaning of confession to empty words. When Saul disobeyed God with respect to Amalek, he confessed 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 transgressed 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 sinning. 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”
oo often confession in the modern mind is misdirected. In psychotherapy, it is to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor. 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 character 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 doctrine 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 minimal and liberal church background only confirmed her illusions. Since the blacks she knew in her classes were earnest students (this
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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 treatment 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 occasion, 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 hand.
THE “SINNE EATER”
6. Be careful 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. 4:4-7)
James Moffatt rendered “moderation” thus: “Let your forbearance be known to everyone.” “Be careful for nothing” is “Never be anxious.” 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 psychotherapist, our confession may bring temporary relief, but not peace with God. We must not underrate this quest for relief. Man seeks atonement 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.
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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 God’s. 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 judgment, 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 necessary, but it does mean that restitution is made: this is a form of public 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,  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,  1989), 189ff.
THE “SINNE EATER”
This custom is strange to us in form only. If a verbal confession is accepted, with no restitution required, no necessary reconciliation 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
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 confession 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 interesting. 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
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make it any the less a moral and psychological necessity. Psychoanalysts 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 impotent 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 towards our aggressive feelings, towards our mean, cruel, and vindictive 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 helpfulness besides maliciousness.3
A little later, Reik speaks of sex as “redemption.” “In this sense sexual 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,  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.
THE NEED TO CONFESS
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 inflated. 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 boastful. 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 himself.5 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.
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rebellion against the superego, who needs church, state, school, family, or civilization? Our state schools are now schools for barbarians. There is now a rejection of the fact that guilt feelings are a healthy reaction to sins committed, and that repentance, confession, 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 possessor 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 speaking, an unconscious secret is more injurious than a conscious one. All personal secrets, therefore, have the effect of sin or guilt, whether or not they are, from the standpoint of popular morality, wrongly 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 misdeeds. The so-called court trials became a form of public confession. 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.
THE NEED TO CONFESS
This was no freakish event. The U.S. Congress, by supposedly 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 confess to men. Confession is a moral necessity; if we deny its Christian form, we will soon face its anti-Christian and demonic manifestations.
Turning Men into Moral Zeroes
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 Rehabilitation 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 Rehabilitation was the internal annihilation of the prisoner, the destruction
THE CURE OF SOULS 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 program 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 premises 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 illustration fits several situations), the husband is on drugs (or, an alcoholic); 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,  1987), 92.
TURNING MEN INTO MORAL ZEROES
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 lawless living once she is home does not upset the church. They are, after all, committed to a no-divorce faith, now a common Protestant 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 forgiveness. But, as always, a text without a context is a pretext. Immediately 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 unconditional forgiveness here? It does not exist! What then is our Lord saying? We must begin by recognizing that all our modern definitions 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
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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 humanistic. 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 sentence 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 incidental, 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,  1948), 13435.
TURNING MEN INTO MORAL ZEROES
first, because it is not Biblical. It transfers the legal fact of forgiveness 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 become 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 crucifixion 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 foundation 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 forgiveness. Later medieval pietism did much to promote this false doctrine, 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 materialistic 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 counseling 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.
THE CURE OF SOULS 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 garnished. 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 reason is clear: “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18ff.; Ps. 36:1).
Confession or Curse
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 himself a Zoroastrian. This dualistic faith has long been an undercurrent, 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.
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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, Protestant 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 unexposed. 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)
CONFESSION OR CURSE
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 requirements of faith. First, Zacchaeus repented; to repent means to reverse the direction of one’s life, faith, and action. True repentance is not simply a matter of words. Second, having repented, he confessed his sins. His sins had been public, and so too was his confession. 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 expressions: 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 pronounces 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 highhanded 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 covenant-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 Deuteronomy 28:15-68.
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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 indignation, 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 gospel 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 other 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.
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 Christian, marriage is the norm; all nonmarital sexual activity is a departure from it. The variety of opinions on sex, marriage, and divorce are distressingly many. To cite one opinion, earnestly held by at least one pastor, it is affirmed that any sexual act with any woman immediately establishes marriage and the obligation to go through the marriage rite. The “justification” for this is found in 1 Corinthians 6:15-16:
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
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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 Matthew 19:3ff. that Christ forbids divorce. Moreover, they insist on reading “fornication” as the same as adultery. In Institutes of Biblical 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 ungodliness. 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 covenantal (Mal. 2:14). A people in covenant with God will marry covenantally. At this point, Roman Catholics (and here and there some Protestant churches) have recognized the difference between a covenantal marriage and a non-covenantal, however varied their terminology. 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 assumption. 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.
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I heard today of a woman beaten and robbed by two hoodlums 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 committed 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
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 confessions made by people distressed by their “apparent” lack of sufficient 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 confessional 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 Judaism.
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Now, in our Lord’s time, the Pharisees had developed selfexamination 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 carefully 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 endless 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 transgression 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 whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. (Heb. 13:4)
To reduce the faith to “spiritual” concerns is an implicit Manichaeanism. (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 humanistic 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 wrote:
1. James Spade, The Man Who Kept the Secrets (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1991), 183.
CONVENANT AND CONFESSION
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 suffer 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 divine 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 repugnant, but impossible to him. He was compelled to develop a conception of the Christian life which inferred perfection. There could be no room in it, we do not say merely for distrust, fear, despondency, but for contrition, repentance, self-abasement. The very essence 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 closes 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 actually do, he is no “sinner,” and his conscience must not accuse him.2
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.
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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 continuously 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 meaning 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 everything 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 salvation. 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 conceivable sinful thought or act in order to confess them and cleanse their
3. Ibid., 113.
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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 purposes 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 taken in turn as a center from which we may look out upon the allembracing 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 focus of the universe and conceiving of everything and everybody in the circumference of the circle thrown out from ourselves, as a center, 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 Governor 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 father and daughter, and from all that appears from the expressions of feeling quoted from Madame Guyon, or from Upham’s comments, they seem to have been looked upon by her and to be recommended 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 exercises in egocentricity unless the praise of God becomes paramount 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.
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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 result 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.
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 elements. First, the sinner had to be repentant. There had to be contrition, 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, satisfaction, 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 unrepentant 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
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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 historian, 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 vengeance 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 restitution 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 different, 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 persons claiming to be pilgrims who could not produce “a letter of passage” were to be arrested, unless infirm.2
1. Andrew McCall, The Medieval Underworld (New York, NY: Dorset Press, 1979), 34. 2. Ibid., 35n.
Pardoners were created by the medieval church to sell pardons, 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 Pardoner’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 tolerated.4 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.
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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 words,
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 transaction; and once again, therefore, an important means of evading the full ferocity of the law was generally available to all but the impecunious, 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 corruption that Luther confronted, but they are too obtuse to see our modern courts and legal system as an heir to the medieval indulgences 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 states. 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 justice.
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 indulgences 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
t is commonly believed that the system of indulgences is an institution 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 indulgences, 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 account of our sins, after the sins themselves, as to the guilt and punishment, have been already remitted by repentance and confession.1
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 declared:
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,  1894), 563.
THE CURE OF SOULS 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 incurred; 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 deservest 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 indulgences while curbing their practice. Their sale, however, did continue 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 transaction takes its place. The subject is one of embarrassment to Catholics 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 righteous 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
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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 indulgences. First, a young businessman, his company of a few years’ history 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 generously to the church. The church called the businessman’s demands for restitution harsh and unforgiving. As a Christian, he should forgive his erring brother, who had neither repented nor asked for forgiveness. 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 indulgences. Forgiveness can only be in terms of God’s law, as a satisfaction of His justice. The modern state, too, has its indulgences, fines, prison sentences, 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
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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, confession, 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 something!” 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, community 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 systems, are highly vulnerable and will either be reformed or decay. We live in an indulgence society and are too blind to see it.
Confession and Inquisition
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 evidence 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.
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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 hearing charges, let alone trying them, unless there are two or three witnesses 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 confession 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.
CONFESSION AND INQUISITION
evil instruments of torture used in inquisitions are still used by many “modern” states in various continents. He cited three ecclesiastical 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, established 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 confession 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 inquisition is an essential one. Confession is a spiritual necessity before God, and, on occasion, before men. But to coerce men into confessing 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.
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church. True protection is a moral fact rather than a resort to torture. 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 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 suicide. The link between confession and inquisition must be broken morally, legally, and in practice. The world is moving into terrorism because its premises are very agreeable to it, civilly and ecclesiastically. Terrorism justifies itself by pointing to the ostensible evils of its targets. This has been the justification of tyrants over the centuries. 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
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 Chaucerian 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 convent what confession is about. I remember only one statement they made: confession and the confessor made peace between God and
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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 resentments 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 confession 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 confession, 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 government. 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 salvation and to be upheld by the Lord. Having been a transgressor, he wants the blessing of God to enable him to teach other transgressors. 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 perverted 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 Protestants 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.
CONFESSION AS GOVERNMENT
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 confessions have created a great dependency on the psychotherapists, often a dangerous one, and the governing power has been a serious one. 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 governed, 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 recognize 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,  1932), 827.
THE CURE OF SOULS 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 kindness) 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 released. 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 perpetual 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 postmillennial confession: “Give unto the mouth of thy people truth and wisdom which no man may resist.” Not surprisingly, the Reformation 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,  1957), 94-95.
The Joy of Confession
salm 32 is a psalm of confession, and about confession David says,
1. Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 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.
THE CURE OF SOULS 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 forgiven 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 dissimulation 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 impenitence 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 moisture. He was withering away.
1. Stuart G. Held, Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,  1992), 192. 2. A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms (Cambridge, England: University Press,  1906), 162.
THE JOY OF CONFESSION
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 transgression, 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. Confession 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 them.3
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 ‘becomes 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 proverbial type of stubborn persistency in evil, and we find analogous
3. H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Columbus, OH: Wartburg Press, 1959), 268.
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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 necessary 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 confession restores a right relationship with God, and it is health to all our being. Instead of storing up wrath by impenitence, we by confession 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 gratitude 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
Genesis 1:26-28 – 41, 230 3:1-5 – 108, 194 3:1-6 – 231 3:5 – 45, 120, 157, 162, 191,
3:9-13 – 105 3:12 – 162 3:13 – 162 4:9 – 105 4:13 – 43 4:23-24 – 163 9:6 – 210 Exodus 19:10 – 206 19:14 – 206 20:14 – 240 22 – 210 22:1-31 – 22 24:7 – 205 32:32 – 206 Leviticus 5:1-19 – 89 5:5-6 – 89 13:6 – 206 13:34 – 206 16:21 – 99 18:6-18 – 201 20:10 – 240 20:11-12 – 201 20:14 – 201 20:17 – 201 20:20-21 – 201 26:14-43 – 237
Numbers 5:23 – 206 5:5-7 – 89 5:6-7 – 89 5:5-10 – 103 5:21 – 237 35:30 – 259 Deuteronomy 14:21 – 240 17:6 – 260 19:15-16 – 260 21:1-9 – 73 21:18-21 – 72-73 21:22-23 – 238 22:22-23 – 201 22:30 – 201 26:4-5 – 89 27:20 – 201 28:2 – 209 28:15 – 209 28:15-68 – 237 Joshua 7:19 – 43, 46, 56, 104, 194, 220, 259 Judges 9:7-21 – 211 1 Samuel 15:1-35 – 216 15:24-25 – 216 2 Samuel 11:2 – 216 12:13 – 205, 216 12:13-14 – 216
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19:19 – 268 2 Kings 5:10-14 – 206 21:13 – 206 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 – 44 30:22 – 56 Ezra 2:9 – 236 9:4 – 182 9:6-15 – 182-183 9:7 – 183 9:8 – 184 Nehemiah 4:5 – 206 Psalms 14:1-3 – 102 19:7 – 104 24:1 – 187 32:1-2 – 205 32:1-11 – 267 32:2 – 206, 268 32:3 – 46, 268 32:4 – 268 32:5 – 194, 216, 220 32:6 – 269 32:7 – 269 32:8-9 – 269 32:10 – 270 32:11 – 270 36:1 – 234 51 – 264 51:1-4 – 205 51:4 – 205 51:7 – 206
51:9 – 206 51:10 – 104 53:1-3 – 102 97:7 – 47 98:19 – 47 100 – 46 119:105 – 246 139:7-12 – 45, 215 Proverbs 28:13 – 215 30:20 – ix, 39, 68, 179, 209 Isaiah 5:11 – 126 28:1 – 126 30:1 – 110 43:25 – 206 44:22 – 206 53:5-7 – 206 58:10 – 44 Jeremiah 2:1 – 44 2:22 – 206 2:35 – 44 3:13 – 44 4:14 – 206 5:8 – 270 8:6 – 12, 270 13:23 – 111 18:23 – 206 31:33 – 104 Lamentations 1:5 – 206 Ezekiel 18:30-31 – 12 36:26 – 104
39:11-24 – 237 Daniel 9:4-5 – 56 Hosea 4:12 – 110 14:1 – 44 Joel 1:5 – 126 2:12-13 – 12 Amos 3:2-3 – 56 9:7 – 126 Micah 3:8 – 44 Malachi 2:14 – 241 3:8-12 – 187 Matthew 3 – 93 3:6 – 194, 220 3:8 – 12 4:4 – 215 6:32 – 110 6:33 – 110 7:1-5 – 257 7:15 – 196 7:15-20 – 63, 196 7:20 – 215 8:5-13 – 176 10:8 – 188 10:26 – 101 10:32 – 194, 220 10:32-33 – 104 12:43-45 – 234
18 – 93 18:15-17 – 260 18:15-20 – 231 18:17 – 231 18:21-22 – 231 19:3 – 240 19:9 – 240 19:17 – 105, 215 21:28-32 – 20 22:25 – 47 Mark 2:5-7 – 99 2:7 – 220 2:10 – 220 7:21 – 240 Luke 5:21 – 61, 220 5:24 – 220 12:8 – 194, 220 18:19 – 215 19:1-10 – 236 19:8-10 – 236 21:34 – 126 22:42 – 196 23:34 – 39, 231-232 John 1:12-13 – 113 1:29 – 268 3:16 – 167 7:24 – 256 8:1-11 – 256 8:7 – 256 8:34 – 21 Acts 3:14 – 212 3:21 – x
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5 – 160 21:16 – 189 Romans 1:18 – 143 3:10 – 102 3:18 – 234 4:18 – 229 5 – 270 6:1 – 183 6:1-2 – 35 6:18 – 170, 172 7:18 – 105 9:6 – 189 10:1-11 – xi 10:8-11 – 22 10:10 – 56 10:17 – 95, 113 11:5 – 189 11:17 – 189 13:13 – 126 1 Corinthians 5:1-8 – 13 5:11 – 126 6:15-16 – 239 7:15 – 242 10:18 – 189 11:28 – 243 16:22 – 238 2 Corinthians 5:17 – 113 7:9-10 – 124 7:9-11 – 88 13:1 – 260 Galatians 1:8-9 – 238 2:10 – 188
3:7 – 189 3:10-14 – 238 4:28 – 189 5:19-21 – 126 6:7 – 53 6:15 – 113 6:16 – 188-189 Ephesians 2:1 – 127 2:4-5 – 127 2:8-9 – 127 4:11 – 188 4:24 – 41, 230 4:25 – 188 5:3 – 240 5:18 – 126 Philippians 2:9-11 – 195 2:12 – 195 2:12-13 – 195 2:13 – 196 3:3 – 189 4:2 – 264 4:4-7 – 219 4:6-7 – 133 4:11 – 133 Colossians 3:10 – 41, 230 1 Thessalonians 5:7 – 126 1 Timothy 4:2 – 54 5:19 – 260 6:6-8 – 133 6:13 – 56
6:15 – 188, 215 Hebrews 4:12-13 – 46 4:13 – 37, 215 10:26-27 – 238 10:28 – 260 11:32-40 – 136 13:4 – 244 James 1:26-27 – 248 2:2 – 13 5:14-16 – 175-176 5:16 – 50, 155, 159, 194, 220
1 Peter 4:3 – 126 1 John 1 – 93 1:8-10 – 101, 159 1:9 – 194, 220 3:4 – 108, 205, 244 Revelation 2:1-3:22 – 214 2:9 – 214 20:11-13 – 40
A Theological Word Book of the Bible, 103 A World I Never Made, 135, 139 Abel, 43 Abolitionists, 138 Abortion, 33, 235 Absolution, 17-19, 21, 30, 38-40, 48, 52, 59, 61-68, 75, 8283, 92, 133, 164, 201, 219220, 251 Achan, 43-44, 56, 104, 259 Acosta, Uriel, 14 Adam, 66, 105, 162, 172, 268, 270 Addictions, 125 Adultery, 55, 63, 81, 98, 100, 109, 119-120, 127, 138-139, 154, 165-166, 170, 179, 201, 230, 240, 242, 257 African Americans, 130 Against All Hope, 229 Agnostics, 179 Ah, holy Jesus, 171 AIDS, 151, 201, 230, 235, 257 Albigensians, 165, 261 Alcoholism, 125-126, 230, 257 Alexander, J. A., 269-270 Ali, Mohammed, 163 “All things come of Thee,” 190 American Civil Liberties Union, 86 American Indians, 37, 131 Anabaptism, 63 Ananias and Sapphira, 160 Anarchism, 225 Angels, 47
Anglicans, 181 Anointing, 175-177 Anomia, 66, 209 Ante-Nicene Christian Library,
Anthropology, 41 Antigone, 161 Antinomianism, 45, 109, 111, 115, 172, 184, 189, 194, 210, 212, 245 Apostles’ Creed, 21, 47, 195 Apostolic See, 176 Aquinas, Thomas, 29 Aristotle, 55 Armenians, 87, 199-200 Arminianism, 112-113, 115, 246 Arnold, Matthew, 32 Assyro-Babylonian life, 25 Astrology, 67 Athanasius, 114 Atonement, 13, 30, 43, 66, 83, 90, 99-102, 105, 109, 171, 185, 194, 206, 210-212, 219-220, 224, 233, 238 Aubrey, John, 220 Aubrey’s Brief Lives, 220 Augustine, 12-13, 29, 46-47, 160,
Auld, Thomas, 137-138 Autobiography, 25, 29, 143, 160 Autonomy, 120 Baikie, James, 25, 265 Bainton, Roland, 90, 92 Baird, Charles W., 266
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Baltimore Catechism, 22 Baptism, 15, 61, 63, 90, 256 Barak, 136 Barbarians, 163, 226 Barkowski, Zenon, 41 Bartlett, Robert, 27-28 Bathsheba, 205, 216 Bennett, Leslie, 236 Bergler, Edmund, 33, 157 Berkhof, Louis, 211-212 Berman, Harold J., 66 Bernard, St., 50 Bestiality, 85 Bigham, Thomas J., 87-88 Bingham, Joseph, 15 Blacks, 130, 217-218 Blake, George, 202 Blasphemy, 61, 99, 101, 220, 242 Blessings and curses, 237 Blumert, Burton S., 69 Boase, T. S. R., 114 Bobgan, Martin and Deedre,
Caesar, Julius, 68 Cain, 43, 105 Calvin, John, 29, 47, 49-51, 155156, 166, 168, 175, 178,
Calvinism, 33, 60, 167 Camisards, 63 Canterbury Tales, 250-251, 263 Capitalists, 136, 204 Captain White, 54 Carlin, George, 85, 87 Carter, Rev. Steve, 125-127 Casey, John, 39 Caspari, W., 18 Castro, Fidel, 229 Catholic Confraternity, 12 Catholic Encyclopedia (1911),
Catholic University of Leuven,
Boccaccio, 157, 232 Boehmer, Heinrich, 92 Book of Common Prayer, 181, 185, 243 Born-again, 15 Borromeo, St. Charles, 29 Bossy, John, 29-30 Brainwashing, 148 Broekman, Jan M., 41 Buchmanites, 13 Buddhism, 215 Bureaucracy, 203 Caesar, 195
Catholics, 12, 92, 96, 109, 124, 179, 199, 241, 256, 263 Chalcedon, 170 Charismatics, 15-16, 176 Charity, 188-189 Charles II, 82 Charnock, 113 Chaucer, 250, 253, 263 Cheap forgiveness, 68, 210 Cheap grace, 170, 172, 201 Cheap virtue, 131 Cheka, 53 Child molester, 100 Christ atonement of, 170, 210 blood of, 248 cross (crucifixion) of, 210,
232-233 death of, 89 dominion, 188 holy, 212 incarnation, 68, 169, 171, 215, 233 justice, 169 King, 188, 215 Last judgment of, 27 Lord, 188, 195-197 Redeemer, 206 Savior, 169, 181 sovereignty, 188 word from the cross, 39
Christian Missions to the Communist World, 53 Christ-killers, 131 Chrysostom, St. John, 51-52,
Church, 13-14, 16-17, 28, 40, 45, 47, 49, 51, 61, 65-66, 6869, 71, 87, 90-93, 95, 9799, 107, 109-110, 114, 118-119, 124-125, 132133, 142-143, 147, 149, 156, 159-160, 165-168, 171-172, 181, 212, 214217, 219, 229-233, 235, 241-242, 244, 249-250, 253, 255-256, 259-262, 264-266 and state, 60, 65, 139, 213, 215, 234, 252, 258,
Churchmen, 27-28, 72, 78, 99100, 114, 183, 231, 251 Ciapelletto, 157 Cicero, 68 Civility, 149 Clarkson, David, 113 Clay, Andrew Dice, 86 Clement VI, Pope, 91 Clementia, 68 Clinebell, Jr., Howard J., 118 Clothing, 148-149, 165-166 Codependency, 112 Communicable attribute, 215 Communion, 12-13, 18, 22, 28, 51, 61, 97, 165-168, 190, 212, 226, 249, 261 Communism, 202 Communists (Korean), 148 Community, 212 Confession, 11-18, 72, 82 Assyro-Babylonian, 25, 265 atonement, 99-102 auricular, 11, 49, 261 autobiography, 25, 29, 143,
boastful, 81 Cain’s, 43 (through) Christ, 87 (to) clergy, 17, 38, 51, 155,
157, 236, 262
Church of Armenia, 175 Church of England, 243 Church of Scotland, 266
coerced, 261 (and) collection, 187-191 (in) commerce, 153 (and) communion, 165-168 confessing the sins of others,
132, 161-162, 204 congregational, 181-185 consequences of, 87
THE CURE OF SOULS (and) counseling, 239-242 covenant of, 53-57, 243-248 (of) criminals, 13, 26, 38, 143,
mandatory, 92, 155, 195, 259261, 265
meaning of, 21, 47, 97, 172,
(and) culture, 159-164 dangerous, 147-157 (and) death, 175-179 defined, 220 Egyptian(s), 25, 265 entertainment, 84 Ezra’s, 182-184 (of) faith, 21-22, 46, 99, 105,
138, 150, 168, 189190, 195, 199, 248, 259, 261, 268 false, 19-23, 52, 79, 87, 108, 130-131, 157, 184, 219, 246 (and) freedom, 163-164 (to) God, 217 “good for the soul”, 101, 105, 223 (as) government, 263-266 (and) grace, 169 graceless, 81-84 group, 147-150 (and) growth, 169 humanistic, 30-35, 39-40, 54, 68, 84, 101, 129, 136, 150-151, 160, 204, 226, 265 hymns of, 171 (and) indulgence, 89-93 inviolability, 147 joy of, 267, 270 (of kings), 101 (and) liberation, 209-212 literary, 75-79 (versus) litigation, 203-207 liturgical, 265
meaningless, 145 national, 44, 181-185 need of, 223-227 non-confessing, 93 (and) ordeal, 25, 27-28 (in) pagan societies, 26 past, 49-52 perfection, 135-139 (to) police, 38, 223 (as) praise, 43, 47, 50, 56, 104105, 247-248, 268 (to a) priest, 11, 17, 22, 28, 5051, 118, 147, 155, 166, 205, 217, 219, 223, 249, 264 private, 12, 15, 18, 29, 44, 87, 92-93, 105, 185, 194, 220 promiscuous, 154 Protestant, 11-12, 21, 29, 54, 91, 97, 118, 160, 172, 199, 236, 264 (and) psychotherapy, 20, 49, 141-145, 219, 245 public, 12-13, 15, 18-19, 2930, 82-83, 101, 136, 142, 145, 156, 194, 220, 226, 237, 243 (and) reconciliation, 28, 68, 73, 221 (of) sin, 11-18, 22, 25-26, 43, 45-47, 50, 56, 66, 87, 99, 104-105, 108, 124, 142-143, 150, 154, 160, 163, 168, 173, 179, 185, 188, 194,
196-197, 199, 236, 238, 248, 259 (and) social order, 19, 69-73, 143 telephone, 82, 84 television, 19, 151 (as) thanksgiving, 46, 51-52, 56, 73, 270 tithing, 187-188 true, 40, 44, 50, 52, 54, 87, 101, 103-104, 129, 132, 143, 147-148, 196, 212, 238, 249, 270 (in) twentieth century, 19 ungodly, 38, 49 unpopularity of, 199-202 verbal, 18-20, 104, 216, 219, 221 (and) victimization, 83, 160, 162 (and) victory, 47, 266 “Confession hot line,” 82 Confession/creeds, 104 Confessional, 11-12, 16-17, 1923, 28-30, 32, 39, 49-51, 54, 76, 81-82, 84, 90-92, 96-98, 118, 127, 141-142, 144-145, 147-151, 160, 163, 215, 247, 249, 260, 264 criticized, 163
(and) non-confessional societies, 144 Roman Catholic(ism), 90, 96,
118, 147, 243, 263 Confessions, 29, 160 Congress, 64, 138, 227, 261 Conscience, 225
Corinthian Church, 88 Council of Trent, 12, 167, 175, 251, 253, 256 Counseling, 107-115, 130-132, 193, 229-230 Christian, 120, 124 definition of, 118-119 (and) goals, 117-121 heresy, 107-110, 193 humanistic, 118, 123, 127, 233 marital, 239-242 non-directive, 117 pastoral, 96-98, 108, 111, 118, 156, 239 psychological, 145 (and) reconciliation, 123-127 Court trial, 28 Covenant, 53-57, 66, 183, 188, 237, 241-249 Covenant-breaking, 237 Cragg, Gerald R., 113 Credit, 105 Crime, 17, 27, 30, 66, 70, 72-73, 76, 230, 252-253 Crusades, 91 Culture, 150-151, 159-164, 201202, 204, 211 defined, 159 Cure of Souls, 95-98, 107-108, 111, 114 Curse, 235-238 Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, 63, 255 D’Emilio, John, 59 Daniell, Rosemary, 33-34
THE CURE OF SOULS
Darwin(ism), 76, 235 “Date-rape,” 72 David, 45-46, 104, 136, 205, 216, 264, 267-270 Day of Atonement, 13, 99, 105,
194 Death, 13, 27, 43, 60-61, 66, 68, 72, 76-78, 89-90, 124, 157, 171, 175, 177, 179, 183, 185, 201-202, 210, 216, 238, 247, 256, 268, 270 Death penalty, 45, 238, 240, 252 Deathbed, 176-177 De-Christianization, 162 Decisionism, 246 Delphi, 160-161 Demon(s), 32, 227, 234 “Dennis the Menace,” 193-194 Denvir, Bernard, 149 Depression, (the), 95 Desertion, 242 Dick, Oliver Lawson, 220 Dictatorships, 149
Drucker, Rabbi Reven, 260 Drugs, 201-202, 230, 257 Drunkenness, 71-72, 126-127,
242 Dualism, 235
Duchamp, Marcel, 75, 78 Durkheim, Emile, 34 Durrell, Lawrence, 67 Duvalier, 26 “Dying Away,” 78 “Dynamic,” 120 Easter, 166 Easy believism, 201 Eden, 25, 105, 163 Education, 55, 65, 188, 224 Egyptian confession, 265 Elders, 13, 16, 20, 73, 96, 98, 175176 Election, 112
Dictionary of American Proverbs, 101 Dispensationalists, 189 Divorce, 55, 131-132, 200-201, 214, 231, 239-242 Domineering women, 96, 98 Dominicans, 226 Dominion, 41, 163, 189-190, 197, 230 Donaldson, James, 62 Donatism, 63 Douglass, Frederick, 137-138 Dowry, 100
Electric shock therapy, 32 Emerson, James, 117 Encyclopaedia Judaica, 13, 43 Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, 25, 44, 265 Encyclopedia Press, 13, 90 Engels, 204 Envy, 41, 204 Equality, 149, 204 Erasmus, 250-251 Euripedes, 160 Eurocentrism, 52, 60 Euthanasia, 235 Eve, 105, 162, 194 Excommunication, 13-14, 17, 97, 143-144, 231, 233, 264 Exomologesis, 15, 61
Extemporaneous prayer, 185 Extreme unction, 175-179 Ezra, 182-185, 236 Fairbanks, Charles B., 54 Faith, 20-22, 29, 32, 40, 46, 55, 60-61, 63, 65, 76, 78, 84, 95, 98-99, 103-105, 108109, 113, 119-120, 124, 133, 135-136, 138, 150, 156-157, 165, 167-168, 171, 175-176, 189-190, 195-196, 199, 202, 213, 217, 219, 225, 231, 233, 235, 237-238, 243-244, 246-248, 259, 261, 263, 265-266, 268, 270 Family, 70-73, 139, 183, 185, 262 Fate, 161, 163 Fencing the Table, 167 Ferm, Vergiluis, 88 Fifth Amendment, 229, 261 First Amendment, 139 Five Points of Calvinism, 167 Flagellants, 63 Flynn, Rev. Bernie, 125-127 For Whom the Bell Tolls, 135 Forbearance, 149, 219 Forgiveness, 18, 39-40, 50, 59-61, 63, 66, 68, 89, 91, 97, 99102, 143, 150-151, 170171, 173, 185, 206, 210, 216, 220, 231-233, 245, 250, 257, 264, 268-269 Fornication, 120, 135, 165-166, 240, 242 Fourth Lateran Council, 261,
264-265 Franks, 27
Frederick Douglass, 137 Frederick II, 14 Freedom, 33-35, 40-42, 52, 54, 64, 119, 141, 143, 163164, 169-170, 229, 238, 245, 270 Freeman, Estelle B., 59 Freud, Sigmund, 20-21, 32-33, 78-79, 107, 126, 150-151, 225, 243 Gambling, 125 Gedeon, 136 General Mills, 123 Gergen, David, 203 Ghetto, 82 Giving, 188-190 Gladden, Washington, 114 Glasser, Ira, 86-87 Gluttony, 72 God covenant Lord, 57 Creator, 40, 45, 57, 142, 217,
forgiveness, 40, 220 goodness of, 215 grace of, 45, 47, 51, 57, 68,
101, 105, 109, 126127, 133, 160, 172173, 176-178, 182184, 188, 191, 195196, 218, 238, 270 holiness of, 211 law of, 28, 45, 61, 65, 67-68, 86, 92, 99-100, 108109, 119, 121, 143,
THE CURE OF SOULS
160, 168-170, 182, 189, 194, 201, 205, 209, 212, 216-217, 231-233, 238, 241, 244, 250-252, 256-259 love of, 126 majesty of, 266 omnipotent, 45 omniscience, 38, 45 sovereign, 40, 187 truth, 143 will of, 194 wrath of, 143, 163, 245, 270 Gold coins, 69 Goodness, 215 Gospel, 170 Gossip, 54 Gould, Jay, 76 Government, 71 Graham, Billy, 112 Great Socialist Revolution, 142 Greco-Roman, 35, 63 Greek tragedy, 160 Greeks, 55
Grounds of Catholic Doctrine,
Group therapy, 148 Guilt, 12, 18, 20-21, 28, 30, 32-33, 35, 71, 73, 75, 83-84, 107108, 126, 202, 206-207, 211, 219, 224-226, 229230, 245, 255, 259-260, 265, 268-269 Guilt offerings, 43 Guyon, Madame, 247-248 Habitual criminals, 72 Hadfield, John, 149
Hamartia, 66, 209 Hamburger, Michael, 78 Hamlet, 53 Hanna, Edward J., 13 Harper, George McLean, 77 Harris, Frank, 31, 160 Hastings, James, 25, 44, 265 Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 60 Heath, Peter, 265 Heaven, 22, 60, 67, 92, 114, 132, 170, 178 and hell, 170 Heermann, Johann, 171-172 Heine, 178, 185 Held, Robert, 260-261 Held, Stuart G., 268 Hell, 83, 139, 207 Hemingway, Ernest, 135 Hendrix, Scott H., 91 Heresy, 20, 39, 107-113, 193, 235 Hinduism, 209 Hirsch, Edward, 76-77 Hodge, Charles, 239-240 Hohenstaufen, 14 Holiness, 12, 29, 41, 67, 129, 211212, 230, 242, 244 “Holy Fairs,” 168 Holy Spirit, 15, 45, 62, 66, 95, 97, 104-105, 113, 168, 177, 195, 238 Homologeo, 56, 104 Homosexual, homosexuality, 29, 64, 139, 236, 258 How, Bishop W. Walsham, 190 Human worth, 120, 125-127 Humanism, humanists, 30-32, 34-35, 39-40, 52, 54-55,
60, 68, 76-78, 84, 86-87, 99, 101, 107, 109-112, 114, 118-119, 121, 123124, 127, 129, 136, 139, 142, 149-151, 159-160, 172, 204, 210, 213, 217218, 226, 230, 232-233, 237, 244, 253, 256, 265 Humanist Manifesto II, 55 Humanity, 66, 141, 202, 217-218, 226 Hutchinson, Thomas, 77 Huxley, Julian, 31-33 Huxley, Juliette, 31-34 Huxley, Thomas H., 32 Hymns of confession, 171
Institutes of the Christian Religion, 49-50, 155 Internal Revenue Service, 190 Iocaste, 160-161 Irvingism, 63 Israel of God, 188-189 Jackson, Samuel Macauley, 18 Jebb, Sir Richard C., 161 Jenkins, Dr. Richard, 225 Jephthae, 136 “Jew-killers,” 131 Jews, 61, 87, 131, 165, 183, 189 Jez, 163 Joshua, 43-44, 56, 104, 259 Jotham, 211 Joy, 50, 77, 133, 207, 264, 267-270 Judaism, 13, 188, 243-244, 259 Judging, 256 “Juju man,” 27 Jung, 226 Juries, 203-204, 255 Justice, 26-28, 104-105, 138-139, 169-170, 172, 204, 213, 250, 252-253, 256-258 Justification (by faith), 92, 195, 232, 246 Kant, 55 Karma, 161, 163, 209-210 Kennedy, John F., 244 Kerr Jr., Hugh Thompson, 93 Keys, 255-256 Kidner, Derek, 185 Kim, David, 101 Kim, Peter, 170 Kingdom of God, 20, 110, 137,
Ideas, 60, 113, 145, 150, 159 “Ilico,” 178 Image of God, 41, 210, 230 Imitatio Christi, 248 Incest, 21, 29, 127, 161, 200-201,
235 India, 53 Indians, 37, 41, 130-131 Indifferentism, 179, 247 Individualism, 149, 245 Indulgences, 89-92, 210, 249253, 255-258, 266 Indulgences (Protestant), 255258 Ingrem, Martin, 143 Innocent III, Pope, 165-166 Inquisition, 14, 259, 261-262 Inquisition, 260 Instant gratification, 199 Institutes of Biblical Law, 240
THE CURE OF SOULS
189-190, 196, 237 Kirkpatrick, A. F., 205-206, 268270 Knox, John, 166, 175, 177-178, 266 Kurtz, Dr. Paul, 55
Laius, 160-161 Lamech, 163 Langnas, Isaac A., 164 Last Judgment, 27, 40 Lateran Council, 165-167 Law, 22, 41-42, 45, 49, 57, 66, 70, 72-73, 87, 108, 120, 206, 213, 240, 251, 260 man’s, 37 Mosaic, 188 of God, 44-45, 51, 61, 65, 84, 89, 100, 104, 108-109, 119, 121, 143, 156, 160, 168-170, 189, 194, 201, 205, 209, 211-212, 216, 221, 231-233, 237-238, 241, 244-246, 250, 252, 256-258 pagan, 260 Roman, 26, 28, 260 Law and holiness, 211-212 Law and Revolution, 66 Lawford, Patricia Kennedy, 244 Lawlessness, 34, 209, 242 Lawyers, 203-204, 206 Lea, Henry C., 49, 70 Leaves of the Tulip Tree, 31-32,
Leo X, 30, 91 Leo, John, 82, 84 Leupold, H. C., 268-269 Levenstein, Harvey, 124 Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, 137 Litigation, 203-207 with God, 205 Longfellow, the Rev. Samuel,
Longinow, Michael, 31 Lord’s Supper, 166, 170, 189 Louis XV, 81 Loyn, David, 202 Lumiansky, R. M., 251 Luther, Martin, 30, 90-93, 168, 175, 210, 252-253, 255 M’Clintock, John, 63, 255 MacCormick, Neil, 41 Machiavelli, 31 Maimonides, 13 Man as a moral zero, 229-234 Man as God, 206 Man in God’s image, 41, 210, 230, 233 Manichaeanism, 244 Marcos, 26 Marital counseling, 110, 239-242 Marriage, 59, 62, 71, 110, 114, 123-124, 127, 132, 162, 165, 179, 182-184, 239242, 244 Martinez, Governor Bob, 85 Marx, Karl, 204 Marxist law, 26 Marxists, Marxism, 52-53, 141-
Lenin, 53 Leo the Great, Pope, 15
142, 213, 229, 233 Masochism, 34, 83, 224
Masochism in Modern Man, 224 Mass, 119, 165, 167, 251 Massachusetts colonial history,
Masturbation, 59, 242 Mc’Crie, Thomas, 177 McAuliffe, Joseph, 237 McCall, Andrew, 250-252 McCollum, Elmer, 123 McFeely, William S., 137 McGrath, Thomas, 76 McNeil, John T., 114 Meaninglessness, 76 Medical model, 109 Medieval Church, 49, 63, 71, 167, 175, 178, 251 Melville, James, 177 Memorials of Mrs. Grundy, 54 Merchants, 69 Mercury, Freddy, 235-236 Meredith, William, 78 Merit, 50, 86-87, 91, 126, 143, 207 Messori, Vittorio, 91 Micklem, Nathaniel, 178 Middle Ages, 13-14, 27-28, 4950, 60, 63, 69, 95, 101, 131, 144, 163, 165, 175, 188, 210-211, 233, 249250, 252-253, 261 Miles, Margaret R., 95 Miller, Henry, 66-67 Milton, John, 83 Minoan excavations, 150 “Miscellaneous Sonnets,” 77 Moderation, 219
Modernism, 114, 245 Moffatt, James, 219 Molestation, 131, 236 Montanism, 61-63 Moralism, 60 Morality, 32, 55, 67, 108, 129, 165, 202, 226 Moreno, Antonio, 226 Moses, 184 Moslem(s), 14, 163, 215 Mould, H.C.G., 196 Mozarabic Rite, 265 Multiverses, multiversity, 235 My Bondage and My Freedom,
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, 137 Nathan, 205, 216 National Endowment for the Arts, 33 Nature, 213 Neuharth, Allen H., 31 “New World Order,” 211 Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 47, 51 Nicene Creed, 21 Nicki, 82 Nickle, Keith F., 188 Nobel Prize, 67 Non-confessional societies, 144 Novatianism, 63 Nudism, 149 Nuns, 263-264 Nutrition, 123 Oath, 28
THE CURE OF SOULS
260, 264, 270 Paul III, Pope, 261 Paul, Ron, 41 Peace, 45, 68, 89-92, 109, 121, 138, 143, 163, 168-169, 182, 206, 212, 219, 244, 263-264 Pedophilia, 236 Penance, 11-12, 16, 18-19, 21-22, 26, 28-29, 38-39, 61, 65, 82, 88, 92, 97, 101, 143145, 147-148, 151, 211, 231, 250 Penitentiaries, 26 Penthouse, 81, 86 Perfectionism, 63, 245-246 Perjury, 204 Persia, 182 Personal worth, 120 Peter, 256 Peter the Chanter, 27 Pharisees, Phariseeism, 99, 126127, 130, 135, 170, 181, 189-190, 215, 242, 244 Philip, James, 103 Philippians, 195 Pietism, 63, 233 Pilgrim(s), 250-251, 253 Pilgrimages, 250 Pilpay, 53 Pinches, T. G., 25 Playboy, 81 Plea-bargaining, 108 Political Rehabilitation, 229 Polybus, 160 Polytheism, 235 Poor, 188-189
Obscenity, 86 Occultism, 67 Oedipus, 160-161 Offertory, 190-191 Office of Compline, 132 “Omens,” 78 Omnipotence, 95 Ordeal, 25, 27-28 Original sin, 45, 157, 159, 162,
Oxford Movement, 13 Pacific School of Religion, 202 Papacy, 91-92, 255 Parable of the king of the trees,
Paradise, 256 Paradise Regained, 83 Pardoner(s), 251, 253, 255, 258 Passages Toward the Dark, 76 Passover, 168 Pastor(s), 11, 16-17, 22, 30, 51, 60, 82, 86-87, 92, 95, 9798, 101, 107-109, 111, 113, 117-119, 130-132, 147, 156, 160, 166-168, 170, 188, 193, 200, 202, 205, 210, 214, 217, 219221, 236, 241, 243, 249, 258, 262, 264, 266 Pastoral counseling, 96-98, 111, 118, 132, 239 Patterson, James, 170 Paul, 13, 22, 35, 53-54, 88, 95, 105, 113, 124, 126, 136, 143, 183, 188-189, 195, 218, 238, 242-243, 256,
Pornography, 85, 125, 225 “Portnoy’s Complaint,” 75 Positive thinking, 225 Possibility thinking, 225 Postmillennial, 266 Poverty, 76 Preaching, 98, 109, 119, 167-168,
Presidential pardons, 252 Presuppositions, 76, 117, 150 Prierias, Sylvester, 91 Priest(s), 11, 22, 82, 86-87, 107, 117-119, 147, 155-157, 166-167, 205, 217, 219221, 264 Priesthood, 211, 236 Prisons, 26, 60, 142, 229, 252, 257-258 Privacy, 19, 37-38, 148 “Prodigal Son,” 75 Prostitution, 35, 60, 218 Protagoras, 55 Protestant(s), Protestantism, 11-12, 15, 21, 28, 54, 91, 97, 109, 118-119, 154, 156-157, 160, 166-168, 172, 176, 179, 199, 210, 215, 231, 236, 240-241, 244, 252, 256-257, 261,
264 Proteus, 77
Psychologist(s), 20, 22, 34, 49, 115, 117, 130, 193, 217 Psychotherapy, 18, 20-21, 23, 30, 38-39, 48-49, 75, 107, 118, 141, 144-145, 217, 219, 230, 245, 262, 265 Public schools, 55 Purgatory, 63, 90-92, 256 Puritans, 59-60, 63, 78-79, 113,
Quakers, 117 Racism, 60, 75, 218, 258 Ranike, Bin, 75-76 Rape, 39, 54-55, 204, 235, 257 Rapture, 167 Rashi, 259 Ratzinger, Cardinal Joseph, 9091, 256 Realism, 84 Reconciliation, 28, 68-69, 73, 109, 119, 123, 127, 221, 245, 250 Red China, 141 Red Terrors, 142 Reformation, 30, 90, 95, 143144, 157, 163, 188, 245246, 250, 266 Reformed preaching, 167 Regeneration, 26, 46, 66, 68, 105, 108-109, 111, 114-115, 123-124, 265 Reik, Theodore, 224 Reincarnation, 67, 109, 209 Relics, 251
Providence, 247 Psychiatrist(s), 18, 20, 49, 117118, 130, 143, 193, 217,
Psychici, 62 Psychoanalyst(s), 20, 49, 117,
THE CURE OF SOULS
231, 255-256, 263 Roman Catholic(s), 11, 19, 21, 29, 49, 90, 96, 118, 175176, 241, 243-244, 255 Roman inquisition, 261 Roman law, 26, 28, 260 Romanism, 201 Romantic(s), Romanticism, 66, 77-78, 87 Rome, 91, 141, 175, 251, 260 Ron Paul Political Report, 41 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 160 Ruef, Abe, 123 Rules of Sociological Method, 34 Rushdoony, Dorothy, 135 Rushdoony, R.J., 21, 201, 220 Russian Proverbs, 164
Renaissance, 28, 81, 231 Repentance, 11, 17, 19-20, 26, 38-39, 43, 59, 61-63, 72, 78, 82-83, 86, 88, 92, 9798, 103-105, 108-109, 124, 132, 151, 184-185, 210211, 225-226, 236-238, 245, 255-258, 265-266 Reprobation, 95, 100, 112, 186 Restitution, 11-12, 15-16, 18-19, 21-22, 38-39, 44, 52, 59, 65-66, 68-69, 71, 82-84, 88-93, 97, 100, 102-103, 109, 114, 118, 121, 132, 143-145, 147-148, 154, 156, 200-201, 206, 210212, 219-221, 225-226, 232-233, 236-238, 249250, 252, 256-258, 260 Restoration, 17-18, 21-22, 51, 61, 63, 65-66, 68, 84, 90, 97, 101-102, 125, 143, 169, 184, 212, 216 Restoration era, 220 Revival(ism), 28, 63, 112, 161, 172, 235, 246 Revolt Against Maturity, 220 Revolution, 70, 133, 142, 172, 226, 250 Revolution (Russian), 53, 226 Richard II, 250 Richardson, Alan, 103 Ritschl, Albrecht, 244-245 Robbing God, 187-191 Roberts, Alexander, 62 Rock and Roll, 151 Roman Catholic Church, 147,
Sabbath, 244, 259 Sacra Privata, 196-197 Sacrament, 12, 92, 167, 175, 212,
Sacrificial system, 99 Sade, Marquis de, 213 Sadomasochism, 211, 219 Sagan, Carl, 76 Saint Genet, 66 Salic Law, 27 Salvation, 11, 63, 76, 95, 112-114, 124, 132, 167, 169-171, 173, 188, 195, 244-246,
264 Samson, 136 Samuel, 216
San Diego Tribune, 55 Sanctification, 63, 98, 130, 150 Sanh, 13
Sanhedrin, 16 Saracens, 165 Sartre, Jean-Paul, 66 Satan, 83, 178, 231 Saul, 216 Scarlet Letter, 60 Schilder, Dr. K., 232 Scholars, 90, 142, 188 Schools, 55, 71, 200, 225-226, 252 Scottish kirk, 16 Scripture, sufficiency of, 113 Seduction, 204, 241 Self-atonement, 219 Self-esteem, 225 Self-examination, 243-244 Self-incrimination, 227 Separation of church and state,
Sewing circle, 54 Sex education, 224 Sex, sexuality, 32-34, 38, 49, 59, 66-67, 75, 81-82, 86, 147, 149-150, 179, 200, 204, 214, 216, 218, 224, 230, 236, 239-240 Sexism, 60, 75 Sexual abuse, 17, 82, 236 Sexual morality, 202 Shakespeare, 53 Shaw, George Bernard, 149 Shepherding system, 16 Shunning, 14 Sibling rivalry, 32-33 Sin offerings, 43 Sin(s), 20-22, 29-31, 33, 38, 41, 43-45, 50-51, 54, 60-64, 66, 68, 70-73, 75-76, 81-
84, 86, 88-93, 96-105, 107-108, 110, 112, 114, 118, 120-121, 126, 136, 138, 142-145, 151, 153157, 162, 168-170, 172, 178-179, 182-185, 194, 197, 200, 202, 205, 209212, 214, 219-220, 224226, 229-230, 233, 236, 238, 240, 244-246, 249253, 255-256, 258-259, 265-268, 270 confession of, 11-18, 25-26, 28, 43-47, 56, 66, 7576, 87, 99, 104-105, 108, 124, 129-133, 137, 148, 150, 154, 156, 160, 191, 199, 201, 207, 216-217, 223, 237-238, 248, 259-261, 264, 269 defined, 108 Sinclair, Gordon, 27 Sindell, Gerald Seth, 67 “Sinne Eater,” 217-221 Sinners, 19, 33, 50, 64, 68, 83, 101-102, 127, 148, 153, 159, 161-162, 172, 185, 196-197, 204, 212, 217218, 250, 260, 269-270 Slavery, 21, 137-138, 171, 211
Sleeping with Soldiers: In Search of the Macho Man, 3334
Smyrna, 214 Soap operas, 19 “Sob sisters,” 19 Social gospel, 114
THE CURE OF SOULS
Social order, 19, 26, 69-73, 77, 143-144 Socialism, Socialists, 142, 149, 202-204 Society, 19, 21, 25-26, 65-66, 6869, 71, 73, 87, 90, 101, 114-115, 133, 143-144, 150, 169, 202, 212, 226, 230, 250, 255-258 Sodomy, 235, 252 Solomon, 44 Sophocles, 160-161 Sorrow, 50, 61, 88, 119, 124, 171,
Stockton Metro-Ministry, 125 Stockton Record, 125 Stoics, 55 Strong, James, 63, 255 Suffrin, A. E., 44 Suicide, 54, 151, 161, 225, 262 Superego, 224-226 Supreme Court, 86, 143, 231 Synagogue, 13-16, 43, 214 Taxes, 190 Technology, 150 Teiresias, 161 Telex, 69 Ten Commandments, 170 Terrorism, 262 Terry, Samuel, 59, 64-65 Tertullian, 61-63 Tetzel, Johann, 90-91, 255, 258 Thanksgiving, 46, 51-52, 56, 73, 133, 219, 270 The Best Congress Money Can Buy, 215 The Chalcedon Report, 193, 201 The Christian Pastor and the Working Church, 114 The Day America Told the Truth, 170 The Decameron, 157 The Encyclopedia of Religion, 88 “The Entertaining of America,” 84 The New Saint Andrew Bible Missal, 176 The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 18
Soviet Union, 202, 226, 229 Soviets, 52-54, 202, 227 Spade, James, 244 Spanish Inquisition, 261 Spectator, 40, 202 Sphinx, 161 Spinoza, 14, 55 Srubov, Andrei, 53-54 St. Andrews, 177 St. Mary’s Church, 125 Stalin, 52, 226 Stalin trials, 141 Stam, Clarence, 169-171 State, 14, 17, 28, 40-42, 65, 69-71, 73, 100, 114, 118, 149, 213-216, 225, 229-230, 252-253, 255, 258-260,
State schools, 225-226 Stauffer, Ethelbert, 68 Stealing, 98, 154 Steele, Richard, 79 Stern, Philip M., 215
The Saturday Book, 149 “The Search,” 78 Theology, 39, 60, 109, 210, 243, 247, 249 Therope, 161 Thieme, Bob, 171 Tillich, Paul, 34 Tithing, 189 Torture, 26, 28, 52, 54, 141, 229, 260-262 Totalitarianism, 26, 71, 147 Transcendentalism, 60 Transubstantiation, 165 Triton, 77 True Confessions, 19, 29 Turk(s), 131, 163 12 Steps to Destruction: Codependency Recovery Heresies, 230 Tyson, Mike, 258 U.S. Congress, 227 U.S. Constitution, 229, 261 U.S. News and World Report, 82, 86 U.S. Supreme Court, 143 Ulysses, 161 Unconditional forgiveness, 231 Unconditional love, 189, 231 Unitarianism, 60 United States, 203 Upham, 247 Urban, Pope, 91 Uriah, 205 USA Today, 85 Utopia, 76, 245
Valladares, Armando, 229 Van Til, Henry, 159 Vanity Fair, 236 Vatican II, 118 Venus, Brenda, 66-67 Veroli, Robert Di, 55 Victimization, 83, 160-164, 194, 197, 230 Warfield, Benjamin Breckinridge, 244-248 Watson, Richard, 194, 220 Weaver, Richard, 159 Webster, Daniel, 54 Weekly communion, 168 Wenstrom, David, 125 Wesleyan holiness, 12 West, R. C., 266 Westcott, B. F., 46 Western Civilization, 18, 55 Western history, 27, 70 Western society, 142 Westminster Confession of Faith, 21 Westminster Shorter Catechism, 108, 242 White America, 37-38 Whittier, John Greenleaf, 190 Wilson, Bishop Thomas, 196 Wisdom, 161 Wise, Carroll A., 118-120 Witchcraft, 161 Witnesses, 259-261 Wloszczyna, Susan, 85 Word, 45-46 Word of God, 45, 95, 98, 107,
THE CURE OF SOULS
113, 119, 156, 167-168, 178, 210, 253 Wordsworth, William, 77-78 Work, 196 Works of Martin Luther, 93 World, 31 World War I, 19 World War II, 19, 117, 119, 160,
World Wars I, 19 Worship, 188-189, 235 Yadeh, 56 Zacchaeus, 236-237 Zoroastrians, 235
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 generation 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.
The Ministry of Chalcedon
CHALCEDON (kal-see-don) is a Christian educational organization devoted exclusively to research, publishing, and cogent communication of a distinctively Christian scholarship to the world at large. It makes available a variety of services and programs, all geared to the needs of interested ministers, scholars, and laymen who understand the propositions that Jesus Christ speaks to the mind as well as the heart, and that His claims extend beyond the narrow confines of the various institutional churches. We exist in order to support the efforts of all orthodox denominations and churches. Chalcedon derives its name from the great ecclesiastical Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), which produced the crucial Christological definition: “Therefore, following the holy Fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man....” This formula directly challenges every false claim of divinity by any human institution: state, church, cult, school, or human assembly. Christ alone is both God and man, the unique link between heaven and earth. All human power is therefore derivative: Christ alone can announce that, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). Historically, the Chalcedonian creed is therefore the foundation of Western liberty, for it sets limits on all authoritarian human institutions by acknowledging the validity of the claims of the One who is the source of true human freedom (Galatians 5:1). The Chalcedon Foundation publishes books under its own name and that of Ross House Books. It produces a magazine, Faith for All of Life, and a newsletter, The Chalcedon Report, both bimonthly. All gifts to Chalcedon are tax deductible. For complimentary trial subscriptions, or information on other book titles, please contact:
Chalcedon Box 158 Vallecito, CA 95251 USA (209) 736-4365 www.chalcedon.edu