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“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9).
The question which forms the title of this tract is at all times deeply important. Among the foundation-stones of saving religion few deserve more serious attention than “confession of sins.”
But there are occasions when circumstances give a particular importance to particular doctrines in religion. The assaults of enemies sometimes make it needful to exhibit some special truth with special distinctness. The plausible assertion of some error sometimes requires to be met by more than ordinary carefulness in showing “the thing as it is,’ in the Word. A doctrine may perhaps be in the rear-rank to-day, and to-morrow may be thrust forward by the force of events into the very front of the battle. This is the case at the present time with the subject of “confession.” Many years have passed away since men thought and talked so much as they do now about the confession of sins.”
Now, I desire in this tract to lay down a few plain Scriptural principles about “confession of sin.” I would like to guide you to some clear and decided conclusions on this important subject. Let us beware, in the din of controversy and discussion, that we do not lose sight of the mind of the Spirit, and injure our own souls. There is a confession which is needful to the highest are not too high to need confession. The lowest are not too low to be reached by God’s requirement. Kings in their palaces, and poor men in their cottages,
None are so moral and respectable that they need not confess that they have sinned. All are sinners in thought, word, and deed, and all are commanded to acknowledge their transgressions. Every knee ought to bow, and every tongue ought to confess to God. “I am innocent; at least, his anger is turned away from me”. “Behold,” said the Lord, “I will judge you on that word of yours “I have not sinned” (Jer 2:35). “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (l Jn 1:8).
Without confession there is no salvation. The love of God towards sinners is infinite. The readiness of Christ to receive sinners is unbounded. The blood of Christ can cleanse away all sin. But we must “plead guilty” before God can declare us innocent. “The tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Lk 18:13). We must acknowledge that we surrender at discretion before we can be pardoned and let go free. Sins that are known and not confessed, are sins that are not forgiven. They are yet upon us, and daily sinking us nearer to hell. “He who conceals his sins prospers not, but he who confesses and forsakes them obtains mercy” (Prov 28:13).
Without confession there is no inward peace. Conscience will never be at rest so long as it feels the burden of unacknowledged transgression. It is a load of which man must get rid if he means to be really happy. It is a worm at the root of all comfort. It is a blight on joy and mirth. The heart of the little child is not salvation, and there is a confession which is not needful at all. There is a confessional to which all men and women ought to go, and there is a confessional which ought to be denounced, avoided, and abhorred. Let us endeavour to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the precious from the vile. We shall do well if we learn to hold decided and Scriptural opinions about the vexed question of confession.
There are three points to which I purpose to direct your attention, and two inquiries to which, by God’s help, I will supply an answer.
Once let a man have clear views on these two points, and he will never go far wrong on the subject of confession.
In the first place, who are they that ought to confess sin?
I answer this question in one plain sentence. All men and women in the world. All are born in sin and children of wrath. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Before God all are guilty. “There is not a just man upon earth so just as to do good and never sin” (Ecc 7:20). “There is not a child of Adam that ought not to confess sin” (Eph 2:3; Rom 3:23; Ecc 7:20).
There is no exception to this rule. It does not apply only to murderers, and felons, and the inmates of prisons. It applies to all ranks, and classes, and orders of mankind.
Some people are too proud to acknowledge themselves sinners. Like the Pharisee of old, they flatter themselves they are “God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Lk 18:11-12). They do not get drunk, like some; or swear, like others; or live profligate lives like others. They are moral and respectable! They perform the duties of their station! They attend church regularly! They are kind to the poor! What more would you have? If they are not good people and going to heaven, who can be saved? But as to habitual confession of sin, they do not see that they need it. It is all very well for wicked people, but not for them. Of course when sin is not really felt, sin will never be confessed.
Some people are too indolent and slothful to take any step in religion so decided as confession. Their Christianity consists in meaning, and hoping, and intending, and resolving. They do not positively object to anything that they hear upon spiritual subjects. They can even approve of the Gospel. They hope one day to repent, and believe, and be converted, and become thorough Christians, and go to heaven after death. But they never get beyond “hoping.” They never come to the point of making a business of religion. Of course they never confess sin.
In one or other of these ways thousands of persons on every side are ruining their souls. In one point they are all agreed. They may sometimes call themselves “sinners” in a vague, general way, but they have no real sense, or sight, or understanding of sin. Its guilt, and vileness, and wickedness, and consequences, are utterly hid from their eyes. And the result, in each case, is one and the same. They know nothing practically of confession of sins, easy when he stands in his parent’s presence and knows that he has done something wrong. He is never easy until he has confessed. The heart of the grown-up man is never really easy until he has unburdened himself before God, and obtained pardon and absolution. “When I kept silence,” “When I kept silent”, says David, “my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD “— and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Ps 32:3-5).
Confession of sin is absolutely necessary to salvation. It is a habit which is an essential part of repentance unto life. Without it there is no going to heaven. Without it we have no part or lot in Christ. Without it we shall certainly go to hell. All this is undoubtedly true. And yet in the face of all this, it is a melancholy and appalling fact that few people confess their sins!
Some people have no thought or feeling about their sins. The subject is one which hardly crosses their minds. They rise in the morning and go to bed at night. They eat, and drink, and sleep, and work, and get money, and spend money, as if they had no souls at all. They live on as if this world was the only thing worth thinking of. They leave religion to parsons and old men and women. Their consciences seem asleep, if not dead. Of course they never confess.
Is it true that man is a fallen and corrupt creature? It is not open vice or unblushing profligacy. It is not the crowded public house, or the murderer’s cell in a jail. It is not avowed infidelity, or gross and foul idolatry. All these are proofs, and convincing proofs indeed, that man is fallen. That proof is the wide-spread spirit of slumber in which the most of men lie chained and bound about their souls. When I see that multitudes of sensible men, and intelligent men, and decent-living men, can travel quietly towards the grave, and feel no concern about their sins, I want no more convincing evidence that man is “born in sin,” and that his heart is alienated from God. There is no avoiding the conclusion. Man is naturally asleep, and must be awakened. He is blind, and must be made to see. He is dead, and must be made alive. If this was not the ease, there would be no need for our pressing the duty of confession. Scripture commands it. Reason assents to it. Conscience, in its best moments, approves of it. And yet, notwithstanding this, the vast majority of men have no practical acquaintance with confession of sin. No disease of body is so desperate as mortification. No heart is in so bad a state as the heart that does not feel sin.
Shall I tell you my first and foremost wish for your soul, if you are yet unconverted? I can wish you nothing better than thorough self-knowledge. I should like the veil to be taken from your heart. I should like you to see yourself as you really are in the sight of God. Ignorance of self and sin is the root of all mischief to the soul. There is hardly a religious error or a false doctrine that may not be traced up to it. For want of seeing sin, men do not value salvation. Once let a man get a sight of his own heart, and be will begin to cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” (Lk 18:13).
So, if you have learned to feel and acknowledge your sinfulness, you have great reason to thank God. It is a real symptom of health in the inward man. It is a mighty token for good. To know your spiritual disease is one step towards a cure. To feel bad and wicked and hell-deserving, is the first beginning of being really good. Once more I say, you have great reason to thank God.
What though you feel ashamed and confounded at the sight of your own transgressions! What though you are humbled to the dust, and cry, “Lord, I am vile! Lord, I am the very chief of sinners!” I tell you it is better a thousand times to have these feelings, and be miserable under them, than to have no feelings at all. I tell you that anything is better than a dead conscience, and a cold heart, and a prayer-less tongue.
So, if you have learned to feel and confess sin, you may well thank God and take courage.
Who told you that you were a guilty sinner?
What moved you to begin acknowledging your transgressions?
How was it that you first found sin a burden, and longed to be set free from it?
These feelings do not come from man’s natural heart. The devil does not teach such lessons. The schools of this world have no power to impart them. Reader, these feelings come down from above. They are the precious gift of God the Holy Spirit. It is His special office to convince of sin. “Rejoice, I say again, and be exceeding glad. The man who has really learned to feel and confess his sins, has learned that which millions never learn, and for want of which millions die in their sins, and are lost to all eternity”.
In the second place, to whom ought confession of sin to be made?
Sin, to speak generally, ought to be confessed to God. He it is whom we have chiefly offended. His are the laws which we have broken. To him all men and women will one day give account. His displeasure is that which sinners have principally to fear. This is what David felt: “Against You, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight” (Ps 2:4). This is what David practised: “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord” (Ps 32:5). This is what Joshua advised Achan to do: “My son, give glory to God, and make confession to Him” (Joshua 7:19). The Jews were right when they said, “Who can forgive sins but God only?” (Mk 2:7).
But must we leave the matter here?
Can vile sinners like us ever dare to confess our sins to a holy God?
Will not the thought of his infinite purity shut our mouths and make us afraid?
Must not the remembrance of His holiness make us afraid?
Is it not written of God, that He is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity?” (Hab 1:13).
Is it not said, that He “hates all workers of iniquity?” (Ps 5:5).
Did He not say to Moses, “There shalt no man see My face and live?” (Ex 33:20).
Did not Israel say of old, “Let not God speak with us, lest we die?” (Ex 20:19).
Did not Daniel say, “How can the servant of this my Lord talk with this my Lord?” (Dan 10:17).
Did not Job say, “When I consider, I am afraid of Him?” (Job 23:15).
Did not Isaiah say, “Woe is me, for I am undone; . . . for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts?” (Is 6:5).
Does not Elihu say, “Shall it be told Him that I speak? If a man speak, surely he shall be swallowed up” (Job 32:20).
These are serious questions. They are questions which must and will occur to thoughtful minds. There are many who know what Luther meant when he said. “I dare not have anything to do with an absolute God.” But I thank God, they are questions to which the Gospel supplies a full and satisfactory answer. The Gospel reveals One who is exactly suited to the wants of souls which desire to confess sin.
I say then that sin ought to be confessed to God in Christ. I say that sin ought specially to be confessed to God manifest in the flesh,
Christ is a great High Priest. Let that truth sink down into our hearts, and never be forgotten. He is sealed and appointed by God the Father for that very purpose. It is His peculiar office to receive and hear, and pardon and absolve sinners. It is His place to receive confessions and to grant plenary absolutions.
Christ is a High Priest of Almighty power. There is no sin that He cannot pardon, and no sinner that He cannot absolve. Jesus is very God of very God. He has “all power in heaven and in earth.” He has “power on earth to forgive sins.” He has complete authority to say to the chief of sinners, “your sins are forgiven. Go in Peace.” He has “the keys of death and hell.” When He opens, no man can shut. (Rom 9:5; Jn 10:30; Mt 28:18; Mt 9:6; Lk 7:48; Rev 1:18; 3:7). So, “if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:7-9).
Christ is a High Priest of infinite willingness to receive confession of sin. He invites all who feel their guilt to come to Him for relief. “Come unto Me,” He says, “all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink.” When the penitent thief cried to Him on the cross, He at once absolved him fully, and gave him an answer of peace (Mt 11:28; Jn 7:37).
Christ is a High Priest of perfect knowledge. He knows exactly the whole history of all who confess to Him. From Him no secrets are hid. He never errs in judgement. He makes no mistakes. It is written that “He is of quick understanding. He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears” (Is 9:3). He can discern the difference between the hypocritical professor who is full of words, and the broken-hearted sinner who can scarce stammer out his confession. People may deceive ministers by “good words and fair speeches,” but they will never deceive Christ.
Christ is a High Priest of matchless tenderness. He will not afflict willingly, or grieve any soul that comes to Him. He will handle delicately every wound that is exposed to Him. He will deal tenderly even with the vilest sinners, as He did with the Samaritan woman. Confidence reposed in Him is never abused. Secrets confided to Him are completely safe.
Why do Catholics practice confession of sins to a priest?
Bible states that Jesus Christ is the one true mediator between God and man. But how he accomplishes the mediation is his choice. Upon ascending into heaven Christ instituted a church that would be his earthly guide for all nations. A church that would be protected and guided by the Holy Spirit, to preserve his Christian truths and guide all men to Jesus for their salvation. Essentially, this is where the Catholic Church came from. It was founded on Peter, the first of the popes. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells Simon after his confession of faith:
“Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
– Mt 16:17-19
Basically, in this passage Jesus does a curious thing. He changes Simon’s name to Peter. Peter translated into Aramaic (the language of Jesus and his apostles) is Kepha, or rock, rocky. So what Jesus did was say that Peter is the rock. Not just any rock, but the rock on which he will build his church. Jesus also says that the church would be infallible and would preserve his truths when he says “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it…” Mt 16:18. He also gives Peter binding and loosing powers as well as the keys of heaven (strong symbols of authority).
This moment, when Jesus breathed on his apostles, constituted both the institution of the Catholic ministerial priesthood and the sacrament of confession. Christ gave his first priests, the apostles, the authority to forgive and retain sins (Jn 20:21-23). It was his intention that all sin be forgiven though the Church by aural confession of sins to the priests.
(JESUS) SAID TO THEM AGAIN, “PEACE BE WITH YOU. AS THE FATHER HAS SENT ME, SO I SEND YOU.” AND WHEN HE HAD SAID THIS, HE BREATHED ON THEM AND SAID TO THEM, “RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT. WHOSE SINS YOU FORGIVE ARE FORGIVEN THEM, AND WHOSE SINS YOU RETAIN ARE RETAINED.” JN 02:21-23
The text even makes clear how Confession is to be conducted. Christ’s representative, the priest, must decide whether to forgive or retain. Therefore, the penitent must confess each and every serious sin, that is anything which separates him from Christ. If the priest judges he is truly sorry, He must absolve since Christ’s Passion merited forgiveness for every repentant sinner. Only if the person shows no willingness to give up sin does the priest retain, that is withhold absolution, as we “do not give what is holy to dogs” (Mt 7:6).
We should realize that in Holy Scripture God breathed on man only twice: once when he breathed life into the clay of earth to create man (Gen 2:7 “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” ) and the second time when he breathed the life of grace into his Church. Both instances were that of an intimate, riveting moment between God and man. It is clear that the ability to forgive and retain sin given to the apostles, requires that each of us (even to this day) confess our sins to the priests of the Church so that our sins can be forgiven or retained.
Now one may ask why we should confess to a priest. The apostles are all long dead and Jesus only breathed on a limited number of people in one room. The answer is two parts, one oral tradition, and one written.
The oral tradition holds that the authority of the apostles was handed down through the Church as time went on. The power to forgive sins was passed down from the apostles to the bishops and priests who came after them. In this way, priests today have this authority through their succession to the apostles.
The written part is displayed pretty neatly in James 5:14-15: “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven” .
Here we see a presbyter (from which “priest” is derived) performing two sacraments, anointing of the sick and reconciliation. The priest has the authority to forgive sins so that if the sick man dies, he isn’t separated from God.
So, when we confess sins to a priest, we aren’t confessing to just some person. No, I’m not saying priests are God, but they are set apart for a special purpose, and part of the priesthood is the authority to speak and act IN PERSONA CHRIST or “in the person of Christ”. Please check out this post if you have questions on IN PERSONA CHRIST.
In short, all actions of the priest are done by Jesus. Consecration of Eucharist, baptism, and forgiveness of sins are all done by Christ, the true high priest. The earthly priest simply acts in the person of Christ. In that way it is not the man who forgives sins, it is Christ himself through the priest.
The next reason why we confess sins to a priest is that each and every sin affects the whole community. No sin only affects the sinner; all sin affects the community. Sin by its nature draws a person away from God and this hurts not just the sinner but his family and friends. All around him are affected. The reason I bring this up is because the priest is the head of the parish community and he represents Christ (IN PERSONA CHRIST) who is head of the human family. The ripples of sin go all the way to the top, and that is where forgiveness must come from.
Next is the idea of penance. Penance is the action given by a priest after the sin has been forgiven to prevent the sin from happening again. Penance isn’t a punishment in today’s understanding. Penance is an action that helps us stay away from the sin in the future. This is a huge advantage of confessing sins to a priest; you get a concrete action you can perform to help keep you from committing the same sins again tomorrow.
The final reason is hardest to define yet arguably most important. Confession to a human, a priest, brings healing that isn’t there when you confess to Jesus directly. The humility of sharing your sins with another person and hearing another human say the words of absolution is amazingly powerful and does a lot to heal the guilt and wounds caused by sin. These things aren’t possible without another human.
So as we see here, confession of sins to a priest requires humility, trust in God and the Church, and contrition of heart. Confession of sins to a priest gives us the assurance that our sins are forgiven, even though we may not be perfectly penitent. For that is what God requires outside the bounds of sacramental confession: a man who goes directly to God for forgiveness of sin can be forgiven, but only if he is perfectly contrite and resolved to sin no more.
Regarding the forgiveness of sins, the CCC states:
And now, I shall conclude this subject with fourth words of practical application.
You will not pretend to say you have no sins at all. Few, probably, are so blind and ignorant in the present day as to say that but I don’t. So, what do you do with your sins?
Where is the man who would not shrink from the idea of such an exposure?
Where is the woman whose spirit would not fail at the very possibility of such a confession as this?
Go this very day to the throne of grace, and speak to the great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, about your soul. Pour out your heart before Him. Keep nothing back from Him. Acknowledge your iniquities to Him, and entreat Him to cleanse them away. Say to Him, in David’s words, “For your name’s sake pardon mine iniquity; for it is great.” “Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.” (Ps 25:11; 2:9). Cry to Him as the tax collector did in the parable, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk 18: 13).
Are you afraid to do this?
Do you feel unworthy and unfit to begin?
I do entreat you to resist such feelings, and to begin without delay. There are glorious Bible examples to encourage you. There are rich Bible promises to lure you on. In all the volume of Scripture there are no passages so encouraging as those which are about confession of sin: “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:i9). “If any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light” (Job 33:27). “Father,” said the prodigal son, “I have sinned against Heaven and in your sight, and am no mote worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry” (Lk 15:21-23). “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow: thought they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Is 1:18).
Remember, you shall never cease to be sinners as long as you are in the body. Every day you shall find something to deplore in your thoughts, or motives, or words, or deeds. Every day you shall find that you need the bread of life and the blood of sprinkling, and the intercession of Christ.
May every year find you more humble and yet more hopeful,
More sensible of your own unworthiness and yet more ready to rejoice in Christ Jesus!
May your prayers become every year more fervent, and your confessions of sin more real;
Your eye more single, and your walk with God more close;
Your knowledge of Jesus more clear, and your love to Jesus more deep;
Your citizenship in heaven more manifest,
And your separation from the world more distinct!
Saturday (Vigil): 4:40pm Rosary & Rec., 5:00pm Mass
Sunday: 7:30am, 9am & 6pm, Vietnamese 11:15am.
Monday: 9:15am Mass, Ador. & Rec.
Tuesday: 6:15pm Ador., 6.30pm Rosary & Rec., 7pm Mass
Wednesday: 9:15am Mass, Ador. & Rec.
Thursday: 9:15am Mass, Ador. & Rec.
Friday: 9:15am Mass, Ador. & Rec.
First Friday: Ador. 7am-7:30pm.
Masses at 9:15am & 7:30pm with Anointing of the Sick and 4pm in Vietnamese.
Ador. – Adoration.
Rec. – Reconciliation.
Office Opening Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday: 8:30am to 4 pm.
Office Location: Presbytery (Entry Via Beaconsfield St).
Priest: Rev Dariusz Basiaga SDS PP JP
Phone: (02) 9773 9065
Email: Parish Office
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