By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
Text: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9.
I am to speak tonight on what may at first seem to be a contradiction: The Easiest and Hardest, but the Safest thing anyone can do -- Confess. I do not know why God made this a condition to salvation, but I do know that He is "faithful" and being faithful he is trying to get us all to Heaven as easily as possible.
Grace can only go as deep as the confession goes. The Blood can only sprinkle that which has been brought to the surface. There are at least four kinds of confession.
(1) If one has sinned against God alone then his confession need only be to Him.
(2) If he has sinned against a fellow being he should confess not only to God, but likewise to the offended party.
(3) If his sin be of a public nature and calculated to injure people, or property in general, then a public confession may be necessary. In short, the plaster must cover the sore. Although some things need not be confessed in public, many times God uses a public altar service, first, to bring conviction to the onlooker, and second, to strengthen and confirm the purpose of the seeker. Having once taken a stand for Christ publicly, it is not so easily abandoned.
(4) There is yet another kind of confession necessary to be made, not to obtain grace, but rather to retain it. James says, "Confess your faults one to another and pray one for another that ye may be healed," -- not only of physical, but mental and spiritual weaknesses. When one voluntarily confesses a fault, he is thereby not weakened, but strengthened. It puts all the resources of God back of him. As Wesley would say, "Be always ready to own any fault you have been in. If you have at any time thought, spoken, or acted wrong, be not backward to acknowledge it. Never dream that this will hurt the cause of God; no, it will further it. Be: therefore, open and frank when you are taxed with anything; do not seek either to evade or disguise it. But let it appear just as it is, and you will thereby not hinder, but adorn the Gospel."
I. The Easiest Thing to do. Science teaches us that any moving object will pursue the given course which has the least resistance. Nature makes it as easy as possible to go straight. And the God of nature has likewise provided in the economy of Grace, the shortest, easiest, and safest route to the skies. Thank God, we need not go to Jerusalem, Rome, or Mecca, taking with us bullocks, rams, or a sum of money in order to gain audience with heaven. Nor, need we, like the poor heathen, take long pilgrimages, sit on spikes or between fires in order to "contemplate the sin principle out of us".
But what saith the Scriptures? "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." Proverbs 28: 13. Again, "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." Romans 10: 9. Here, the apostle is showing how the Jews utterly failed in "going about to establish their own righteousness" by the deeds of the law rather than humble themselves and confess their sins.
It is therefore clear that ceremonies, or suffering penance do not bring peace and forgiveness. No! nor loud praying, or the observing of ordinances. The only thing that counts with God is pleading the merits of His Son and magnifying the precious Blood. Is there not danger of our putting more stress upon human effort than the "righteousness which is of faith"? Zeal and good works do not bring, but rather follow the forgiveness of sins.
Now, if one can, at his bedside, or in the field confess his sins and thus become his own priest and offer his own sacrifice, yea, if peace, purity and paradise can be had for the asking, why are not all men saved? This brings us to consider the other side.
II. The Hardest Thing to do. We do not like to confess. We do not like to go against ourselves. We do not like to die. But since God has declared that "every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess," why not do so now, rather than later on to no avail. Ever since our foreparents tried to shift the responsibility and cover up their offense, the human race has been following their example. We lied our way out of the garden of Eden and we must confess our way back. It is a big job, yea, it is the biggest thing man ever undertook. It will require all that is in you to perform this task. Do not think for a moment that only the weak-minded, or low down sinners take this route. I fear that some of you are not big enough to do it.
This is one reason why so many commit suicide or go insane -- not because of religion, but because they do not confess to the bottom. The unconfessed past troubles them, but rather than look square at it and then look to the remedy -- the atoning Blood, they close their eyes to the light, their ears to the truth and choke the voice of conscience until the load becomes so unbearable that the finite mind can endure it no longer. The result is a fearful collapse. The whole tragedy could have been averted had there been a hearty confession.
Remember, a thing is never settled until it is settled right. As long as it comes up and haunts one as a ghost, it has not been properly disposed of. No amount of apparent unconcern, or light-heartedness will fix it up. There is something about the human conscience that, though disregarded, stifled, stabbed and left for dead, yet, eventually it will awaken, get to its feet and come at its murderer, backing him up against the back walls of the past, compelling him to throw up both hands and tell it all. Oh, the motley multitude, half damned already and only waiting to breathe their last to be forever and hopelessly damned! Why? Because they will not confess. Because they will not humble themselves and make a needed acknowledgment. Because they have deceived themselves, deceived their nearest friends and tried to deceive Almighty God in making believe they are all right. Ah! Poor lost soul, thou wilt not be in hell one hour until thy countenance will have changed, thy self-deceived heart turned to be thine eternal enemy and thou shalt heap upon thine own impenitent head the responsibility for thy damnation!
I knew a minister who came a long distance that we might pray With him, for he said he had great confidence in us and declared he was in such a bad shape that he did not know who else could help him out. After a long siege of digging he seemed to come through clear, but not until he promised God that he would return to his boyhood home and there make a needed confession to a good woman whom he had greatly wronged. He was so exercised during this struggle that though it was freezing weather and the house cold, he perspired profusely. He felt that he was face to face with God. I, myself trembled as God seemed to say, "Stand back while I deal with this man."
But to my surprise, several months later he wrote me a denunciatory letter because I would not accept the false doctrine into which he had fallen. In answering him I replied that I did not have the time, or disposition to argue Scripture, but I desired to ask one big question: "Did you every go back to Illinois and make that confession to which God Almighty reined you up?" He replied that the Holy Ghost (?) showed him later he need not do it for God took the will for the deed. Moreover, the confession might have implied several years in prison and God wanted him to "be free to preach" the enticing new doctrine which he had embraced. No marvel that he became estranged and denunciatory for several years, then suddenly cut his throat and died.
Say, beloved, I beg of you as you value your soul, do not trifle with the convictions which came to you while in the throes of repentance. Do not rest as long as any man, woman, or child can rise up and point a bony finger at you, saying, "You wronged me and have never confessed it, or sought to make it right."
Yes, there are thousands of professors of religion, including ministers, who are putting on a bold front and passing as being all right, but He whose eye never slumbers has marked them and they shall not escape. Though they can successfully cover up the past, so as to deceive the very elect, the Omniscient gaze will finally search them out and prove their hypocrisy.
Hard? Yes, but hard cases demand heroic treatment. Jacob could wrestle all night more easily than confess his name. For, in so doing he confessed his depravity; he acknowledged that he was a trickster, a grasper and deceiver. The angel had to break him down physically at his strongest point before he told it all. Likewise beloved, you must humble yourself, break down before God and those whom you have wounded before you get the blessing.
Satan told a big truth -- the only truth he ever told, when he said, "skin for skin, yea all that a man hath will he give for his life." Man will do anything rather than die physically, or go against himself voluntarily and die the death to carnality. But this is God's route and if we would have resurrection Glory we must experience crucifixion agony.
III. The Safest Thing to do. We hear much these days about "safety first", as applied especially to bodily protection. Why not include the mental and spiritual? Now, since God has declared that "every tongue shall confess," we conclude that this is the safest and best thing to do. "His commandments are not grievous." Right here is where the arch deceiver wins many a battle -by making the seeker believe he will be ruined if he confesses certain things. Remember God will take care of the consequences when anything is done in the Spirit. He becomes responsible and if perchance a confession might mean a prison cell; it will also mean a little heaven compared to a guilty conscience, sleepless nights and outer darkness. William Law, in his remarkable book, "Serious Call to a Holy Life," goes on to prove in each of the thirty-five chapters that "he who aims at pleasing God in all things," will find that this is the "holiest, happiest, and healthiest thing any man can do."
I well remember seeing a fine looking man write a check with a trembling hand for $700.00 which had been gotten wrongfully. But the after-effect was glorious, -- the glad countenance, the light heart and the shout of victory. Once more the devil proved himself a liar, for this man had more friends, more money and a better position afterward than before.
Another case, was that of a young man who arose from his knees as pale as death and confessed that he had perjured himself when he proved up his land claim. Satan roared at him and said, "If you confess, it will mean the penitentiary." But the frank acknowledgment to the proper authorities brought back a letter of forgiveness saying he should keep his land.
A woman could not find peace though she had been seeking two weeks. I finally told her plainly that there must be some unconfessed sin in her life. She denied, but later admitted that she could not forgive a certain woman for stealing her husband's affections. "Will you go and see her?"
"She is an awful character and threatened to scald me if I ever darkened her door."
"I will pay the doctor's bill if she scalds you."
She promised, and the next day went and knocked for admittance, whereupon the strange woman came and after peering through the small opening, flung the door wide open and caught her in her arms saying,
"Oh, Mrs. H____ have you come to see me? I have felt so wretched for two weeks, (the same length of time Mrs. H____ had been seeking) and wanted to go and see you, but thought you would not receive me for I have wronged you so much."
Instead of a hair pulling time as they had had before, they wept upon each other's necks. That night they both came to the meeting and were blessedly saved. The next night the strange woman returned with her husband and family and he was converted and became our class leader. She lived a beautiful life for six months then died and went home to heaven.
Yes, sometimes God holds us to confess to others, not only for our good, but that they may be saved. When we begin at this end of the line, He always softens and prepares hearts at the other end. He can rule and over-rule so that in the end, if we fully co-operate with Him, He will get more glory and we will bring more souls with us to heaven than we formerly influenced toward hell. Hallelujah!
As we have already noticed, our text teaches two works of grace. In seeking pardon we confess our actual transgressions. In seeking purity we confess the inner tendency that gave birth to outward sin. If the Holy Ghost reveals this hidden corruption to you, do not back down and make believe all is well, but go right after it in the Spirit. As fast as you see and renounce these ugly principles within, they pass out of your jurisdiction and become the property of God for destruction. Take courage then and press the battle to the death.
While attending college at Wheaton, Illinois, I became interested in the trial of two young men who had gagged and robbed an old merchant. The one turned states evidence, confessed and threw himself upon the mercy of the court. He was sent up for five years. The other fellow decided he would put on a bold front and try to lie out of it. Just before the jury went out, the state called his fellow culprit back to testify. The young liar tried to catch his eye and dissuade him from telling the whole truth, but in vain. He was found guilty and got seven years, two extra, for lying. It did not pay!
Oh, what will the final judgment be! Instead of a general conspiracy to defeat justice, every rebel will turn states evidence against the other. Parents against children and children against parents; lover against lover, neighbor against neighbor, tricksters against tricksters. With fiery eyes and distorted features they will condemn each other to the lowest hell.
Methinks I see that motley throng after sentence has been pronounced and they turn their back upon the pearly white city forever! Instead of the sarcastic smile and coarse joke, the most intimate friends will suddenly become tormenting fiends, clutching at each others' throats and cursing the day they ever met! Many will say:
"Away from me! Had it not been for you I might have been saved! Had it not been for your acquaintanceship I might have married one who would have helped me to heaven! Had it not been for earthly comforts I might have sought consolation from above! Cursed be the day when I covered up, rather than confess my sins! Cursed be the day when, to please others and escape the frowns of the world, I failed to take my stand and own my Lord!" Precious soul, which shall it be! The safest thing is to decide right and decide now!
"My lips with shame my sins confess
Against thy law, against thy grace;
Lord should thy judgments grow severe,
I am condemned but thou art clear.
"My crimes are great, but don't surpass
The pow'r and glory of thy grace;
Great God, thy nature hath no bound,
So let thy pard'ning love be found."