The duty of confession

An appeal to church leaders, written in 1890, needs to be read and reread.

Ellen White—church leader, lecturer, preacher, counselor—has been called the most prolific woman writer of all time, having written some 25 million words for publication.
All are fallible, all make mistakes and fall into sin; but if the wrong doer is willing to see his errors, as they are made plain by the convicting Spirit of God, and in humility of heart will confess them to God and to the brethren, then he may be restored; then the wound that sin has made will be healed. If this course were pursued, there would be in the church much more childlike simplicity and brotherly love, heart beating in unison with heart. . . .

The prophet Daniel was drawing very near to God when he was seeking Him with confession and humiliation of soul. He did not try to excuse himself or his people, but acknowledged the full extent of their transgression. In their behalf he confessed sins of which he himself was not guilty, and besought the mercy of God, that he might bring his brethren to see their sins, and with him to humble their hearts before the Lord.

But I am now speaking of actual mistakes and errors that those who really love God and the truth sometimes commit. There is manifested on the part of men in responsible positions an unwillingness to confess where they have been in the wrong; and their neglect is working disaster, not only to them selves, but to the churches. Our people everywhere have great need of humbling the heart before God, and confessing their sins. But when it is known that their ministers, elders, or other responsible men, have taken wrong positions, and yet excuse themselves and make no confession, the members of the church too often follow the same course. Thus many souls are endangered, and the presence and power of God are shut away from His people.

The apostle Paul exhorts, "Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed" (Heb. 12:12, 13). What harm has been wrought through neglect to heed this ad monition! Suppose that one brother misjudges another. He might have had opportunity to learn whether his suspicions were well founded; but instead of waiting to do this, he repeats to others his surmisings. Thus evil thoughts are stirred in them, and the evil becomes widespread. And all the time the one pronounced guilty is not told of the matter; there is no investigation, no inquiry is made directly of him, so that he may have an opportunity either to acknowledge his fault or to clear himself from unjust suspicion. A serious wrong has been done him because his brethren had not the moral courage to go directly to him and talk with him freely in the spirit of Christian love. From all who have thus neglected their duty, confession is due; and none will shrink from it who deem it of any importance for them to seek to answer the prayer of Christ: "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me" (John 17:20-23).

How can this prayer be answered by one who has wronged his brother, and whose heart is not softened by the grace of Christ so that he will make confession? How can his brethren, who know the acts, still have unshaken confidence in him, while he seems to feel no conviction of the Spirit of God? He is doing a wrong to the whole church, and especially if he occupies a position of responsibility; for he is encouraging others to disregard the Word of God, to pass along with sins unconfessed. Many a one will say in heart, if not in words, "There is an elder of the church; he does not make confession of his errors, and yet he remains an honored member of the church. If he does not confess, neither will I. If he feels that it is perfectly safe for him not to show any contrition, I, too, will risk it."

This reasoning is all wrong; nevertheless it is common. The church is leavened with the spirit of self-justification, a disposition to confess nothing, to make no signs of humiliation. . . .

If you have misjudged your brother, if you have in the least degree weakened his influence, so that the message which God has given him to bear has been made of little or no effect, your sin does not rest merely with the individual, but you have resisted the Spirit of God; your attitude, your words, have been against your Saviour. Jesus says, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matt. 25:40). He identifies His interest with that of every human soul, believer or unbeliever. That God who marks the fall of a sparrow marks your deportment and your feelings; He marks your envy, your prejudice, your attempt to justify your action in the least matter of injustice. When you misconceive the words and acts of another, and your own feelings are stirred, so that you make incorrect statements, and it is known that you are at variance with your brother, you lead others, through their confidence in you, to regard him just as you do; and the root of bitterness springing up, many are defiled. When it is evident that your feelings are incorrect, do you try just as diligently to re move the erroneous impressions as you did to make them? In these matters the Spirit of Christ has been grieved. The Saviour accounts these things as done to Himself.

Now God requires that you who have thus done the least injustice to another shall confess your fault, not only to the one you have injured, but to those who through your influence have been led to regard their brother in a false light, and to make of none effect the work God has given him to do. If pride and stubbornness close your lips, your sin will stand against you on the heavenly record. By repentance and confession you can have pardon registered against your name; or you can resist the conviction of the Spirit of God, and, during the rest of your life, work to make it appear that your wrong feelings and unjust conclusions could not be helped. But there stands the action, there stands the evil committed, there stands the ruin of those in whose hearts you planted the root of bitterness; there are the feelings and words of envy, of evil-surmising, that grew into jealousy and prejudice. All these testify against you. The Lord declares, "I have some what against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (Rev. 2:4, 5). ...

There must be with all our laborers a spirit of meekness, of penitence. God requires that those who minister in word and doctrine shall serve Him with all the powers of body and mind. Our consecration to God must be unreserved, our love ardent, our faith unwavering. Then the expressions of the lips will testify to the quickened intelligence of the mind and the deep movings of the Spirit of God upon the soul.

Men in the highest positions need to realize that they are as dependent upon God as are the humblest of their brethren. The greater their light and the clearer their knowledge of the truth, the greater is their responsibility. If they are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, they will have a humble estimation of themselves. In the worship of God, and in confession of sin, they will be as the lowliest of His creatures, while at the same time they will take the lead and set the example in everything that is pure and noble. They will be despised by many for their piety, humility, and conscientiousness. They will be a byword and a hissing to those who, while they profess godliness, are not connected with God. But they will be honored by heaven, and by men whose hearts have not been hardened by rejection of light. . . .

I ask you who are handling sacred things, I ask the individual members of the church, Have you confessed your sins? If not, begin now; for your souls are in great peril. If you die with your mistakes concealed, unconfessed, you die in your sins. The mansions that Jesus has gone to prepare for all who love Him, will be peopled by those who are free from sin. But sins that are not con fessed will never be forgiven; the name of him who thus rejects the grace of God will be blotted out of the book of life. The time is at hand when every secret thing shall be brought into judgment, and then there will be many confessions made that will astonish the world. The secrets of all hearts will be revealed. The confession of sin will be most public. The sad part of it is that confession then made will be too late to benefit the wrongdoer or to save others from deception. It only testifies that his condemnation is just. He gained nothing by his pride and self-sufficiency and stubbornness, for his own life was embittered, he ruined his own character so that he was not a fit subject of heaven, and by his influence he led others to ruin. . . .

The Lord reads every secret of the heart. He knows all things. You may now close the book of your remembrance, in order to escape confessing your sins; but when the judgment shall sit, and the books shall be opened, you cannot close them. The recording angel has testified that which is true. All that you have tried to conceal and forget is registered, and will be read to you when it is too late for wrongs to be righted. Then you will be overwhelmed with despair. O it is a terrible thing that so many are trifling with eternal interests, closing the heart against any course of action which shall involve confession!

You who have erred and have made crooked paths for your feet, so that others who look to you for an example have been turned out of the way, have you no confession to make? You who have sowed doubts and unbelief in the hearts of others, have you nothing to say to God or to your brethren? Review your course for years in the past, you who have not formed a habit of confessing your sins. Consider your words, your attitude, you whose influence has counteracted the message of the Spirit of God, you that have despised both the message and the messenger. After seeing the fruit borne by the message, what have you to say? Weigh your spirit, your actions, in the balance of eternal justice, the law of God: "Thou shah love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, . . . and thy neighbour as thyself" (Luke 10:27). Unless your sins are canceled, they will testify against you at that day when every work shall pass in review before God.

Confession would break up the fallow ground of the heart; it would rid you of your pride and self-complacency. While you neglect this work, wonder not that the Holy Spirit has not softened your heart and led you into all truth. God could not have blessed you without sanctioning sin and confirming you in unbelief. You have been deceiving yourselves and deceiving others, and the Holy Spirit will never by its work or witness make God a liar.

Away with your quibbling and caviling! Say not with a smile, "It is not expected that any man can be perfect"; that you do not claim to be inspired. This is a pitiable mask. What is the need of the Holy Spirit, if it teaches you only what your finite judgment already assents to? In His providence, God has followed up His written Word with testimonies of warning to lead you to the truths of His Word. He has pitied the ignorance of man, has pitied the proud, rebellious soul, and has presented help to lead you away from unbelief to faith, if you would be led. God has loved you too well to spare your feelings; He has given you warnings and reproofs to save you. But you have made light of the warnings and entreaties, and have re fused to heed them. . . .

It is not now too late for wrongs to be righted. Christ invites you to come and take of the water of life freely. Let no man deceive you with the sophistry that excuses sin. Tell every man who makes light of the warnings and reproofs of the Spirit of God, that you dare not do this yourself any longer; that although the eyes of your understanding have been blinded, and you have been misled, and have come to wrong decisions, you will not be deceived and blinded longer. Come out of the cave, and stand with God on the mount, and see what the Lord has to say to you. Have implicit faith in God, and do not depend upon self. . . .

And to all who seek Him with true repentance, God gives the assurance: "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee" (Isa. 44:22). These promises are full of comfort and hope and peace.

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Ellen White—church leader, lecturer, preacher, counselor—has been called the most prolific woman writer of all time, having written some 25 million words for publication.

June 1979

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