Pastor Cosand: March 2019
THE GROAN OF A CONTRITE HEART
meditation on Psalm 51:17
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
It is not often that the confession of sins is a part of our prayers. This is certainly true of public prayers and is probably true of most private prayers. We usually begin our prayers with a brief statement of thanksgiving for the day and perhaps for some other blessing. And then we often launch into our considerable list of requests, ranging from someone’s serious sickness to asking for good weather because we have an outing planned.
But what about the element of confession of sins in our prayers? It is a part of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 . . . "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Mt 6:12). In Luke’s version the wording is more forceful . . . "And forgive us our sins . . ." (Lk 11:4). Confession of sins should be as much a daily part of every Christian’s prayers as asking for a family member or church friend to be healed.
The New Testament speaks of God's forgiveness of our sins in two ways. One use refers to the judicial forgiveness of God, the Judge. The other use refers to the parental forgiveness of God, our Father. Judicial forgiveness takes place at the time of an unbeliever’s conversion, when there is repentance for sins and trust in Christ. It is the unique occasion when the penalty for sins is taken away and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to that person. This is justification and it only happens (and only needs to happen) once. To the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears He said, "Your sins have been forgiven . . . your faith has saved you" (Lk 7:48,50). This is the judicial forgiveness of justification.
But there is another use of the word 'forgive' in the New Testament. It is the parental forgiveness of God, as Father, granted to His children. The New Testament speaks of believers repenting of their sins and asking for forgiveness. To the believers in Corinth, Paul writes, "I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance" (2 Cor 7:9). To the church in Ephesus, the Lord says, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place -- unless you repent" (Rev 2:5; cf. Rev 3:19). It is a pattern for prayer for His disciples that Jesus taught them to pray to the Father "forgive us our sins" (Lk 11:1,4).
A heartfelt sensitivity toward their sins and the regular, indeed daily, confession of those sins was the experience of the great men of God from the past. In a sermon on 1 John 1:9, the great English preacher, C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) said, "The daily exercise of faith in Jesus Christ is a confession of sin. . . . I beseech you, dear hearer, try to fix your eye on Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice, and live as a believer in Him, and this will make you live as a constant confessor of sin; for when the wounds of Jesus speak peace, they also preach penitence; and when the atonement gives us rest, it also makes us meek and lowly in heart under a sense of abiding faultiness. As you see what Jesus suffered, you will see how you sinned, and as you observe the glory of His merit, you will see the horror of your own demerit. Thus may you daily, as long as ever you live, confess sin and find cleansing from all unrighteousness."
This was also the experience of another English pastor, Charles Simeon (1759-1836). "By constantly meditating on the goodness of God and on our great deliverance from the punishment which our sins have deserved, we are brought to feel our vileness and utter unworthiness . . . and while we continue in this spirit of self-degradation, everything goes on easily. We shall find ourselves advancing in our course; we shall feel the presence of God; we shall experience His love; we shall live in the enjoyment of His favor and in the hope of His glory. You often feel that your prayers scarcely reach the ceiling, but oh, get into this humble spirit by considering how good the Lord is and how evil you are, and then prayer will mount on wings of faith to heaven. The sigh, the groan of a broken heart will soon go through the ceiling up to heaven into the bosom of God."
New England pastor, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) wrote the following as a mature believer in Christ. "Very often for these many years, these expressions are in my mind and in my mouth: ‘Infinite upon infinite - infinite upon infinite!’ When I look into my heart and take a view of my wickedness, it looks like an abyss infinitely deeper than hell. . . . It is [amazing] to think how ignorant I was, when a young Christian, of the bottomless, infinite depths of wickedness, pride, hypocrisy, and deceit left in my heart."
David Brainerd (1718-1747), missionary to the American Indians in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, wrote the following in his diary. "In my morning devotions my soul was exceedingly melted and bitterly mourned over my exceeding sinfulness and vileness."
The daily confession of sins is a necessity for us to maintain a spirit of humility before God (and each other) and for us to constantly revel in the glory of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. The great Puritan theologian, John Owen (1616-1683) wrote, "Confession is every day’s work. I don’t see how any peace with God can be maintained without it." The fact that the penalty for our sins has been taken away by the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, should not result in a carelessness onour part over the darkness that still remains in our hearts and lives. The paradox is worth our consideration. The more heartfelt our brokenness over our sins, the deeper our delight in Jesus Christ. It is only the person who cries out "O wretched man that I am! Who will free me from this body of death?" who knows the indescribable pleasure of the ensuing declaration "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom 7:23,24).
Desperate for God's grace,