by Hugh Binning
1 John 1:9—If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, &c.
The current of sin dries not up, but runs constantly while we are in this life. It is true, it is much diminished in a believer, and it runs not in such an universal flood over the whole man as it is in the unbeliever. Yet there is a living spring of sin within the godly, which is never ceasing to drop out pollution and defilement, either upon their whole persons, or, at least, to intermingle it with their good actions. Now, there is no comfort for this, but this one, that there is another stream of the blood of Jesus Christ that never dries up, is never exhausted, never emptied, but flows as full and as free, as clear and fresh as ever it did: and this is so great, and of so great virtue, that it is able to swallow up the stream of our pollutions, and to take away the daily filth of a believer's conversation. Now indeed, though the blood of Jesus Christ be of such infinite virtue and efficacy, that it were sufficient to cleanse the sins of the whole world, it would be an over-ransom for the souls of all men, there is so much worth in it. That flood of guiltiness that hath drowned the world,—this flood of Christ's blood that gushed out of his side, is of sufficient virtue to cleanse it perfectly away. Notwithstanding of this absolute universal sufficiency, yet certain it is, that it is not actually applied unto the cleansing of all men's sins, but yet the most part of men are still drowned in the deluge of their own wickedness, and lie entombed in darkness; therefore it concerns us to know the way of the application of this blood to the cleansing of sinners; and this way is set down in this verse, "If we confess our sins, he is just to forgive." There was something hinted at obscurely in the preceding verse; for when he shews, that such as say they have no sin, who either, by the disposition of their hearts, or carriage of their ways, do by intrepretation say, they want sin, "such deceive themselves, and the truth is not in them," and so they have no benefit of that blood that cleanseth from all sin. And so it is imported here, that though the blood of Christ be fully sufficient to cleanse all sin, yet it is not so prostituted and basely spent upon sinners, as to be bestowed upon them who do not know their sins, and never enter into any serious and impartial examination of themselves. Such, though they say they are sinners, yet never descending into themselves to search their own hearts and ways, and so never coming to the particular knowledge of their sins, and feeling of them, they cannot at all make application of that blood to their own consciences, either seriously or pertinently. Though the river and fountain of Christ's blood run by them, in the daily preaching of the gospel, yet being destitute of this daily self-inspection and self-knowledge, being altogether ignorant of themselves, they can no more wash here than those who never heard of this blood. They being strangers to themselves, sets them at as great distance and estrangement from the blood of Christ, as if they were wholly strangers to the very preaching of this blood. Let us, then, have this first established in our hearts,—that there is no cleansing from sin, without the knowledge of sin; and that there is no true knowledge of sin, without a serious soul examination of sin. These are knit together in their own nature. For how should our sins be pardoned, when we know nothing of them but in a confused generality that can never affect the heart? How should our sins not be opened and discovered before the holiness of God, when they are always covered unto us and hid from our eyes? Certainly, the righteousness and wisdom of God require, that such a monstrous thing, so great an enemy of God's holiness, be not wholly passed away in silence without observation. If we do not observe, he will; for to what purpose should pardon be so lavished upon them who are not capable of knowing what favour and grace is in it? And certainly, that none can know without the feeling knowledge of the height and heinousness of sin. Now, I pray you, how should you know your sins, when you will not allow any time for the searching of yourselves? Many cannot say, that ever they did purposely and deliberately withdraw from the world, and separate their spirits for this business of self-examination; and therefore you remain perpetually strangers to yourselves, and as great strangers to the power and virtue of this blood.
Now, in this verse, he declares it plainly in what way and method sin is pardoned by this blood. By the former verse, we have so much, that it is necessary we must search and try our ways, that so we may truly know our sins, and charge them upon ourselves; and here it is superadded, that we must confess them to him: and the promise is annexed, "he is just and faithful to forgive." Now, this confession of sin is very fitly subjoined, both to that which he declared of the great end of that gospel,—communion with God,—and that which was immediately holden forth of the remaining virtue of Christ's blood. For might a poor soul say, How shall I come to partake of that blessed society? I am a sinner, and so an enemy to God; how shall this enmity be removed? And if the answer be made, "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin," and so maketh access for a sinner to enter into this society; yet a question remains, and how shall the virtue of that be applied to my soul? It is sufficient I know, for all, but what way may I have the particular benefit of it? Here it is fully satisfied, "if we confess our sins, God is just and faithful to forgive." He lieth under some obligation to pardon us. Now, many of you may think, if this be the way, and these be the terms of pardon, then we hope all shall be pardoned; for if there be no more but to confess our sins, who will not willingly do that, and who doth not daily do it? As one said, if it be sufficient to accuse, none will be innocent: si accusasse sufficiat, nemo innocens erit; so you may think, si confiteri sufficiat, nemo reus erit. If it be sufficient to confess, none will be guilty. But, my beloved, let us not deceive ourselves with the present first apprehensions of words that occur in this kind. It is true, as ye take confession, there is nothing more ordinary; but, if it be taken in the true scripture meaning, and in the realest sense, I fear there is nothing among men so extraordinary. I desire you may but consider how you take this word, in your dealings with men;—you take it certainly in a more real sense than you use it in religion. If any had done you some great wrong or injury, suppose your servant, or inferior, what acknowledgment would you take from him of his wrong? If he confessed his wrong only in generally ambiguous terms; if he did it either lightly, or without any sense or sorrow for it; if he did withal excuse and extenuate his fault, and never ceased, notwithstanding of all his confession, to do the like wrong when occasion offered, would you not think this a mockery, and would it not rather provoke you than pacify you? Now, when you take words in so real and deep significations in your own matters, what gross delusion is it, that you take them in the slightest and emptiest meaning in those things that relate to God? And I am sure the most part of men's confessions are of that nature which I have described,—general, ignorant, senseless, without any particular view, or lively feeling of the vileness and loathsomeness of sin, and their own hearts. Whenever it comes to particulars, there is a multitude of extenuations and pretences to hide and cover the sin; and generally men never cease the more from sinning. It puts no stop in their running, as the horse to the battle. To-day they confess it, and to-morrow they act it again with as much delight as before. Now, of this I may say, "Offer it to thy governor, and see if he will be pleased with thee," or let another offer such an acknowledgment of wrong to thee, and see if it will please thee; and if it will not, why deceive ye yourselves with the outward visage of things in these matters that are of greatest soul-concernment? Should they not be taken in the most inward and substantial signification that can be? Lest you be deceived with false appearances, and, while you give but a shadow of confession, you receive but a shadow of forgiveness, such a thing as will not carry and bear you out before God's tribunal; therefore we must needs take it thus, that confession of sin is the work of the whole man, and not of the mouth only. It is the heart, tongue, and all that is in a man, joining together to the acknowledgment of sin, and God's righteousness; therefore it includes in it, not only a particular knowledge of our offences, and the temper of our hearts, but a sensible feeling of the loathsomeness and heinousness of these. And this is the spring that it flows from,—a broken and contrite heart, that is bruised under the apprehensions of the weight of guiltiness, and is embittered with the sense of the gall of iniquity that possesseth the heart. Here, then, is the great moment of confession and repentance; what is the inward fountain it flows from? If the heart be brought to the distinct and clear view of itself, and to discern the iniquity and plague of it, and so to fall down under the mighty hand of God, and before his tribunal, as guilty, as not being able or willing to open his mouth in an excuse or extenuation of sin, or to plead for compassion from any consideration in himself; a soul thus placed between iniquities set in order and battle array, on the one hand, and the holy law and righteousness of God on the other hand; the filthiness of the one filling with shame and confusion, and the dreadfulness of the other causing fear and trembling: in this posture, I say, for a soul to come and fall at the Judge's feet, and make supplication to him in his Son Christ; thus being inwardly pressed to vent and pour out our hearts before him, in the confession of our sins, and to flee unto the city of refuge,—his mercy and grace that is declared in Jesus Christ,—this, I say, is indeed to confess our sins: for then confession is an exoneration and disburdening of the heart,—it flows from the abundance of the inward contrition of it. And as this must be the spring of it, so there is another stream that will certainly flow from the ingenuous confession of our sins, that is, a forsaking of them. These are the two streams that flow from one head and spring, the inward fountain of contrition and sorrow for sin; there is a holy indignation kindled in the heart against sin, and an engagement upon such a soul, as indeed flees to mercy, to renounce sin; and here is the complete nature of true repentance. Solomon joins them, "He that confesseth and forsaketh shall have mercy," Prov. 27:13. And this is opposed to covering of sins—"for he that covereth his sins shall not prosper." And what is that to cover his sin? Confessing them in a general confused notion, without any distinct knowledge, or sense of any particular guiltiness, that is covering of sins, or confessing sin; and not forsaking of it, that is a covering of sin: for to act sin over again, with continual fresh delight and vigour, is to retract our confessions and to bury and cover them with the mould of new transgressions. Now, take this unto you, "you shall not prosper!" what can be said worse? For you are but in a dream of happiness, and you shall one day be shaken out of it, and that fancied pardon shall evanish, and then your sins that you covered in this manner, shall be discovered before the Judge of the world, and "you shall not stand in judgment."