From the Word
1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 When I declared not my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. 5 I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.
Psalm 32:1–5, RSV
The first kind of confession is that which is made to God and teaches us that we are all alike wicked sinners. If any one have special grace, let him thank God and refrain from boasting. Has any one fallen into sin, it is because of his flesh and blood, nor has any fallen so low but that another who now stands may fall even lower. This kind of confession is so highly necessary that it dare not cease for a moment, but must constitute the entire life of a Christian, so that without ceasing he praises the grace of God and reproaches his own life in his presence.
The second confession is that made to our neighbor, and is called the confession springing from love, as the former is called confession springing from faith. Of this confession we read, “Confess your faults one to another.” This kind of confession like the former is necessary and commanded; for God will be merciful to no one, nor forgive his sins, unless he also forgive his neighbor. Besides, faith cannot be true unless it produces this fruit, that you forgive your neighbor, and that you ask for forgiveness; otherwise a man dare not appear before God. If this fruit is absent, faith and the first kind of confession are not honest.
The third kind of confession is that ordered by the pope, which is privately spoken into the ears of the priest when sins are enumerated. This confession is not commanded of God; the pope has forced the people to it and consciences have been troubled and tortured in a manner that is pitiful and distressing. Hence we say of private confession, that no one is compelled to observe it. Still it is a commendable and good thing. When you go to private confession do not give heed so much to what you do, as to what the minister says, that in God’s stead he proclaims to you the forgiveness of sins. The word which he speaks is not his, but God’s Word; and God will keep it as surely as if he had spoken it himself. This is the way God has placed his Word into every corner of the world. Therefore you ought not to despise it, but receive it with heartfelt desire in true faith.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 111–12.
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