From the Word
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Psalm 51:1–3, RSV
Every Christian who wishes to make confession of his sins should place his confidence without reserve in the merciful promises and invitations of God, firmly believing that Almighty God will graciously forgive him his sins. Before he confesses his sins to a confessor, let him with due diligence make confession to the Lord God himself. Let him enumerate to the divine Majesty all his sins and infirmities, his conversation, deeds and manner of life without extenuating or concealing anything, just as if he dealt with a very familiar friend. His sinful and wicked thoughts also, so far as can be recalled, should be confessed.
Every Christian who would confess his sins should possess the honest intention and determination to amend his life and to forsake every manner of open, mortal sin. A confession without this purpose would be a dangerous and unpromising undertaking. When one discovers that he lacks the steady purpose to amend his life, he should fall upon his knees and pray to God for it. One must consider that it is impossible to call to mind and confess all his mortal sins; he should remember that after applying all diligence he confesses only the smallest part of his sins. The sins to be confessed, therefore, are the manifestly mortal sins and such as press upon a man’s conscience at the time of confession. It is quite impossible to confess all mortal sins in view of the fact that when God sits in judgment and passes sentence upon them, not according to his gracious mercy, but his stern justice, even our good works render us guilty of death and condemnation.
The sum of the matter is this, that those persons are saved who place their trust solely in God, not in their works, nor in any creature. Consequently man should learn to have greater confidence in God’s mercy than in the zeal with which he makes confession. One cannot be too active, determined and guarded against the accursed evil of confiding in one’s own works. Therefore we should accustom our consciences to trust in God, and let it be done with the understanding that to believe and trust in God is pleasing to him, and that unreserved trust in God is his highest glory.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 389–90.