The Place of Contrition in Public Worship

Every time when we are confronted with the Law of God. we realize that in thought, word, and deed we transgress that Law. And the transgression of the Law is sin. Sin is always a dishonoring of the Name of God. And especially to the devout heart is this grievous. The more we have learned to love God as our Father and Jesus Christ as our Savior, the more are we distressed at the thought that we have not done what he expects of us.

Spiritual Life and Contrition

Let us always remember that the measure of our grief over our sins is a true indication of the condition of our spiritual life. We know that our day is not characterized by a deep conviction of sin. This ought to tell us that we are Dot living as close to God as we ought. The apostle Paul was conscious of his sin and writes about it in the epistle to Romans as follows: For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I know not; for not what I would, that do I practice; but what I hate, that I do. But if what I would not, that I do, I consent unto the law that it is good. So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me. For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not. For the good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not that I practice. But if what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me. I find then the law, that, to me who would do good, evil is present. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I amI who shall deliver me out of the body of this death? (Rom. 7:14–24)

Here is a child of God, who is burdened by his sins, as only a child of God can be burdened by them. There is a difference between a child of God and his consciousness of sin and an unconverted sinner who grieves over his misdeeds. A difference which should not be forgotten. There have been and are people in the church, who insist that of conviction of sin should bring us to a state of mind as if we were outside the grace and the love of God, so that our confession of sins becomes a plea for admittance or re-admittance to his fatherly love and fellowship. This is not true. And we should be deeply grateful for the fact that this is not true. I may remind most of you of the beautiful statement found in the Christian Reformed Form for Baptism: “And if we sometimes through weakness fall into sins, we must not therefore despair of God’s mercy, nor continue in sin, since baptism is a seal and indubitable testimony that we have an eternal covenant with God” (italics inserted).



Pleading Children

The congregation also, when it makes confession of sin, having heard the Law of God, does this as the congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ which has the forgiveness of sin and is bought by Christ’s precious blood. Here is the pleading of children in the house of their Father. The confession of sin comes out of the consciousness that they have offended him to whom they are dear.

But of course this does not make the conviction of sin less bitter and less painful. Just the opposite is true. Recognizing the unchangeable love of God, realizing his faithfulness, our hearts are smitten and we are ashamed that we offend that love constantly in thought, word and deed.

Just take the trouble to read once again the quotation of what Paul wrote in his epistle to the Romans. You will have no difficulty in finding the child of God in that confession sin. He declares that he hates sin, that he does not want to sin, that he has a delight in the law of God. Only a child of God can honestly and sincerely say this. But now see also what a horrible picture the apostle draws of his life. He does the things he hates; what he does not want to do is done by him. He is constantly at war with himself and cannot attain to the righteousness for which he hungers and thirsts. Instead of finding excuses for his sins, he humbles himself before God on account of them.

We find such contriteness of heart in David when he confesses his sins. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy Iovingkindness: According to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” Only a child of God can truly speak of the tender mercies of God. Only one who has tasted the sweetness of the fellowship with the Holy Spirit can plead: “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.”

Do We Truly Know

The question for you and me is this, when we in our worship take part in the congregational confession of sin, do we truly know this pain and grief of having sinned against the tender mercies of our God? Is it more than mere lipservice when we sing:

God be merciful to me, On thy grace I rest my plea; Plenteous in compassion thou, Blot out my transgression now; Wash me, make me pure within, Cleanse, a cleanse me from my sin.

My transgressions I confess, Grief and guilt my soul oppress; I have sinned against thy grace And provoked thee to thy face; I confess thy judgments just, Speechless, I thy mercy trust.

Strange though it may seem, there is something sweet in this outpouring of our hearts before God. For the Spirit who works true repentance and confession of sin, testifies in our hearts that in the acknowledging of our sins we are dear and pleasing to God. Let no one doubt this for a moment, “for if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.”

In the confession of our sins flowing from a heart burdened because of its iniquity is the manifestation that God is a God of mercy to all those who fear his Name. Paul answers his question: “Who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?” with the exultant cry; “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I of myself with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.”

The congregation which in its worship confesses its sin before the Lord God is a delight in his holy eyes. He loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob! He will bless those who mourn, and will fill their hearts with his comfort. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

William Kok is pastor of the Immanuel Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.