Contrition, Confession, Restoration

FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 18, number 48, November 28, 2019

“We have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly, and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances.” -Daniel 9:5

By 638 B.C. Daniel the prophet is an old man. He has perhaps gone through the entire  seventy years of the exile in Babylon with the people of God. Now the Babylonians had been overrun by the Medo-Persian Empire, and Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, is on the throne. Daniel had been reading the prophet Jeremiah (Daniel 9:1-3) and was amazed, troubled, and encouraged when he realized that after seventy years the exile would end and the people of God would return to Judah (Jeremiah 25:11-12, 29:10). Instead of merely waiting for the return to the land of Israel, Jeremiah’s prophecy moved Daniel to action—the action of prayer. His marvelous prayer of contrition and confession follows in Daniel 9:4-19. The prayer is divided into two major parts. Verses 4-14 is Daniel’s heartfelt confession, and verses 15-19 is his cry for mercy. His confession can be divided further into two parts. Verses 4-10 give us the details of Daniel’s confession. Though he clearly was a godly man (Daniel 1:8) he nonetheless included himself in the confession of sin. “We have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly, and rebelled,” (vs. 5). “We have not listened to Your servants the prophets,” (vs.6). “Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame,” (vs.7). “We have rebelled against Him,” (vs.9). “We have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God to walk in His teachings,” (vs.10). Indeed, corruption of the flesh has inundated the people of God. 

In verses 11-14 Daniel puts forth the results of their rebellion and recalcitrance. “So the curse has been poured out upon us,” (vs.11). “He has confirmed His words . . . to bring on us great calamity,” (vs.12,13). “The Lord has kept this calamity in store and brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds,” (vs.14). Daniel then pleads for mercy, beseeching the Lord of the covenant “to remove His anger and wrath from His city Jerusalem,” (vs.16). Daniel humbly asks the Lord to listen to the prayer and supplications of His servant, not for his sake but for the sake of His great name, that Yahweh’s face would shine in grace once again on His desolate  sanctuary (vs.17). With great passion and contrition Daniel prays, “O my God, incline Your ear and hear. Open Your eyes and see our desolations of the city.” He knows he dare not appeal to the Lord on his or his people’s merits, but solely on the merits of His great compassion (vs.18). Daniel closes his prayer with great passion, “O Lord hear! O Lord forgive! O Lord listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name,” (vs.19).

Here’s the bottom line—contrition and compassion lead to restoration. Do you not see this in the content of Daniel’s burden? By contrition the Scriptures mean a deep, heartfelt awareness of one’s sin by which one acknowledges his own responsibility for it, moving him to sincere, evangelical repentance. By evangelical repentance Richard Owen Roberts means repentance which results in actual change of one’s behavior. We see this clearly in King David after his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite. When finally confronted with his sin by Nathan, being convinced of its heinous nature, David repented with obvious grief and humility. He said, “I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin,” (Psalm 32:5). He said, “Thou dost not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; Thou art not pleased with burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O Lord, Thou wilt not despise,” (Psalm 51:16-17). Your sin ought to break your heart. True contrition leads to true confession which leads to true repentance. The reason we see so little progress in gospel holiness is because we do not grieve over our sin. We fail to experience the Lord’s grace of chastisement, a mark of His love (Hebrews 12:10-11, Revelation 3:19). 

Charles Colson, shortly after his conversion in 1974, remembered how, as a Marine serving in the Philippines, many years before, he had harassed a poor Filipino man who was selling soft drinks to his men. Colson had confiscated the soft drinks from the poor man and distributed them to his troops. All enjoyed the event at the poor man’s expense. Colson wept when he remembered how he had treated the man. That is contrition. 

Confession of sin means admitting to God that we have violated His law, that we alone have sinned against Him, that we are no longer blaming others for our sin, that we humble ourselves before God. David said, “Against Thee, and Thee only have I sinned and done what is evil in Thy sight, so that Thou are justified when Thou dost speak, and blameless when Thou dost judge,” (Psalm 51:4). There is a true confession which leads to a true repentance, and there is a counterfeit confession which yields no lasting repentance. David is an example of the former and Saul is an example of the latter. David’s contrition and confession, leading to repentance is well documented in Psalm 32 and 51. Saul, on the other hand, on two occasions, when David could easily have killed him when Saul was seeking to kill him, confessed that he was wrong, that he would desist from pursuing David (1 Samuel 24, 26). But his confession came to nothing. He persisted in his murderous pursuit of David, resulting eventually in his own demise. 

Though David experienced the consequences of his adultery and murder—his children afterward brought great difficulty on him and the kingdom of Israel. Nevertheless he was restored to his kingdom. Daniel’s contrition led to confession which eventually brought the restoration of God’s people to the land of Israel. 

What, my friend, does this mean for you, personally and collectively? The glory of the gospel is this—when you sin, when the Holy Spirit convicts you of your sin, when He enables you to have true, heartfelt contrition, then you will bring forth fruits of repentance, namely a change in your behavior. God then promises to bring restoration to you. You will know His love and compassion. It is true that you may still experience the consequences of your sin. Years of sin may have brought desolation on your marriage and the loss of your children’s respect; but God can restore you to His pleasure and enable you to finish your race well. 

The same is true in your church. If your church is lethargic, experiencing division or strife, seeing few or no conversions, then perhaps there is corporate sin at work. What must you do? Ask the Holy Spirit to bring sincere contrition to the leadership. This will lead to true confession and repentance which alone can restore your church. A church guilty of racism many years ago, when confronted of this heinous sin, must ask God for a spirit of contrition. Without it there will be no true confession, no true repentance, and certainly no restoration. Such a church may continue her ministry but God’s smile will not be upon it. He will resist that church because latent pride is present and God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). And the same is true for any nation, including your own. Until the people are contrite, acknowledging their national sin, they will continue the slide into perdition. 

The glory of the gospel is plain—ask God to show you your sin and to give you a contrite heart. This will drive you to confession and repentance, eventually bringing restoration to those whom you have wronged. There is hope for you and me—contrition, confession, and then restoration. Seek God for it.  

On this, our Thanksgiving Day, while you surely ought to give thanks to God for all the many temporal and familial blessings from His hand, do not miss the opportunity to thank God for saving your soul, for placing your sins on the cross of Christ, who bore the wrath and condemnation you deserve. Thank God for His indescribable gift. 

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