Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
GOD'S HEAVY HAND DRIVES DAVID TO CONFESSION OF HIS SIN.
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 25:9 (Psalm 103:7 after baptism)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
We've listened of late to a brief series of sermons in relation to church discipline. The emphasis in these sermons lay on our common responsibility to be our brother's keeper; it was for each of us to go out of our way to make sure that the other was not hurt by our deeds. The last sermon on I Cor 5 set before us the need even to expel from the midst of the congregation the brother who persists in his life of sin.
I want today to approach the question of discipline from another side altogether. Not only is it so that we are each other's keeper; it is also so that God Himself administers discipline against His people, presses His heavy hand upon His own so that His own acknowledge sin, repent of sin. This act of God's grace upon His sinning children lays a big responsibility on these children of God: each of us needs to make it our business to recognise God's hand in our lives, and then humbly repent of the sins of which we're guilty.
Very much on purpose do I take up this subject with you today. Next Sunday, the Lord willing, Lord's Supper will be celebrated in this congregation. When that table is set before us, our practice is that all communicant members in the congregation attend - unless the consistory has closed the table to a member for reasons of church discipline.
Now, I grant: the fact that everyone attends the table of the Lord is indeed the way it ought to be; did not our Lord Himself command all His people to "do this in remembrance of Me," to eat and drink? Nevertheless, brothers and sisters, it needs to be fixed in our minds that none of us is permitted to go to the table automatically. I draw to your attention LD 30 of the Heidelberg Catechism. The LD asks: "who are to come to the table of the Lord?" and then does not give as answer: those who have professed their faith. The answer is instead: "those who are truly displeased with themselves because of their sins and yet trust that these are forgiven them and that their remaining weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ, and who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and amend their life." To put it sharply, then, profession of faith itself does not give us the right to attend. Attendance is rather open to all who are bothered by their sins and can yet believe that these sins are forgiven. Attitude toward sin is pivotal in determining whether or not one may or may not attend the Table of the Lord.
Attitude toward sin. As it is, we don't generally consider it too difficult to obtain forgiveness for our sins. We pray for forgiveness, we believe our prayers are heard, and conclude that our sins are gone. And because our sins are gone, we feel rather easy about going to the Lord's table; we belong there, we tell ourselves, because our sins are forgiven.
Attitude toward sin. By the discipline God Himself administers in our lives, the Lord would impress on us how much He hates sin. He hates it so much that there is no room for us at His table as long as any sins in our lives remain unconfessed! As we prepare ourselves this week to attend the Supper of our Lord, I ask your attention for God's discipline in the lives of His sinning children. This discipline is meant to drive His people to confession, to repentance.
I summarise the sermon with this theme:
GOD'S HEAVY HAND DRIVES DAVID TO CONFESSION OF HIS SIN.
1. the crippling need for God's heavy hand
2. the liberating result of God's heavy hand
3. the response sought by God's heavy hand
1. David, my brothers and sisters, was guilty of some specific sin. Notice that David repeatedly uses the singular: "I acknowledged my sin", "my iniquity I have not hidden." It's not sins-in-general that David has in mind, nor is it his sinfulness as such that he admits to the Lord. But the psalmist acknowledges a specific sin. It is confession of specific sins that makes forgiveness possible. What the specific sin was that David now confesses we do not precisely know. Nowhere in the entire psalm does David give us a concrete clue. Still, this psalm has historically been understood in the context of David's sin with Bethsheba. Whether that be correct or not, the connection is possible and it does give us somewhat of a context in which to read this psalm.
Whatever the context may be, it's clear that David sinned. Whereas God had commanded one thing, David did another; he rebelled against God on this specific point. And though David knew -or certainly could know- that what he did was wrong, he did not go on his knees and admit this specific wrong to the Lord. That is what we have to conclude from vs 3; David "kept silent" about his sin. He pretended this sin had not happened, covered it up, did not admit it.
It's to be clear in our minds, beloved: this does not mean that David ceased asking God for forgiveness of sins altogether! There is no evidence at all for such a thought. Please remember that in the OT, the people of Israel were to make sacrifices regularly, presenting to the Lord sin offerings and burnt offerings. In so doing, they were regularly admitting their sinfulness to God, praying in their sacrifice to God for forgiveness. Beside the sacrifices, the Israelites, just like we, were expected to speak to God in prayer, to be open and frank with their heavenly Father about the circumstances in their own lives, their joys and sorrows, their successes and failures.
These sacrifices and prayers David also had to bring to the Lord. In fact, his public position meant that any break on David's part from his established habits would have caught the people's attention immediately. And what would people say . No, beloved, we receive not so much as a hint that David ceased praying, ceased bringing sacrifices. He sacrificed according to the law, and as such admitted repeatedly that he was sinful.
But admitting general sinfulness is not such a hard thing to do. Like we, David too could get over his lips, without great difficulty, the fact of his sinfulness. He believed in the Bible, did he not? And the Bible taught clearly enough the fact that all are sinful .
But David learned that the Lord was not satisfied with a general confession of sins. David sacrificed, prayed, said to God that he had sinned today again and would the Lord please forgive these sins. But as he prayed for this forgiveness, there remained that one sin that he refused to mention to God, that one sin which he refused to confess as sin. And because he refused to admit that one sin could David not experience the joy of forgiveness. He confessed his sins in general, but all the while his body wasted away. Instead of experiencing grace from a forgiving Father, David felt God's hand heavy upon him night and day. Vs 3:
"When I kept silent, my bones grew old
Through my groaning all the day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was turned into the drought of summer."
God's heavy hand. David's experience is not foreign to any of us. Silence destroys warm relationships; we all know that. Be it between spouses, friends, brothers in the congregation: we know that communication is the essence of a good relation. But silence, being ignored, passed by: it eats at one's insides, robs one of sleep, takes away an appetite. What makes for silence between persons? Friction, a fall-out, some transgression against the other in word or deed: that's what makes for a barrier, a rift . And it hurts .
But such can happen also between the Christian and his God. Prayer is communication, prayer is talking with God. But if there is an issue, a point of friction between ourselves and God, we sense readily that praying is not as it is supposed to be. Praying is awkward, is not spontaneous. God appears far off, unhearing. Prayer is a chore. And the conscientious child of God is not at all satisfied with such a relation with God.
Granted, our depravity is such that we can get used to much, used also to having friction between God and ourselves, so used to it that we scarcely notice that the relation between God and ourselves is not as it ought to be. So it can even happen that we attend the Supper of the Lord assuming that all is well between the Lord and ourselves, while in fact all is not well .
The relation between God and David was not wholesome. Though
he continued to sacrifice and pray, there remained that unconfessed
sin. Consequently, God's hand bore down on David. That heavy
hand: it ate at David's insides, robbed him of his sleep, took
away his appetite. His bones grew old through his groaning all
day long; his vitality was turned into the drought of summer.
And all the while, David tried to act as if all was normal, as
if there wasn't a problem
. O David, how foolish you are
not to confess! Life knows no joy with that heavy hand of God
on your shoulders. And it's your own silly fault!
Why was God's hand heavy on David? Because, beloved, the Lord wished to drive David to understand that tension between God and himself could not be ignored. God permitted no joy in David's life, God sapped his strength, God let him toss and turn on his bed, God let bags grow under David's eyes because God would have David to realise that sin is sin, and God's wrath remains inflamed against all sin - with eternal consequences! David's sin can be forgiven only when he confesses his sin, acknowledges what he did, admits that it was rebellion against God's decrees. And then the relation with God is good again!
But it was no easy thing for David to acknowledge that what he did was sin. King David was, and with his position came a lot of public attention. All the people knew what he had done with Bethsheba; it was no secret that she was pregnant by the time David married her. But to admit before God and so also the people that his actions had been sin implied loosing face; it was embarrassing. David knew so well that confessing his sin before the Lord implied admitting it publicly before the people also. But his pride got in the way; just as with us, this was for him too hard to do.
That, brothers and sisters, is why God put pressure on David, put pressure on him so that he had to come to the point of confessing his wrong. Instead of covering up what he did, denying it; instead of ignoring his sin, trying to forget it; instead of acting as if nothing had happened, God administered divine discipline in David's life so that David was forced to part his lips and confess his particular sin. Under the heavy hand of God, the specific sin that he had been trying to hide David now had to hang out in the open; he had to acknowledge before God that this and this had been sin.
Confessing one's sin: that is so difficult. We find it easy enough to admit that 'we are sinful' and easy enough to say too that 'I have sinned today'. But to get specific -especially when somebody has pointed out a sin to us- to get specific and acknowledge that this and this particular deed was sin . We can scarcely get it over our lips to admit to the spouse, to a brother, a sister, that 'I did wrong, I have hurt you in this and this.' But that, my beloved, is the nature of confessing. It's difficult to do, because we remain sinful. Our ego is deflated by it, our pride dented. Yet that's what God wanted to hear from David: simply an admission that this specific act was contrary to God's commands.
Confessing a sin: it's an experience so humbling. In fact, one cannot confess a sin unless one has humbled himself before God. It requires little humbleness to admit the general truth that we all make many mistakes, that we're all prone to evil. But to take responsibility for our specific wrong, to shoulder the blame for the hurt we've caused another: that does require humility, it requires eating a lot of pride. It was so difficult for David that God had to discipline him harshly. David's body had to waste away, his life had to be all groaning, his strength had to be dried up before David understood that he had no alternative but to admit his transgression.
2. So we find ourselves in the thick of our second point: the result of this heavy hand. David states the result:
"I acknowledged by sin to You,
And my iniquity I have not hidden.
I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.'
And we read too the Lord's response to David's confession: "then You forgave the iniquity of my sin." That's the result of God's discipline in David's life: God has squeezed repentance out of David, and then granted forgiveness of sin.
The term that David uses for forgiveness is striking. He speaks literally of God 'lifting' the guilt of his sin. The term 'lifting' gives us the image of a burden being taken off of David's shoulders. But if a burden is to be lifted off, the implication is that sins as such are a burden. And, as David had already said in the vss 3 & 4, that is precisely what sins were for him; his unconfessed sin was a burden in his life. But now that he has confessed his transgression, the guilt of sin is lifted from him; David, in other words, can now go through life without this burden on his back.
If we now understand, beloved, that forgiveness implies the removal of a burden, then we can also understand what David says in the first two verses of this psalm. "Blessed," said the psalmist, "is he whose transgression is forgiven." Here David uses the same word for forgiveness as in our text; he says literally: blessed is the man whose sins are lifted from off his back. That man, says David, is blessed; happy is the man who doesn't go through life carrying a load of sin!
Burdened in life: that's what happens, says the inspired Psalmist, when you don't confess your sins. Covering up your iniquities, refusing to admit transgressions: that's to carry a weight on your back day by day, and the weight, the burden is none else than God's heavy hand upon you. Then, beloved, you can go for all the counselling in the world to help you cope with the troubles you face, and you can take a cup full of tablets in a day, and you can go on holidays for any length of time, all in an effort to get free of the burdens you have, but none of it will free you from God's heavy hand. Where there is sin you do not want to recognise or admit, nothing you do will free you of God's discipline in your life. There simply is no escaping the weight of God's heavy hand -neither through drugs nor through diversion nor through improved coping skills- there is no escaping the weight of God's heavy hand except through confession, acknowledging the sin. Once there's confession, once there's humility, once there's admission that 'this act was sin' or 'this attitude was sin', then that heavy hand of God is lifted, the weight removed. Then, and only then, is there the light step again, the step of joy that results from God's forgiving grace, His renewed mercy - being blessed. So great, so wonderful, so delightful is this forgiving grace of God that David can sing in vs 6 that distress will not overwhelm the forgiven child of God; "the flood of great waters" -in other words, problems and anxieties- "shall not come near him." And the psalmist can add in vs 7 that God remains a "hiding place" for all His own, a source of protection in the face of trouble. Happy, joyful: such is the blessed consequence of confessing sin.
Then I repeat it, beloved: there was a reason why David did not
confess his sin right away. His pride, his ego, whatever it was,
got in the way. But look at the joy that he deprived himself
of! His body wasted away, and that while he could be so happy.
God's hand was heavy upon him, and that while he could experience
deliverance from every trouble. His life was dull, and that was
his own fault. Now that he has confessed his sin, he understands
that a life of groaning is his own doing. Confessing may be hard,
but David experiences that it is certainly worth it. The prize
is happiness, blessedness!
So we are faced with the concrete instruction of the psalm for us. Yes, it can be so hard and humiliating to admit that we sinned in the way we spoke to another, sinned in our abuse of another person, sinned in the thoughts we treasure about another, sinned in the hurt we did to another in order to keep a dollar in our own pocket. Nevertheless, beloved, this is what we shall have to do: admit, confess. Say to God: 'Lord, what I did here and here was sin; this is what I did.' And then be assured, beloved, that the Lord will indeed forgive, lift that load of sin from your shoulders.
And then we are to believe too that those sins duly confessed
are forgiven. We may have the bad habit of letting the sins for
which we have asked forgiveness continue to bother us. But David
knows that a confessed sin is a forgiven sin; it's been lifted
from us, it's gone. David did not doubt that God would indeed
forgive, according to his promise, even when his sin had been
so terrible as to include adultery, theft and murder. But God's
promise is: it's forgiven, and therefore David can sing his jubilation:
how happy is the man whose sin is forgiven. Confessed
From this wonderful consequence of confession, brothers and sisters, it follows that none is to be "like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding." A dumb animal may have to be harnessed, disciplined, before it will do what it is supposed to do. But, says David to Israel and so also to us, don't you be like that. Let it not be necessary for God to discipline you, be it by making your body waste away or by using the consistory to place you under church discipline, till you are forced to confess your sins to Him. Says David: I myself did not confess my sins, I was without understanding. So God had to lay His hand heavily upon me. But because I tell you about both the heavy hand of God and the happiness that results from forgiveness, don't you be like me and prompt God to discipline you. Confess your sins, expose them all before God now, so that you can experience what forgiveness is, what grace is. Know this: the wicked, those who refuse to admit their sins, experience many pangs. But the righteous, those who trust in the Lord to deal in mercy with those who confess their sins to Him, they shall taste the steadfast love of the Lord (vs 10). And therefore, beloved, let each of us individually learn from David, from the Lord, in Ps 32. Confess our sins, uncover our iniquities now, that they might be forgiven now. It's either that, or experiencing the wrath of God.
3. There remains one more point that needs our attention. The forgiveness mentioned in our psalm: on what is it based?? Is it based on the fact of confession of sins as such? What David says in our text would suggest that Yes, forgiveness is based on confession. After all, he lays beside each other the notion of confession and forgiveness, and so makes forgiveness dependent on confession.
Now, there is a way, brothers and sisters, in which it is true that forgiveness depends on confession. Yet we also know from the rest of Scripture that the ground for forgiveness does not lie in any deed on the part of a sinner; the ground for forgiveness lies outside of the sinner. The apostle Paul, when he wished to prove in his letter to the Romans that one is saved not by personal works but by grace alone, quoted Ps 32 as evidence; that's the point of Rom 4. No, David does not say it in so many words, but it is understood through the entire psalm: the ground for forgiveness lies on Calvary. David can go free, his sins can be lifted off of his shoulders, because there will come one day a righteous man who will satisfy for the adultery and murder and theft of king David. That heavy hand of God on David's shoulders: it can be taken away because there will come Another on whose shoulders will lie the full weight of God's heavy hand, the eternal weight of God's wrath on sin. Christ Jesus: there will be the fulfilment of the discipline of God that David experiences in his life.
It's not that David doesn't know the gospel of the Mediator; in
fact, he knows that gospel very well, for he's faced with it daily
as he goes to tabernacle with his sacrifices. But in Ps 32 he
does not mention this gospel in so many words. Why not? Because,
beloved, the accent in this psalm is not to fall on Jesus Christ
and the grace of forgiveness; the accent is rather to fall on
the responsibility of every individual. It is so true:
one does not receive forgiveness because of confession; we receive
forgiveness strictly and only because of the sacrifice of Jesus
Christ on the cross. But the point of Ps 32 is that Christ's
sacrifice on the cross for sins is not applied to us unless we
repent of sin, confess sin. Ps 32 teaches us that all our glorying
in the cross, all our statements that Christ died for me, all
our insistence that we have professed our faith and therefore
may be assured of forgiveness - all these help us nothing if we
do haven't the humility to confess our specific sins. Repeatedly
it's been said to you from this pulpit that Jesus Christ is our
Substitute; while we deserve the wrath of God because of our sins,
that wrath has been poured out instead on Jesus Christ so that
we are graciously spared. That's the gospel too that will be
laid before you again with the celebration of the Lord's supper
next week - God's heavy hand is moved from us to Christ so that
we go free. It is this heart of the gospel that tells us what
the basis for our forgiveness is. But if this gospel, beloved,
makes you think that forgiveness is easy to obtain, if you think
that all you need to do is confess your sins in general and ask
for general forgiveness and then it's granted, then you are
dead wrong. David experienced that God is not satisfied with
generalities. The ground for forgiveness lay for David in Jesus
Christ, certainly, but he could not receive forgiveness from God
unless he had personally confessed precisely that which
caused the friction between himself and his God. It was not until
David went on his knees and acknowledged that that one specific
act was blatant sin that God lifted the burden of sin from off
his shoulders and placed it on the shoulders of Jesus Christ.
Forgiveness is certainly rooted in Jesus Christ alone, absolutely.
But forgiveness of sins is not granted without confession!
We hope to attend the Supper of the Lord next Sunday. And if the Lord comes back before next Sunday, we look forward to being present at the Supper of the Lord on the New Earth. But let it be fixed in our minds: if we refuse to confess certain sins, be it a one time wrong or repeated transgressions of God's law, then know it, beloved, know it: there is no forgiveness. And hence no place for us at the table of the Lord, neither the one in the front of the Church next Sunday nor the one set out for the saints on the last day.
Let us then, dear brothers and sisters, be concrete in confessing our sins. We cover them up, ignore them, pretend they're not there, to our own hurt. Let it not be necessary for the Lord to press His hand onto you because of your own stubbornness. Confess, with the sure conviction that sins confessed are sins forgiven, lifted from us for Christ's sake. Then go, be happy, and rejoice in the warm relation that you may have with Christ, so warm that you may even sit at His table. Amen.