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Cases and Directions About Confessing Sins and Injuries to Others.

by Richard Baxter (born 1615 - died 1691)

Cases about Confessing Sins and Injuries to others.

Quest. I In what cases is it a duty to confess wrongs to those that we have wronged?

Answer. 1. When in real injuries you are unable to make any restitution, and therefore must desire forgiveness, you cannot well do it without confession. 2. When you have wronged a man by a lie, or by false witness, or that he cannot be righted till you confess the truth. 3. When you have wronged a man in his honour or fame, where the natural remedy is to speak the contrary, and confess the wrong. 4. When it is necessary to cure the revengeful inclination of him whom you have wronged, or to keep up his charity, and so to enable him to love you and forgive you. 5. Therefore all known wrongs to another must he confessed, except when impossibility, or some in effect which is greater than the good, be like to follow. Because all men are apt to abate their love to those that injure them, and therefore all have need of this remedy. And we must do our part to be forgiven by all whom we have wronged.

Quest. II. What causes will excuse us from confessing wrongs to others?

Answer. 1. When full recompense may be made without it and no forgiveness of the wrong is necessary from the injured, nor any of the aforesaid causes require it. 2. When the wrong is secret and not known to the injured party, and the confessing of it would but trouble his mind, and do him more harm than good. 3. When the injured party is so implacable and inhumane that he would make use of the confession to the ruin of the penitent, or to bring upon him greater penalty than he deserveth. 4. When it would injure a third person who is Interested in the business, or bring them under oppression and undeserved misery. 5. When it tendeth to the dishonour of religion, and to make it scorned because of the fault of the penitent confessor. 6. When it tendeth to set people together by the ears, and breed dissension, or otherwise injure the commonwealth or government. 7. In general, it is no duty to confess our sin to him that we have wronged, when, all things considered, it is like in the judgment of the truly wise, to do more hurt than good for it is appointed as a means to good, and not to do evil.

Quest. III. If I have had a secret thought or purpose to wrong another, am I bound to confess it, when it was never executed?

Answer. 1. You are not bound to confess it to the party whom you intended to wrong, as any act of justice to make him reparation; nor to procure his forgiveness to yourself: because it was no wrong to him indeed, nor do thoughts and things secret come under his judgment, and therefore need not his pardon. 2. But it is a sin against God, and to him you must confess it. 3. And by accident, finis gratia, you must confess it to men, in case it be necessary to be a warning to others, or to the increase of their hatred of sin, or their watchfulness, or to exercise your own humiliation, or prevent a relapse, or to quiet your conscience, or in a word, when it is like to do more good than hurt.

Quest. IV. To whom, and in what cases, must I confess to men my sins against God, and when not?

Answer. The cases about that confession which belongeth to church discipline, belongeth to the second part; and therefore shall here be passed by. But briefly and in general, I may answer the question thus There are conveniences and inconveniences to be compared together, and you must make your choice accordingly. The reasons which may move you to confess your sins to another are these: 1. When another hath sinned with you, or persuaded or drawn you to it, and must be brought to repentance with you. 2. When your conscience hath in vain tried all other fit means for peace or comfort, and cannot obtain it, and there is any probability of such advice from others as may procure it. 3. When you have need of advice to resolve your conscience, whether it be sin or not, or of what degree, or what you are obliged to in order to forgiveness. 4. When you have need of counsel to prevent the sin for the time to come, and mortify the habit of it.

The inconveniences which may attend it, are such as these: 1. You are not certain of another's secrecy; his mind may change, or his understanding fail, or he may fall out with you, or some great necessity may befall him to drive him to open what you tried him. 2. Then whether your shame or loss will not make you repent it, should be foreseen. 3. And how far others may suffer in it. 4. And how far it will reflect dishonour on religion. All things being considered on both sides, the preponderating reasons must prevail.

Tit. 2 Directions about Confessing Sin to others.

Direct. I. Do nothing which you are not willing to confess, or which may trouble you much, if your confession should be opened. Prevention is the easiest way: and foresight of the consequents should make a wise man still take heed.

Direct. II. When you have sinned or wronged any, weigh well the consequents on both sides before you make your confession: that you may neither do that which you may wish undone again, nor causelessly refuse your duty: and that inconveniences foreseen may be the better undergone when they cannot be avoided.

Direct. III. When a well-informed conscience telleth you that confession is your duty, let not self-respects detain you from it, but do it whatever it may cost you. Be true to conscience, and do not willfully put off your duty. To live in the neglect of a known duty, is to live in a known sin: which will give you cause to question your sincerity, and cause more terrible effects in your souls, than the inconveniences of confession could ever have been.

Direct. IV. Look to your repentance that it be deep and absolute, and free from hypocritical exceptions and reserves. For half and hollow repentance will not carry you through hard and costly duties. but that which is sincere, will break over all it will make you so angry with yourselves and sins, that you will he as inclined to take shame to yourselves in an honest revenge, as an angry man is to bring shame upon his adversary. We are seldom over-tender of a man's reputation whom we fall out with: and repentance is a falling out with ourselves. We can bear sharp remedies, when we feel the pain, and perceive the mortal danger of the disease: and repentance is such a perception of our pain and danger. We will not tenderly hide a mortal enemy, but bring him to the most open shame: and repentance causeth us to hate sin as our mortal enemy. It is lack of repentance that maketh men so unwilling to make a just confession.

Direct. V. Take heed of pride, which maketh men so tender of their reputation, that they will venture their souls to save their honour: men call it bashfulness, and say they cannot confess for shame; but it is pride that maketh them so much ashamed to be known by men to be offenders, while they less fear the eye and judgment of the Almighty. Impudence is a mark of a profligate sinner; but he that pretendeth shame against his duty, is foolishly proud; and should be more ashamed to neglect his duty, and continue impenitent in his sin. A humble person can perform a self-abasing, humbling duty.

Direct. VI. Know the true uses of confession of sin, and use it accordingly. Do it with a hatred of sin, to express yourselves implacable enemies to it: do it to repair the wrong which you have done to others, and the dishonour you have done to the Christian religion, and to warn the hearers to take heed of sin and temptation by your fall; it is worth ail your shame, if you save one sinner by it from his sin: do it to lay the greater obligation upon yourselves for the future, to avoid the sin and live more carefully; for it is a double shame to sin after such humbling confessions.

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