A Brief Admonition to Confession (1529)
Note on this document
In reference to this Appendix as an admonition to confession, it is wanting in the oldest Wittemburg edition of the Larger Catechism, as well as in the corpp. doctrina of Thuringia, Julia, and Brunswick, and also in the edition of the writings of Luther, vol. 4, published at Jena; the reason of which seems to have been, because Luther himself did not subjoin it in the first edition, but added it at a later date. This appears to be very probable from the fact that in the commencement he appeals to his general doctrine concerning liberty of confession; and by this, very probably, he has reference to various passages in both Catechisms and to his other writings, and particularly to the Articles of Smalcald composed by him in which most of it occurs. Hence this addition may, at first indeed, have been attached to the Catechism about the time of the entire collection of the Book of Concord, since it is also found added to the Larger Catechism in the edition of his works, vol. 6, published at Wittemburg in 1570. From these facts as well as from the general character of this addition, it is evident that it was not at all designed as a compo-nent part or a necessary appendage to the Symbolical Books; but merely as a closer and clearer exposition of the article concerning confession, and as a common warning against the abuse of this doctrine. So that, even for this reason indeed, the continuation of this piece may be allowed among the Symbolical Books; but in this respect it is left entirely arbitrary, since it cannot be properly regarded as a part of the Symbolical Books. Hence it is not found in the Dresden, Tibbing, Frankford, Stuttgard, Heidelburg, Leipsic, and other editions, nor in the Latin Concordia: and under the view mentioned above, it was received into the quarto edition of the Book of Concord published at Magdeburg in 1580, and in several editions of the Catechism, and among these in the new Arnold edition. See Dr. Baumgarten’s Christian Book of Concord, published by Gebauer, at Halle, in 1717, page 799.
Or, from the Concordia Edition :
Note: Luther was very concerned to purge false notions about private Confession, but he never intended the practice itself to fall into disuse. He laments that since private Confession is no longer mandatory among Lutherans, people neglect it. In addition to private Confession to a pastor, there are two additional kinds of confession. One is confession to God alone; this is practiced throughout one’s life. There is also the confession of sins one Christian makes to another. Christians are to confess their sins to one another and forgive one another openly and publicly without hesitation. Christians absolve one another of sins because of the gift of Absolution Christ has given to the Church, commanding us to absolve one another. In his exhortation Luther admonishes Christians to privately confess their sins so that they will hear the Lord’s absolving Word from the lips of another human being. God’s Word applied in this very personal way is another great treasure, which is so great and precious we should be willing to run more than a hundred miles to receive it. (See AC XI , XII and XXV ; SA III III and VIII .)
The Exhortation first appeared in the 1529 revised edition of the Large Catechism. However, it did not appear in the original 1580 German and 1584 Latin editions of the Book of Concord; therefore, it is not included by Dau and Bente in the Concordia Triglotta. We have included it here since readers are used to having it from other editions of the Book of Concord. The following text is adapted from Luther’s Large Catechism: A Contemporary Translation with Study Questions, tr. F. Samuel Janzow (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1978), pp 122-27.
The above is an example of the text found in the Concordia edition of the Book of Concord. This is the introduction to the Exhortation to Confession. It is clearly easier to read than older versions of the Book of Concord. Purchase your Concordia edition today - the pocket edition is convenient and easy to use in bible classes or for your study.
The following is from the Concordia edition of the Book of Concord:
Here now follows an exhortation to Confession.
1 We have always urged that Confession should be voluntary and that the pope’s tyranny should cease. As a result we are now rid of his coercion and set free from the intolerable load and burden that he laid upon Christendom. As we all know from experience, there had been no rule so burdensome as the one that forced everyone to go to Confession on pain of committing the most serious of mortal sins. 2 That law also placed on consciences the heavy burden and torture of having to list all kinds of sin, so that no one was ever able to confess perfectly enough. 3 The worst was that no one taught or even knew what Confession might be or what help and comfort it could give. Instead, it was turned into sheer terror and a hellish torture that one had to go through even if one detested Confession more than anything. 4 These three oppressive things have now been lifted, and we have been granted the right to go to Confession freely, under no pressure of coercion or fear; also, we are released from the torture of needing to list all sins in detail; besides this we have the advantage of knowing how to make a beneficial use of Confession for the comfort and strengthening of our consciences.
5 Everyone is now aware of this. But unfortunately people have learned it only too well. They do as they please and apply their freedom wrongfully as if it meant that they ought not or must not go to Confession. For we readily understand whatever is to our advantage, and we find it especially easy to take in whatever is mild and gentle in the Gospel. But, as I have said, such pigs should not be allowed near the Gospel nor have any part of it. They should stay under the pope and let themselves continue to be driven and pestered to confess, to fast, and so on. For whoever does not want to believe the Gospel, live according to it, and do what a Christian ought to be doing, should not enjoy any of its benefits either. 6 Imagine their wanting to enjoy only the benefits without accepting any of the responsibilities or investing anything of themselves - what sort of thing is that! We do not want to make preaching available for that sort nor to grant permission that our freedom and its enjoyment be opened up to them. Instead, we will let the pope and the likes of him take over and force them to his will, genuine tyrant that he is. The rabble that will not obey the Gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8) deserves nothing else than the kind of jailer who is God’s devil and hangman. 7 But to others who gladly hear the Gospel we must keep on preaching, admonishing, encouraging, and causing them not to forget the precious and comforting treasure offered in the Gospel. Therefore, we here intend to say also a few words about Confession in order to instruct and admonish the uninformed.
8 In the first place, I have said that besides the Confession here being considered there are two other kinds, which may even more properly be called the Christians' common confession.They are (a) the confession and plea for forgiveness made to God alone and (b) the confession that is made to the neighbor alone. These two kinds of confession are included in the Lord’s Prayer, in which we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12), and so on. 9 In fact, the entire Lord’s Prayer is nothing else than such a confession. For what are our petitions other than a confession that we neither have nor do what we ought, as well as a plea for grace and a cheerful conscience? Confession of this sort should and must continue without letup as long as we live. For the Christian way essentially consists in acknowledging ourselves to be sinners and in praying for grace.
10 Similarly, the other of the two confessions, the one that every Christian makes to his neighbor, is also included in the Lord’s Prayer. For here we mutually confess our guilt and our desire for forgiveness (Matthew 5:23-24). Now, all of us are guilty of sinning against one another; therefore, we may and should publicly confess this before everyone without shrinking in one another’s presence. 11 For what the proverb says is true, “If anyone is perfect, then all are.” There is no one at all who fulfills his obligations toward God and his neighbor (Romans 3:10-12). Besides such universal guilt, there is also the particular guilt of the person who has provoked another to rightful anger and needs to ask his pardon. 12 So we have in the Lord’s Prayer a double absolution: there we are forgiven our offenses against God and those against our neighbor, and there we forgive our neighbor and become reconciled to him.
13 Besides this public, daily, and necessary confession, there is also the confidential confession that is only made before a single brother. If something particular weighs upon us or troubles us, something with which we keep torturing ourselves and can find no rest, and we do not find our faith to be strong enough to cope with it, then this private form of confession gives us the opportunity of laying the matter before some brother. We may receive counsel, comfort, and strength when and however often we wish. 14 That we should do this is not included in any divine command, as are the other two kinds of confession. Rather, it is offered to everyone who may need it, as an opportunity to be used by him as his need requires. The origin and establishment of private Confession lies in the fact that Christ Himself placed His Absolution into the hands of His Christian people with the command that they should absolve one another of their sins (Ephesians 4:32). So any heart that feels it sinfulness and desires consolation has here a sure refuge when he hears God’s Word and makes the discovery that God through a human being looses and absolves him from his sins.
15 So notice then, that Confession, as I have often said, consists of two parts. The first is my own work and action, when I lament my sins and desire comfort and refreshment for my soul. The other part is a work that God does when He declares me free of my sin through His Word placed in the mouth of a man. It is this splendid, noble, thing that makes Confession so lovely, so comforting. 16 It used to be that we emphasized it only as our work; all that we were then concerned about was whether our act of confession was pure and perfect in every detail. We paid no attention to the second and most necessary part of Confession, nor did we proclaim it. We acted just as if Confession were nothing but a good work by which payment was to be made to God, so that if the confession was inadequate and not exactly correct in every detail, then the Absolution would not be valid and the sin unforgiven. 17 By this the people were driven to the point where everyone had to despair of making so pure a Confession (an obvious impossibility) and where no one could feel at ease in his conscience or have confidence in his Absolution. So they not only rendered the precious Confession useless to us but also made it a bitter burden (Matthew 23:4) causing noticeable spiritual harm and ruin.
18 In our view of Confession, therefore, we should sharply separate its two parts far from each other. We should place slight value on our part in it. But we should hold in high and great esteem God’s Word in the Absolution part of Confession. We should not proceed as if we intended to perform and offer Him a splendid work, but simply to accept and receive something from Him. You dare not come saying how good or how bad you are. 19 If you are a Christian, I in any case, know well enough that you are. If you are not, I know that even better. But what you must see to is that you lament your problem and that you let yourself be helped to acquire a cheerful heart and conscience.
20 Moreover, no one may now pressure you with commandments. Rather, what we say is this: Whoever is a Christian or would like to be one is here faithfully advised to go and get the precious treasure. If you are no Christian and do not desire such comfort, we shall leave it to another to use force on you. 21 By eliminating all need for the pope’s tyranny, command, and coercion, we cancel them with a single sweep. As I have said, we teach that whoever does not go to Confession willingly and for the sake of obtaining the Absolution, he may as well forget about it. Yes, and whoever goes around relying on the purity of his act of making confession, let him stay away. 22 Nevertheless, we strongly urge you by all means to make confession of your need, not with the intention of doing a worthy work by confessing but in order to hear what God has arranged for you to be told. What I am saying is that you are to concentrate on the Word, on the Absolution, to regard it as a great and precious and magnificently splendid treasure, and to accept it with all praise and thanksgiving to God.
23 If this were explained in detail and if the need that ought to move and lead us to make confession were pointed out, then one would need little urging or coercion. For everyone’s own conscience would so drive and disturb him that he would be glad to do what a poor and miserable beggar does when he hears that a rich gift of money or clothing is being handed out at a certain place. So as not to miss it, he would run there as fast as he can and would need no bailiff to beat and drive him on. 24 Now, suppose that in place of the invitation one were to substitute a command to the effect that all beggars should run to that place but not say why nor mention what they should look for and receive there. What else would the beggar do but make the trip with distaste, without thinking of going to get a gift but simply of letting people see what a poor, miserable beggar he is? This would bring him little joy and comfort but only greater resentment against the command that was issued.
25 In just this way the pope’s preachers kept silent in the past about the splendid gift and inexpressible treasure to be had through Confession. All they did was to drive people in crowds to Confession, with no further aim than to let them see what impure, dirty people they were. Who could go willingly to Confession under such circumstances? 26 We, however, do not say that people should look at you to see how filthy you are, using you as a mirror to preen themselves. Rather, we give this counsel: If you are poor and miserable, then go to Confession and make use of its healing medicine. 27 He who feels his misery and need will no doubt develop such a longing for it that he will run toward it with joy. But those who pay no attention to it and do not come of their own accord, we let them go their way. Let them be sure of this, however, that we do not regard them as Christians.
28 So we teach what a splendid, precious, and comforting thing Confession is. Furthermore, we strongly urge people not to despise a blessing that in view of our great need is so priceless. Now, if you are a Christian, then you do not need either my pressuring or the pope’s orders, but you will undoubtedly compel yourself to come to Confession and will beg me for a share in it. 29 However, if you want to despise it and proudly continue without Confession, then we must draw the conclusion that you are no Christian and should not enjoy the Sacrament either. For you despise what no Christian should despise. In that way you make it so that you cannot have forgiveness of your sins. This is a sure sign that you also despise the Gospel.
30 To sum it up, we want to have nothing to do with coercion. However, if someone does not listen to or follow our preaching and its warning, we will have nothing to do with him (1 Corinthians 5:11), nor may he have any share in the Gospel. If you were a Christian, then you ought to be happy to run more than a hundred miles to Confession and not let yourself be urged to come. You should rather come and compel us to give you the opportunity. 31 For in this matter the compulsion must be the other way around: we must act under orders, you must come into freedom. We pressure no one, but we let ourselves be pressured, just as we let people compel us to preach to administer the Sacrament.
32 When I urge you to go to Confession, I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian. If I have brought you to the point of being a Christian, I have thereby also brought you to Confession. For those who really desire to be true Christians, to be rid of their sins, and to have a cheerful conscience already possess the true hunger and thirst. They reach for the bread, just as Psalm 42:1 says of a hunted deer, burning in the heat with thirst, 33 “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for You, O God.” In other words, as a deer with anxious and trembling eagerness strains toward a fresh, flowing stream, so I yearn anxiously and tremblingly for God’s Word, Absolution, the Sacrament, and so forth. 34 See, that would be teaching right about Confession, and people could be given such a desire and love for it that they would come and run after us for it, more than we would like. Let the papists plague and torment themselves and others who pass up the treasure and exclude themselves from it. 35 Let us, however, lift our hands in praise and thanksgiving to God (1 Timothy 2:8) for having graciously brought us to this our understanding of Confession. myText; showPageText(); ?>
The following text is currently from the Henkel edition of the Book of Concord.
In reference to Confession, we have ever taught that it should be free, that the tyranny of the Pope should be put down, and that we should be liberated from all his constraints, and relieved from the intolerable burdens imposed on the Christian community. For hitherto, as we have all experienced, nothing has been more grievous than the compulsion of every one to confession, at the hazard of incurring the highest displeasure. And this, moreover, was so very burdensome, and the consciences of men were tormented to such a degree with the enumeration of so many kinds of sins, that no one could confess fully enough; and what was the worst, no one taught or knew what confession was, or the benefit and consolation resulting from it, but made of it nothing but anguish and fiendish torture, we being compelled to submit to it, when at the same time there was nothing to which we were more averse. We are now favored by proper instruction on these points, that we are permitted to make our confession through no constraint or fear, and are relieved of the torments resulting from so close an enumeration of all sins; and besides, we have the advantage to know how we may happily use it to the consolation and strengthening of our consciences.
But all men are inclined to this, and have, indeed, too readily learned to do that in which they delight, and thus assume to themselves the liberty as if they had no obligation or necessity to confess. For that which meets our approbation we soon embrace, and it is easily imbibed, where the Gospel operates gently and mildly. But such creatures, I have said, ought not to be under the Gospel, nor enjoy any of its blessings; but they should remain under the Pope, and suffer themselves to be coerced and tormented, so as to be compelled to confess, fast, &c., more than before. For whoever will neither believe the Gospel or live according to it, and do that which it is the duty of a Christian to perform, should likewise not enjoy its blessings. What would it be, if you wished to have enjoyment only, and would neither add nor contribute any thing to it? For this reason we would have nothing preached to such persons; and by our consent, we would permit none of our liberty to be shared or enjoyed by them, but suffer the Pope or his representative to reign over them again, who would constrain them like a real tyrant; for nothing else belongs to that order of men, who will not be obedient to the Gospel, but a task-master who is God’s avenger and executioner. But to others who freely permit themselves to be informed, we must ever preach, encouraging, inciting, and entreating them not to suffer that precious and consolatory treasure, which is presented through the Gospel, to pass in vain. We shall, therefore, say something also in reference to Confession, for the purpose of instructing and admonishing the inexperienced.
In the first place, I have said that besides this confession, concerning which we here speak, there are two kinds of confession, which might rather be called a common confession for all Christians; namely, that in which we confess to God alone, or to our neighbor alone, and ask for remission, acknowledgments which are also implied in the Lord’s Prayer, where we say: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Yes, the whole of this Prayer is nothing else than such a confession; for what is our prayer, but that we confess our wants and the neglect of that which it is our duty to perform, desiring grace and a peaceful conscience? Such confession shall and must be made without omission, while we live; for in this, especially, consists the character of a Christian, that we acknowledge ourselves to be sinners, and pray for grace.
In like manner the other confession, in which each one acknowledges before his neighbor, is also included in the Lord’s Prayer, namely, where we confess and forgive trespasses among each other, before we approach God and ask for remission, Now, all of us are guilty; hence we should and may with propriety confess publicly, without fearing one another; for no one is pious, and no one performs his duty towards God or his neighbor; yet besides this general, there is also a particular guilt,where one has provoked another to anger, on account of which he should ask his pardon. Consequently, in the Lord’s Prayer, we have two absolutions, namely, for sins committed against God, and for sins committed against our neighbor, which are forgiven us if we forgive our neighbor and reconcile ourselves with him.
Besides this useful, daily, and open confession, there is also a confession which may take place privately between two brothers. And if, from some special cause, we become disturbed with restless anxiety, and find our faith insufficient, we can make our complaint to a brother in this private confession, and obtain his advice, comfort, and support, whenever we desire. For this confession is not embraced in a command, like the other two, but it is left optional with every one who needs it, to use it to his necessity. And it derives its origin and authority from the fact that Christ himself has placed and committed the absolution into the mouth of his Christian community, to release us from sins. Now wherever there is a heart which feels its sins and desires consolation, it has here an unfailing resource in the Word of God, that God through a human being releases and acquits it of sins.
Thus observe then, as I have frequently said, that confession comprises two parts. The first is our work and act, to deplore our sins and desire consolation and renovation of soul. The other is a work of God, who through the work, in the mouth of man, absolves me from my sins, which is the chief and most valuable thing, rendering it desirable and consolatory. Now hitherto our work alone was insisted upon, and no further thought was indulged but for us to confess fully indeed; but the other most essential part was neither regarded nor preached; precisely as if it were only a good work, with which we might compensate God; and that unless confession were made perfectly and in the most accurate manner, absolution would avail nothing, and our sins would not be forgiven. By this means the people were driven to such excess that every one had to despair of confessing so fully, (which was impossible,) and no conscience was able to be at peace, or to depend on this absolution. Thus they have rendered this desirable confession not only useless to us, but severe and grievous, to the evident injury and ruin of souls.
For this reason we should so view confession as to distinguish and separate these two parts far from each other, and esteem our own work as insignificant; but the Word of God we should esteem as great and exalted; and we should not enter upon our confession as if we wished to perform a precious work, and make a contribution to God, but to obtain and receive something from him. You need not come and declare how pious or wicked you are; if you are a Christian, I know it well enough otherwise; if you are none, I know it still more readily. But it is to be done, in order that you may lament your wants, and obtain help, a joyful heart, and a peaceful conscience.
No one is allowed to force you to confession by authority; but we say, whoever is a Christian, or freely wishes to be one, has an impressive admonition here, to enter upon his confession, and obtain the precious treasure. If you are no Christian, or do not desire this consolation, we shall let some one else compel you. By this means we abolish altogether the Pope’s tyrannical authority, which is nowhere to be tolerated; for, as said, we teach that whoever does not go to confession willingly and for the sake of absolution, should omit it. Yes, whoever presumes, on account of the purity of his confession, to rely on his own work, no matter how pure and excellent he may have make his confession, let him abstain from it. But we admonish you to confess and make known your wants, not in order Page 546 to perform it as a work, but to hear what God permits to be declared to you; the word, I say, or the absolution, you should consider, and esteem great and precious, receiving it with all the honor and gratitude, as an excellent and valuable treasure.
Should we illustrate this, and in connection with it exhibit the necessity which should urge and impel us to the confession of our sins, we would need but little compulsion or constraint; our own conscience would truly urge each one, and so alarm him, that he would be glad of the opportunity to confess his sins; and he would embrace it like a poor indigent beggar, when he hears that at a certain place a rich distribution of money and clothing is made: here there is no need for a beadle to urge and to force him; he would indeed run of himself with whatever speed his physical powers would allow, lest he should fail in securing these benefits. Now, if we were to enjoin a command respecting it, that all beggars must run thither, insisting on this alone, and keeping silent in reference to what should be sought and obtained there, how could it be otherwise than that they would approach with reluctance, not expecting to obtain any thing there, but to be exposed in their poverty and imperfection? From this there would be but little enjoyment and consolation derived, but they would become only the more hostile to this injunction, as if it were imposed upon them for reproach and derision, compelling them to let their poverty and wretchedness be seen.
Even so the legates of the Pope have hitherto remained silent with respect to this rich and excellent privilege and inexpressible treasure, forcing multitudes to confession for no other purpose than to expose our impurity and pollution. Who, under these circumstances, could go to confession with cheerfulness? We do not say, however, that people must see how full of pollution you are, and thus contrast themselves with you; but that they should advise you, and say: If you are poor and wretched, come, and use this salutary remedy. Now whoever feels his want and wretchedness, will indeed experience such a desire for confession, that he will attend to it with pleasure; but those who do not regard it or come of themselves, we suffer to take their own course; but this they must know, that we do not regard them as Christians.
Thus then we teach how excellent, how precious, and consolatory confession is; we admonish, moreover, that this precious treasure should not be held in contempt, but be regarded as highly necessary. Now if you are a Christian, you need neither my constraint nor the Pope’s command, but you will indeed importune, and entreat me, that you may become a participant in it. But if you despise it, and go on so haughtily without confessing, we conclude that you are no Christian; and that you should also not enjoy the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper; for you despise that which no Christian should despise, and by this means render it impossible for you to have remission of sins. It is a sure indication too that you hold the Gospel in contempt.
In a word, we would know of no constraint; but we have nothing to do with those who neither hear nor obey our preaching and admonition; nor shall they enjoy any of the privileges of the Gospel. If you were a Christian, you should be glad to embrace the opportunity of going even a hundred miles or more to discharge the duty, and not permit yourself to be compelled, but come and urge us to hear your confession. For here the constraint must be reversed, so that we are subjected to the command, and you be vested with the liberty; we force no one, but permit ourselves to be urged, even as we are constrained to preach, and to administer the sacraments.
When we admonish to confession, therefore, we do nothing else but admonish every one to become a Christian; if I succeed in bringing you to this, I have also brought you to confession. For those who long to be pious Christians, to be free from their sins, and to have joyful consciences, have the right hunger and thirst already, eagerly to grasp this bread even as the hart when pursued, and wearied with heat and thirst, as the 42d Psalm, verse 1, says: As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. That is, as longing and anxious as the hart is after the fresh streams, so anxious and concerned am I about God’s Word or absolution and the Sacrament. Behold, this is correct teaching concerning confession; thus we should create a love and desire for it, so that people would come to it, and solicit us more than we might wish or desire. We shall let the Papists plague and torment themselves and other people who do not esteem this treasure, and debar themselves from it; but let us lift up our hands, and praise and thank God, that we have arrived at this knowledge and grace. Amen.