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Words: C. Maude Battersby (data unknown); adapted by Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (b. Aug. 18, 1856; d. Sept. 15, 1932)
Music: Charles Hutchinson Gabriel
Note: This gospel song written around 1911 by a woman named Maude Battersby–of whom we know nothing more. It has been recorded by Elvis Presley, and Willie Nelson, and a number of other secular artists. Though not conclusive in itself, this broad appeal could raise some questions about the song’s depth and biblical spirituality. This is further suggested by the fact that I could find only one of the major hymnals that included it (Living Hymns). However, even the song’s weakness provides a lesson for us.
Taking inventory is a big job. In commercial terms, an inventory is a list of goods not yet sold, like the merchandise the store has on hand. And for a large department store that may well include tens of thousands of items that must be accounted for. Sometimes extra help is hired to care for the task, as regular clerks have customers to attend to.
It’s also possible to take a personal inventory, to take stock of our lives. This will include an accounting of our gifts and opportunities, and our goals. For Christians, it will also involve an evaluation of our lives in the light the Bible. Have we been trusting in the Lord, and obeying God’s Word day be day? Another part this spiritual inventory will be the confession of sin. God’s promise to the people of God is:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:9).
King David did that. He had lusted after another man’s wife, a woman named Bathsheba. His adulterous relationship with her led to him arranging to have her husband killed, so he could marry her and make things look legitimate (II Sam. 11:1-27). Other people may have been fooled, but God knew. And He sent the prophet Nathan to deal with David and his double sin (II Sam. 12:1-14).
After he repented and confessed his sins, and after His fellowship with the Lord had been restored, David wrote Psalm 51 about his experience. It’s headed, “A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” The entire psalm is worthy of study, but here is a little of it. Listen to the clarity and passion with which David speaks.
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight” (vs. 1-4).
This earnest prayer contrasts sharply with Battersby’s song, that begins:
CH-1) If I have wounded any soul today,
If I have caused one foot to go astray,
If I have walked in my own willful way,
Dear Lord, forgive!
There are two major problems with that. The first is found in the word with which it begins, a word repeated seven times in the song. “If”? You mean you don’t know? Are you saying you have no sensitivity to sins committed only hours before? That when you lost your temper with your boy, there was no twinge of conscience? That when you lied to your wife about where you’d been, you forgot all about it? That is ridiculous!
Are there sins of which we are presently unaware? Certainly. And the Spirit of God, wisely and graciously, doesn’t dump the whole load on us, all at once. However, to be totally ignorant of the kind of things mentioned in this song–things that happened that very day–beggars belief.
Where is the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in that “if” (cf. Jn. 16:8; Acts 2:37)? Surely we are driven to the place of prayer to confess our sin(s) by the Spirit-prompted realization that we have acted contrary to the Word and will of God. Not by some vague concern that it could be, in some way of which we are not aware, we might possibly have done something that perhaps does not meet with God’s approval…maybe.
The other problem I can see lurking behind that word “today” is that it may be making confession into an almost meaningless ritual. If this individual has no idea whether he has sinned, or how, is this “confession” simply a kind of insurance policy, just in case? And will he go on and live his life the same way tomorrow, and use the same trite and mindless inventory tomorrow evening, and again the next day?
To “confess” means to agree (in Greek, homologeo, to say the same). It means we agree with the Lord about the terrible blackness of our sin. We understand that we have offended a holy God, and that we want to do it no more. That we are determined to forsake our sin and walk again in the path of holiness.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God….Restore to me the joy of my salvation….Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You” (vs. 10, 12-13). “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart” (vs. 17).
In true confession, we come to God with a broken heart, seeking mercy and cleansing. The Hebrew word for “contrite” (dakah) means to be crushed. It describes one who is bowed down under the weight of shame and guilt. There is none of that in this “if” song.
CH-2) If I have uttered idle words or vain,
If I have turned aside from want or pain,
Lest I myself shall suffer through the strain,
Dear Lord, forgive!
1) What are some other ways we can weaken a confession of wrong-doing, or try to evade our responsibility?
2) How is confession of sin connected with service for the Lord (Ps. 51:13)? (In other words, how does sin affect our service?)