Confessing or Feeling


Elder Mark Green


“Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Mt. 3.5-8). It should be noted very closely that there were two distinguishable groups of people mentioned in this passage. They had different motives for petitioning John for baptism and his response to them was in accord with those motives.

The common people who came to John came confessing their sins. They felt to be sinners, acknowledged their sins, were ashamed of them and expressed an intention and desire to turn from them. In short, they gave evidence of repentance. Our Lord pointed out as proof of the publican’s gracious state the fact that he smote upon his breast and cried out to God for mercy. He felt his sins and acknowledged his sins publicly. Those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” are in a blessed condition. Those who feel their sins do so because they are born of God. Those people who came to John with these feelings and expressions were baptized by him in the river Jordan.

Many (not all) of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John with a very different motivation. They were “fleeing from the wrath to come.” They did not come with repentant hearts, but with a desire to escape future punishment. Their reason came not from their hearts, but purely from reason. It may have been that they were “covering all their bases,” as we might say today; they wanted to make sure they had done whatever was necessary to stay out of hell, and were wanting to include John’s baptism in their calculations - just in case.

True repentance of sin is as sure an evidence of the grace of God in the heart as there can be. Fleeing from the wrath to come is evidence of nothing more than having sense to know that fire is hot and wanting to escape it.