Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
This proverb is fragrant with the aroma of the Gospel. Its two lines describe the two sides of a contrast. That much is clear enough. The question becomes how do we accurately describe that contrast? Unless we do, the proverb’s power will elude us.
The different men in the two halves of the proverb share a common problem: sin (“transgressions” in the 1st line; “them” in the 2nd). The contrast comes in (1) the men’s very different responses to their sin (“conceals” vs. “confesses and forsakes”); and (2) the very different outcomes of their differing responses (“will not prosper” vs. “will obtain mercy”).
This proverb does not describe a contrast between a person who realizes he’s a sinner and someone who doesn’t. Both men in this story realize they’re sinners. The 2nd man obviously does because he “confesses and forsakes them.” The 1st man is just as much aware of his sins because he “conceals his transgressions.”
Nor is this a contrast between greater and lesser sinners. The punch this proverb packs has nothing to do with “degrees” of sin; it has to do with the fact that these two men start in an identical place: each in crisis because of his sin.
The contrast is between a man who takes the problem of his sin into his own hands by covering it up (man #1) and a man who places the problem of his sin into God’s hands by uncovering it in confession (man #2). The irony is that by hiding his sin from God, man #1 is denying himself mercy from God, something that man #2—no less a sinner than man #1—does receive. Sin that man covers will be uncovered by God. Sin that man uncovers in confession will be covered by God’s mercy.
All sin is covered sin. The only question is by whom? Will we be the coverers of our own sin (in concealment) and thus cut ourselves off from God’s mercy OR will we be the uncoverers (in confession) of our sin to God so that He will be the One who covers them in His mercy?
Jesus Christ is the Guarantor of this proverb’s promise. Because He gave Himself to bear our sins in His body on the Cross (1 Peter 2:24); because He was literally made our sin on the Cross (2 Corinthians 5:21), and willingly left Himself uncovered as our Substitute against the full weight of God’s justice against our sins, we literally have nothing to hide that wasn’t already covered by God’s mercy in Christ at Calvary.
So, my friends, this proverb calls us to uncover what only Christ can cover. Come with your sins (again!) to Christ by faith. Listen to the Gospel-enriched wisdom of John Owen:
“Herein, then, I say, is Christ honored indeed, when we go to Him with our sins by faith, and say unto Him, ‘Lord, this is Thy work; this is that for which Thou camest into the world; this is that Thou hast undertaken to do. Thou callest for my burden, which is too heavy for me to bear; take it, blessed Redeemer; Thou tenderest Thy righteousness; that is my portion.’ Then is Christ honored, then is the glory of mediation ascribed to Him, when we walk with Him in this communion.” (Of Communion with God).