Tuesday, 22 September 2015

In an age when we so often feel that the secular cultural is against Christianity, it is refreshing to find the BBC featuring a series on students training for the Free Church of Scotland ministry and doing so in a most sympathetic manner.

For non Gaelic speakers this BBC Alba programme is fully subtitled, so English speakers are not left out.

One word of caution, however.  The series might give those unfamiliar with the Free Church the impression that we are a predominantly Gaelic speaking denomination who only sing metrical psalms.  Neither is true.  The Free Church is a national evangelical church embracing both English speaking and Gaelic speaking congregations. We are culturally diverse, united by a common commitment to the Reformed faith.  In part this is a powerful evidence of the unifying power of the Gospel.  It is natural, however, that the Gaelic language BBC service (Alba) features Gaelic speaking students - I could not see BBC Scotland, (the English language service) making an equivalent series!

Our theological college, the Edinburgh Theological Seminary, also trains ladies, not for the ministry of Word and Sacrament but for other pastoral roles within the church. Thus the female presence in lectures.  We also have non Free Church students who train at the ETS, and its student numbers are growing every year.

I for one will not only be looking to follow this excellent series, but praying that it might have a positive and spiritual benefit for all who watch it:

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Absolution of Sins

In Reformed worship, should we follow the confession of sin with a declaration of forgiveness and absolution of sin?  Many draw back from this out of a fear of Romanism and a false and shallow assurance given to those who show no real repentance.  Perhaps we are best to avoid the term absolution and instead speak ofthe  assurance of pardon and forgiveness.

However, there is a biblical foundation for the declaration of forgiveness: “ “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld”  (John 20:23)  That declaration is not based on some magical power in the minister enabling him to forgive sin; it is based on an authoritative declaration of the Gospel. Why should we avoid a positive declaration, “Your sins are forgiven”? Why should we be circuitous in declaring the Gospel promise of pardon?

Calvin says “We know that the gate of life is only opened by the Word of God. From this it follows that the key is put into the hand of the ministers of the Word … For Christ, by setting us free by His Gospel from the guilt of eternal death, looses the snares of the curse by which we were held bound. Therefore He declares that the doctrine is appointed for loosing our chains, so that, loosed by the voice and testimony of men on earth we may in actual fact be loosed also in heaven.”  (Commentary on Matthew 16:19)

However, if we are to authoritatively declare forgiveness of sin, what of “if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld”?  Again, this is a declaration based on the Word; it is the dark side of the Gospel, that judgment rests on those who refuse God’s mercy.  The Heidelberg Liturgy of 1563 includes a declaration of judgment on the impenitent:

But as there may be some among you, who continue to find pleasure in your sin and shame, or who persist in sin against their conscience, I declare to such, by the command of God, that the wrath and judgment of God abides upon them, and that all their sins are retained in heaven, and final;ly that they can never be delivered from eternal damnation, unless they repent.”  

Interesting, although I have occasionally heard a declaration of Gospel forgiveness in Reformed worship, I have never heard a declaration of judgement on the impenitent.

New Directory for Public Worship (8)


Editor’s Comments: The conclusion of the appendix from The Confession of Sins in "Hermann's Consultation," ed. 1545, on the absolution of sins.  Again, I have modernised where possible and changed bible quotes to the ESV.

Comfortable Words.

Hear the Gospel from John 3:16.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Or from 1 Tim. 1:15.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…

Or from John 3:35,36.

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…

Or from Acts 10:43.
To Christ all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Or from 1 John 2:1,2.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins.

When the pastor shall have proclaimed one of these Gospel words to the people, he shall add :

Seeing that our blessed Lord has left this power to His Church that she should absolve from their sins, and restore to the grace of our heavenly Father, all those who repent of their sins, and truly believe in Christ our Lord ; I, as a minister of Christ and of His Church, do now declare to all present here whose sins are grievous [distressing] to them, and who truly believe in Christ our Lord, and desire to follow Him as His disciples, the forgiveness of all their sins, the grace of God, and life everlasting, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Editor: I intend to take up this issue of the authoritative declaration of forgiveness of sin, (absolution), in Reformed worship in a later blog.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

New Directory for Public Worship (7)


Editor’s comment: The New Directory is very full in detailing public confession. It does so by giving both seed thoughts and examples of prayers under three headings: our sins against God, against our fellow men, and against the Gospel and the Holy Spirit.

Following these examples (given in a previous posting) the following appendices are included.

I will modernise as far as possible and conform scriptural quotations to the ESV. 

It is sad that this rich liturgical tradition is now all but lost in evangelical presbyterian worship, which owes more to the historical influence of radical Cromwellian influences than to the Scottish Reformation.


The Reformation Confession of Sins, 1525.

Heavenly Father, merciful and everlasting God, we acknowledge and confess before your Divine Majesty that we are poor miserable [pitiable] sinners, conceived and brought forth in sin and corruption. We are prone to all evil. We cannot, without you, do anything that is good. And we daily, and in many ways, transgress your holy commandments. In doing so we provoke your anger against us, and draw down upon ourselves, by your just judgment, death and destruction.

But, O Lord, we repent and are sorry from our hearts that we have so displeased you. We condemn ourselves and our misbehaviour, and pray that your grace may bring help to our distress and misery.

Be pleased, therefore, to have mercy upon us, O most gracious God and Father. Forgive us all our sins, through the holy sufferings of your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Forgive us our sins; and grant us now the gifts of your Holy Spirit. Increase these in us from day to day ; so that we, acknowledging with our whole hearts our own unrighteousness, may truly repent of such; that sin may be destroyed in us ; and that we may bring forth the fruits of righteousness and a pure life which are well pleasing to you, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Historical Note.

This Confession of Sins — "die offne Schuld," as itis called in German-speaking Reformed Churches — is ascribed to Oecolampadius, the friend of Zwingli, and the Reformer of Basel. It appears in the liturgy of the Protestant Church of Zurich, in 1525. It occurs in the French liturgy which was published by Calvin at Geneva, in 1541, but which had been drawn up by him previously, and had been used by Protestant pastors of Geneva for several years before it was printed.

It is the second " Confession of Sins " in the " Book of Geneva," used in that city in the English Congregation of which John Knox was minister. It is first in the Scottish Book of Common Order.

Calvin's Service- book, republished in Latin in 1545, was the chief source from which this Confession passed rapidly into use in  the Reformed Church catholic, and even in several of the Lutheran Churches. It stands, for example, in the present Liturgy of the National Church of W├╝rtemberg as the first Confession of Sins for Days of Fasting, being taken from the Service-book of the Church of the Palatinate.

It appears in English, among other prayers, at the end of an edition of Sternhold and Hopkins' Psalms, in 1566, under the title of "A Confession for all Estates and Times." Some writers have erroneously ascribed it to Beza, who used it in a striking scene at the Colloquy of Poissy, in 1561.

This ancient Confession of Sins is used in the Waldensian Church, both in the Valleys and in Italy. It is repeated in all the various branches of the Church of Holland and of the Church of the Huguenots, both in the Old World and in the New. It stands in all the Swiss, all the French, all the Rhineland Liturgies to this day. For almost four hundred years this Confession has been on the lips and in the heart of the Reformed Church all over the world.

The " General Confession " in the Anglican Communion Service, which appears in the first Prayerbook of Edward VI. (1549), is closely akin to the Reformation Confession of Sins, especially in the form given below, in which it appears in the document known as “Hermann's Consultation." The General Confession in the Morning and Evening Services of the Church of England is drawn, like much else in the Prayer-book, from Presbyterian sources. It comes from Calvin's Service-book of 1545 through the liturgies of Pollanus and Alasco. Comp. (Bannerman, Worship of the Presbyterian Churchy pp. 79, 80, and 1 1 3- 1 1 9, with the references there given. )

II. The Confession of Sins in "Hermann's Consultation," ed. 1545.

" How the Lord's Supper is to be celebrated.''

"When the people are gathered together for this action as it is in accordance with true piety that, as often as we appear before God in his Church, we should before all things acknowledge and confess our sins, and pray for forgiveness ; let the minister who is to dispense the Lord's Supper, when he comes to the altar, make confession in the name of the whole Church, and that in the German tongue, so that all may understand, after this manner :
Almighty, Everlasting God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men, we acknowledge and lament that we were conceived and born in sins, and so are prone to all evil and averse to all that is truly good. We have transgressed your holy commandments without measure and without end,through contempt of you and of your Word, through distrust of your help and trust in ourselves and in worldly things, through evil impulses and actions, whereby we have most grievously offended against your Divine Majesty and against our fellows. We have thus more and more buried ourselves and lost ourselves even unto death eternal. This grieves us to the very heart ; and we pray that you would forgive us for all the things in which we have sinned against you. We plead for your help against the sin that dwells in us, and against Satan who ever stirs it up. Save us from sinning further against you. Cover all our iniquities with the righteousness of your Son. Subdue them in us by your Spirit, and cleanse us thoroughly from them in the end.

Have mercy upon us, O most good and merciful Father, for yourSon our Lord Jesus Christ's sake.

Grant unto us, and increase in us, your Holy Spirit, that he may teach us inwardly and truly to acknowledge our sins, to mourn over them with lively [active] repentance, and to receive and hold fast, with a true faith, the forgiveness of them in Christ our Lord, so that, dying daily more and more to sin, we may serve and please you in newness of life, to the glory of your name, and the profit of your Church.

These things we acknowledge that you justly require of us, therefore we desire to do them. Be pleased, O you our Heavenly Father, who has given us this desire, to grant also that we be diligent to do with our whole heart those things which pertain to our salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."