A General Confession

I grew up in the Episcopal Church, but in college began attending churches of other denominations. Recently I’ve been looking at the liturgy again and have gained a new appreciation for many of the prayers. This one is the General (i.e., congregational) Confession from the communion service. Although I’m quoting from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the wording has remained substantially unchanged since 1549 when it was written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer for the Church of England’s first protestant prayer book.

ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer reminds me that true repentance means seeing my sins for what they are: serious offenses against a holy God. I should be grieved and burdened over them, yet too often I treat my little rebellions casually. Repentance also requires throwing myself on God’s mercy, because forgiveness can only be found in Christ. And finally, repentance involves trusting God to produce in me what only He can produce: a radically new life that pleases and honors Him.

Shortly after this prayer, the liturgy includes these scriptures:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… (1 Timothy 1:15, NIV)

…if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation (atoning sacrifice that turns away God’s wrath) for our sins… (1 John 2:1-2, NASB)

“Batter my heart, three-person’d God…”

This poem has long been one of my favorites. It expresses both a deep desire to surrender to God and the incredible strength of sin’s pull on our hearts, even as believers a pull from which only God Himself can deliver us. Although the King James English may seem daunting at first, I think you’ll find it well worth the effort to ponder the rich imagery.

Holy Sonnets. XIV.

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

– John Donne (1572-1631)

For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 7:22-8:2, NIV)

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

This hymn has a simple tune set to hauntingly beautiful harmony by my favorite classical composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. I’ve seen several versions of the words, and I’m not sure which is the most authentic, so I’ll post them as I learned them. Their message of deep devotion to Christ in response to His sacrifice never fails to touch my heart.

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How art Thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners? gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ?Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

– At­trib­ut­ed to Ber­nard of Clair­vaux, 1153; trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Eng­lish James W. Al­ex­and­er, 1830.

Confessing vs. Professing Christ

I’ll be honest with you: I’m a people-pleaser. I find it very difficult to speak up if I know that it might make others unhappy with me.  But I’m also a teacher and coach, responsible to communicate truth to my students.  That’s probably why I find this quote so challenging:

If I profess with loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is merely flight and disgrace if he flinches at THAT point.

– Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)

This makes me ask myself: Do I ever shy away from speaking or teaching the truth because I want to avoid interpersonal conflict? Do I ever keep silent because I place the opinions and feelings of others above God’s? Sadly, I must admit that at times I do. But I also know God’s antidote for my fear, and it’s found in His word:

Fear of man will prove to be a snare,
but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.
– Proverbs 29:25 (NIV)

In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mortal man do to me?
– Psalm 56:4 (NIV)

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
– Matthew 10:28 (NIV)

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
-Proverbs 9:10 (NIV)

Understanding and Belief

I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand: for this also I believe, that unless I believe, I will not understand.

– Anselm of Canterbury (1033 – 1109)

Anselm was a medieval archbishop of Canterbury, and a brilliant scholar, philosopher and theologian. Among other things, he is famous for devising a logical proof for the existence of God called “the ontological argument.” Yet this highly intelligent man realized that spiritual truth cannot be grasped by reason alone. Only the Holy Spirit can open our eyes to see and enable our hearts to understand the things of God. Anselm here reminds me to yield my intellect to God, for only then will I be able to use it to its fullest capacity, as He intended it to be used.

We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

– 1 Corinthians 2:12-16 (NIV)

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