The General Confession of Sins
Morning & Evening Prayer
A general Confession to be said of the whole Congregation after the Minister, all kneeling.
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
Then shall this general Confession be made, in the name of all those that are minded to receive the holy Communion, by one of the Ministers: both he and all the people kneeling humbly upon their knees and saying,
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.
From 1552 onward, the striking thing about the daily services was the prominent place given to the general confession of sins. Henceforth, both Morning and Evening Prayer would begin in this way. The required practice of auricular confession and priestly absolution had been abolished because, it was argued, it placed a mediator other than Christ between the believer and God. But the gospel of justification by faith is not a declaration that the Christian has moved to a state of sinlessness. Indeed, the basis for the gathering of the Christian church is the shared need of fallen sinners. The act of general confession reminds the congregation of that common need and, indeed, of their assurance of forgiveness, for the confession takes place in the light of the promises of the gospel.
. . . the basis for the gathering of the Christian church is the shared need of fallen sinners. The act of general confession reminds the congregation of that common need and, indeed, of their assurance of forgiveness, for the confession takes place in the light of the promises of the gospel.
Confession begins with the reading of Scriptures that both remind the congregation of their sins and point to the promises of the merciful Father. First John 1:8–9 is typical of this theme: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The exhortation that follows likewise aims to bring to the notice of the congregants the reality of ongoing sin in their lives and the promises of God in Christ. It enjoins the congregation, “Accompany me with a pure heart and humble voice, unto the throne of the heavenly grace.” Thus, the basis of the Christian confession of sin is not fear of punishment but humble expectation of grace. And thus follows the confession itself, which articulates a thoroughgoing doctrine of sin in the life of the believer.
. . . the basis of the Christian confession of sin is not fear of punishment but humble expectation of grace.
A number of metaphors are used: the straying sheep, the trespasser against the holy laws of God, and sin as sickness (“there is no health in us”). This last expression is a radical statement of the situation before God even of the baptized Christian. There is, by nature, nothing that simply commends the person to God. Always tainted to some degree by our innate self-centeredness, not only our actions but even the “devices and desires of our own hearts” are blameworthy in God’s perfect sight. We have an orientation within that is badly askew. But the prayer turns around the plea for the Lord God to “have mercy upon us miserable offenders” (i.e., people who are in misery because of their sins), as he himself has promised in Christ Jesus.
In fallen human beings, keeping the law of God requires a change of heart brought about only by a work of God. Mercy precedes reform, and not the other way around.
The final petition of the prayer is that the believer might live a “godly, righteous and sober life”—a striking recognition that the changed heart of the believer is the work of God. In Holy Communion, too, the congregational response to the reading of the law is the same in structure: “Lord, have mercy on us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.” In fallen human beings, keeping the law of God requires a change of heart brought about only by a work of God. Mercy precedes reform, and not the other way around. It is worth noting, as well, that the declaration of absolution by the minister is not conditioned on doing penance. There is no penitential requirement, nor can there be: grace accomplishes all.
Michael Jensen, Reformation Anglican Worship, 148-150