The Order of Excommunication
and of Public Repentance (1569)
To the Reader. Albeit that in the Book of Discipline the causes as well of public repentance as of excommunication are sufficiently expressed: yet, because the form and order are not so set forth, that every church and minister may have assurance that they agree with others in proceeding, it is thought expedient to draw that order which shall be observed universally within this realm.
And first, we must understand what crimes are worthy of excommunication and what of public repentance. In the first [place], it is to be noted, that all crimes that by the law of God deserve death, deserve also excommunication from the society of Christ's church, whether the offender be Papist or Protestant. For it is no reason that, under pretence of diversity of religion, open impiety should be suffered in the visible body of Christ Jesus. And therefore willful murderers, adulterers (lawfully convicted), sorcerers, witches, conjurers, charmers, and givers of drinks to destroy children, and open blasphemers (as if any renounce God, deny the truth and the authority of his holy word, rail against his blessed sacraments): such, we say, ought to be excommunicated from the society of Christ's church, that their impiety may be held in greater horror, and that they may be the more deeply wounded, perceiving themselves abhorred of the godly.
Against such open malefactors the process may be summarized: For the crime being known, advertisement ought to be given to the superintendent of the diocese, either by the minister, or by such as can best give information of the fact; except in reformed towns and other places where the ministry is planted with minister and elders, according to the act of the general assembly made the 26th of December 1565. And if there is no superintendent where the crime is committed, then ought the information to pass from such as are offended to the next superintendent, who with expedition ought to direct his letters of summons to the parish church where the offender has his residence, if the ministry is there planted; and if it is not, or if the offender has no certain dwelling-place, then ought the summons to be directed to the chief town, and best reformed church in that diocese where the crime was committed, appointing to the offender a certain day, time, and place where and when he shall appear before the superintendent and his assessors, to hear that crime tried, as touching the truth of it, and to answer for himself, why the sentence of excommunication should not be pronounced against him.
If the offender, lawfully warned, appears not, inquisition being taken of the crime, charge may be given by the superintendent to the ministers, so many as shall be thought necessary for publication of that sentence, to pronounce the same the next Sunday, the form whereof shall after be declared. But and if the offender appears and alleges for himself any reasonable defence: to wit, that he will not be a fugitive from the law, but will abide the censure thereof for that offence, then may the sentence of excommunication be suspended till that the magistrate is required to try that cause; wherein if the magistrates are negligent, then ought the church from secret inquisition to proceed to public admonition, that the magistrates may be vigilant in that cause of blood, which cries vengeance upon the whole land where it is shed without punishment. If no remedy by them can be found, then justly may the church pronounce the offender [to be an] excommunicate, as one suspect, besides his crime, to have corrupted the judges, revengers of blood. And so ought the church to proceed to excommunication, whether the offender is fugitive from the law, or if he procures pardon, or eludes the severity ofjustice by means whatsoever besides the trial of his innocence.
If the offender abides an assize, and by the same is absolved, then may not the church pronounce excommunication, but justly may exhort the man by whose hand the blood was shed, to enter into consideration with himself, how precious is the life of man before God, and how severely God commands blood (howsoever it is shed, except it be by the sword of the magistrate) to be punished; and so may enjoin unto him such satisfactions to be made publicly to the church, as may bear testimony of his obedience and unfeigned repentance. If the offender is convicted, and execution follows according to the crime, then, upon the humble suit of him that is to suffer, may the elders and ministers of the church not only give unto him consolation, but also pronounce the sentence of absolution, and his sin to be remitted according to his repentance and faith. And thus much for excommunication of public offenders.
And yet further, we must consider that, if the offender is fugitive from the law, so that punishment cannot be executed against him, in that case the church ought to delay no time, but upon the notoriety of his crime, and that he is fled from the presence of the judge, it ought to pronounce him excommunicated publicly, and so continually to repute him, until such time that the magistrate be satisfied. And so whether the offender is convicted in judgment, or is fugitive from the law, the church ought to proceed to the sentence of excommunication, the form whereof follows:
The minister, in public audience of the people, shall say, It is clearly known unto us that N., sometime baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and so reputed and accounted for a Christian, has fearfully fallen from the society of Christ's body, by committing of cruel and willful murder (or by committing filthy adultery, etc.), which crime by the law of God deserves death. And because the civil sword is in the hand of God's magistrate, who notwithstanding often winks at such crimes, we having place in the ministry, with grief and dolour of our hearts, are compelled to draw the sword granted by God to his church: that is, to excommunicate from the society of Jesus Christ, from his body the church, from participation of sacraments, and prayers with the same, the said N. And therefore, in the name and authority of the eternal God, and of his Son Jesus Christ, We pronounce the said N. [to be an] excommunicate and accursed in this his wicked fact; and charge all that favour the Lord Jesus so to repute and hold him (or her) until such time as that either the magistrate has punished the offender as God's law commands, or that the same offender is reconciled to the church again by public repentance. And in the meantime, we earnestly desire all the faithful to call upon God to move the hearts of the upper powers so to punish such horrible crimes, that malefactors may fear to offend, even for fear of punishment; and also so to touch the heart of the offender, that he may deeply consider how fearful it is to fall into the hands of the eternal God, that by unfeigned repentance he may apprehend mercy in Jesus Christ, and so avoid eternal damnation.
The sentence of excommunication once pronounced, the church may not suddenly admit the murderer, or convicted adulterer, to repentance and society of the faithful, albeit that pardon is purchased of the magistrate. But first ought inquisition to be taken if the murderer has satisfied the offended party: that is, the kin and friends of the man slain; which, if he has not done, neither is understood willing to do so, the church in no wise may hear him. But if he is willing to satisfy, and the friends exceed [the] measure and the possibility of him that has committed the crime, then ought the church to put moderation to the unreasonable, in case the civil magistrate has notdone so before, and so proceed with him that offers repentance, that the willfulness of the indiscreet be not [a] hindrance to the reconciliation of him that earnestly craves the benefit and society of the church.
And yet may not the church receive any excommunicate at his first request; but in such grievous crimes as before are expressed (of others shall be spoken after), forty days at the least after his first offer may be appointed, to try whether the signs of repentance appear in the offender or not. And yet in the meantime the church may comfort him by wholesome admonitions, assuring him of God's mercy, if he is verily penitent. He may also be admitted to the hearing of the word; but in no wise to participation of prayers, neither before nor after the sermon. The first forty days expired, upon his new suit, the superintendent or session may enjoin such pains as may try whether he is penitent of not. The least [pains] are: the murderer must stand three several Sundays in a public place before the church door barefooted and bareheaded, clad in a base and abject apparel, having the same weapon which he used in the murder, or the like, bloody in his hand, and in conceived words shall say to such as shall enter into the church:
The confession of the penitent. So far has Satan gotten victory over me, that cruelly I have shed innocent blood, for the which I have deserved death corporeal and eternal; and so I grant myself unworthy of the common light, or yet company of men. And yet because in God there is mercy that passes all measure, and because the magistrate has not taken from me this wretched life, I most earnestly desire to be reconciled again with the church of Christ Jesus, from the society whereof mine iniquity has caused me to be excommunicated. And therefore, in the bowels of Christ Jesus, I crave of you to pray with me unto God, that my grievous crime may be of him remitted, and also that you will be suppliants with me to the church, that I abide not thus excommunicated unto the end.
At the last of the three Sundays certain of the elders shall receive him into the church, and present him before the preaching place, and shall declare unto the minister that all that was enjoined to that offender was obediently fulfilled by him. Then shall the minister recite unto him as well the grievousness of his sin, as the mercies of God, if he is penitent. And thereafter shall require of the church, if that they desire any further satisfaction? And if no answer is given, then shall the minister pronounce his sin to be remitted according to his repentance, and shall exhort the church to embrace him as a brother, after that prayer and thanksgiving are given unto God, as after shall be described.
And thus far to be observed the order in receiving them that have committed capital crimes, be it murder, adultery, incest, witchcraft, or others before expressed.
Apostates to Papistry. Rests yet one other kind of offender that deserves excommunica tion, albeit not so summarily: to wit, such as have been partakers with us in doctrine and sacraments, and have returned back again to the Papistry, or have given their presence to any part of their abomination, or yet that of any long continuance, withdraw themselves from the society of Christ's body, and from the participation of the sacraments, when they are publicly ministered. Such, no doubt, declare themselves worthy of excommunication; but first they must be called either before the superintendent, with some joined with him, or else before the elders and session of the best and next reformed church where the offenders have their residence, who must accuse their defection, exhort them to repentance, and declare to them the danger wherein they stand.
Whom if the offender hears, the session or superintendent may appoint him a day to satisfy the church publicly, whom by his defection he had offended. But if he continues stubborn, then may the session or superintendent command the minister or ministers to declare the nextSunday the defection of such a person, and his obstinate contempt; and this advertisement being given two Sundays, the third may the sentence of excommunication be pronounced.
Offences that deserve public repentance, and 0rder to proceed thereunto. Such offences as fall not under the civil sword, and yet are scandalous and offensive in the church, deserve public repentance. And of these some are more heinous than others: fornication, drunkenness used, swearing, cursed speaking, chiding, fighting, brawling, and common contempt of the order of the church, breaking of the sabbath, and suchlike, ought to be suffered in no person; but the scandal being known, the offender should be called before the ministry, his crime proven, accused, rebuked, and he commanded publicly to satisfy the church; which if the offender refuses, they may proceed to excommunication, as after shall be declared. If the offender appears not, summons ought to pass to the third time; and then in case he appears not, the church may discern the sentence to be pronounced.
Others are less heinous, and yet deserve admonition, as wanton and vain words, uncomely gestures, negligence in hearing the preaching, or abstaining from the Lord's Table when it is publicly minis tered, suspicion of avarice or of pride, superfluity or riotousness in cheer or raiment: these we say, and such others, that of the world are not regarded, deserve admonition amongst the members of Christ's body first, secretly, by one or two of those that first espy the offence, which if the person suspected hears, and gives declaration of amendment, then there needs no further process.
But if he contemns and despises admonition, then should the former admonishers take to them selves two or three faithful and honest witnesses, in whose presence the suspected offender should be admonished, and the causes of their suspicion declared; to whom, if then he gives signification of repentance, and promise of amendment, they may cut off all further accusation. But and if he obstinately contemns both the said admonitions, then ought the first and second brethren to signify the matter to the minister and elders in their session, who ought to call the offender, and, before the complainers, accuse him as well of the crime, as of the contempt of the admonition. If then he acknowledges his offence, and is willing to satisfy the brethren before offended, and the session then present, there needs no further publication of the offence.
But if he declares himself disobedient to the session, then without delay the next Sunday ought the crime, and the order of admonition passed before, be publicly declared to the church, and the person (without specification of his name) be admonished to satisfy in public that which he refused to do in secret. And that for the first. If he offers himself to the church before the next Sunday, the discretion of the ministry may take such order, as may satisfy as well the private persons that first were offended, as the church, declaring the repentance and submission of that brother that before appeared stubborn and incorrigible.
But and if he abides the second public admonition, when that his name shall be expressed, and his stubbornness declared, then can no satisfaction be received in public; yea, it may not be received before that he has humbly required the same of the ministry and session of the church in their appointed assembly.
If he continues stubborn, then the third Sunday ought he to be charged publicly to satisfy the church for his offence and contempt, under the pain of excommunication; the order whereof shall after be declared. And thus a small offence or slander may justly deserve excommunication, by reason of the contempt and disobedience of the offender. If the offender shows himself penitent between the first admonition and the second, and satisfies the ministry of the church, and the brethren in the assembly that were before offended, then it may suffice that the minister, at the commandment of the session, declare the next Sunday (without appearing or expressing of the person) his repentance and submission in these or other words:
It was signified unto you before, dearly beloved, that one certain brother (or brethren) was noted, or at the least suspected of some offence whereof he being admonished by one or two, appeared lightly to regard the same; and therefore were he and his offence notified unto the ministry in their assembly, who, according to their duty and charge, accused him of the same; and not finding in him such obedience as the profession of a Christian requires, fearing that such offences and stubbornness should engender contempt, and infect others, they were compelled to notify unto you the crime and the proceedings of the session, minding to have sought to the uttermost remedy in case the offender had continued obstinate. But seeing that it has pleased God to mollify the heart of our brother, whose name we need not to express, so that he has not only acknowledged his offence, but also has fully satisfied the brethren that first were offended, and us the ministry, and has promised to abstain from all appearance of such evil, as whereof he was suspected and admonished, we have no just cause to proceed to any further extremity, but rather to glorify God for the submission of our brother, and unfeignedly pray unto him, that in the like case we and every one of us may give the like obedience.
It is first to be observed that none may be admitted to public repentance, except that first they are admitted thereto by the session and assembly of the ministers and elders; in the which they ought to be examined sharply, what fear and terror they have of God's judgments, what hatred of sin, and dolour for the same, and what sense and feeling they have of God's mercies. In the which, if they are ignorant, they ought to be instructed diligently. For it is but a mockery to present such to public repentance as neither understand what sin is, what repentance is, what grace is, nor by whom God's favour and mercy are purchased. After then that the offender shall be instructed in the assembly, so that to have some taste of God's judgments, but chiefly of God's mercies in Christ Jesus, he may be presented before the public church upon a Sunday after the sermon, and before the prayers and psalm, and then the minister shall say:
Beloved and dearest brethren, we, by reason of our charge and ministry, present before you this brother, who, by the infirmity of the flesh and craft of Satan, has fearfully fallen from the obedience of his God, by committing N. of a crime, etc. (let the sin be expressed); by the which he has not only offended against the Majesty of God, but also by the same has given great scandal and offense to his holy congregation; and therefore does to his own confusion (but to the glory of God and our great comfort) present himself here before you, to witness and declare his unfeigned repentance, the thirst and care that he has to be reconciled with God through Jesus Christ, and with you his brethren, whom he has offended; and therefore it is requisite that you and he understand what assurance we have to require such public satisfaction of him, what profit we ought to learn in the same, and what profit and utility redounds to both of this his humiliation.
That public repentance is the institution of God, and not man's invention, may be plainly gathered of the words of our Master, commanding, "that if any has offended his brother, in what sort ever it be, that he shall go and be reconciled unto his brother" [cf. Matt. 5:24; 18:15]. If the offence committed against one brother requires reconciliation, the offence committed against many brethren requires the same. And if a man is charged by Christ Jesus to go to a man whom he has offended, and there by confession of his offence require reconciliation, much more is he bound to seek a whole multitude whom he has offended, and before them with all humility require the same; for that woe which our Master Christ Jesus pronounces against every man that has offended the least one within his church, remains upon every public offender until such time as he declares himself willing to remove the same, which he can never do until such time as he lets the multitude whom he has offended understand his unfeigned repentance.
But because that all men of upright judgment agree in this, that public offenses require public repentance, we pass to the second head, which is, what it is that we have to consider in the fall and sin of this our brother. If we consider his fall and sin in him only, without having consideration of ourselves, and of our own corruption, we shall profit nothing, for so shall we but despise our brother and flatter ourselves. But if we shall earnestly consider what nature we bear, what corruption lurks in it, how prone and ready every one of us is to such and greater impiety, then shall we in the sin of this our brother accuse and damn our own sins; in his fall, we shall consider and lament our sinful nature; also we shall join our repentance, tears, and prayers with him and his, knowing that no flesh can be justified before God's presence, if judgment proceeds without mercy. The profit which this our brother and we have of this his humiliation is that we and he may be assured that our God is more ready to receive us to mercy, through Jesus Christ his only Son, than we are to crave it. It is not sin, be it never so grievous, that shall debar us from his favour, if we seek his mercy; for as all have sinned, and are by themselves destitute of God's grace, so he is ready to show mercy unto all that unfeignedly call for the same. Yea, he does not only receive such as come, but he, by the mouth of his dear Son, calls upon such as are burdened and ladened with sin, and solemnly promises that he will refresh them.
We have besides another commodity: to wit, that if we shall hereafter fall into the like or greater [sin] (for we stand not by our own power, but by grace only), that we be not ashamed in this same sort to humble ourselves and confess our offence. Now, therefore, brother, as we all praise God in this your humiliation, beseeching him that it be without hypocrisy, so it becomes you earnestly to consider of what mind and with what heart you present yourself here before this assembly. It is not your sin that shall separate you from your God, nor from his mercy in Jesus Christ, if you repent the same; but hypocrisy and impenitence, which God remove from you and us, is nowise tolerable before his presence.
The offender ought to protest before God that he is sorry for his sin, and unfeignedly desires God to be merciful unto him, and that for the obedience of his dear Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
The minister. We can only see that which is without, and according to your confession judge, leaving the secrets of the heart to God, who only can try and search the same. But because unfeigned repentance for sin, and simple confession of the same, are the mere gifts of God, we will join our prayers with yours, that the one and the other may be granted to you and us.
The prayer. Eternal and everliving God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, thou that by the mouth of thy holy prophets and apostles hast plainly pronounced that thou desirest not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may convert and live; who also hast sent thy only Son to suffer the cruel death of the cross, not for the just, but for such as find themselves oppressed with the burden of sin, that by him and his advocacy they may have access to the throne of thy grace, being assured that before thee they shall find favour and mercy: We are convened, O Lord, in thy presence, and that in the name of this same our Lord Jesus thy dear Son, to accuse before thee our sins, and before the feet of thy Majesty, to crave mercy for the same. We most humbly beseech thee, O Father of mercies, first,that thou wilt touch and move our hearts by the power of thy Holy Spirit, in such sort, that we may come to a true knowledge of our sins; but chiefly, O Lord, [that] it will please thee to move the heart of this our brother N., etc., who, as he has offended thy Majesty, and a great number of this thy holy congregation, by his grievous and public sin, so does he not refuse publicly to acknowledge and confess the same, as that this his humiliation given to the glory of thy name presently does witness. But because, O Lord, the external confession, without the dolour of the heart, avails nothing in thy presence, we most humbly beseech thee, that thou wilt so effectually move his heart, and ours also, that he and we without hypocrisy, damning that which thy law pronounces unjust, may attain to some sense and feeling of thy mercy, which thou hast abundantly shown unto mankind in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Grant, O Lord, unto this our brother, the repentance of the heart, and sincere confession of the mouth, to the praise of thy name, to the comfort of thy church, and to the confusion of Satan. And unto us grant, O Lord, that albeit we cannot live altogether clean of sin, yet that we fall not in horrible crimes to the dishonour of thy holy name, to the scandal of our brethren, and infamy of thy holy evangel, which we profess. Let thy godly power, O Lord, so strengthen our weakness, that neither the craft of Satan, nor the tyranny of sin, draw us utterly from thy obedience. Give us grace, O Lord, that by holiness and innocence of life, we may declare to this wicked generation what difference there is betwixt the sons of light and the sons of darkness; that men seeing our good works, may glorify thee, and thy Son Jesus Christ, our only Saviour and Redeemer; to whom with thee, and the Holy Spirit, be all honour, praise, and glory, now and ever. Amen.
The prayer finished, the minister shall turn himself to the penitent brother, and in full audience shall say:
You have heard, brother, what is your duty towards the church, which you have offended: to wit, that willingly you confess that crime you have committed, asking God mercy for the same, and so that you may reconcile yourself to the church which you have offended. You have heard also the affection and care of the church towards you their penitent brother, notwithstanding your grievous fall: to wit, that we all here present join our sins with your sin; we all repute and esteem your fall to be our own; we accuse ourselves no less than we accuse you. Now, finally, we join our prayers with yours, that we and you may obtain mercy, and that by means of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us, therefore, brother, have this comfort of you, that you will openly and simply confess your crime, and give us attestation of your unfeigned repentance.
The penitent shall then openly confess the crime, whatsoever it be, and shall desire God's mercy, and pray the church to call to God for mercy with him, and unfeignedly desire that he may be joined again to their society and number.
If the penitent is confounded with shame, or such a one as cannot distinctly speak to the comfort and instruction of the church, the minister shall make repetition, that every head may be understood by itself, and thereafter shall ask the penitent if that is his confession, and if so he believes. His affirmative answer being received, the minister shall ask the congregation if they judge any [thing] further to be required for their satisfaction and reconciliation of that brother. No contradiction being made, the minister shall say to the penitent:
We have heard, dear brother, your confession, for the which we from our hearts praise God; for in it the Spirit of Jesus Christ has confounded the devil, and broken down his head and power, in that, that you, to the glory of God, have openly damned yourself and your impiety, imploring grace and mercy for Christ Jesus his Son's sake. This strength, submission, and obedience cannot proceed from flesh and blood, but is the singular gift of the Holy Ghost. Acknowledge, therefore, it is given unto you by Jesus Christ our Lord; and now take heed, lest at any time you are unmindful of this great benefit, which no doubt Satan does envy, and will assail by all means possible, that you may abuse it. He will not cease to tempt you to fall again in such, or crimes more horrible; but resist the devil, and he shall flee from you. Live in sobriety; be instant in prayer; commend yourself unfeignedly to God, who as he is faithful, so shall he give to us victory over sin, death, and Satan, and that by means of our Head and sovereign Champion Jesus Christ: to whom be all praise, glory, and honour, now and ever. Amen.
An admonition to the church. It is your duty, brethren, to take example of this our penitent brother: first, that you be unfeignedly displeased in your own hearts for your sins; secondarily, that with this our brother you accuse them in the sight of God, imploring grace and mercy for your offences committed; and last, if any of you shall after this publicly offend, that you refuse not with the like reverence to satisfy the church of God, offended in you. Now only rests, that you remit and forget all offences which you have conceived heretofore by the sin and fall of this our brother; accept and embrace him as a member of Christ's body; let none take upon himself to reproach or accuse him for any offences, that before this hour he has committed. And that he may have the better assurance of your good will and reconciliation, prostrate yourselves before God, and render him thanks for the conversion and repentance of this our brother.
The thanksgiving. Heavenly Father, fountain of all mercy and consolation, we confess ourselves unworthy to be counted amongst thy children, if thou have respect to the corruption of our nature; but seeing it hath pleased thy fatherly goodness, not only freely to choose us in thy dear Son our Lord Jesus Christ, by his death to redeem us, by his evangel to call us, and by his Holy Spirit (which both are thine) to illuminate us; but also that thou hast commanded thy word and holy evangel to be preached, to the end that the penitent shall have an assurance of the remission of their sins, not only for a time, but even also oft as men from sorrowful hearts shall call for thy grace and mercy. In consideration of this thy fatherly adoption and ineffable clemency shown upon us, we cannot but praise and magnify thy fatherly mercy: a testimony whereof we not only feel in ourselves, but also see the same evidently in the conversion of this our brother, whom Satan for a time held in bondage, but now is set at freedom by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, and is returned again to the society of his body. Grant unto us, heavenly Father, that he and we may more and more be displeased for our sins, and proceed in all manner of good works, to the praise of thy holy name, and edification of thy church, by Jesus Christ our Lord and only Saviour. So be it.
The thanksgiving being finished, the minister shall require of the penitent if that he will be subject to the discipline of the church, in case that he after offends: who answering that he will, the minister shall say, in manner of absolution:
If you unfeignedly repent of your former iniquity, and believe in the Lord Jesus, then I, in his name, pronounce and affirm that your sins are forgiven, not only on earth, but also in heaven, according to the promises annexed with the preaching of his word, and to the power put in the ministry of his church.
Then shall the elders and deacons, with ministers (if any be [present]), in the name of the whole church, take the reconciled brother by the hand, and embrace him, in sign of full reconciliation.
Then after shall the church sing the 103rd Psalm, so much as they think expedient; and so shall the assembly, with the benediction, be dismissed.
After that all admonitions, both private and public, be past, as before is said, then must the church proceed to excommunication, if the offender remains obstinate. Therefore, the Sunday after the third public admonition, the minister being before charged by the session of elders, shall thus signify unto the church (after the sermon):
It is not unknown unto you, with what lenity and carefulness the ministry and the whole church, by private and public admonitions, has sought N., etc., to satisfy the church, and to declare himself penitent for his grievous crimes and rebellion, by the which he has offended God's Majesty, blasphemed his holy name, and offended his church: in whom to this day we find nothing but stubbornness. We cannot, therefore, of conscience, wink any longer at the disobedience of the said N., lest that his example infect and hurt others. We are compelled, therefore, in the fear of God, to give the said N. into the hands and power of the devil, to the destruction of the flesh, if that by that means he may be brought to the consideration of himself, and so repent and avoid that fearful condemnation that shall fall on all disobedient in the day of the Lord Jesus. And lest that any should think that we do this of manly presumption, without the assurance of the scriptures, you shall shortly hear what commandment and authority we have to do so.
First, we have the commandment of our Master and Saviour Jesus Christ, to hold such for ethnics [heathens] and publicans as will not hear the voice of the church; but plain it is, that this obstinate N., has contemptuously refused all wholesome admonitions, and therefore we (not one or two, but the whole church) must hold him as a publican: that is, as one cut off from the body of Jesus Christ, and unworthy of any society with him, or with the benefits of his church, till his new conversion and his receiving again.
Secondarily, we have the command of the apostle St. Paul, and that fearful sentence, which he, being absent, did notwithstanding pronounce against the incest, with his sharp rebuke to the Corinthians, because that with greater zeal and expedition they expelled not from amongst them that wicked man. And if any think that the offence of this forenamed obstinate is not so heinous as that of incest, let such understand that mercy and favour may rather be granted till [to] any other sin than to the contempt of wholesome admonitions, and of the just and lawful ordinances of the church. For other sins, how heinous so ever they be (so be it that they deserve not death), as by unfeigned repentance they are remitted before God; so upon the same, humbly offered unto the church, order may be taken that the offender may be comforted, and at length restored to the society of the church again. But such as proudly contemn the admonition of the church, private or public, declare themselves stubborn, rebellious, and altogether impenitent, and therefore most justly ought they to be excommunicated.
The precept of God given under the law, to expel from the midst of God's people such as were leprous (without exception of persons), is to us an assurance that we ought to expel from the society of Christ's body such as are stricken with spiritual leprosy; for the one is no less infected and dangerous than the other. Now, seeing that we know excommunication is God's ordinance, let us in a few words understand the utility and use of the same.
By it, first, the church is purged from openly wicked doers, which is no small commodity, considering that we fight in the midst and eyes of this wicked generation, which seeks in us nothing more than occasion of scandal. Secondarily, by it is the church and every member of the same returned in obedience and fear, whereof all have need, if the frailty of our flesh shall be rightly considered. Thirdly, by it we exercise a singular work of charity, while that we declare ourselves careful to keep the flock of Christ in purity of manners, and without danger to be infected. For, as it were a work both uncharitable and cruel to join together in one bed persons infected with pestilent or other contagious and infectious sores, with tender children, or with such as were whole, so it is no less cruelty to suffer amongst the flock of Jesus Christ such other obstinate rebels; for true is that sentence of the apostle, "A little leaven corrupteth the whole mass" [1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9]. But lest that we should seem to usurp power over the church, or to do anything without the knowledge and consent of the whole body, for this present [time] we delay the sentence, willing, such as have anything to object in the contrary, to propose the same the next session day, or else to signify the same to some of the ministers or elders, that answer may be given thereto; and in the meantime, we will call to God for the conversion of the impenitent.
A prayer for the obstinate. Eternal and everliving God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose very property is to show mercy, and to restore life, even when to man's judgment death has gotten dominion over thy creatures: for thou first sought, called, accused, and convicted our father Adam after his transgression; and being so dead in sin, and thrall to Satan, that he could neither confess his offence, nor yet ask mercy for the same, thou by thy free promises of mercy and grace gave unto him a new life and strength to repent. The same order must thou keep, O Lord, with all thy chosen children of his posterity; for in man's corrupt nature there can be no obedience, until that thou by operation of thy Holy Spirit work the same. And therefore, we most humbly beseech thee, for Jesus Christ thy Son's sake, pitifully to look upon this thy creature, who once was baptized in thy name, and hath professed himself subject to thy religion and unto the discipline of thy church, whom Satan, alas, now so blinds, that obstinately he contemns the one and the other. We have followed, O Lord, the rule prescribed unto us by thy dear Son our Lord Jesus Christ, in admonishing and threatening him; but hitherto have profited nothing concerning him and his humiliation.
But, O Lord, as thou alone knowest, so may thou alone change and mollify the hearts of the proud and impenitent. Thou, by the voice of thy prophet Nathan, wakened David from his deadly security. Thou, without any prophet, beat down the pride of Manasseh in the prison, after he had shed the blood of thy servants, and had replenished Jerusalem with all kinds of impiety. Thou turned the heart of Peter at the look of thy dear Son our Lord Jesus Christ, after that fearfully, with horrible imprecations, he had thrice openly denied him.
O Lord, thy mercies without measure endure for ever, to the which we, after long travail, do remit this obstinate and impenitent [member]; earnestly desiring of thee, O Father of mercies, first so to pierce his heart with the fear of thy severe judgments, that he may begin to understand that, thus condemning all wholesome admonitions, he provokes thy wrath and indignation against himself. Open his eyes, that he may see how fearful and terrible a thing it is to fall into thy hands; and thereafter mollify and anoint his heart by the unction of thy Holy Spirit, that he may unfeignedly convert unto thee, and give unto thee that honour and obedience that thou requirest in thy holy word; and so to our comfort that now mourn for his rebellion, that he may subject himself to the just ordinance of thy church, and avoid that fearful vengeance that most assuredly shall fall upon all the disobedient. These thy graces, O heavenly Father, and further, as thou knowest to be expedient for us, and for thy church universal, we call for according as we are taught to pray by our sovereign Master, Jesus Christ, saying, Our Father, etc.
The second Sunday, after the sermon and public prayers, the minister shall, in audience of the whole church, ask the elders and deacons who must sit in an eminent and proper place, that their answer may be heard:
The minister. Has N., whom the last day we admonished, under the painof excommunica tion, to satisfy the church for his public scandal and contempt of the ministry, by himself, or any other, offered his obedience unto you?
They shall answer as the truth is, yea or nay.
If he has sought the favours of any within the ministry, with promise of obedience, then shall further process be delayed, and he commanded to appear before the session in their next assembly, where order may be taken for his public repentance, as in the former head is expressed. If he has not laboured to satisfy the church, then shall the minister proceed and say:
It cannot but be dolorous to the body, that any member thereof should be cut off and perish; and yet it ought to be more fearful to the member than to the body, for the member cut off can do nothing but putrefy and perish, and yet the body may retain life and strength. But the rebellion of this obstinate may proceed in one part from ignorance; for it may be that he understands not what excommunication is, and what is the danger of the same. I shall therefore, in few words, open the one and the other.
Lawful excommunication (for the thunderings of that Roman Antichrist are but vanity and wind) is the cutting off from the body of Jesus Christ, from participation of his holy sacraments, and from public prayers with his church, by public and solemn sentence, all obstinate and impenitent persons, after due admonitions: which sentence, lawfully pronounced on earth, is ratified in heaven, by binding of the same sins that they bind on earth. The danger hereof is greater than any man can suddenly espy; for seeing that without the body of Jesus Christ there abides nothing but death and damnation to mankind, in what estate shall we judge them to stand, that justly are cut off from the same?
Yea, what horrible vengeance hangs upon them and their posterity, notable and severe punishments may instruct us. Cain the murderer was not accused in his own person only, but that same malediction rang in his posterity, and upon all that joined therewith, till that all mankind was destroyed by water (eight persons reserved). Ham likewise was accursed in Canaan, the severity whereof proceeded even to the extermination of that whole race and nation. The simple word of our Master Jesus Christ caused the fig tree suddenly to wither. At the voice of Peter, Ananias and Sapphira were stricken to death. The same God and Lord Jesus, with the power of his Holy Spirit that then was potent and just, works even now in the ministry of his church, the contempt whereof he will in no wise suffer unpunished. And therefore, you that have acquaintance and familiarity with the forenamed obstinate, declare unto him these dangers, and will him not to tempt the uttermost. And thus yet again, let us pray to God for his conversion.
Let the former prayer be publicly said.
The third Sunday, let the first question be proposed by the minister to the elders and deacons, concerning the submission of the obstinate, so oft admonished, as was proposed the second. If repentance is offered, let order be taken, as is said before, with a charge to the church to praise God for the conversion of that brother. If repentance is not offered, then shall the minister expone wherein the person that is to be excommunicated has offended, how oft and by whom he has been admonished, as well privately as publicly; and shall demand of the elders and deacons if it be not so: whose answer received, the minister shall ask the whole church if they think that such contempt should be suffered amongst them. And if then no man makes intercession for the obstinate, the minister shall proceed,and say:
Of very conscience we are compelled to do that which to our hearts is most dolorous: to wit, to give over into the hands of the devil this forenamed obstinate contemner N., whom once we esteemed a member of our body; and that not only for the crime that he has committed, but much rather for his proud contempt and intolerable rebellion, lest that our sufferance of him inthis his impiety should not only be imputed to us, but also that he should infect others with the same pestilence. And therefore we must use the last remedy, how grievous that ever it is unto us; and yet I desire you for more ample declaration of your Christian charity towards him you pray with me unto God, now for the last [time], for his conversion.
The last prayer before the excommunication. Omnipotent, eternal, and merciful Father, who, for that good will that thou bearest unto us in Jesus Christ thy dear Son, wilt not the death and destruction of a sinner, but rather that he, by inspiration and moving of thy Holy Spirit, convert and live; who also dost witness the virtue and strength of thy word to be such, that it causes the mountains to shake, the rocks to tremble, and the floods to dry up: Behold, we thy children and people here prostrate before thee, most humbly beseech thee, in the name of thy dear Son our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou wilt move and pierce the heart of our impenitent brother, whom Satan hath so long endured and hardened; let it please thy Majesty, by the virtue of thy Holy Spirit, that thou wilt mollify the same. Expel his darkness, and by the light of thy grace that thou wilt so illuminate him, that now at length he may feel how grievously he hath offended, first, against thy Majesty and, secondarily, against thy holy church and assembly. Give him thy grace to acknowledge, accuse and damn as well before us, whom he hath offended, as before thy presence, this his proud contempt, lest that we, by the same provoked, be compelled, with all our griefs, to cut him off [from] thy mystical body, whom we, O Lord, unfeignedly desire to retain within thy church, as a lively member of thy dear Son our Lord Jesus. Hear us, merciful Father; call back again this our impenitent brother that now tendeth to eternal destruction; that we all, who before thy presence even for his rebellion do mourn, may receive him again with gladness and joy, and so render praise and honour unto thee before this thy holy congregation.
We grant ourselves, O Lord, unworthy whom thou should hear, because we cease not to offend thee by our continual transgression of thy holy precepts. Look not upon us, merciful Father, in this our corrupt nature, but look thou to thy dear Son, whom thou of thy mere mercy hast appointed our Head, great Bishop, Advocate, Mediator, and only Propitiator: in him and in the merits of his death. We most humbly beseech thee mercifully to behold us, and suffer not the most innocent blood of thy dear Son, shed for us, and for this our impenitent brother, to be profaned by the tyranny and sleight of Satan. But, by the virtue of the same, let this our impenitent brother be brought to unfeigned repentance, that so he may escape that fearful condemnation, in the which he appeareth to fall. This we ask of thee, O heavenly Father, in the boldness of our Head and Mediator Jesus Christ, praying as he hath taught us, Our Father, etc.
If after this prayer, the obstinate appears not to offer his repentance, then shall the minister proceed, and say:
Brethren, seeing that as you have heard this obstinate and impenitent person, N., has so grievously offended against God, and against this his holy congregation, who by no means (as you may perceive) can be brought to repentance whereof it is evident by the word of God, that he is fallen from the kingdom of heaven, and from the blessed society of Jesus; and we, albeit with dolour of our hearts, may now execute that which the commandment of Jesus Christ, and the practice of his apostle, shows that of our office we ought to do: to wit, that we shall publicly declare and pronounce such to have no society with us, as declare themselves obstinate and rebellious against all wholesome admonitions, and the blessed ordinances of his church; and that we may do the same, not of our own authority, but in the name and power of our Lord Jesus, before whom all knees are compelled to bow; let us humbly fall down before him, and on this manner pray, and pronounce this sentence.
The invocation of the name of Jesus Christ, to excommunicate the impenitent, together with the sentence of excommunication. O Lord Jesus Christ, the only and eternal King of all the chosen children of thine heavenly Father, the Head and Lawgiver of thy Church, who by thy own mouth hast commanded that such offenders as proudly contemn the admonitions of thy church shall be cast out from the society of the same, and shall be reputed of thy professors as profane ethnics [heathens]; we, willing to obey this thy precept which also we have received by institution of thy apostle, are here presently convened in thy name, to excommunicate and cast forth from the society of thy holy body, and from all participation with thy church in sacraments and prayers, N.; which thing we do at thy commandment, and in thy power and authority, to the glory of thy holy Name, to the conservation and edification of this thy church, in the which it hath pleased thee to place us ministers, and to the extreme remedy of the stubborn obstinacy of the forenamed impenitent. And because thou hast promised thyself ever to be with us, but especially with such as uprightly travail in the ministry of thy church, whom also thou hast promised to instruct and guide by the dictates of thy Holy Spirit, we most humbly beseech thee so to govern and assist us in the execution of this our charge, that whatsoever we in thy name do here pronounce on earth, that thou wilt ratify the same in the heaven. Our assurance, O Lord, is thy expressed word; and therefore, in boldness of the same, here I, in thy name, and at the commandment of this thy present congregation, cut off, seclude, and excommunicate from thy body, and from our society, N., as one person scandalous, proud, a contemner, and one member, for this present [time] altogether corrupted and pernicious to the body. And this his sin (albeit with sorrow of heart), by virtue of our ministry, we bind and pronounce the same to be bound in heaven and earth. We further give over into the hands and power of the devil the said N., to the destruction of his flesh, straitly charging all that profess the Lord Jesus, to whose knowledge this our sentence shall come, to repute and hold the said N. accursed, and unworthy of the familiar society of Christians: declaring unto all men, that such as hereafter before his repentance shall haunt or familiarly accompany with him, are partakers of his impiety, and subject to the like condemnation. This our sentence, O Lord Jesus, pronounced in thy name, and at thy commandment, we humbly desire thee to ratify according to thy promise. And yet, Lord, thou that camest to save that which was lost, look upon him with the eyes of thy mercy, if thy good pleasure be; and so pierce thou his heart that he may feel in his breast the terrors of thy judgments, that by thy grace he fruitfully may be converted to thee; and so damning his own impiety, he may be with like solemnity received within the bosom of thy church, from the which this day (with grief and dolour of our hearts) he is ejected.
Lord! in thy presence we protest that our own affections move us not to this severity, but only the hatred of sin, and obedience that we give to thy own commandment. And therefore, O heavenly Father, we crave the perpetual assistance of thy Holy Spirit, not only to bridle our corrupted affections, but also so to conduct us in all the course of our whole lives, that we never fall to the like impiety and contempt, but that continually we may be subject to the voice of thy church, and unto the ministers of the same, who truly offer to us the word of life, the blessed evangel of thy only beloved Son Jesus Christ: to whom with thee and the Holy Spirit be all praise, glory, and honour, now and ever. So be it.
The sentence pronounced, and the prayer ended, the minister shall admonish the church, that all the faithful hold the excommunicate as an ethnic, as before is said; that no man use his familiar company; and yet that no man accuse him of any other crime than of such as he is convicted of, and for the which he is excommunicated, but that every man shall secretly call to God for grace to be granted to the excommunicate. Such as have office in the ministry may upon license required of the church, speak with the excommunicate, so long as hope rests of his conversion; but if he continues obstinate, then ought all the faithful utterly to abhor his presence and communication. And yet ought they more earnestly to call to God, that Satan in the end may be confounded, and the creature of God freed from his snares by the power of the Lord Jesus. And with the accustomed benediction, the assembly shall be dismissed, after they have sung the 101 Psalm, or one portion thereof, as it shall please the congrega tion.
First, we must observe, that such as deserve death for the crime committed, never be admitted to the society of the church, until such time as either the magistrate punishes according to the law, or else pardons the crime, as before we have said. But such as for other offences and for their contempt are excommunicates, may be received when they shall earnestly seek the favours of the church. They must begin at the ministry, the elders, and deacons, who must expone their repentance to the minister or ministers in their assembly; a day may be appointed to the excommunicate to present himself before them. The signs of his repentance ought to be diligently inquired, as what has been his behaviour since the time of his excommunication, what he will offer for satisfaction to the church, and unto whom he has exponed the grief and dolour of his heart. If the excommunicate be found penitent and obedient in all things, the minister the next Sunday may give advertisement to the whole church of his humiliation, and command them to call to God for increase of the same. The next session day, the ministry may appoint to the excommunicate such satisfaction as they think most expedient: to the which, if the excommunicate fully agrees, then may the said ministry appoint unto him a certain day when he shall fulfill the same.
For this is principally to be observed, that no excommunicated person may be received to the society of the church again, until such time as he has stood at the church door, at the least more Sundays than one: which days being expired, and the whole satisfaction complete, some of the elders shall pass to the excommunicate, after that the former prayer of the minister in the pulpit has ended, and shall present him to a certain place appointed for the penitents, where he shall stand in the same habit, in the which he made satisfaction, until the sermon has ended. And then shall the same elders that brought him into the church present him to the minister, with these or the like words.
This creature of God is, N., that for his wickedness and obstinate rebellion has been excommuni cated from the body of Jesus Christ; but now, by the power of the Spirit of God, is called back again by repentance, so far as the judgment of man can perceive. For he has not only craved the favours of the ministry that he might be received into the body of the church again, but also most obediently has subjected himself to all that we have commanded, for the trial of his humiliation. And therefore we present him before you to be examined; and if his repentance is sufficient, to be received again to the body of the church.
Then shall the minister render thanks, first to God for that part of his humiliation, and also desire the church of God to do the same with him. Thereafter he shall address himself to the person excommunicated, and first shall lay before him his sin; thereafter, the admonitions that were given unto him to satisfy the church for the same; and last, his proud contempt and long obstinacy, for the which he was excommunicated. And of every one he shall require his peculiar confession, with accusation of himself, and detestation of his impiety: which being received, he [the minister] shall render thanks to God as follows:
We thank the mercy and goodness of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord for this your conversion, N., into the which you have not so much shamed yourself, as that you have confounded and overcome Satan, by whose venom and deceitful enticements, you hitherto have been rebellious to the wholesome admonitions of the church. And yet because we can but only see that which is external, we will join our prayers with yours, that your humiliation may proceed from the heart.
Let the prayers appointed to be said in the receiving of the penitent be said also here: which ended, let the church and the penitent be admonished as there is expressed, except that the crime of his excommunication must ever be aggredged and mentioned.
The prayer containing his receiving to the church. Lord Jesus Christ, King, Teacher, and our eternal Priest, who with the preaching of thy blessed evangel hast joined the power to bind and loose the sins of men, who hast also pronounced that whatsoever by thy ministers is bound on earth shall be bound in the heaven, and also that whatsoever is loosed by the same, shall be loosed and absolved with thee in the heaven: Look, O Lord, mercifully upon this thy creature, N., etc., whom Satan of long time hath held in bondage, so that not only he drew him to iniquity, but also that he so hardened his heart, that he despised all admonitions; for the which his sin and contempt we were compelled to excommunicate him from our body. But now, O Lord, seeing that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus hath so far prevailed in him, that he is returned to our society, it will please thee, for the obedience of our Lord Jesus, so to accept him, that his former disobedience be never laid to his charge, but that he may increase in all godliness, till that Satan finally be trodden under his feet and ours, by the power of the Lord Jesus Christ: to whom with thee and the Holy Spirit be all honour and glory, now and ever. So be it.
The form of absolution. In the name and authority of Jesus Christ, I, the minister of his blessed evangel, with consent of this whole ministry and church, absolve thee, N., from the sentence of excommunication, from the sin by thee committed, and from all censures led against thee for the same before, according to thy repentance, and pronounce thy sin to be loosed in heaven, and thee to be received again to the society of Jesus Christ, to his body the church, to the participation of his sacraments, and, finally, to the fruition of all his benefits, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So be it.
The absolution pronounced, the minister shall then call him brother, and give him admonition to watch and pray, that he fall not in the like temptation, that he be thankful for the mercy shown unto him, and that he show the fruits of his conversion in life and conversation.
Thereafter the whole ministry shall embrace him, and such others of the church as be next unto him; and then shall a psalm of thanksgiving be sung.
This order may be enlarged or contracted as the wisdom of the discreet minister shall think expedient; for we rather show the way to the ignorant, than prescribe order to the learned that cannot be amended.
A prayer. Preserve the public face of thy church, within this realm, O Lord. Dilate the kingdom of thy Son Jesus Christ universally; and so further disclose and break down the tyranny of that Roman Antichrist, by the power of thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ. So be it. Anno. 1567.
This book is thought necessary and profitable for the Church, and commanded to be printed by the general assembly. Set forth by John Knox, minister; and sighted by us whose names follow, as we were appointed by the general assembly.
M. John Craig
James Greg, etc.
1. A reference to abortionists, who in those days used concoctions to induce premature labour.
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