John McLeod Campbell and the Theology of Absolution

Frances M Henderson

A paper given at the Study Day at Rhu (where John McLeod Campbell had been minister) in 2013 by the Revd Dr Frances M Henderson, minister of Hoddom, Kirtle-Eaglesfield, and Middlebie in the Presbytery of Annandale and Eskdale.

How real was the Prodigal Son’s repentance? This question Campbell also asked about his congregation and we may do so about ours today.  Campbell saw two approaches: the ‘hollow and hypocritical’ nature of his people’s repentance, and with this their worship was self-seeking, to ensure eternal life; and the overscrupulous approach that is full of anxiety. He saw lacking a core Calvinist doctrine, the assurance of faith, which led to a lack of joy. For Calvin, faith led to repentance. The writer goes on to discuss what should be our liturgical response to repentance, but notes that the Reformers never quite settled on how to convey this in public worship. A petition for pardon was the common response, but in the Order of Excommunication (1569), the minister said ‘I absolve thee’. She finds three types of absolution in the Book of Common Order: declaratory, precatory, and the petition for pardon, but never in its pure form. The author suggests that Adoration, Confession, and Absolution are not three separate prayers but in some sense simultaneous; but is our liturgical ordering adequate? What if we were to begin with a resounding declaration of forgiveness.

Volume 48 2013, p17