Hughes Oliphant Old (1933-2016)

Today the church on earth has lost one of her best. Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old, minister of the Word and Sacraments, finished his earthly sojourn this morning and departed to be with his Lord at the age of 83. Old was arguably one of the most prolific and outstanding patristics and reformed liturgical scholars of our time. While he is probably best known for his prodigious 7-volume magnum opus, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church and Worship that is Reformed According to the Scriptures, he always insisted that his less famous book, Themes and Variations for a Christian Doxology: Some Thoughts on the Theology of Worship, is seminal for understanding everything else that he has written.

His death is also a great personal loss to me. As one of my teachers, Dr. Old became a dear mentor and friend. When I was his student many years ago, he honoured me by inviting me to be his personal assistant for the duration of the course, on account of his debilitating blindness. This meant that I was privileged, among other things, to drive him around, read aloud for him, and join him for meals at his favourite local restaurants. With this privilege came the rare opportunity to have extended conversations with him.

A couple years ago, after many years of trying to get together again, he invited me to spend a week with him and his wife at his home in Vermont. They were superb and generous hosts, far beyond what I expected or deserved. We spent time editing a volume that he was working on at the time, talking about my recent dissertation, listening to the music of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck with which he was deeply fascinated and asked me to research and write about for him, and even visiting nearby Northampton, Massachusetts where Jonathan Edwards had once ministered. During his periods of rest, I had full access to his large, well-stocked library and his huge collection of musical recordings. I was again deeply impressed by his humble piety, his brilliant and encyclopaedic mind and his immense wisdom; but most of all by his deep love for the Lord God and his church.

We had planned and hoped to work on a writing and conference project together, but my wife’s cancer diagnosis several months later prevented me from following through. Since my wife’s health is more stable, I had hoped to take up contact with Dr. Old soon again to reassess our plans. God clearly had another plan in mind.

There’s no doubt in my mind that he deeply cherished his final act of public ministry last month: the baptism of his first grandchild. Now he may enjoy the reality that baptism signifies: to be alive with Christ!

Hughes Oliphant Old has fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7). Farewell, brother! Until we meet again.





Published in: on May 24, 2016 at 11:53 pm  Leave a Comment  


Worship is the work of the Holy Spirit
in the body of Christ
to the glory of the Father.

–Hughes Oliphant Old, scattered throughout all his writings.


Published in: on July 26, 2014 at 6:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Prayer for Illumination

Here is an example of a prayer that was used before a sermon on Micah 1:1-2:9, for which the New Testament Lesson was John 1:14-18. A minister could adapt this prayer according to what he is preaching on any given Lord’s Day.

O Radiant God,
  Source of never ending glory,
  Saviour of your people,
We pray to you for the gift of the Holy Spirit,
  that we might understand the prophecies
    of your servant Micah,
That being instructed by his word,
    we might be wise in your ways.
We pray that hearing the Gospel
  of your servant John
  we might perceive grace and truth
  and thereby enter your eternal kingdom.
Through Jesus Christ,
  our Lord.


Source: Hughes Oliphant Old, The Prophecies of Micah and the Gospel at Christmas: A Series of Sermons (1985), 10. Rev. Old preached this series of sermons to his flock at Faith Presbyterian Church in West Lafayette, Indiana during Advent and Christmas, 1984.

Is Christian worship dialogue?

Not according to Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old:

Reformed worship is not to be understood in terms of a dialectic between God’s Word and man’s response. The early Reformed theologians did not understand worship as dialogue. They were not interested in any form of worship that suggested that God spoke his lines and then men spoke their lines. They did not think of God as being on one side of the altar and men on the other. The sermon was understood as the Word of God. It was Christ who fed his people at his table. Through prayers and psalms the Holy Spirit spoke in and through the church.
The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship (1970), 341.


Published in: on July 23, 2014 at 1:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Biblical Theology of Prayer

According to one of my teachers Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old, in his monumental Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church (Tolle Lege Press, 2013):

From the standpoint of a biblical theology of prayer two things should be said: (1) Recount the story of God’s saving acts, as we find them in Psalms 78, 105, and 136, and (2) dedicate our lives to his service in recognition of his grace.

He’s commenting here on the Thanksgiving Prayer or Prayer of Dedication, as he calls it, in Calvin’s communion liturgy. For those of us who’ve grown up on the liturgical forms inherited from the Reformation, this rings true. Old provides a translation of this Lord’s Supper thanksgiving prayer formulated by Calvin:

Heavenly Father, we return to you our prayers and eternal thanks, that you have prospered us with such manifold blessings. You have lifted us up from our poverty and futility and brought us into the communion of your Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour. For our sake you offered him up to death and even now you have given him to us for our food and nourishment.

Now grant us also this further blessing, that we not ever be allowed to forget these things, but have them engraven upon our hearts. Grant that we grow and diligently increase in the faith; that we abound in all kinds of good works. Grant that we live out our whole lives in the exaltation of your glory and the edification of our neighbour, through the same Jesus Christ your Son, who in the unity of the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns eternally with you, O Father. Amen.