Gleanings from the Collects: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and on earth: Put away from us all hurtful things, and give us those things that are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect began in the Gelasian sacramentary[1]and was in included in the Sarum Rite[2]and the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. It was the collect for Proper 4 in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and has been transferred to the 5thSunday after Pentecost in the 2019 BCP. The beginning of the original collect is translated as “O God, whose providence is infallible in ordering that which is proper for itself.” 

The theology of this collect is one of the most comforting doctrines of the Christian faith. It is the belief that “this is our Father’s world and that the affairs of men and nations, in the final analysis, are in His hands.”[3]It is rooted in a text from Romans. 

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose.”[4]

It is very important to distinguish this belief from wishful thinking, superstitions and false doctrines. First we must note that the text does not say that all things that happen to us are good. Rather as Lord of all, He is able to turn even what was meant as evil to ultimately work for our good. A classic example of this is seen in the life of Joseph. His brothers, out of jealousy, faked his death and sold him into slavery in Egypt. While a slave he was falsely accused and imprisoned. No one could think that any of those events were good. 

But God in His sovereignty exalted Joseph to be second in command in all of Egypt and save a civilization from starvation. When finally reunited with his brothers, rather than receiving Joseph’s wrath, he pointed then to God’s providence. He said “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”[5]

The central point to the doctrine of providence is that if you a child of God, then your heavenly Father wills ultimate good for you. And in His might He will see that good prevails. This is not karma, which is a supposed impersonal law of the universe. This is not the new age idea of sending good thoughts into the universe so that good returns. This is not an Osteenian approach of confessing health and wealth until you have them. This is a very personal engagement in your life by a loving heavenly Father to see that all things in the end work for your good.

How God is able to make all things work for our good, or why God allows bad things to happen in the first place, remains a mystery. But we don’t have to understand it to live and celebrate this truth. If you live long enough you will have things that happen in your life that you would not wish on your worst enemy. And yet those things became part of what makes you the person that you are today. You will make yourself mad if you try to figure it all out, but you will have no greater peace than to rest in this truth. So enter the room called “providence” and shut the door behind you.

[1]8thcentury book of liturgy

[2]11thcentury liturgy of Salisbury Cathedral

[3]R. C. Sproul

[4]Romans 8:28 ESV

[5]Genesis 50:20 ESV

Gleanings from the Collects: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Variations of this collect can be found in the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries[1]as well as in the Sarum missal.[2]It is the collect for Proper 17 in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer but has been transferred to the 4thSunday after Pentecost in the 2019 BCP. 

The invocation is bold and direct. It ascribes to God “all power and might.” Then adds, “the author and giver of all good things.” These truths together leave the petitioner with no doubt that God is both able because of His power, and willing because of His goodness, to answer this prayer. This teaches us that we pray in faith, not by summoning up our own wills, but by recognizing who God is and trusting in Him to be true to Himself.

One way to view this collect is that it is one petition, followed by three sub petitions, which serve to fulfill the first. In other words we pray for the Lord to “Graft in our hearts the love of your Name” by increasing true religion, nourishing us in goodness and bringing forth the fruit of good works. Such a layered petition deserves further investigation.

First it is noted that we invoke God to graft His love into our hearts. This is so because our love for God is not something that we manufacture. Rather it is a consequence or response to His initiating love. St. John writes, “We love because He first loved us.”[3]When we add that we have done absolutely nothing to deserve this love, then His grace becomes all the more amazing. 

One way that the Lord will graft love for His Name in our hearts is by increasing “in us true religion.” It is likely that Archbishop Cramner added the word “true” before “religion” because of the contemporary controversies of the Reformation. It is certain that false religion promotes fear and condemnation rather than the love of God, therefore the word “true” an important addition. 

While true religion begins at right belief it does not end there. St. James reminds us, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder.”[4]Beyond right belief we must be transformed from within (“nourish us with all goodness”) and zealous for good works[5](“bring forth in us the fruit of good works”). 

These last two petitions are all the more important in our present age. People today declare that they have true religion while brashly demanding that God accept them as they are in their sinfulness, while others say that they have true religion but selfishly hold it like an insurance policy with no concern for the needs of others. True religion calls us to works within and without, to holiness and service. Both of these qualities were perfectly modeled by Jesus. He who was without sin ate with sinners to liberate them from their sin. 

The overall language of the collect is from the world of agriculture. The images of grafting, nourishing and bringing forth fruit gives us the perspective of the farmer. The farmer is utterly dependent upon the Lord for everything; from providing the seed, to sending the rain to bringing forth the harvest. Such dependence is done in quiet confidence because, as professed at the beginning of the collect, He is “Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things.” 

“If our love were but more faithful, we should take him at his word; our life would be thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord.”[6]

[1]8thand 10thCentury books of liturgy

[2]11thCentury Rite of Salisbury Cathedral

[3]I John 4:17 ESV

[4]James 2:19 NIV

[5]Titus 2:14 KJV

[6]There is a wideness in God’s Mercy – 1982 Hymnal #470

Gleanings from the Collects: Third Sunday after Pentecost

O Lord, from whom all good proceeds: Grant us the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may always think those things that are good, and by your merciful guidance may accomplish the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect has its roots in the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries.[1]The 2019 BCP makes an improvement over the 1979 version by specifically asking the Father for the Holy Spirit to be our source of inspiration. With the prayer being offered “through Jesus Christ our Lord” it is thoroughly Trinitarian in nature.

The opening attestation, “from whom all good proceeds,” calls to mind a passage from James. “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.”[2]In these days of pandemic, social unrest and economic uncertainty it is refreshing to be reminded of the goodness of God. The news and social media would have us believe that the sky is falling. And perhaps it is, but even so Holy Scripture says “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”[3]We have been accepted in the Beloved, the Kingdom is not in trouble and so we joyfully proclaim, “God is good, all the time!”“Therefore, since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us be filled with gratitude, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” [4]

The body of the collect encapsulates the truth that the will to do what is right, and the power to accomplish it, both come from the work of the Holy Spirit. It is all too easy to miss this reality. At times through rebelliousness and at other times through naiveté we strike out on our own like the toddler who says “I can do it myself.” How many times do we hear the infuriating question, “Have you prayed about it?” And of course the question is infuriating because we have failed to do so. 

The Holy Spirit, in His “merciful guidance,” calls us back to trust and dependence. He grants us the will and the way to obey Jesus’ command, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bare fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”[5]

[1]Books of liturgy from the 8thand 10thcenturies respectively

[2]James 1:17 NLT

[3]Philippians 4:8 NLT

[4]Hebrews 12:28 BSB

[5]John 15:4 ESV

Gleanings from the Collects: Second Sunday after Pentecost

Grant, O Lord, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by your providence, that your Church may joyfully serve you in quiet confidence and godly peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect has been transferred to the Second Week after Pentecost in the 2019 Book of Common Prayer. It replaces a collect from the 1979 BCP[1]that in turn replaced a collect of the 1928 and 1662 BCP.[2](Both of these collects are in the footnotes).

While this collect seems virtuous at first blush, it does not come from a biblical worldview. As a result it is more wishful thinking than good theology. Written at the time of the barbarian invasions, it is a foxhole prayer that falls short.

Its first error is that it implies that the ability of the Church to “joyfully serve in quiet confidence and godly peace” is dependent upon this world being “peaceably ordered by your providence” What would be the vehicle for this peace to come to the world? Politics? Science? Education? The true vehicle for peace is the gospel of the Kingdom. Thus rather than praying for peace, so that the Church can do her job, we need to pray for the Church to do her job, so that the world can know peace.

Jesus was quite clear about the contrast between Himself and the world. He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer,I have overcome the world.”[3]St. Paul would not have ordered the Church to “put on the whole armor of God”[4]if she was going to fulfill her mission in the context of a peaceful world. It would be nice but that is not reality. Reality is that nearly twice the number of Christians were martyred last century than in all the previous centuries combined[5]. Again, the Church’s role is to make this a peaceful world by working and praying for the Kingdom to come in its fullness.

This leads to the second error of this collect. Jesus did not promise His disciples a life of “quiet confidence and godly peace.” He did not give such false assurances. Jesus, as a Southern expression goes, put the skunk on the table. He said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”[6]Jesus promises a cross not a rose garden.

A more biblically accurate collect from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer says, “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.”[7]

St. James corrects us. “And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”[8]While it would be wonderful for the Church to go about her business in a peaceful world, such a naïve hope is focused more for our comfort than on the glory of God. The Church would do well to return to the former collects for this Sunday that are far more biblically sound.

[1]O God, whose never-failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth: We humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 1979 BCP p.177

[2]O GOD, the strength of all those who put their trust in thee; Mercifully accept our prayers; and because, through the weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing without thee, grant us the help of thy grace, that in keeping thy commandments we may please thee, both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 1928 BCP p.188,189

[3]John 16:33 NKJV

[4]Ephesians 6:11-18


[6]John 15:18-20

[7]1979 BCP p.56

[8]James 4:3 NLT