The Theological Balance of Praying the Collects

I have often opined about the importance of Christians understanding the inter-dependence of love and law, or love and virtue, or gospel and grace…however you think about it, these are essentially the same ideas. Unfortunately, in our day many Christians have been convinced that Law and Gospel or Law and Grace, or Spirit and Law are opposed. This belief is detrimental to the process of sanctification in our day to day lives.

Will Armstrong recently posted to his blog a quote on this topic, and I replied with a favorite quote from evangelical Anglican J.I. Packer:

“Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love … is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.” [1]

But what I really wanted to comment on in this post is my delight in the weekly Collects from the Anglican liturgy. What is a “collect” you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked! A collect (pronounced like “call-ect”) is a prayer that gathers up the prayers of a group. It can be prayed in unison as is often the case with the Collect of Purity (sometimes called Prayer of Preparation), or it can be prayed by one individual on behalf of the group, who subsequently indicate their agreement by speaking Hebrew in response and saying, “Amen” (so be it). This is the standard practice of the weekly Collect.

Our practice at All Saints Anglican was to send the forthcoming Sunday’s Collect out via email during the preceding week so that congregants could be mulling it over and be prepared to wholeheartedly agree in prayer rather than be exposed to it for the first time during the service. For life-long Anglicans the Collects may have become familiar but since the majority of our congregation are newly Anglican this is more than typically important.

I have been increasingly delighted by the wide range of significant doctrinal truths mentioned in the weekly collects. But when I noted the collect for this coming week, it returned to mind the content of this past week’s, and I was newly pleased to see the two parallel truths of the continuing significance and required interrelation between law and love displayed in the Collects for two sequential Sundays.

Here is the Collect for last week, note how it prays through the theological and practical importance of God’s commands to the believer’s life.

The Collect for First Sunday After Trinity – Proper 5

O God,
the strength of all those who put their trust in you,
mercifully accept our prayers
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature
we can do no good thing without you,
grant us the help of your grace,
that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

And now lest we forget that love is blind without law, and that law without love is legalistic, this coming week’s text:

The Collect for Second Sunday After Trinity – Proper 6

Lord, you have taught us
that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
send your Holy Spirit
and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

It tickles me to see this reminder that those saints who have gone before often safegaurd us from the errors of contemporary life, if we will only heed the lessons of their experience.

A few months ago I attempted to convey God’s design for this interplay between Word and Spirt or law and love in a homily titled The Two Helpers.


[1] J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ, Originally Published: I Want to Be a Christian. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, c1977.; Includes Index. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996, c1994), 232.

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