By Peter Toon & Jason Patterson
Almighty God, who showest to them that be in error the light of thy truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness: Grant unto all them that are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion, that they may eschew1 those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Epistle: 1 Peter 2:11-17 The Gospel: St John 16:16-22
Being found in the Sacramentary of Leo (the oldest extant Sacramentary), this is one of the prayerbook’s most ancient Collects. It has undergone little change since then – Gelasius added nothing and Gregory made only a very minor addition (he added of righteousness to describe the way).2
Commentary on the Collect
To unpack the meaning of this very ancient Collect we would do well to consider the significance of its proximity to Easter Eve – a night upon which converts to the Faith were admitted into the fellowship of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church through the Sacrament of Baptism. It is primarily with these new members of the Church in mind that we offer this prayer to the God who has redeemed them (and us).
Almighty God, who showest to them that be in error the light of thy truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness. The Collect begins with the confession that whatever spiritual good we may have – whatever Truth we may be able to recognize as being true – is owing to the grace and mercy of God being operative upon us and within us. We do not come to recognize error or embrace the truth (spiritually speaking) because of our own brilliance or insightfulness. Jesus said: “no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”3 Likewise even when the Apostles were preaching (after the outpouring of the Holy Ghost), St. Luke is careful to emphasize that the fruit being born was owing to the activity and will of God: “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”4 Because of these (and other) Biblical passages, the prayerbook’s baptismal liturgy begins by drawing our attention to our utter dependence upon God for our salvation.5 The Minister addresses the godparents and parents and instructs them to call upon God that “of his bounteous mercy he will grant (to the child about to be baptized) that thing which by nature he cannot have.” There is thus an important thematic unity between today’s Collect, and our theology of the manner in which the grace of God is at work in Baptism – both of which emphasize God (not us) and His gracious redemption of us (not we of ourselves).
We can hear this theme in the description of God as the One who “showest to them that be in error the light of thy truth.” As we address God, we are confessing that whatever truth with which we may be enlightened and whatever error we are able to reject is because He showest it to us. The upshot of this is that, as St. Paul says, no man will have any cause to boast before God, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”6 Whenever we witness a baptism or the repentance of a non-Christian or of a Christian – we should quickly call to mind how gracious is this Good Shepherd who seeks and saves the lost, and thus should our hearts be moved to honor and obey His word and commandment.
To the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness. Here we are remembering before God the purpose for which he shows his truth to men. As will be made more explicit in the Collect’s petition, God’s desire is that being enlightened by the Truth, we live lives transformed by it.7
When we fail to do this (through sin and unbelief), the way back into fellowship with God is through faith-filled and godly repentance. It is possible to understand the word “return” as being in reference to Christians who have strayed but are returning to the fellowship of Christ’s Church. But, in light of the fact that the petition that follows is clearly a reference to the soul’s initial conversion, it is more likely that the primary referent of this phrase is the newly baptized. The new convert has “returned” to the way of righteousness in the sense that they have returned to the purpose for which God created mankind. Having been made in God’s image, we are restored to the way of righteousness through faith and the birth from above.
Grant unto all them that are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion, that they may eschew those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same. We ask the Petition in which we are (again) asking the Almighty God to mercifully involve himself in our lives – granting to all who are within the fellowship of the Church the grace to practice both renunciation and
Though the primary referents are the newly baptized, any Christian may pray this prayer for himself and for the entire Church, for all Christians are called to die daily to sin and to live unto righteousness in the power of the Holy Ghost. All Christians are called to holiness of life and consecration unto the Lord and his purposes, and thus they are to think and do only that which they know to be a part of his will for them.
We must renounce all that is in any way in conflict with the Faith of Christ. The 1662 uses the old verb eschew (replaced in the American BCP with avoid). The sense is to “both avoid and deliberately repel. The Latin original is respuere, which means to eject, to vomit, as in Revelation 3:16, ‘I will spue thee out of my mouth.”8
Baptized believers are to shoo or drive away (as birds from a fruit tree) all that is evil and contrary to holiness, for in baptism we promise to reject the world, the flesh and the devil and toaccept and follow Christ in the way of self-denial and of grace. This Collect thus recalls us to our vocation as the people of God, saved by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 The 1928 BCP reads “avoid.”
2 The seven oldest Collects in the BCP come from the Leonite Sacramentary (either being composed or adopted by Leo I): the Third Sunday after Easter, the Fifth, Ninth, Tenth, Twelfth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Sundays after Trinity.
3 John 14:6b.
4 Acts 2:47b (ESV), emphasis added.
5 In the BCP 1662, see pages 263-264 and in the BCP 1928 see page 274.
6 Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV), emphasis added.
7 Originally (in the Leonite Sacramentary) the Collect read simply “the way.” Gregory added “of righteousness.” Neil & Willoughby, 175.
8 See L. E. H. Stephens-Hodges, The Collects: An Introduction and Exposition, 111.