O Lord God, who seest that we put not our trust in any thing that we do; Mercifully grant that by thy power we may be defended against all adversity, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Deus, qui conspicis quia ex nulla nostra actione confidimus; concede propitius, ut contra omnia adversa doctoris gentium protectione muniamur. Per. (Greg. Sac., Miss. Sar.)
A SPECIAL interest attaches to this Collect, not so much from its contents, which are meagre in comparison with some others, as from the material alteration which the principles of our Reformers obliged them to make in it. The petition of it, as it stands in the Sacramentary of Gregory, and as it still is used in the Roman Church, runs thus: “Mercifully grant that by the protection of the teacher of the Gentiles we may be fortified against all adversities.” St. Paul is, of course, the person referred to, whose tutelage is to fortify the petitioner. In both his Epistles to Timothy he assumes the designation of “teacher of the Gentiles,” preceding it in either Epistle by the words “a preacher and an apostle,” and succeeding it in the first by the clause “in faith and verity.” The petition of the old Collect seems to regard him as being at present, in virtue of the position which he held upon earth, a kind of guardian angel of the Gentile Churches, one who even in Paradise watched their concerns with interest, shielded them from the assaults of hostile principalities and powers in the spirit-world, one, in short, who held towards these Churches very much the same relation, as in the tenth chapter of Daniel certain angels, called respectively “princes of Persia,” “Grecia,” and Israel, seem to hold to the nations placed under their patronage. Now, although there is some authority in Holy Scripture for the tutelage of angels—abundant evidence at all events that by God’s appointment they “succor and defend” men “on earth,”—there is none whatever for the tutelage of departed saints. Sternly, therefore, as they were in duty bound, did the Reformers wield the pruning knife on this occasion, and referred the fortification of the Church against all adversity, not to the protection of the teacher of the Gentiles, but simply to the power of God. But the old form of the petition still has its interest, though it is no longer a practical one. It should be remarked, while we are upon this part of the subject, that the original Epistle for this day (which consisted of twenty-four verses) reached to the end of the ninth verse of the twelfth Chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Our Reformers curtailed it to twelve verses, so that the account of the “visions and revelations of the Lord,” with which St. Paul was favored, was thus omitted altogether, because it might have tended to foster the superstitions, connected with his tutelage, which had left such evident traces upon the Collect.
“O Lord God, who seest that we put not our trust in anything that we do.” Think not that it is an easy thing to refrain from putting our trust in the things we do. It is indeed easy enough, so long as in God’s service we are doing little or nothing. If a man has no sacrifices for Christ to show in his life, if he has surrendered for Christ’s sake nothing which he might have retained, if his religion—while it has soothed his own conscience, and won him the favorable opinion of others, has had no element of self-denial in it, then “to put his trust in nothing that he does” is surely the cheapest of all virtues. But look at the toils and sufferings of St. Paul, as he himself records them in this day’s Epistle—all undergone, not with a free unburdened mind, but under the pressure of anxiety and work, connected with the churches which he had founded; who that had done all this, and submitted to all this, in the service of our great Master, would not feel a temptation to plume himself on his exertions, his self-denials, and to take heart from looking rather at what he had done for Christ than at what Christ had done for him? St. Paul insinuates that he felt the temptation to spiritual pride, and felt it so strongly that a special trial was in his case needed to prevent his being exalted above measure. When the life of a servant of God has special trials, he is compensated for them by special privileges. St. Paul is compensated for his “journeyings often,” and for all the weariness and painfulness and cold and nakedness involved in them, by being transported in a heavenly vision to the immediate Presence-Chamber of God, and then to that Paradise, into which the penitent thief after his death had been admitted to companionship with the Divine Master. But an heir of sinful flesh and blood, so tried and so honored, was liable to “be exalted above measure.” And as God will have “no flesh glory in His presence,” a thorn in this man’s flesh is given to him (it may have been an impediment in his speech, or a dimness in his eyesight, or a nervous affection operating in some other humiliating manner) to buffet him, and thus to keep him in continual mindfulness that, though he preaches the Gospel, he has nothing to glory of, and that the treasure of “the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” is lodged “in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of” man. And the state of mind to which he is brought by this discipline is represented thus: “Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ” (of God in Christ, the power for which the Collect prays as our defence against all adversities) “may rest upon me.”
But one word must be said on the appeal here made to God’s omniscience. “O Lord God, who knowest that we put not our trust,” etc.,—“knowest,” because unto thee “all hearts be open, all desires known, and from thee no secrets are hid.” Every one who takes up this Collect into his lips, should at least pause before using it, to ask himself these two questions: “Am I doing or undergoing anything for Christ’s sake?” and secondly, “Am I putting my trust in the things which I do and undergo for Him, rather than in what He did and underwent for me?” How grievous a sin it is to come before God, with a lie—with an insincere profession—in one’s mouth, let the doom of Ananias and Sapphira declare.
“Mercifully grant that by thy power we may be defended against all adversity.” What we must here be understood to deprecate, is not that chastisement, which God inflicts, “for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness,” but the pressure, “out of measure, above strength,” which might prove too severe a trial for our faith and patience. By such pressure it was that the great teacher of the Gentiles was thrown, in despair of his own resources, on the Divine power, and then delivered. And this shows us the answer to a question, which naturally suggests itself in reviewing this Collect, namely, how the two parts of it hang together, how is the petition for defence against all adversity connected with the plea that “we put not our trust in anything that we do”? The answer is that, when a man is beaten out of his own resources, then, and not till then, it is that he puts his whole trust in God. And so we realize in our experience the great truth, which “the teacher of the Gentiles” realized in his: “When I am weak, then am I strong.”
—The Collects of the Book of Common Prayer: An Exposition, Critical and Devotional (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1883), pp. 116-121.