Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fear and love of God's Holy Name--inseparable twins

You may care to read my reflections on the theme of the Collect for Trinity II, Sunday 17th

I do think that we have generally lost the godly affection of "fear of the Lord" and have tended to bring down God from his Majesty into our sphere so that we can have a relationship with Deity on our terms! Yet we make much of Love although it is a Love without discipline and certainly without worth against sin.

thanks-- The Revd Dr Peter Toon, M.A. M.Th. D.Phil., President of the PBS 2007

Do you have a perpetual fear and love of God’s holy Name?

In the appointed Collected in the classic Book of Common Prayer for the second Sunday after Trinity Sunday, we pray that we may have “a perpetual fear and love of God’s holy Name”—as the Father, the Lord, and so on. Let us note the origins of this prayer and theme in the tradition of worship in the West.

We go back to The Collect in the Gelasian Sacramentary (circa 500), used on the Sunday after the Ascension at the Eucharist. It is, as most ancient collects, brief and profound. Through it, we gain an understanding of a major aspect of the Christian life and corporate worship as understood by the Fathers in the patristic era. In traditional English, the prayer is as follows:

O Lord, make us to have concurrently (or, equally) a perpetual fear and love of thy holy name, because never dost thou leave destitute of thy pilotage, those whom thou dost institute [bring up] in the steadfastness of thy love. Though the Lord Jesus Christ….

Here the basic doctrine is that God the Father pilots – and never fails to do so – through life all those whom he trains, rears, disciplines and educates in his steadfast love. And this doctrine presupposes that God’s love reaches out to the sinner in the Gospel and by it he is drawn into the family of God, there to live as a child of God within the steadfast, sure and certain continuing love of God.

So how does the baptized believer make sure – as far as a human being can so do – that, as an adopted child of God, he is being piloted by God the Father through the problems and difficulties of life in this evil age? The answer is stated in the petition of this Collect: “to have concurrently a perpetual fear and love of the holy Name of God the Father.”

We note that what is required in not only a continuing fear of God but also a continuing love of God. Fear and love are two side of the same divine coin: or they are two parallel primary affections of the soul: and they are wedded to each other in the godly life. Fear of the LORD leads to love of the LORD and love of the LORD cannot exist without fear of the LORD.

An important point to bear in mind here is that both fearing and loving God are actually commanded by God. They are to be done in response to his authoritative word of command. This means that fearing and loving are not be seen as innate emotions of the soul that can be aroused by this or that circumstance or occasion. To put it minimally, they are acts of the will to do something that God, the Sovereign Lord, commands.

Godly Fear, as an act of the will and a godly affection of the soul, is awe, reverence, even dread, before the Majesty of the Almighty God, who is not only Creator, but also Judge, and not only Sustainer but also Saviour. A perpetual fear is this same awe, reverence and dread filling the believer’s soul each and every day, wherever he is, and causing him to think, determine and act in ways that are pleasing to the holy and righteous LORD God, whom he desires to please and not to offend – and from whose Spirit and Presence he can never escape.

Where there is such holy, profound respect for the LORD, there can be, and will be, genuine love of God. In fact, there can be no other for God, the LORD, as known in his nature, attributes, perfections, ways and deeds by the reverent, humble soul is supremely adorable and lovable. And, practically speaking, love for the LORD means worshipping him, doing his will, obeying his commandments and walking in his ways.

Before the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, The Holy Trinity, the Christian believer bows in humility and with reverence and awe, and, as he does so, he can do no other but love the LORD his God, with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, for the One before whom he bows is supremely lovable. The immediate fruit of this fear with love is obedience of the same LORD, the keeping of his commandments.

The joining together of fear and love is, of course, a biblical method, beginning most clearly in Deuteronomy (see 10:12-13) and reaching its climax in the Revelation of St. John (see 14:7; 15:5; 19:5). This couple is married on earth and the marriage remains in heaven.

In the composition of The Book of Common Prayer (first edition, 1549) of the ecclesia anglicana (Church of England) this ancient Collect was transferred to the Second Sunday after Trinity. In later editions of this Prayer Book, it was also expanded. The edition of 1662 contains it in this form:

O Lord, who never failest to help and govern them whom thou dost bring up in thy steadfast fear and love; keep us, we beseech thee, under the protection of thy good providence, and make us to have a perpetual fear and love of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Here the doctrine and petition are similar to those of the ancient Gelasian Collect, but not identical.

The doctrine is found in the relative clause beginning, “who never failest…” It is that God is the Pilot through life of those whom he instructs and educates in steadfast fear and love of himself as the LORD, the Holy Trinity.

The petition begins with “Keep us…” and includes two requests. It is that we ask to be safely guided by God the Pilot through the complexities of life and that, as we are so guided, we shall have and also maintain both a perpetual fear and a committed love of his holy Name.

Here again in this English Collect, fear and love necessarily belong together in the determinations of will and the godly affections of the children of God, who are disciples of Jesus, the Lord. This union of fearing and loving God as God’s command is certainly Biblical doctrine; then also it is Patristic doctrine, as we have seen; further, it is both genuine Reformation and Counter-Reformation Doctrine.

In the light of all this, the questions arise (a) whether the union of fear and love as doctrine and is found in modern liturgical books, and (b) whether or not the union of fear and love is within the practical theology as generally taught, commended and received in modern churches (be they “progressive” or “orthodox”)?

Some observers of the contemporary church scene—and Anglican Way—
maintain that there has been such a sentimentalizing of love that the whole (biblical) concept of fear that leads to love, and love that requires fear as its context before God, is nearly impossible to conceive, let alone act upon! If this is so then we have reached a perilous, moral and spiritual position.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon;
drpetertoon@yahoo.com Trinity II, 2007

No comments: