There is no better short statement of the Reformed Catholic (Church of England & Anglican Protestant) approach and submission to the Bible as the Word of God than the prayer composed for the Advent season by Archbishop Cranmer in the late 1540s. It is found in all authentic editions of The Book of [the] Common Prayer, beginning with the first edition of 1549, as the Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent.
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that by patience, and comfort of they holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which though hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us take it part by part:
Blessed Lord, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel” cried Zechariah (Luke 1:68) and Paul wrote, “Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Here we address God as “the Lord,” the ultimate “I am who I am,” the Lord of all being and the fountain of all goodness, wisdom and power.
Who hast caused all holy Scripture to be written for our learning; Paul wrote, “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning” (Romans 15:4) and, “All these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they were written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).
Here, by careful use of the relative clause, we recall reverently before God what we have been taught concerning the use of the Scriptures, which, though written centuries ago, were written (by inspiration and through God’s omniscience) for our practical use today. They exist for our learning, or our instruction in Faith and Morals. So we read the Scriptures in the humble confidence that God has foreseen our needs and will meet them as we receive his written Word.
Grant that we may in such wise hear them, Since we know why the Scriptures exist we ask God, in his mercy and grace, to place us in a position where we can truly profit from their existence and content, as the Word of God written and translated into our language. The verb “Grant” contains not only the theme of petition but also of submission to God, the Lord. And we ask that we may receive their content in such a way and fashion that the reception will be to our true edification. “Hearing” is the first way in which we receive the oracles of God, as they are read in the church services of Morning and Evening Prayer, in the Order for Holy Communion, and in Family Prayers.
Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, Hearing the oracles is but the beginning of receiving them for as we hear them we can also read them, and when alone we can just read them. The purpose of both hearing and reading them (done at the same time or separately) is that we may mark, that is pay careful attention to what we hear and read concerning God and his salvation in Jesus Christ. Marking, paying careful attention, leads to learning and understanding, and to being lodged in the memory and heart – “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee” [Psalm 119:11]. This whole exercise may be called meditation for it is the route appointed by God whereby his Word goes from the written page into our inmost souls. Merely to hear or merely to read the Bible is not enough; we are called dutifully and humbly to employ the means necessary to allow the Word of God to enter into our lives. We need to have both the spiritual appetite and the spiritual digestion in place to come to the experience of the Psalmist who declared: “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth” [Psalm 119:103].
That by patience, and comfort of thy holy Word, Here we begin a specific application to the Advent Season, when we look for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus in glory even as we celebrate his Nativity in Bethlehem as the Son of God incarnate. St Paul wrote, “that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4), that is hope of that Second Coming and of the redemption of our bodies and life in glory. We need to bear in mind that the comfort and strengthening of the Scriptures particularly comes to those who are patient!
We may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, The Christian hope is a blessed hope as St Paul told Titus: “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). And having addressed God as the “Blessed Lord”, we now celebrate the “blessed hope” which he alone provides for us (if we were using Latin the first of God would be Benedictus and the second of his gift would be beatus).
Thus we ask God to help us rightly to use the Holy Scriptures as a means of preparing for the Second Advent and of life together with Christ in glory.
Which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. As the invocation of this Collect (to “Blessed Lord”) is unique in The Book of Common Prayer, so the conclusion is a very significant variation on the usual ending of these short prayers – “through Jesus Christ…” Instead of the proposition “through” we use “in” because the Christian hope is not merely through Jesus the Mediator but it is actually all bound up within him as our Prophet, Priest and King. In fact it is, “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” as St Paul told the Colossians (1:27). This Hope keeps us steadfast not only in Advent but throughout the whole Church Year.
Amen. So be it, O LORD, the Blessed One and blessed be thy kingdom now and always, even unto ages of ages.
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we in such wise hear them, read, mark,learn and inwardly digest them, that by patience, and comfort of they holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which though hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Revd Dr Peter Toon