Devotion Monday April 27
Cranmer’s Collect for the Second Sunday after Easter reminds us of his perennial concern to link justification to sanctification. In so doing, he answers the all-important question for Christians: where do we find the motivation to be more like Jesus? An original composition, the prayer makes clear that the secret to godliness lies in gratitude for the free gift of salvation.
Cranmer deplored “idle babblers and talkers of the Scripture” who looked for the “vainglory of frivolous disputation” but were “without any increase of virtue or example of good living.” He was convinced that truly appreciating what Jesus did for us on the cross would inevitably lead to a transformed personal life. As he wrote to Henry VIII in 1538,
But if the profession of our faith of the remission of our own sins enter within us into the deepness of our hearts, then it must kindle a warm fire of love in our hearts towards God, and towards all other for the love of God - a fervent mind to seek and procure God’s honour, will, and pleasure in all things - a good will and mind to help every man and to do good unto them, so far as our might, wisdom, learning, counsel, health, strength, and all other gifts which we have received of God and will extend, - and, in summa, a firm intent and purpose to do all that is good, and leave all that is evil.
How could Cranmer be so sure that justification leads to sanctification? He followed the early Lutheran teaching about human nature. What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies. On its own, the human heart naturally loves itself more than God and other people. The will chooses those things which make it feel good, and the mind rationalizes what has been done. In fact, the heart can and often does deceive the mind. People’s insecurities commonly lead them to act in selfish, sinful ways, often without them even realizing it. The only way out of this closed circle of sin and self-centeredness is to discover a new, stronger, ruling love - a love for God instead of a love for self. Here is the simple secret to changing your ways - simply love God more than sin.
But from where does this stronger love for God come? From fear, condemnation and shame? That was the answer from the medieval Catholic church. But such pricks to the conscience cannot sustain repentance in the long run, since fear, condemnation and shame can never produce love. Only gratitude for being loved can produce love. According to Cranmer:
When [true faith] seeth and considereth what God hath done for us, [it] is also moved through continual assistance of the Spirit of God to serve and please him, to keep his favour, to fear his displeasure, to continue his obedient children, showing thankfulness again by observing his commandments; and that freely, for true love chiefly, and not for dread of punishment or love of temporal reward, considering how clearly without our deservings we have received his mercy and pardon freely.
For Cranmer, assurance of salvation births gratitude, and gratitude alone births the love which leads to good works. As believers begin to appreciate the unconditional love of God that will never leave them, their hearts are inflamed with grateful love in return. This new love for God will continually have to fight to restrain human nature’s on-going hidden tendency to self-gratification. Nevertheless, because of the renewing work of the Holy Spirit, believers now have the necessary desire and ability to do so (Phil. 2:13). Empowered by the overfilling joy that comes from a heart made grateful by restoration to God, believers can at last begin to say no to the deceitful devices and desires of their own self-centeredness.
Thankful for the cross of Christ, let us to turn God for his assistance to become more like him, using Cranmer’s collect.
1552 Collect for the Second Sunday after Easter:
ALMIGHTY God, which hast given thy holy son to be unto us, both a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us the grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life.