Devotion Monday May 11
Thomas Cranmer’s translation of the traditional Latin Collect appointed for the Fourth Sunday after Easter addresses one of the major themes of his writings - the transformation of the affections. We have seen previously how he noted that whoever.
"Is diligent in reading [God’s Word] and in his heart to print that he readeth, the great affection to the transitory things of this world shall be diminished in him, and the great desire of heavenly things that be therein promised of God shall increase in him” (See the devotion for Third Easter Thursday).
In particular, Cranmer thought meditating on the promise of salvation as a free gift would inspire a grateful love to seek God and godliness:
Considering the infinite benefits of God [in giving Jesus to suffer for our sins], if… our hearts [be not] harder than stones, they move us to rend ourselves wholly, with all our will, hearts, might, and power to serve him in all good deeds, obeying his commandments during our lives, to seek in all things his glory and honour, not our sensual pleasures and vain-glory (See the devotion for Second Easter Tuesday).
Moreover, Queen Katherine Parr was convinced that salvation by grace alone through faith alone was true biblical teaching precisely because she experienced this inner transformation herself:
All pleasures, vanities, honour, riches, wealth, and aides of the world began to wear bitter unto me. Then I knew it was no illusion of the devil, nor false, [nor] human doctrine I had received: when such success came thereof, that I had in detestation and horror, that which I [formerly] so much loved and esteemed (See the devotion for Third Easter Friday).
She, too, specifically linked her newfound love for God to gratitude for the free gift of salvation:
Then began I to dwell in God by charity, knowing by the loving charity of God in the remission of my sins, that God is charity as Saint John saith. So that of my faith (whereby I came to know God, and whereby it pleased God even because I trusted in him, to justify me) sprang this excellent charity in my heart.
Why then did Cranmer and the other English Reformers put such an emphasis on a Christian reading the Bible to develop a heart on fire for God? Because that’s exactly what Medieval English spirituality did. For example, Walter Hilton (d. 1396) not only stressed the supernatural power of the Bible to transform human affections, but he also encouraged his readers to channel the divine love they received into a striving for moral perfection. In the passages quoted above, we see the doctrinal bridge by which medieval English devotional life crossed over into early Protestantism. The Reformers continued to see a burning heart of love for God as the hallmark of true Christianity. However, experience had taught them that striving to merit salvation through moral perfection only led to fear instead of love. England’s Reformers embraced justification by faith because they came to believe that only by first experiencing the unconditional love of God made known in salvation as a free gift could human beings ever begin to find the power of loving him in return.
Why does all of this matter today? Because it makes all the difference as to what defines our Christian life. Are we deeply repressed, fear-driven rule-keepers, compelled to control ourselves and everything around us in order to prove we are really good enough for God and better than other people who aren’t? That’s the way biblical Christians are often portrayed in Western media. More than we would like to admit, it can be true. Or are we motived by grateful love? Experiencing the joy of daily intimacy with God, do we find over time our desires lining up with his? Repression by our often faltering will-power, or transformation by the mighty power of the resurrection at work within us, on which do we set our hope? For which do we seek in prayer?
Let us answer that last question by praying Cranmer’s collect.
1552 Readings and Collect appointed for the Fourth Sunday after Easter: Epistle: James 1:17-21. Gospel: John 16:5-14. Almighty God, which doest make the minds of all faithful men to be of one will; grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing, which thou commandest, and desire, that which thou doest promise; that among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, whereas true joys are to be found; through Christ our Lorde. Amen.