A Prayer For Cleansing

This prayer by English reformer Thomas Cranmer is one I memorized growing up from hearing it repeated so often in the liturgy of my church. The words often come back to mind when I feel the need for God to cleanse my heart.

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

– Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Book of Common Prayer

I’m amazed at the amount of solid biblical theology that’s packed into these few phrases. First comes the acknowledgement that God is not only all-powerful but all-seeing. I may be able to hide my real desires from other people and even from myself, but my heart is an open book to God. That thought used to scare me, but now it feels incredibly safe to know that He knows me better than I know myself, and still loves me.

Next comes the request. I cannot purify my own thoughts and desires, no matter how hard I try – and believe me, I’ve tried! Only God the Holy Spirit can make me clean as He supernaturally applies the work of Christ to my heart. That’s the “through Christ our Lord” part, which I used to think was just the proper way to end a prayer, like saying “please” and “thank you” and “may I” instead of “can I”. But it’s really a crucial part of the prayer itself, because Christ is the means through which the prayer is answered. His sinless life and atoning death make my forgiveness and possible:

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB)

What’s more, Christ’s resurrection and ascension opened the way for the Holy Spirit to come and take up residence in my life. Jesus said:

“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” – John 16:7 (NASB)

Cranmer’s prayer also includes the purpose for cleansing. If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that many times – maybe even most times – the reason I confess sin is so I won’t feel guilty anymore. But to God, confession is all about restoring my love relationship with Him, which will transform my life into one that brings honor and glory to Him.

The Nicene Creed

The small group I co-lead is studying the basic beliefs and practices of the Christian life, and we’re currently looking at the doctirne of the Trinity. I’ve heard it argued that the Trinity is THE central doctrine of Christianity, setting us apart from all other religions and cults. I believe this is true, because as I look at all the other doctrines I’ve studied in various theology classes, I see that they basically elaborate on this foundational truth, telling us more about this one God in three Persons and our relationship with Him.

Of the two historic creeds most widely used throughout Christendom, the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, the one with the clearest declaration of belief in the Trinity is the Nicene. I think that’s why it’s my preference of the two creeds, and I love it’s fuller, richer description of the deity of Christ and the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The following is a contemporary translation used in many denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church.

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.*
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic** and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

* Eastern Orthodox churches omit “and the Son”
** i.e., universal

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

While growing up I often heard this hymn sung during communion services. Years later, though, I heard it sung as a Christmas hymn, and I was blown away at how appropriate it was. These words, from 4th century Greek Liturgy, remind me in a powerful way of the complete and utter devotion I owe to Christ, the God-man who came to earth to rescue me from the powers of hell.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

– Li­tur­gy of St. James, 4th Cen­tu­ry; trans­lat­ed from Greek by Gerard Moultrie, 1864

Truly God and Truly Man

In the seminary class I’m taking this semester, one of the major topics is the person of Christ. How is it that Jesus can be truly God and truly man? Some in the early church thought His divine nature swallowed up His human nature; others thought His two natures were completely separate so as to make Him two different persons living in one body; still others thought the two natures blended so thoroughly that a third new type of nature was produced. The debates were finally settled by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. when bishops from the entire church affirmed the biblical “Definition of the Union of the Divine and Human Natures in the Person of Christ.” The following contemporary translation may seem a bit hard to wade through, but it’s worth pondering as we meditate on just Who it was that was born that first Christmas morning.

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us.

Glory Be To God On High

I remember singing this ancient hymn of praise regularly in church while growing up. I knew that it was part of the traditional liturgy and old enough to have a Latin name (“Gloria in Excelsis Deo”), but I had no idea how ancient these words were. According to the article on it in Wikipedia.org, one form of the song dates back to at least the third century, if not to the first. I was singing words that had been said or sung by Christians practically since the church began! What an incredible thought!

Originally in Greek, then translated into Latin, this version is from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. It’s a wonderful example of praise, in any language.

Glory be to God on high,
and on earth peace, good will towards men.

We praise thee, we bless thee,
we worship thee,
we glorify thee,
we give thanks to thee for thy great glory,
O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty.

O Lord, the only begotten Son, Jesus Christ;
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father,
have mercy upon us.

For thou only art holy;
thou only art the Lord;
thou only, O Christ,
with the Holy Ghost,
art most high in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

– ancient doxology

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