THE GOSPEL IN THE LITURGY
- Do we value the Prayer Book enough?
- Do we appreciate its real quality?
- Do we make the best use of it?
Certainly, the Prayer Book does not play in the lives of the present-day churchmen anything like the part it played in the Christian practice of their great-grandfathers. A century ago, Christians wove Prayer Book prayers into both private and family devotions as a matter of course. Their Bible-reading followed the psalms and lessons set for each day. They memorized the catechism in youth, and dwelt on it constantly in later life. Their Prayer Book was prized and well-used.
But all that has changed. Many modern Anglicans do not even own a Prayer Book. Their Bible Study scheme, if they have one, owes nothing to the lectionary. They rarely hear, nor do they wish to hear, what used to be called Prayer Book teaching exposition of the Articles and services. The Prayer Book has little hold on their affections. They patronize it, treating it as a rather faded family antique, nothing like as precious as their forbears imagined. They seem to have no inkling of its real worth.
The attitude of some Evangelicals, in particular, contrasts strikingly with that of a former generation. A century and a half ago, Charles Simeon, vicar of Holy Trinity, Cambridge, and preacher of a famous set of University sermons on The Excellency of the Liturgy, never lost an opportunity of praising the Prayer Book and criticizing its critics. The deadness and formality experienced in the worship of the Church arise far more from the low state of our graces than from any defect in our Liturgy.
But many today treat the set services as a mere stodgy preliminary, tending only to take the edge off ones appetite, and the idea of the Prayer Book as an aid to spiritual worship leaves them cold.
In this situation, what is needed is a detailed account of the Prayer Books particular virtues. The following pages, began as articles in the parish magazine inset News Extra. They seek to show in briefest outline how the English liturgy sets forth the Gospel and leads us into ways of evangelical worship.
The Gospel is the good news that God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:8-10). The background of the Gospel is God’s wrath and judgment against us sinners. The heart of the Gospel is the double truth of propitiation for sin, and remission of sin, through the cross of Christ atonement by blood, and justification by faith. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:19, 21).
The Gospel of free forgiveness through Christ crucified appears as the mainspring of worship throughout the whole Prayer Book, and it is noticeable that current discontent with the Prayer Book is strongest among those whose grasp on this Gospel is most suspect. A modern prophet, in an article entitled Un-Christian liturgy, has censured the Prayer Book stress on guilt and pardon as morbid and unhealthy. Our own judgment goes rather with Simeon:
I seek to be, not only humbled and thankful, but humbled in thankfulness, before my God and Savior continually. This is the religion that pervades the whole Liturgy, and particularly the Communion Service; and this makes the Liturgy inexpressibly sweet to me. The repeated cries for mercy to each Person of the ever-adorable Trinity for mercy, are not at all too frequent or too fervent for me; nor is the Confession in the Communion service too strong for me; nor the Te Deum, nor the ascriptions of glory after the Lord’s Supper, Glory be to God on high, etc. too exalted for me this shows what men of God the framers of our Liturgy were, and what I pant, and long, and strive to be. This makes the Liturgy as superior to all modern compositions, as the work of a Philosopher on any deep subject is to that of a schoolboy who understands scarcely anything about it.