O Lord God, who seest that we put not our trust in anything we do: Mercifully grant that by thy power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Epistle: 2 Corinthians 11:19-31 The Gospel: Luke 8:4-15
This Collect is taken from the Gregorian Sacramentary. The only notable changes were introduced in 1549 when Cranmer omitted the phrase “by the protection of the Doctor of the Gentiles,” which previously had followed the word defended and added the phrase “by thy power.”
Though not a change to the Collect, another Reformation era adjustment to today’s Propers was made in 1549, when the Epistle was shortened. Previously it had ended at 12:9, thus including St. Paul’s description of his “thorn in the flesh” – which God did not remove from him, despite his fervent prayer, instead comforting him with the assurance “my grace is sufficient for you.” Though we do not know what Paul’s thorn was, whatever afflicted him served to show him his weakness and how dependent he was upon the mercy and power of God to sustain him.
Commentary on the Collect
Last week, on Septuagesima Sunday, we began the pre-lenten season with a solid start. In the Epistle we were taught that “it is never too late to be damned” even if one is an Apostle (1 Corinthians 9:24ff); and in the Gospel we learned that that “it is never too late to be saved” by the mercy of the heavenly Father (the vineyard owner of the parable in Matthew 20:1ff).
Thus there is need for constant vigilance in the management of one’s whole life before God, as well as for constant trust in the grace of the merciful Father, through Jesus Christ the Lord.
This week, from the Epistle we learn more of the total consecration of the Apostle Paul to his Lord and to his vocation and how much he suffered in body and soul for this commitment (see also 2 Corinthians 9:19ff.). Thus we are provided with an example of what serving the Lord wholeheartedly could entail. In the count down to Lent and in Lent itself, we are to employ the discipline of self-examination so as to ascertain where we have failed in our discipleship to Jesus and to look for ways to intensify and enlarge our commitment to the Lord and his mission.
The Gospel is the parable of the sower and the seed. This provides a strong word of both warning and grace to us. God’s Word is propagated and he desires that it be heard, received and obeyed. Yet only a few of us will actually prove to be persons in whom the gospel truly bears fruit. Most of us will receive the gospel only alongside some other commitment. That is, most of us will provide examples of how the power of the devil, temptation, the pressures of the secular world and our own innate sins push out the claims of the gospel. This is why the churches are so morally and spiritually weak and why, where they seem to prosper, they are so worldly and conformed to secular value systems.
But thanks be to God, in this season leading up to Lent (as well as in Lent itself) we are given time to repent and to become, by grace alone, those who: hear the Word, engage in self-examination and go on to bear fruit in the power of the Spirit.
Today’s Collect is the prayer of those who have been led by their own fragile state and moral weakness to cast themselves wholly upon God’s mercy.
O Lord God, who seest that we put not our trust in anything we do. We address our prayer to God the Father, the Lord of heaven and earth. By the Epistle’s description of St. Paul’s suffering for Christ, we are encouraged to see that it is in our weakness that we are strong – strong, that is, in the strength of Christ Jesus by his Spirit. As we pray this prayer, we would do well to remember that St. Paul had a great many achievements, both before becoming a follower of Christ and also afterwards, as a faithful and successful missionary. And yet, despite all that he accomplished, he did not glory in any of these things. His glory was in the cross of his Saviour.
Paul knew what it was to put not (his) trust in anything he did and we must pray for the grace to follow his godly example. God sees fully and clearly into our hearts and so it must be our desire, hope and aim that he will not see in us self-righteousness and pride. Rather, it is our prayer that he would see that we are putting our trust only in him as our Father by adoption and grace. But, as Goulburn warns:
Think not that it is an easy thing to refrain from putting our trust in the things we do. It is indeed easy enough, as long as in God’s service we are doing little or nothing. If a man has no sacrifices for Christ to show in his life, if he has surrendered for Christ’s sake nothing which he might have retained, if his religion – while it has soothed his own conscience, and won him the favourable opinion of others, – has had no element of self-denial in it, then ‘to put his trust in nothing that he does’ is surely the cheapest of all virtues. But look at the toils and sufferings of St. Paul, as he himself records them in this day’s Epistle – all undergone, not with a free unburdened mind, but under the pressure of anxiety and work, connected with the churches which he had founded; who that had done all this, and submitted to all this, in the service of our great Master, would not feel a temptation to plume himself on his exertions, his self-denials, and to take heart form looking rather at what he had done for Christ than at what Christ has done for him? St. Paul insinuates that he fled the temptation to spiritual pride, and felt it so strongly that a special trial was in his case needed to prevent his being exalted above measure.
Mercifully grant that by thy power we may be defended against all adversity. Since we do heartily trust in God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ then we can humbly ask that he will so arrange the course of lives by his providential care that we shall be defended against all adversity, both physical and spiritual. In this Petition we recognize that it is only as we learn not to trust in our own resources, achievements and possessions that we are able to trust in God – in his wisdom, providence, love and protection. As St. Paul put it: “When I am weak, them I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:19).
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Fighting against the prideful temptation to put our trust in our own efforts and accomplishments is a spiritual battle. This Collect’s Termination, as simple as it is, reminds us that whatever hope we have for victory in the spiritual arena is founded upon being united to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is as we offer our prayer and engage in our spiritual warfare though Jesus Christ our Lord that we have the hope of being heard by the Father and receiving the strength we need to wage a successful fight against sin and for holiness.
Peter Toon & J. S. S. Patterson
 Goulburn, 118.