In the Anglican Church, we regularly pray from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the comprehensive service book derived from the Church of England. The Book of Common Prayer provides written liturgies for special celebrations and services. It also contains the church calendar, the book of Psalms, a catechism, Scripture readings, and a large section of prayers and thanksgivings.
One such prayer is the Prayer for all Conditions of Men:
O GOD, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for thy holy Church universal; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those who are any ways afflicted, or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; [* especially those for whom our prayers are desired….;] that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them, according to their several necessities; giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.1928 Book of Common Prayer, Prayer for all Conditions of Men
This prayer is full of hope and rich in meaning. It puts the profound understanding of biblical theology into the words of the ordinary Christian. For the purposes of this post, I want to focus on the following section specifically directed towards the universal Church:
We pray for thy holy Church universal; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life.1928 Book of Common Prayer, Prayer for all Conditions of Men
This timeless prayer is a call for guidance and governance that can only be granted by the Holy Spirit. We pray always, and more especially during this time of great turmoil, that all professing Christians stand firm and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life.
Unity of Spirit
The triune God intends for professing Christians, that is members of His universal Church, to faithfully preserve unity and continually strive for oneness. He himself is one God in three Persons; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Church is called to be many members of one body. The apostle Paul speaks to this type of Christian unity in his epistles to the early church. For example, to the Philippians, he says,
Philippians 2:1-4 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility consider one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
All who have true faith in Jesus are united in Christ. Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson, author of Let’s Study Philippians, says that unity in our fellowships is essential to our Christian witness because the gospel is a message of reconciliation and peace with God. Ferguson points out that Paul’s plea for Christians to be of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, and intent on one purpose, underscores the need for even the most mature believers to do God’s Word. This means embodying humility in our relationships, at our jobs, and with our communities. We should seek to pursue unity and build bridges with believers and non-believers alike, even at the expense of our personal preferences, opinions, or other non-essential issues, but never compromising God’s truth. We are called to live in light of the gospel of grace together, united under the Lordship of Christ, upholding what is good, right, and true according to His Word.
Bond of Peace
The second exhortation in this section of the Prayer for all Conditions of Men is about holding the faith in the bond of peace. The Bible tells us that God is a peacemaking God. The whole history of redemption involves His plan to bring about lasting peace between us, His creatures, and Himself. We know from Scripture and our own life experiences that, without the gospel, we are estranged from our Creator. We are born in sin and at enmity with God until we put our faith in His promise of salvation, His Son. In order to have such peace we require a mediator who can make things right and reconcile us to the Father. Jesus Christ is that mediator. Our Lord made peace for us by the blood of the cross. Jesus encourages us to be peacemakers in the Sermon on the Mount when he says,
Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Real, genuine peacemaking reveals our true identity as God’s children. In a world engulfed by conflict and strife, we must devote ourselves to biblical peacemaking. Holy peacemaking does not mean avoiding conflict, calling a truce, or idling standing by in the face of sin. Rather, Christ-like peacemaking is intimately tied to the work of Christ. As followers of Jesus, we are peacemakers by humbly sharing the truth of the gospel with our lips and in our lives.
Righteousness of Life
Lastly, we pray for righteousness of life. The good news of Christ is not only that our sins are forgiven, but also that He has imputed His righteousness to us. He has mercifully taken on the cosmic burden of our sinfulness in His death, and in His resurrection, graciously given us His reward, everlasting life. To hold the faith in righteousness of life is to freely receive this gift of grace by which we have been saved through faith.
1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
As professing Christians, we seek to walk in faith and obey God because Jesus perfectly obeyed the Father, even unto death. When we repent and confess that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, we must submit to Him and as Paul says, “walk in a manner worthy” of our calling. We do not obey God in order contribute to our justification, but obedience to His Word does demonstrate that justifying faith is at work in us. By the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit this true faith leads to the fruits of justification which is righteous living.
Let Us Pray
Again, Lord, we earnestly pray for thy holy Church universal; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life.
Let’s Study Philippians – Sinclair Ferguson
Christian Unity – Ligonier Ministries
Peacemaking: A Gospel Necessity – The Gospel Coalition
Blessed Are the Peacemakers – DesiringGod
Righteousness and Life – Ligonier Ministries