THE GOSPEL IN THE LITANY
The Litany or General Supplication, a ten-minute prayer service, was first part of the English Prayer Book to be written. Composed in 1544, in wartime, it stands as a pattern of prayer for all time. The test of a Christian’s stature is how he prays, and so with churches too. The Litany shows what spiritual stature Cranmer wanted the Church of England to have.
The Lord’s Prayer
Like all proper praying, the Litany expands on the themes of the Lord’s Prayer. It approaches God as the Father of [in] heaven, seeking the glory of thy name. It asks God’s will may be done everywhere. It specifies our need of material help, and of forgiveness, and pleads in detail for deliverance from evil. It drills us in the art of conversation with God in 3 ways.
1. It teaches us to know ourselves as sinners.
Ideas about God and man vary inversely. Great thoughts of man breed small thoughts of God; high thoughts of God bring low thoughts of ourselves. The Litany has a majestic view of God as sovereign and just, and hence takes a humbling view of man as weak and sinful. It points to our sins, negligences, and ignorances, and our proneness to pride, vain-glory and hypocrisy envy, hatred, and malice fornication hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word. It shows us to God, and to ourselves, as miserable [pitiable] sinners, needing true repentance and an heart to love and dread thee.
It makes us reckon, not merely with the human hostility which Christians sooner or later incur, if they are faithful, but also with the crafts and assaults of the devil of which they have to run the gauntlet. Does this humbling realism strike us as false and repellent? If so, we are self-deceived, and urgently need the Litany to lead us to self-knowledge.
2. It teaches us to know God as our Saviour.
The Litany starts by invoking each Person of the Triune God, and thenceforth alternates petitions between the Father and the Son. It recognizes the reality of God’s present anger against h is people’s sins, and his coming wrath against the impenitent. But it invokes him throughout as our good Lord — meaning thereby not only generous in giving natural gifts, but also merciful to his own flawed creatures. Through Jesus’ mediation and the coming of the Holy Ghost, God pardons, protects, and empowers for holy living. Man’s need is great, but God can meet it. That is the Gospel of the Litany.
3. It teaches us to know others as our neighbours.
Knowing God’s love to us, we love him in return, and when we love God every man becomes our neighbor, to be loved for his sake. So the Litany leads us on from personal trust in Christ to pray that God will have mercy on all men.
Do you ever dry up in prayer, felling you have nothing to say? Live with the Litany, and that will not happen again!