O ALMIGHTY God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The address begins in the most typical Prayer Book fashion: ‘O Almighty God’. The extension of the address refers to God as the one who uniquely can ‘order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men’. God’s power, his almightiness, are needed to deal successfully with sinful human beings. One of the chief effects of sin is to create a disorder in human persons which affects their intellects, desires, affections, appetites, wills, and choices. If we were perfectly well-ordered, we would know correctly what is good for us, we would desire that which we know to be good for us to the degree and in the manner in which it is good for us, and would then effectively will so to pursue that good. If were perfectly well-ordered, intellect would understand the good correctly, the desire would seek it chiefly, and the will would execute the correct dictates of our minds and desires or appetites. But in a fallen state, intellect, appetite or desire, and will or choice all tend to be disordered and confused. Almighty God alone can restore order to this confusion.
The petition flows from and depends on those matters in the address. God does not leave us in our fallen state. There is no such thing observable in our world now as a pure, unfallen human being. But neither is there such a thing as a purely fallen human being left entirely without God’s grace and the benefit of his love. While we certainly can say that in the collect ‘thy people’ refers to those within the Church and the community of baptized Christians, we cannot with similar certainty say who is excluded from the category of ‘God’s people’. In any case, insofar as the collect is prayed by the Church as such, we intend to join in its petition as part of God’s people.
The substance of the petition is, in brief, that God would restore order to our wills and affections. The petition elaborates this request with terms parallel to those in the address. Our ‘wills and affections’ are orderly and ordinate if we ‘love the thing which’ God commands and if we’ desire that which’ he promises. We pray that God’s commandments and promises will become, or be restored as, the chief objects of our wills and affections.
The collect implicitly contrasts the ‘sundry and manifold’ changes of the world with the permanence of God and his will. The hinge which can reorder our disordered hearts is a fixity of love and purpose which would mirror the fixity – the permanence and unchangeability – of God’s will and the joys that he offers. The multiplicity of our wills and affections is contrasted with the simplicity of God’s absolute goodness and perfection. The changeability of our hearts is contrasted with the fixed and true joys of God. Our changeable and scattered hearts are healed if they themselves become fixed on God’s fixed perfection, in which, according to today’s epistle, there is ‘no variableness, neither shadow of turning’ (James 1:17).
I think it is notable that the collect prays that we may come to love ‘the thing’, not ‘the things’, which God commands. Of course, God commands many things. But what is more important than loving particular things which God commands is love for God’s command as such, love for a given thing simply because it is commanded by God. The collect seems, by using the singular, ‘the thing’, to seek to inculcate a habit of obedience, not simply particular acts of obedience.
For the Christian psychology concerning the relationship of intellect, appetite or desire, and will or choice, see also the commentary on the Collect for Peace in Evensong.