LORD, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, etc.
The collects of Trinitytide often are appeals to God for his grace to enable Christian living. The result is that many of these collects have an initial similarity. The appeal, however, is varied in its emphases from week to week. While the basic request in the petition is similar, the variations consider the needs of the petitioners or the will of the Giver in various ways and from differing angles.
In the collect for Trinity XVIII the address to God the Father is once again the simplest, ‘Lord’. So too the doxology is the simplest abbreviation of the full Trinitarian formula: ‘Through Jesus Christ our Lord.’
The variation, then, comes in the petition. The request or appeal, again, is a simple, seasonal prayer that God would ‘grant thy people grace’. The grace specifically requested is two-fold. First, the collect asks for grace ‘to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil’. This request, of course, alludes to the baptismal rite: to the prayer that the candidate ‘may have power and strength to have victory, and to triumph, against the devil, the world, and the flesh’; and again, alludes to the prayer when the newly baptized person is signed with the sign of the cross, and when the priest prays that the one so signed may manfully fight under Christ’s ‘banner, against sin, the world, and the devil’. Baptism is given once and for all, but its grace flows forward continually into a life. Sanctification is a process which always has the double form of a renunciatory turn away from ‘the world, the flesh, and the devil’ along with a positive, embracing movement towards that which this petition refers to as following God with ‘pure hearts and minds’. The petition refers to the Christian’s lifelong work, involving both the turn from evil and the turn towards God and the good.
The phrase ‘the world, the flesh, and the devil’ is among other things one of the Prayer Book’s many triplets. The three elements overlap. The ‘world’ in this sense is all humanity (individual people, organized societies, civilization, and its subdivisions and parts) insofar as it is separated from or turned against God. The ‘flesh’ is not primarily the body, but rather is the whole human person, and all his parts and faculties, in rebellion against God. The ‘devil’ is the person that provokes sin and rebellion and that particularly personifies that rebellion; the active, malicious person encouraging through temptation the rebellions in question. The appropriate Christian reaction to these three aspects of evil is renunciation, rejection, and resistance: ‘to withstand’ them so as to stand with God’s grace as enabled by that grace. There may perhaps be some significance in the slight differences between ‘sin, the world, and the devil’ and ‘the devil, and world, and the flesh’ or some significance in the different ordering of these elements. Given the overlap among the three, however, the different orders and precise terms are probably not very important.
Finally, there seems an internal connection between ‘pure hearts and minds’ and the immediately following reference to following ‘the only God’. Purity of heart is simplicity and single-mindedness in loving and serving God, and that desirable quality is called forth by God’s uniqueness. If we establish some other god or good within our hearts as an idol, then our hearts and minds are not single, simple, or pure. If we truly believe that God is the only God, then purity of heart and mind, simplicity in devotion, and singleness of spirit will tend to follow.