Praying with the Reformers
Posted by Andrew Cinnamond, 26 Oct 2017
The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is a great time to celebrate the achievements of the Reformers in drawing us back to the central truths of the Gospel, but it would be a shame if all this was a merely academic or historical exercise and it didn't lead to a revolution in our prayer life and our walk with God. The Reformers were men and women of deep prayer and a spirituality firmly rooted in Scripture. The following are just a few resources to whet your appetite.
‘Prayers of the Reformers’, Thomas McPherson (Monarch/Lion, 2017)
A small volume of one hundred prayers, spanning three hundred years of history and drawn from twelve Reformers (Wycliffe, Hus, Zwingli, Tyndale, Luther, Bucer, Cranmer, Melanchthon, Calvin, Knox, Beza and Andrewes). There are short biographies of the Reformers and then a page per day with a prayer and a Bible reference. Good stuff.
‘Prayers of the Reformers’, Clyde Manschreck (Epworth, 1960)
This little gem deserves to be republished and enjoyed by a new generation of readers. The author notes, ‘These prayers express a spiritual, personal side of the Reformation that is often lost in objective study. here the reformers can be seen in the grandeur and strength of their dedication and loyalty to God. In their prayers they again speak to us, across the years, across institutional barriers’. The prayers are divided by topic e.g. confession and penitence, at the time of death, morning and evening prayers, benedictions etc. At the end is the author’s most helpful chapter ‘The Meaning of Prayer for the Reformers’, and then a detailed list of sources. Highly recommended.
‘Praying the Bible with Luther’, Michael Parsons (BRF, 2017)
This is an excellent resource and guide as to how Luther himself prayed using the Scriptures and giving worked-out examples of how that may be helpful to modern Christians. Luther would begin by reading a Bible passage, then asking a fourfold set of questions about it:
i. Instruction or teaching: what do I need to know?
ii. Thanksgiving or praise: what should I be grateful for?
iii. Confession or repentance: what sins shall I confess?
iv. Prayer or supplication: what do I now need to pray for?
Parsons then gives worked out examples of Bible passages prayed through in this way. This book is theological, practical and pastoral.
Luther’s ‘A Simple Way to Pray’ was written in 1535 as a letter for his friend Peter the Barber and consists of straight forward instructions on prayer based on the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed. Various printed versions are available and it is also online.
‘Devotions & Prayers of John Calvin’, Charles E Edwards (Baker, 1976)
As the subtitle says, ‘52 one-page devotions with selected prayers on facing pages’. A lovely little guide to the devotional life of the great Genevan reformer using
Calvin’s prayers found throughout his commentaries on the Minor Prophets. This is the prayer that Calvin often used at the beginning of his lectures: ‘May the Lord grant that we may engage in contemplating the mysteries of his heavenly wisdom with really increasing devotion, to his glory and to our edification. Amen.’
‘Lifting up Our Hearts: 150 Selected Prayers from John Calvin’, ed. Dustin W. Benge (Reformation Heritage, 2012)
The editor has done the world a great favour by mining Calvin’s Old Testament commentaries and bringing out the rich vein of pastoral and spiritual insight to
be found in his prayers after each portion of Scripture had been explained. From the editor’s Introduction: ‘In this book you will find 150 of Calvin’s prayers,
arranged by subject, along with the Scripture passage on which Calvin was lecturing. Each prayer relates to the theme of the biblical text Calvin was expounding, which is why the Scripture text has been included.’ A useful expansion of the work above.
‘The Piety of John Calvin: A Collection of His Spiritual Prose, Poems, and Hymns’, new ed. Ford Lewis Battles (P&R, 2009)
This is a fascinating and uplifting guide to the true spirituality of Calvin. J I Packer notes, ‘With impeccable scholarship and insight, Battles picks out
products of Calvin’s pen that take us closest to his heart, and presents them in a way that gives them fullest force. What a godly man!’ Battles was a
renowned Calvin scholar and the translator of the standard English edition of the Institutes, but he also understood Calvin the Christian - his substantial
‘Introduction: True Piety According to Calvin’ is a masterpiece. The reader will gain many new insights and appreciate the sheer variety in this work.
The British Connection
‘Anglican Foundations Series’, various (The Latimer Trust)
A most helpful series of nine booklets from The Latimer Trust which help the reader better understand the Book of Common Prayer. From the website: ‘Archbishop Cranmer and others involved in the English Reformation knew well that the content and shape of the services set out in the Prayer Book were vital ways of teaching congregations biblical truth and the principles of the Christian gospel. Thus the aim of this series of booklets which focus on the Formularies of the Church of England and the elements of the different services within the Prayer Book is to highlight what those services teach about the Christian faith and to demonstrate how they are also designed to shape the practice of that faith.’ A very worthwhile set of books.
‘The Prayer Book Commentaries’, ed. Frank Colquhoun (Hodder & Stoughton)
This older (1960s) series of guides to the BCP are well worth consulting to enrich our understanding and use of the Prayer Book, which remains one of the most enduring products of the Reformation. There were nine proposed books in the series, but it seems the volume on the 39 Articles by Alec Motyer never saw the light of day in this particular format. Highlights of the series include Stott on ‘The Canticles and Selected Psalms’ and Stephens-Hodge on ‘The Collects’.
‘The Collects of Thomas Cranmer’, C Frederick Barbee & Paul Zahl (Eerdmans, 1999)
The bulk of this book is a devotional commentary on every collect in the Prayer Book- the text is given, then a brief history of its origin, and then a meditation. Barbee and Zahl are expert guides to show how Cranmer carefully selected, edited and compiled the material for his liturgies from existing sources. Each collect often has a fivefold structure: the address, the acknowledgement, the petition, the aspiration and finally, the pleading. Numerous people (and not just Anglicans) over the centuries have found the collects in the BCP to be a rich ingredient in their prayer lives. A book to cherish and keep close by.
‘Prayers on the Psalms: From the Scottish Psalter of 1595,’ ed. David B Calhoun (Banner of Truth, 2010)
A teeny weeny little volume in the ‘Pocket Puritans’ series from BOT. What it lacks in dimensions it makes up for in spiritual power. The Scottish Psalter of 1595 was hugely influential, including both metrical and prose Psalms, and a short prayer summarising the content of each Psalm. It seems that these prayers (akin to Collects) were translations from the French work of Augustin Marlorat, a distinguished colleague of Calvin and Beza in Geneva.
The Parker Society, ‘for the Publication of the Works of the Fathers and Early Writers of the Reformed English Church’ is a great store house of spiritual and devotional treasure from the English Reformation. Some volumes worth consulting include:
‘Liturgical Services: Liturgies and Occasional Forms of Prayer set forth in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth’, ed. William Clay (CUP, 1847)
A fascinating collection of national prayers including 1559 BCP.
‘Christian Prayers and Holy Meditations’, ed. Henry Bull (CUP, 1842)
This lovely collection includes devotions by Bradford, Lever, Pilkington, Melancthon, Lidley and others. Bull was a keen Protestant and a Marian Exile, returning under Elizabeth I.
‘A Progress of Piety’, John Norden (CUP, 1847)
A delightful collection of prayers from 1591.
‘Prayers and Other Pieces’, Thomas Becon (CUP, 1844)
A large volume of prayers and devotions by a popular and prolific writer, who was Cranmer’s chaplain and a Marian Exile.
Click here for a pdf listing all the volumes and here for online access.
Andrew Cinnamond is Vicar of St Lawrence, Lechlade, and the author of What Matters in Reforming the Church?
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