To Decline from Sin and Incline to Virtue
Our Kantor had the choir sing a selection from the 16th century yesterday. That is not unusual, but what was unusual is that it was a 16th Century Anglican selection, not a Lutheran one; Richard Farrant’s “Lord, for Thy Tender Mercies Sake”. Here is a very fine example of the piece. Our choir did a beautiful job. I thought it fit well with the Old Testament Reading, Exodus 32 (the Golden Calf) and the Gospel, Matthew 24:15-28 (where our Lord teaches us that we are not to follow false Christs or false prophets) Here is the text-
Lord, for thy tender mercy's sake,
lay not our sins to our charge,
but forgive that is past
and give us grace to amend our sinful lives;
to decline from sin and incline to virtue,
that we may walk in a perfect heart
before thee now and evermore.
The prayer asks for things. Jesus has invited us to ask, and so for the sake of the Lord’s tender mercy, we ask that He not lay our sins to our charge. Thanks be to Him that Christ has atoned for our sins and they have been charged to Him and not to us. Then the prayer asks for the forgiveness of sins, for the grace of God, and that, by the grace of God, we may then do a few things.
First, amend our sinful lives. How this resonates with the Rite of Private Absolution where the penitent says, “I am sorry for all this and ask for grace. I want to do better.” With the terrors of the knowledge of sin comforted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are to strive to amend our lives. And we can do better by the Gospel of Christ. It gives new life and such a new life in Christ cannot help but bear fruit and do good works. As the Augsburg Confession’s 13th Article puts it,
“Now repentance consists properly of these two parts: One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ's sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance.”
Yes, good works, this gets to the second thing asked for: to decline from sin and incline to virtue. What a beautiful turn of phrase. Declining from sin, to refuse it, to say no to it. Decline. And then incline to virtue, to be disposed to it, to want it. So we ask God to make us to be that way, to desire the good, the true, the beautiful - virtue. The Church has known that that the three Theological virtues are those revealed by the Holy Ghost from St. Paul’s pen in 1 Corinthians 13 - Faith, Hope and Charity. Faith in Christ. Hope in His Resurrection. Charity from the true God who is love and then love for God and love for neighbor. Plato knew the Cardinal virtues - Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. Prudence- knowing what to do and when. Justice- being true and righteous in dealing with others. Fortitude- having courage and strength. Temperance- having self-control and living in moderation. We should pray that we be inclined to these, and we should pray that we Christians exhibit these virtues in our lives, for the sake of Christ and by the life-giving Word the Holy Spirit provides.
Finally, a prayer that we may walk in a perfect heart before God now and forevermore. The prayer brings to mind the Word of the Lord from Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” This is exactly what Christians are to be doing now for the sake of the tender mercies of the LORD and it is what we will do living eternally in His Law and in His love.
It is a beautiful prayer and gives one much to consider.
Our choir was excellent, and I was happy to have heard them sing these beautiful words.