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Prayer for the week

07 November 2014

Hester Jones reflects on conflict with a prayer from the days of the Civil War


O most mighty Lord God, who reignest over all the kingdoms of men, Thou hast power in thy hand to cast down, and to raise up, to save thy servants, and to rebuke their enemies, and in all ages hast given victory to thy people, effecting by small numbers, what man cannot do by the multitude of an host. Let thy ears be now open unto our prayers, and thy merciful eyes upon our trouble and danger. [. . .] Never let lust or cruelty, ambition of empire or thirst of blood, the greediness of spoil, or the pleasures of a victory make us either to love war or to neglect all the just ways of peace; and grant unto the army such piety and prudence, such happy circumstances and blessed events, that none of them may do any act unbecoming Christians, disciples, and servants of the Prince of Peace. Do thou, O God, bless them in all their just actions and necessary defences, that they may neither do, nor suffer, wrong. [. . .] The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; and a horse is counted a vain thing to save a man; but our trust is in the name of the Lord our God; he is our strength and our defence; for it is thou, O Lord, who canst, indifferently, save, with many or with few. [. . .] Hear us, O Lord, for the glory of thy name, for thy loving mercy and for thy truth's sake, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Jeremy Taylor, from Prayer for the  Army and Navy in Time of War

JEREMY TAYLOR (1613-67) was an Anglican priest, first supported by Archbishop Laud, who served as chaplain to King Charles I. He served during the Civil War as a chaplain to the Royalist army. With other Royalist sympathisers, he took refuge in Wales when the fortunes of the Royalists declined, and became chaplain to the Earl of Carbery.

After the Restoration, Taylor moved to Ireland, where he was enthroned as Bishop of Down & Connor. Despite his association with the Royalist cause and frequent defence of Anglican prerogatives, however, and perhaps in part because of the setbacks for his own cause, Taylor was also to voice his support of religious tolerance and prophetic freedom in Liberty of Prophesying (1647).

Here a theological expansiveness is supported by a style that is less richly allusive than that used in some of his more richly ornate sermons. None the less, it helped to contribute to a Latitudinarianism that was embraced by a number of thinkers of the time, and which accepted that the Church was broad. Such expansiveness, however, can be seen in many areas of Taylor's considerable writing; his essay "On the measures and offices of friendship", for example, contributed to a debate current at the time over the part played by women in friendship, supporting the female poet Katherine Philips in her defence of women's inclusion in what had previously been regarded as an exclusive relation.

This prayer illustrates such a broad and expansive approach in its attitude to war. It steers a careful path between expressing a partisan petition for success, and the recognition that God will uphold those who seek his will, of whatever allegiance.

It presents human conflicts as always secondary to the purposes of God, whose victory may be effected by "small numbers"

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