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Selections from
The Book of Common Prayer


A Prayer for all Conditions of Men


O GOD, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially, we pray for thy holy Church universal; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those who are in any way afflicted or distressed in mind, body, or estate that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them, according to their several necessities; giving them patience under their suffering, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

 

About this prayer

The prayer is attributed to the Rev. Dr. Peter Gunning, Master of St. John's College, Cambridge, and later Bishop of Chester (1670-74) and of Ely (1675-84). Dr. Gunning was a staunch royalist and high churchman, and has been described as a man 'well read in fathers and councils' and 'the incomparable hammer of the schismatics.' He took an active part in the Savoy Conference of 1661.

There is no doubt that he intended the phrase in this prayer, 'all who profess and call themselves Christians,' to be aimed at the Puritans. Originally the prayer was written for use in the chapel of St. John's as a substitute for the Litany in Evening Prayer. The 1662 revisers eliminated the first part, with its intercessions for the king, the clergy, et cetera, as these were already provided for by the preceding prayers. This explains the somewhat sudden introduction of the word 'finally' towards the end of the prayer in its present form. The American Prayer Book placed it among the prayers of the Daily Offices, rather than among the occasional Prayers; and in the 1892 Book restored the optional clause, which had been omitted in 1789.

The prayer contains three specific petitions. The first is for the missionary spread of the Gospel -- the knowledge of God's 'saving health among all nations' (Psalm lxvii.2). This was the first note of concern for missions that found a place in the Prayer Book, and it doubtless reflects the development of English colonial expansion in the seventeenth century. The second petition, with its phrases from John xvi.13, Psalm xxv.9, and Eph. iv.3, is concerned with the unity of the Church. In Dr. Gunning's time the English Church lost the national unity it had maintained since the Reformation. But the disunity of Christendom beyond the confines of England was already a tragic fact. The final petition is for the afflicted and the suffering. The word 'estate' refers to external circumstances in general, not merely to property. Similarly, the now famous phrase of the opening supplication, 'all sorts and conditions of men,' is descriptive of outward conditions rather than of inner character of men.

from The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary by Massey Hamilton Shepherd, Jr. (New York : Oxford University Press, 1950)

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