HOMILY ON PRAYER
AN HOMILIE OR
SERmon concerning Prayer.
THere is nothing in all mans life (wellbeloued in our Sauiour Christ) so needfull to be spoken of, and dayly to be called vpon, as hearty, zealous, and deuout prayer, the necessity whereof is so great, that without it nothing may bee well obtayned at GODS hand. For as the Apostle Iames sayth, Euery good and perfect gift commeth from aboue, and proceedeth from the father of lights, who is also sayd to be rich and liberall towards all them that call vpon him (Romans 10.12), not because he either will not, or can not giue without asking, but because hee hath appointed Prayer as an ordinary meanes betweene him and vs. There is no doubt but he alwayes knoweth what wee haue need of (Matthew 6.32), and is alwayes most ready to giue abundance of those things that we lacke.
Yet to the intent wee might acknowledge him to bee the giuer of all good things, and behaue our selues thankefully towards him in that behalfe, louing, fearing, and worshipping him sincerely and truely, as we ought to doe, hee hath profitably and wisely ordeined, that in time of necessitie wee should humble our selues in his sight, powre out the secrets of our heart before him, and craue helpe at his hands, with continuall, earnest, and deuout prayer. By the mouth of his holy Prophet Dauid, hee saith on this wise: Call vpon me in the dayes of thy trouble, and I will deliuer thee (Psalms 50.15). Likewise in the Gospel by the mouth of his welbeloued sonne Christ, hee saith, Aske, and it shall bee giuen you, knocke, and it shall be opened: for whosoeuer asketh, receiueth, whosoeuer seeketh, findeth, and to him that knocketh, it shall bee opened (Matthew 7.7-8). Saint Paul also most agreeably consenting heereunto, willeth men to pray euery where, and to continue therein with thankesgiuing (1 Timothy 2.8, Philippians 4.6, Colossians 4.2). Neither doeth the blessed Apostle Saint Iames in this point any thing dissent, but earnestly exhorting all men to diligent prayer, sayth: If any man lacke wisedome, let him aske it of GOD, which giueth liberally to all men, and reproacheth no man (James 1.5). Also in another place, Pray for one another (sayth he) that ye may be healed: For the righteous mans prayer auayleth much, if it be feruent (James 5.16). What other thing are we taught by these and such other places, but onely this, that Almighty GOD notwithstanding his heauenly wisedome and foreknowledge, will be prayed vnto, that he will be called vpon, that he will haue vs no lesse willing on our part to aske, then hee on his part is willing to giue? Therefore most fonde and foolish is the opinion and reason of those men, which therefore thinke all prayer to bee superfluous and vaine, because GOD searcheth the heart and the raynes, and knoweth the meaning of the spirit before we aske. For if this fleshly and carnall reason were sufficient to disanull prayer: then why did our Sauiour Christ so often cry to his disciples, watch, and pray (Luke 22.46)? Why did he prescribe them a forme of prayer, saying, When yee pray, pray after this sort, Our Father which art in heauen. &c (Matthew 6.9-13). Why did hee pray so often and so earnestly himselfe before his passion? Finally, why did the Apostles immediately after his Ascension, gather themselues together into one seuerall place, and there continue a long time in prayer (Acts 1.14)? Either they must condemne Christ and his Apostles of extreame folly, or else they must needes grant that prayer is a thing most necessary for all men, at all times, and in all places. Sure it is, that there is nothing more expedient or needefull for mankinde in all the world, then prayer. Pray alwayes (sayth Saint Paul) with all manner prayer and supplication, and watch therefore withall diligence (Ephesians 6.18). Also in another place hee willeth vs to pray continually without any intermission or ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5.17), meaning thereby that we ought neuer to slacke or faint in prayer, but to continue therein to our liues end. A number of other such places might here bee alleadged of like effect, I meane, to declare the great necessity and vse of prayer: but what neede many proofes in a plaine matter? seeing there is no man so ignorant but hee knoweth, no man so blinde but hee seeth, that prayer is a thing most needefull in all estates and degrees of men. For onely by the helpe hereof, wee attaine to those heauenly and euerlasting treasures, which GOD our heauenly Father hath reserued and layde vp for his children in his deare and welbeloued Sonne Iesus Christ, with this couenant and promise most assuredly confirmed and sealed vnto vs, that if we aske, we shall receiue (John 16.23-27).
Now the great necessity of prayer being sufficiently knowen, that our mindes and heartes may be the more prouoked and stirred thereunto, let vs briefely consider what wonderfull strength and power it hath to bring strange & mighty things to passe. We reade in the booke of Exodus, that Iosua fighting against the Amalekites, did conquer & ouercome them, not so much by vertue of his owne strength, as by the earnest and continuall prayer of Moses, who, as long as hee helde vp his handes to GOD, so long did Israel preuaile, but when he fainted, & let his hands downe, then did Amalek and his people preuaile: Insomuch that Aaron and Hur, being in the mount with him, were faine to stay vp his handes vntill the going downe of the sunne, otherwise had the people of GOD that day beene vtterly discomfited, and put to flight (Exodus 17.11-12). Also we read in another place of Iosua himselfe, how he at the besieging of Gibeon, making his humble petition to Almighty GOD, caused the Sunne and the Moone to stay their course, and to stand still in the middest of heauen for the space of a whole day, vntill such time as the people were sufficiently auenged vpon their enemies (Joshua 10.12-13).
And was not Iehosophats prayer of great force and strength, when GOD at his request caused his enemies to fall out among themselues, and wilfully to destroy one another (2 Chronicles 20.18, 23)? Who can maruell enough at the effect and vertue of Elias prayer? Hee being a man subiect to affections as we are, prayed to the Lord that it might not raine, and there fell no rain vpon the earth for the space of three yeares and sixe moneths. Againe, he prayed that it might raine, and there fell great plenty, so that the earth brought foorth her increase most abundantly (1 Kings 18.45).
It were too long to tell of Iudith, Esther, Susanna, and of diuers other godly men and women, how greatly they preuayled in all their doings, by giuing their mindes earnestly and deuoutly to prayer (Matthew 21.22). Let it bee sufficient at this time to conclude with the sayings of Augustine and Chrysotome, whereof the one calleth prayer the key of heauen, the other plainly affirmeth, that there is nothing in all the world more strong then a man that giueth himselfe to feruent prayer (Augustine, `Ser. 26. de temp.' Chrysostome, `Sup.').
Now then dearely beloued, seeing prayer is so needfull a thing, and of so great strength before GOD, let vs, according as wee are taught by the example of Christ and his Apostles, be earnest and diligent in calling on the Name of the Lord. Let vs neuer faint, neuer slacke, neuer giue ouer, but let vs dayly and hourely, early and late, in season, and out of season, bee occupied in godly meditations and prayers. What if we obtaine not our petitions at the first? yet let vs not be discouraged, but let vs continually crie and call vpon GOD: hee will surely heare vs at length, if for no other cause, yet for very importunities sake. Remember the parable of the vnrighteous iudge, and the poore widowe, how shee by her importunate meanes caused him to doe her iustice against her aduersary, although otherwise hee feared neither GOD nor man (Luke 18.1-7). Shall not GOD much more auenge his elect (saith our Sauiour Christ) which cry vnto him day and night? Thus hee taught his disciples, and in them all other true Christian men, to pray alwayes, and neuer to faint or shrinke. Remember also the example of the woman of Canaan, how shee was reiected of Christ, and called dogge, as one most vnworthy of any benefite at his handes: yet shee gaue not ouer, but followed him still, crying and calling vpon him to bee good and mercifull vnto her daughter. And at length by very importunity, shee obtayned her request (Matthew 15.22-28). O let vs learne by these examples, to bee earnest and feruent in prayer, assuring our selues that whatsoeuer wee aske of GOD the Father in the Name of his Sonne Christ, and according to his will, hee will vndoubtedly grant it (John 16.23). He is trueth it selfe, and as truely as he hath promised it, so truely will he performe it. GOD for his great mercies sake so worke in our heartes by his holy Spirit, that wee may alwayes make our humble prayers vnto him, as wee ought to doe, and alwayes obtaine the thing which wee aske, through Iesus Christ our Lord, to whom with the Father and the holy Ghost, bee all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
THE SECOND PART OF THE HOMILY CONCERNING PRAYER.
IN the first part of this Sermon, ye heard the great necessitie, and also the great force of deuout and earnest prayer, declared and prooued vnto you, both by diuers weighty testimonies, and also by sundry good examples of holy Scripture. Now shall you learne whom you ought to call vpon, and to whom you ought alwayes to to direct your prayers. Wee are euidently taught in GODS holy Testament, that Almighty GOD is the onely fountaine and welspring of all goodnesse, and that whatsoeuer wee haue in this world, we receiue it onely at his handes. To this effect serueth the place of Saint Iames: euery good and perfect gift, saith hee, commeth from aboue, and proceedeth from the Father of lights (James 1.17). To this effect also serueth the testimonie of Paul, in diuers places of his Epistles, witnessing that the spirit of wisedome, the spirit of knowledge and reuelation, yea euery good and heauenly gift, as faith, hope, charity, grace, and peace, commeth onely and solely of GOD. In consideration whereof, hee bursteth out into a suddaine passion, and sayth: O man, what thing hast thou, which thou hast not receiued (1 Corinthians 4.7)? Therefore, whensoeuer wee need or lacke any thing, pertaining either to the body or to the soule, it behooueth vs to runne onely vnto GOD, who is the onely giuer of all good things. Our Sauiour Christ in the Gospel, teaching his Disciples how they should pray, sending them to the Father in his Name, saying, Verily, verily I say vnto you, whatsoeuer ye aske the Father in his Name, hee will giue it vnto you (John 16.23). And in an other place, when yee pray, pray after this sort? Our Father which art in heauen &c (Matthew 6.9, Luke 11.2). And doeth not GOD himselfe, by the mouth of his Prophet Dauid, will and command vs to call vpon him (Psalms 50.14-23)? The Apostle wisheth grace and peace to all them that call on the Name of the Lord, and of his Sonne Iesus Christ, as doeth also the Prophet Ioel, saying, And it shall come to passe, that whosoeuer shall call on the Name of the Lord, shall be saued (Joel 2.32, Acts 2.21).
Thus then it is plaine by the infallible word of trueth and life, that in all our necessities wee must flee vnto GOD, direct our prayers vnto him, call vpon his holy Name, desire helpe at his handes, and at none others, whereof if we will yet haue a further reason, marke that which followeth. There are certaine conditions most requisite to bee found in euery such a one that must bee called vpon, which if they bee not found in him vnto whom wee pray, then doeth our prayer auaile vs nothing, but is altogether in vaine.
The first is this, that he to whom wee make our prayers, bee able to helpe vs. The second is, that hee will helpe vs. The third is, that hee bee such a one as may heare our prayers. The fourth is, that he vnderstand better then wee our selues what we lacke, and how farre we haue neede of helpe. If these things bee to be found in any other sauing onely GOD, then may wee lawfully call vpon some other besides GOD. But what man is so grosse, but he well vnderstandeth that these things are onely proper to him which is omnipotent, and knoweth all things, euen the very secrets of the heart, that is to say, onely and to GOD alone, whereof it followeth, that we must call neither vpon Angel, nor yet vpon Saint, but only and solely vpon GOD, as Saint Paul doeth write (Romans 10.14)? How shall men call vpon him in whom they haue not beleeued? So that Inuocation or Prayer, may not be made without Faith in him on whom they call, but that we must first beleeue in him, before wee can make our Prayer vnto him, whereupon wee must onely and solely pray vnto GOD. For to say that we should beleeue either in Angel or Saint or in any other liuing creature, were mere horrible blasphemie against GOD and his holy Word, neither ought this fancie to enter into the heart of any Christian man, because we are expressely taught in the word of the Lord onely to repose our Faith in the blessed Trinitie, in whose only Name we are also Baptized, according to the expresse commandement of our Sauiour Iesus Christ, in the last of S. Matthew (Matthew 28.19).
But that the trueth hereof may the better appeare, euen to them that be most simple and vnlearned, let vs consider what Prayer is. Saint Augustine calleth it a lifting vp of the minde to GOD, that is to say, an humble and lowly powring out of the heart to GOD (Augustine, `De Spi. & Lit.,' chap. 50). Isidorus saith, that it is an affection of the heart, and not a labour of the lips (Isidorus, `De Summo Bono', Chap. 8, Bk. 3). So that by these places, true prayer doeth consist not so much in the outward sound and voyce of wordes, as in the inward groning, and crying of the heart to GOD.
Now then, is there any Angel, any Virgine, and Patriarke or Prophet among the dead, that can vnderstand, or know the meaning of the heart? The Scripture saith, It is GOD that searcheth the heart and the raynes (Psalms 7.9, Revelations 2.23), and that hee onely knoweth the heartes of the children of men (Jeremiah 17.10, 2 Chronicles 6.30). As for the Saintes, they haue so little knowledge of the secretes of the heart, that many of the ancient fathers greatly doubt, whether they know any thing at all, that is commonly done on earth. And albeit some thinke they doe, yet Saint Augustine a Doctour of great authority, and also antiquitie, hath this opinion of them: that they knowe no more what wee doe on earth, then wee know what they doe in heauen (Augustine, `Lib. de Cura pro Mort. Agenda', chap. 13, Augustine, `De Vera Reli.', chap. 22). For proofe whereof, he alleageth the wordes of Esay the Prophet, where it is sayd, Abraham is ignorant of vs, and Israel knoweth vs not (Isaiah 63.16). His minde therefore is this, not that wee should put any religion in worshipping of them, or praying vnto them: but that wee should honour them by following their vertuous and godly life. For as hee witnesseth in anotherplace, the Martyrs and holy men in times past, were wont after their death to bee remembred, and named of the Priest at diuine seruice: but neuer to bee inuocated or called vpon (Augustinem `De Civit. Dei,' chap. 10). And why so? because the Priest (saith he) is GODS Priest, and not theirs: Whereby he is bound to call vpon GOD, and not vpon them.
Thus you see, that the authority both of the Scripture, and also of Augustine, doeth not permit, that wee should pray vnto them (John 5.44). O that all men would studiously read, and search the Scriptures, then should they not be drowned in ignorance, but should easily perceiue the trueth, as well of this point of doctrine, as of all the rest. For there doeth the holy Ghost plainely teach vs, that Christ is or onely Mediatour and Intercessour with GOD, and that we must not seeke and runne to an other. If any man sinneth, sayth Saint Iohn, we haue an aduocate with the Father, Iesus Christ the righteous, and hee is the propitiation for our sinnes (1 John 2.1-2). Saint Paul also sayth, there is one GOD, and one Mediatour betweene GOD and man, euen the man Iesus Christ (1 Timothy 2.5). Wherevnto agreeth the testimonie of our Sauiour himselfe, witnessing that no man commeth to the Father, but only by him, who is the way, the trueth, the life (John 14.6), yea and the onely doore whereby we must enter into the kingdome of heauen (John 10.9), because GOD is pleased in no other but in him. For which cause also he cryeth, and calleth vnto vs that we should come vnto him, saying: Come vnto me, all ye that labour and be heauy laden, and I shall refresh you (Matthew 11.28). Would Christ haue vs so necessarily come vnto him? and shall we most vnthankefully leaue him, and runne vnto other? This is euen that which GOD so greatly complaineth of by his Prophet Ieremy, saying, My people haue committed two great offences, they haue forsaken mee the fountaine of the waters of life, and haue digged to themselues broken pits that can holde no water. Is not that man thinke you vnwise that will runne for water to a little brooke, when he may aswell goe to the head spring? Euen so may his wisedome bee iustly suspected, that will flee vnto Saints in time of necessity, when hee may boldly and without feare declare his griefe, and direct his prayer vnto the Lord himselfe. If GOD were strange, or dangerous to bee talked withall, then might wee iustly drawe backe and seeke to some other. But the Lord is nigh vnto all them that call vpon him in faith and trueth (Psalms 145.18), and the prayer of the humble and meeke hath alwayes pleased him (Apocrypha. Judith 9.11). What if wee bee sinners, shall wee not therefore pray vnto GOD? or shall wee despaire to obtaine any thing at his handes? Why did Christ then teach vs to aske forgiuenesse of our sinnes, saying, And forgiue vs our trespasses, as wee forgiue them that trespasse against vs? Shall we thinke that the Saints are more mercifull in hearing sinners, then GOD? Dauid sayth, that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindnesse (Psalms 103.8). Saint Paul saith, that hee is rich in mercy toward all them that call vpon him (Ephesians 2.4). And hee himselfe by the mouth of his Prophet Esay sayth, For a little while haue I forsaken thee, but with great compassion will I gather thee: For a moment in mine anger I haue hid my face from thee, but with euerlasting mercy I haue had compassion vpon thee (Isaiah 54.7-8). Therefore the sinnes of any man ought not to withhold him from praying vnto the Lord his GOD But if hee be truely penitent and stedfast in faith, let him assure himselfe that the Lord will be mercifull vnto him, and heare his prayers. O but I dare not (will some man say) trouble GOD at all times with my prayers. We see that in Kings houses and Courts of Princes, men cannot be admitted, vnlesse they first vse the helpe and meane of some speciall Noble man, to come vnto the speach of the King, and to obteine the thing that they would haue. To this reason doeth Saint Ambrose answere very well, writing vpon the first Chapter to the Romanes (Ambrose, `Super Cap. 1, Romans'). Therefore (saith he) we vse to goe vnto the King by officers and noble men, because the King is a mortall man, and knoweth not to whom hee may commit the gouernement of the common wealth. But to haue GOD our friend, from whom nothing is hid, we neede not any helper, that should further vs with his good word, but onely a deuout and godly minde. And if it be so, that wee neede one to intreate for vs: why may wee not content our selues with that one Mediatour, which is at the right hand of GOD the Father, and there liueth for euer to make intercession for vs? As the blood of Christ did redeeme vs on the crosse, and cleanse vs from our sinnes: euen so it is now able to saue all them that come vnto GOD by it. For Christ sitting in heauen, hath an euerlasting Priesthood, and alwayes prayeth to his Father for them that bee penitent, obteining by vertue of his wounds, which are euermore in the sight of GOD, not onely perfect remission of our sinnes, but also all other necessaries that wee lacke in this world (Matthew 6.33, James 5.15, Colossians 4.12), so that this onely Mediatour is sufficient in heauen (1 Timothy 2.5), and needeth no others to helpe him (Hebrews 7.25). Why then doe wee pray one for another in this life, some man perchance will heere demaund? Forsooth we are willed so to doe, by the expresse commandement both of Christ and his disciples, to declare therein aswell the faith that wee haue in Christ towardes GOD, as also the mutuall charitie that wee beare one towards another, in that pitie our brothers case, and make our humble petition to GOD for him. But that we should pray vnto Saints, neither haue we any commandement in all the Scripture, nor yet example which wee may safely follow. So that being done without authority of Gods word, it lacketh the ground of faith, & therefore cannot be acceptable before GOD (Hebrews 11.6). For whatsoeuer is not of faith, is sin (Romans 14.23). And as the Apostle saith, that faith commeth by hearing, and hearing by the word of GOD (Romans 10.17). Yet thou wilt obiect further, that the Saints in heauen doe pray for vs, and that their prayer proceedeth of an earnest charity that they haue towards their brethren on earth. Whereto it may be well answered. First, that no man knoweth whether they doe pray for vs, or no. And if any will goe about to prooue it by the nature of charitie, concluding, that because they did pray for men on earth, therefore they doe much more the same now in heauen: Then may it be sayd by the same reason, that as oft as we doe weepe on earth, they doe also weepe in heauen, because while they liued in this world, it is most certaine and sure they did so. And for that place which is written in the Apocalyps, namely that the Angel did offer vp the prayers of the Saints vpon the golden Altar: it is properly meant, and ought properly to bee vnderstood of those Saints that are yet liuing on earth, and not of them that are dead, otherwise what neede were it that the Angel should offer vp their prayers, being now in heauen before the face of Almighty GOD? But admit the Saints doe pray for vs, yet doe we not know how, whether specially for them which call vpon them, or else generally for all men, wishing well to euery man alike. If they pray specially for them which call vpon them, then it is like they heare our prayers, and also know our hearts desire. Which thing to bee false, it is already prooued both by the Scriptures, and also by the authority of Augustine. Let vs not therefore put our trust or confidence in the Saints or Martyrs that be dead. Let vs not call vpon them, nor desire helpe at their hands: but let vs alwayes lift vp our hearts to GOD, in the name of his deare Sonne Christ, for whose sake as GOD hath promised to heare our prayer, so he will truely performe it. Inuocation is a thing proper vnto GOD, which if wee attribute vnto the Saints, it soundeth to their reproach, neither can they well beare it at our hands. When Paul had healed a certaine lame man, which was impotent in his feet, at Lystra, the people would haue done sacrifice to him and Barnabas: who renting their clothes, refused it, and exhorted them to worship the true GOD (Acts 14.8-18). Likewise in the Reuelation, when Saint Iohn fell before the Angels feet to worship him, the Angel would not permit him to doe it, but commanded him that he should worship GOD (Revelations 19.10, 22.8-9). Which examples declare vnto vs, that the Saints and Angels in heauen, will not haue vs to doe any honour vnto them, that is due and proper vnto GOD. Hee onely is our Father, he onely is omnipotent, hee onely knoweth and vnderstandeth all things, hee onely can helpe vs at all times, and in all places, he suffereth the sunne to shine vpon the good and the bad, hee seedeth the yong rauens that crie vnto him, hee saueth both man and beast, he will not that any one hayre of our head shall perish: but is alwayes ready to helpe and preserue all them that put their trust in him, according as he hath promised, saying, Before they call, I will answer, and whiles they speake, I will heare (Isaiah 65.24). Let vs not therefore any thing mistrust his goodnesse, let vs not feare to come before the throne of his mercy, let vs not seeke the ayd and helpe of Saints, but let vs come boldly our selues, nothing doubting but GOD for Christs sake, in whom hee is well pleased, will heare vs without a spokes-man, and accomplish our desire in all such things as shall be agreeable to his most holy will. So sayth Chrysostome, an ancient Doctour of the Church (Chrysostome, `6 Hom. de Profectu. Evang.'), and so must wee stedfastly beleeue, not because he sayth it, but much more because it is the doctrine of our Sauiour Christ himselfe, who hath promised that if wee pray to the Father in his name, we shall certainely be heard, both to the reliefe of our necessities, and also to the saluation of our soules, which he hath purchased vnto vs, not with gold or siluer, but with his pretious bloud, shed once for all vpon the Crosse.
To him therefore, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, three persons and one GOD, be all honour, prayse, & glory, for euer & euer. Amen.
THE THIRD PART OF THE HOMILIE CONCERNING PRAYER.
YE were taught in the other part of this Sermon, vnto whom ye ought to direct your prayers in time of need and necessity, that is to wit, not vnto Angels or Saints, but vnto the eternall and euerliuing GOD, who because hee is mercifull, is alwayes ready to heare vs, when we call vpon him in true and perfect fayth. And because hee is omnipotent, he can easily performe and bring to passe, the thing that we request to haue at his hands. To doubt of his power, it were a plaine point of infidelity, and cleane against the doctrine of the holy Ghost, which teacheth that hee is all in all. And as touching his good will in this behalfe, we haue expresse testimonies in Scripture, how that he will helpe vs, and also deliuer vs, if wee call vpon him in time of trouble (Psalms 50.15). So that in both these respects, we ought rather to call vpon him then vpon any other. Neither ought any man therefore to doubt to come boldly vnto GOD, because he is a sinner (1 Timothy 1.15-16). For the Lord (as the Prophet Dauid sayth) is gracious and mercifull, yea, his mercy and goodnesse endureth for euer (Psalms 107.1). He that sent his owne sonne into the world to saue sinners, will hee not also heare sinners, if with a true penitent heart and a stedfast fayth they pray vnto him? Yes, if wee acknowledge our sinnes, GOD is faithfull and iust to forgiue vs our sinnes, and to cleanse vs from all vnrighteousnesse (1 John 1.9), as we are plainely taught by the examples of Dauid, Peter, Mary Magdalene, the Publicane, and diuers other. And whereas we must needes vse the helpe of some mediatour and intercessor, let vs content our selues with him, that is the true and onely Mediatour of the new Testament, namely the Lord and Sauiour Iesus Christ.
For as Saint Iohn saith, If any man sinne, we haue an aduocate with the Father, Iesus Christ, the righteous, who is the propitiation for our sinnes (1 John 2.1-2). And Saint Paul in his first Epistle to Timothie, saith, There is one GOD, and one mediatour betweene GOD and man, euen the man Iesus Christ, who gaue himselfe a ransome for all men, to be a testimonie in due time (1 Timothy 2.5-6).
Now after this doctrine established, you shall bee instructed for what kinde of things, and what kinde of persons ye ought to make your prayers vnto GOD. It greatly behoueth all men, when they pray, to consider well and diligently with themselues what they aske and require at Gods hands, lest if they desire that thing which they ought not, their petitions be made voyd, and of none effect. There came on a time vnto Agesilaus the King, a certaine importunate suter, who requested him in a matter earnestly, saying, Sir, and it please your Grace, you did once promise me. Trueth quoth the king, if it be iust that thou requirest, then I promised thee, otherwise I did onely speake it, and not promise it. The man would not bee so answered at the kings hand, but still vrging him more and more, said: It becommeth a king to performe the least word hee hath spoken, yea if hee should onely becke with his head. No more saith the king, then it behoueth one that commeth to a king, to speake and aske those things which are rightfull and honest. Thus the king cast off this vnreasonable and importunate suter.
Now if so great consideration be to be had, when we kneele before an earthly king: how much more ought to be had, when we kneele before the heauenly King, who is onely delighted with iustice and equitie, neither will admit any vaine, foolish, or vniust petition? Therefore it shall bee good and profitable, throughly to consider and determine with our selues, what things we may lawfully aske of GOD, without feare of repulse, and also what kinde of persons wee are bound to commend vnto GOD in our dayly prayers. Two things are chiefly to bee respected in euery good and godly mans prayer: His owne necessitie, and the glory of almighty GOD. Necessitie belongeth either outwardly to the body, or else inwardly to the soule. Which part of man, because it is much more precious and excellent then the other, therefore wee ought first of all, to craue such things as properly belong to the saluation thereof: as the gift of repentance, the gift of faith, the gift of charitie and good workes, remission and forgiuenesse of sinnes patience in aduersitie, lowlinesse in prosperity, & such other like fruits of the spirit, as hope, loue, ioy, peace, long suffering, gentlenesse, goodnesse, meekenesse, and temperancie, which things GOD requireth of all them that professe themselues to be his children (Galatians 5.22-23), saying vnto them in this wise., Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good workes, and glorifie your Father which is in heauen (Matthew 5.16), And in another place also hee saith, Seeke first the Kingdome of GOD, and his righteousnesse, and then all other things shall bee giuen vnto you (Matthew 6.33). Wherein he putteth vs in minde, that our chiefe and greatest care ought to bee for those things which pertaine to the health and safegard of the soule, because we haue here (as the Apostle saith) no continuing citie, but doe seeke after another in the world to come (Hebrews 13.14).
Now when wee haue sufficiently prayed for things belonging to the soule, then may wee lawfully and with safe conscience, pray also for our bodily necessities, as meate, drinke, clothing, health of body, deliuerance out of prison, good lucke in our dayly affaires, and so forth, according as wee shall haue neede. Whereof, what better example can wee desire to haue, then of Christ himselfe, who taught his disciples, and all other Christian men, first to pray for heauenly things, and afterward for earthly things, as is to bee seene in that prayer which hee left vnto his Church, commonly called the Lords prayer (Matthew 6.9-13, Luke 11.2-4)? In the third booke of Kings and third Chapter it is written, that GOD appeared by night in a dreame vnto Salomon the King, saying, Aske of me whatsoeuer thou wilt, and I will giue it thee. Salomon made his humble prayer, and asked a wise and prudent heart, that might iudge and vnderstand what were good, and what were ill, what were godly, and what were vngodly, what were righteous, and what were vnrighteous in the sight of the Lord. It pleased GOD wonderously that he had asked this thing. And GOD said vnto him, Because thou hast requested this word, and hast not desired many dayes and long yeeres vpon the earth, neither abundance of riches and goods, nor yet the life of thine enemies which hate thee, but hast desired wisedome to sit in iudgement: Behold, I haue done vnto thee according to thy wordes, I haue giuen thee a wise heart, full of knowledge and vnderstanding, so that there was neuer any like thee before time, neither shall bee in time to come. Moreouer I haue, besides this, giuen thee that which thou hast not required, namely worldly wealth and riches, princely honour and glory, so that thou shalt therein also passe all kings that euer were. Note this example, how Salomon being put to his choise to aske of GOD, whatsoeuer he would, requested not vaine and transitorie things, but the high and heauenly treasures of wisdome, and that in so doing, hee obtaineth as it were in recompence, both riches and honour. Wherein is giuen vs to vnderstand, that in our dayly prayers, wee should chiefly and principally aske those things which concerne the Kingdome of GOD, and the saluation of our owne soules, nothing doubting but all other things shall (according to the promise of Christ) be giuen vnto vs. But here we must take heede, that wee forget not that other end whereof mention was made before, namely the glory of GOD. Which vnlesse we minde, and set before our eyes in making our prayers, we may not looke to be heard, or to receiue any thing of the Lord. In the xx. Chapter of Matthew, the mother of the two sonnes of Zebedee came vnto Iesus, worshipping him, and saying, Grant that my two sonnes may sit in thy Kingdome, the one on thy right hand, and the other at thy left hand. In this petition she did not respect the glory of GOD, but plainely declared the ambition and vaine glory of her owne minde, for which cause she was also most worthily repelled, and rebuked at the Lords hand. In like manner wee reade in the Actes, of one Simon Magus a Sorcerer, how that hee perceiuing that through laying on of the Apostles hands the holy Ghost was giuen, offered them money, saying: Giue mee also this power, that on whomsoeuer I lay my hands, hee may receiue the holy ghost (Acts 8.18-19). In making this request, hee sought not the honour and glory of GOD, but his owne priuate gaine and lucre, thinking to get great store of money by this feate, and therefore it was iustly sayd vnto him: Thy money perish with thee, because thou thinkest that the gift of GOD may be obteined with money. By these and such other examples wee are taught, whensoeuer we make our prayers vnto GOD, chiefly to respect the honour, and glory of his Name. Whereof we haue this generall precept in the Apostle Paul, Whether ye eate or drinke, or whatsoeuer ye doe, looke that ye doe it to the glory of GOD (1 Corinthians 10.31, Colossians 3.17). Which thing we shall best of all doe, if wee follow the example of our Sauiour Christ, who praying that the bitter cup of death might passe from him, would not therein haue his owne will fulfilled, but referred the whole matter to the good will and pleasure of his Father (Matthew 26.39, Luke 22.42).
And hitherto concerning those things, that we may lawfully and boldly aske of GOD. Now it followeth, that wee declare what kinde of persons wee are bound in conscience to pray for. Saint Paul writing to Timothie, exhorteth him to make prayers and supplications for all men, exempting none, of what degree or state soeuer they bee (1 Timothy 2.1-2). In which place he maketh mention by name of Kings and Rulers which are in authority, putting vs thereby to knowledge how greatly it concerneth the profit of the common wealth, to pray diligently for the higher powers. Neither is it without good cause, that hee doeth so often in all his Epistls craue the prayers of GODS people for himselfe (Colossians 4.3, Romans 15.30, 2 Thessalonians 3.1, Ephesians 6.19). For in so doing, he declareth to the world, how expedient and needefull it is dayly to call vpon GOD for the ministers of his holy Word and Sacraments, that they may haue the doore of vtterance opened vnto them, that they may truely vnderstand the Scriptures, that they may effectually preach the same vnto the people, and bring foorth the true fruits thereof, to the example of all other.
After this sort did the congregation continually pray for Peter at Ierusalem (Acts 12.5), and for Paul among the Gentiles, to the great encrease and furtherance of Christs Gospel. And if we, following their good example herein, will studie to doe the like, doubtlesse it cannot be expressed, how greatly we shall both helpe our selues, and also please GOD.
To discourse and run through all degrees of persons, it were too long. Therefore yee shall briefly take this one conclusion for all: Whomsoeuer we are bound by expresse commandement to loue, for those also are wee bound in conscience to pray. But wee are bound by expresse commandement to loue all men as our selues: therefore wee are also bound to pray for all men, euen as well as if it were for our selues, notwithstanding we know them to bee our extreme and deadly enemies. For so doeth our Sauiour Christ plainely teach vs in his Gospel, saying, Loue your enemies, blesse them that curse you, doe good to them that hate you, pray for them that persecute you, that yee may bee the children of your Father which is in heauen (Matthew 5.44). And as hee taught his disciples, so did hee practise himselfe in his life time praying for his enemies vpon the crosse, and desiring his Father to forgiue them, because they knew not what they did (Luke 23.34): As did also that holy and blessed Martyr Steuen, when hee was cruelly stoned to death of the stubburne and stifnecked Iewes (Acts 7.60): to the example of all them that will truely and vnfainedly follow their Lord and Master Christ in this miserable and mortall life.
Now to entreate of that question, whether we ought to pray for them that are departed out of this world, or no. Wherein, if wee will cleaue onely vnto the word of GOD, then must we needes graunt, that we haue no commandement so to doe. For the Scripture doeth acknowledge but two places after this life. The one proper to the elect and blessed of GOD; the other to the reprobate and damned soules, as may be well gathered, by the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16.19-26), which place Saint Augustine expounding, saith in this wise: That which Abraham speaketh vnto the rich man in Lukes Gospel, namely that the iust cannot goe into those places where the wicked are tormented: what other things doeth it signifie, but onely this, that the iust, by reason of GODS iudgement, which may not be reuoked, can shew no deede of mercy in helping them which after this life are cast into prison, vntill they pay the vttermost farthing (Augustine, `Evange.', bk. 2, quest. 1, cap. 38)? These words, as they confound the opinion of helping the dead by prayer, so they doe cleane confute and take away the vaine errour of Purgatory, which is grounded vpon the saying of the Gospel: Thou shalt not depart thence, vntill thou hast payed the vttermost farthing. Now doeth S. Augustine say, that those men which are cast into prison after this life, on that condition, may in no wise bee holpen, though wee would helpe them neuer so much. And why? Because the sentence of GOD is vnchangeable, and cannot be reuoked againe. Therefore let vs not deceiue our selues, thinking that either we may helpe other, or other may helpe vs by their good and charitable prayers in time to come.
For as the Preacher saith: When the tree falleth, whether it bee toward the South, or toward the North, in what place soeuer the tree falleth, there it lieth (Ecclesiastes 11.3): meaning thereby, that euery mortall man dieth either in the state of saluation or damnation, according as the words of the Euangelist Iohn doe also plainely import, saying: He that beleeueth on the Sonne of GOD, hath eternall life: But he that beleeueth not on the Sonne, shall neuer see life, but the wrath of GOD abideth vpon him (John 3.36). Where is then the third place which they call Purgatory? or where shall our prayers helpe and profit the dead? S. Augustine doth onely acknowledge two places after this life, heauen & hell: As for the third place, he doth plainly denie that there is any such to be found in all Scripture (Augustine, `Hypogno.', bk. 5). Chrysostome likewise is of this minde, that vnlesse wee wash away our sinnes in this present world, we shall finde no comfort afterward (Chrysostome, `Hib.', 2). And S. Cyprian saith, that after death, repentance and sorrow of paine shall bee without fruit, weeping also shalbe in vaine, and prayer shall be to no purpose (Cyprian, `Homil. 5' in `Contra Demetrianum'). Therefore he counselleth all men to make prouision for themselues while they may, because when they are once departed out of this life, there is no place for repentance, nor yet for satisfaction.
Let these and such other places be sufficient to take away the grosse errour of Purgatory out of our heads, neither let vs dreame any more, that the soules of the dead are any thing at all holpen by our prayers: But as the Scripture teacheth vs, let vs thinke that the soule of man passing out of the body, goeth straight wayes either to heauen, or else to hell, whereof the one needeth no prayer, and the other is without redemption. The only Purgatory wherein we must trust to be saued, is the death and bloud of Christ, which if we apprehend with a true and stedfast faith, it purgeth and cleanseth vs from all our sinnes (1 John 1.7), euen as well as if hee were now hanging vpon the Crosse. The bloud of Christ, sayth Saint Iohn, hath cleansed vs from all sinne. The bloud of Christ, sayth Saint Paul, hath purged our consciences from dead workes, to serue the liuing GOD (Hebrews 9.14). Also in another place hee sayth, Wee bee sanctified and made holy by the offering vp of the body of Iesus Christ done once for all (Hebrews 10.10). Yea hee addeth more, saying, With the one oblation of his blessed body & pretious bloud, he hath made perfect for euer and euer all them that are sanctified (Hebrews 10.14 Ibidem.). This then is that Purgatory, wherein all Christian men put their whole trust and confidence, nothing doubting, but if they truely repent them of their sinnes, and die in perfect fayth, that then they shall foorthwith passe from death to life. If this kinde of purgation will not serue them, let them neuer hope to be released by other mens prayers, though they should continue therein vnto the worlds end. He that cannot be saued by fayth in Christs bloud, how shall he looke to bee deliuered by mans intercessions? Hath GOD more respect to man on earth, then hee hath to Christ in heauen? If any man sinne (sayth Saint Iohn) we haue an aduocate with the Father, euen Iesus Christ the righteous, and hee is the propitiation for our sinnes (1 John 2.1). But we must take heed that wee call vpon this aduocate while wee haue space giuen vs in this life, lest when wee are once dead, there bee no hope of saluation left vnto vs. For as euery man sleepeth with his owne cause, so euery man shall rise againe with his owne cause. And looke in what state he dieth, in the same state he shall bee also iudged, whether it bee to salutation or damnation. Let vs not therefore dreame either of Purgatory, or of prayer for the soules of them that be dead: but let vs earnestly and diligently pray for them which are expresly commanded in holy Scripture, namely for Kings and Rulers, for Ministers of GODS holy word and Sacraments, for the Saints of this world, otherwise called the faythfull: to be short, for all men liuing, be they neuer so great enemies to GOD and his people, as Iewes, Turkes, Pagans, Infidels, Heretikes, &c. Then shall we truely fulfill the commandement of GOD in that behalfe, and plainely declare our selues to bee the true children of our heauenly Father, who suffereth the Sunne to shine vpon the good and the bad, and the raine to fall vpon the iust and the vniust: For which and all other benefits most abundantly bestowed vpon mankind from the beginning, let vs giue him hearty thankes, as we are most bound, and prayse his Name for euer and euer. Amen.
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