The Second Part of the Homily Concerning Prayer
In the first part of this Sermon ye heard the great necessity, and also the great force, of devout and earnest prayer declared and proved unto you, both by divers weighty testimonies, and also by sundry good examples of holy Scripture. Now shall you learn whom you ought to call upon, and to whom ye ought always to direct your prayers.
We are evidently taught in God’s holy Testament, that Almighty God is the only fountain and wellspring of all goodness, and that, whatsoever we have in this world, we receive it only at his hands. To this effect serveth the place of St. James. Every good and perfect gift, saith he, cometh from above, and proceedeth from the Father of lights. To this effect also serveth the testimony of Paul in divers places of his Epistles , witnessing that the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of knowledge and revelation, yea, every good and heavenly gift, as faith, hope, charity, grace, and peace, cometh only and solely of God. In consideration whereof he bursteth out into a sudden passion, and saith, O man, what thing hast thou which thou hast not received? Therefore, whensoever we need or lack anything pertaining either to the body or the soul, it behoveth us to run only unto God, who is the only giver of all good things. Our Saviour Christ in the Gospel, teaching his disciples how they should pray, sendeth them to the Father in his name, saying Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name, he will give it unto you. And in another place: When ye pray, pray after this sort, Our Father, which art in heaven, etc. And doth not God himself, by the mouth of his Prophet David will and command us to call upon him? The Apostle wisheth grace and peace to all them that call on the Name of the Lord and of his Son Jesus Christ: as doth also the Prophet Joel, saying, And it shall come that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall come be saved.
Thus then it is plain by the infallible word of truth and life, that in all our necessities we must flee unto God, direct our prayers unto him, call upon his holy Name, desire help at his hands, and at no other’s. Whereof if ye will yet have a further reason, mark that which followeth. There are certain conditions most requisite to be found in every such a one that must be called upon, which if they be not found in him unto whom we pray, then doth our prayer avail us nothing, but is altogether in vain. The first is this, that he to whom we make our prayers be able to help us. The second is, that he will help us. The third is, that he be such a one as may hear our prayers. The fourth is, that he understand better than we ourselves what we lack and how far we have need of help. If these things be to be found in any other saving only God, then may we lawfully call upon some other besides God. But what man is so gross but he well understandeth that these things are only proper to him which is omnipotent and knoweth all things even the very secrets of the heart, that is to say, only and to God alone? Whereof it followeth, that we must call neither upon angel nor yet upon saint, but only and solely upon God. As St. Paul doth write How shall men call upon him in whom they have not believed? So that invocation or prayer may not be made without faith in him on whom we call, but that we must first believe in him, before we can make our prayers unto him: whereupon we must only and solely pray unto God. For to say that we should believe either in angel or saint or in any other living creature were most horrible blasphemy against God and his holy word; neither ought this fancy enter into the heart of any Christian man, because we are expressly taught in the word of the Lord only to repose our faith in the blessed Trinity, in whose only Name we are also baptized according to the express commandment of our Saviour Jesus Christ in the last of Matthew
But, that the truth hereof may the better appear, even to them that be most simple and unlearned, let us consider what prayer is. St. Augustine calleth it “a lifting up of the mind to God, that is to say, an humble and lowly pouring out of the heart to God.” Isidorus saith, that “it is an affection of the heart, and not a labour of the lips.” So that, by these places, true prayer doth consist, not so much in the outward sound and voice of words, as in the inward groaning and crying of the heart to God. Now then, is there any angel, any virgin, any patriarch or prophet among the dead, that can understand or know the meaning of the heart? The Scripture saith it is God that searcheth the heart and reins, and that he only knoweth the hearts of the children of men. As for the Saints, they have so little knowledge of the secrets of the heart, that many of the ancient fathers greatly doubt whether they know anything at all that is commonly done on earth. And, albeit some think they do, yet St. Augustine, a doctor of great authority and also antiquity, hath this opinion of them, that they know no more what we do on earth, than we know what they do in heaven. For proof whereof he allegeth the words of Esay the Prophet, where it is said, Abraham is ignorant of us and Israel knoweth us not. His mind therefore is this, not that we should put any religion in worshipping them or praying unto them, but that we should honour them by following their virtuous and godly life. For, as he witnesseth in another place, the Martyrs and holy men in times past were wont after their death to be remembered and named of the priest at Divine Service, but never to be invocated or called upon. And why so? “Because the priest,” saith he “is God’s priest, and not theirs:” whereby he is bound to call upon God, and not upon them.
Thus you see, that the authority both of Scripture and also of Augustine doth not permit that we should pray unto them. O that all men would studiously read and search the Scriptures! then should they not be drowned in ignorance, but should easily perceive the truth, as well of this point of doctrine, as of all the rest. For there doth the Holy Ghost plainly teach us, that Christ is our only mediator and intercessor with God, and that we must seek and run to no other. If any man sinneth, saith St. John, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins. St. Paul also saith, There is one God and one mediator between God and man, even that man Jesus Christ. Whereunto agreeth the testimony of our Saviour himself, witnessing that no man cometh to the Father, but only by him, who is the way, the truth, and the life and yea, the only door whereby we must enter into the kingdom of heaven, because god is pleased in no other but in him. For which cause also he crieth and calleth unto us, that we should come unto him, saying, Come unto me, all ye that labour and be heavy laden, and I shall refresh you. Would Christ have us so necessarily come unto him? and shall we most unthankfully leave him, and run unto other? This is even that which God so greatly complaineth of by his Prophet Jeremy, saying, My people have committed two great offences ; they have forsaken me the fountain of the waters of life, and have digged to themselves broken pits, that can hold no water. Is not that man, think you, unwise that will run for water to a little brook, when he may as well go to the head spring? Even so may his wisdom be justly suspected that will flee unto Saints in time of necessity, when he may boldly and without fear declare his grief and direct his prayer unto the Lord himself.
If God were strange, or dangerous to be talked withal, then might we justly draw back, and seek to some other. But the Lord is nigh unto them that call upon him in faith and truth: and the prayer of the humble and meek hath always pleased him. What if we be sinners? shall we not therefore pray unto God? or shall we despair to obtain any thing at his hands? Why did Christ then teach us to ask forgiveness of our sins, saying, And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us? Shall we think that the Saints are more merciful in hearing sinners than God? David saith, that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and of great kindness. St. Paul saith that, he is rich in mercy towards all them that call upon him. And he himself by the mouth of his Prophet Esay saith, For a little while I have forsaken thee, but with great compassion will I gather thee: for a moment in my anger I have hid my face from thee, but with everlasting mercy have I had compassion upon thee. Therefore the sins of any man ought not to withhold him from praying unto the Lord his God; but, if he be truly penitent and steadfast in faith, let him assure himself that the Lord will be merciful unto him and hear 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, unless they first use the help and mean of some special nobleman, to come unto the speech of the king, and to obtain the thing that they would have. To this reason doth St. Ambrose answer very well, writing upon the first chapter to the Romans. “Therefore,” saith he, “we use to go unto the king by officers and noblemen, because the king is a mortal man, and knoweth not to whom he may commit the government of the commonwealth. But to have God our friend, from whom nothing is hid, we need not any helper that should further us with his good word, but only a devout and godly mind.” And if it be so, that we need one to intreat for us, why may we not content ourselves with that One Mediator, which is at the right hand of God the Father, and there liveth for ever to make intercession for us? As the blood of Christ did redeem us on the cross, and cleanse us from our sins, even so it is now able to save all them that come unto God by it. For Christ, sitting in heaven, hath an everlasting priesthood, and always prayeth to his Father for them that be penitent, obtaining by virtue of his wounds, which are evermore in the sight of God, not only perfect remission of our sins, but also all other necessaries that we lack in this world: so that his only mediation is sufficient in heaven, and needeth no other’s to help him.
Why then do we pray one for another in this life? Some man perchance will here demand. Forsooth we are willed so to do by the express commandment both of Christ and his disciples, to declare therein, as well the faith that we have in Christ towards God, as also the mutual charity that we bear one towards another, in that we pity our brother’s case, and make our humble petition to God for him. But, that we should pray unto Saints, neither have we any commandment in all the Scripture, nor yet example which we may safely follow. So that, being done without authority of God’s word, it lacketh the ground of faith, and therefore cannot be acceptable before God. For whatsoever is not of faith is sin and the Apostle saith, that faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Yet thou wilt object further, that the Saints in heaven do pray for us, and that their prayer proceedeth of an earnest charity that they have towards their brethren on earth. Whereto it may be well answered, first, that no man knoweth whether they do pray for us, or no. And, if any will go about to prove it by the nature of charity, concluding that, because they did pray for men on earth, therefore they do much more the same now in heaven; then may it be said by the same reason, that as oft as we do weep on earth they do also weep in heaven, because while they lived in this world it is most certain and sure they did so. As for that place which is written in the Apocalypsenamely, that the angel did offer up the prayers of the saints upon the golden altar, it is properly meant, and ought properly to be understood, of those saints that are yet living on earth, and not of them that are dead; otherwise what need were it that the angel should offer up their prayers, being now in heaven before the face of Almighty God? But, admit the Saints do pray for us, yet do we not know how, whether specially for them which call upon them, or else generally for all men, wishing well to every man alike. If they pray specially for them which call upon them, then it is like they hear our prayers, and also know our hearts’ desire. Which thing to be false, it is already proved, both by the Scriptures, and also by the authority of Augustine.
Let us not therefore put our trust or confidence in the Saints or Martyrs that be dead. Let us not call upon them, nor desire help at their hands: but let us always lift up our hearts to God in the name of his dear Son Christ; for whose sake as God hath promised to hear our prayers, so he will truly perform it. Invocation is a thing proper unto God: which if we attribute unto the Saints, it soundeth to their reproach, neither can they well hear it at our hands. When Paul had healed a certain lame man, which was impotent in his feet, at Lystra the people would have done sacrifice to him and Barnabas; who, renting their clothes, refused it, and exhorted them to worship the true God. Likewise in the Revelation when St. John fell before the angel’s feet to worship him, the angel would not permit him to do it, but commanded him that he should worship God. Which examples declare unto us, that the saints and angels in heaven will not have us do any honour unto them that is due and proper unto God. He only is our Father; he only is omnipotent; he only knoweth and understandeth all things; he only can help us in all times and in all places; he suffereth the sun to shine upon the good and the bad; he feedeth the young ravens that cry unto him; he saveth both man and beast; he will not that any one hair of our head should perish but is always ready to help and preserve all them that put their trust in him according as he hath promised, saying, before they call I will answer; and whiles they speak, I will hear. Let us not therefore any thing mistrust his goodness; let us not fear to come before the throne of his mercy; let us not seek the aid and help of Saints; but let us come boldly ourselves, nothing doubting but God for Christ’s sake in whom he is well pleased. Will hear us without a spokesman, and accomplish our desire in all such things as shall be agreeable to his most holy will. So saith Chrysostom, an ancient doctor of the Church; and so must we steadfastly believe, not because he saith it, but much more because it is the doctrine of our Saviour Christ himself, who hath promised that if we pray to the Father in his name we shall certainly be heard, both to the relief of our necessities, and also to the salvation of our souls, which he hath purchased unto us, not with gold or silver, but with his precious blood shed once for all upon the cross.
To him therefore with the Father and the Holy Ghost, three Persons and one God, be all honour, praise, and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
- James I, 17 ↑
- Rom I, 7; Eph I, 17; 1 Thess III, 12 ↑
- Cor iv, 7 ↑
- Matt vi, 9 ↑
- Luke xi, 2 ↑
- Ps I, 15 ↑
- 1 Cor I, 1-3 ↑
- I John III, 20; Ps xiiv, 11 ↑
- Rom X, 14 ↑
- Matt, xxviii, 19 ↑
- Ps Vii, 9; Heb II, 23; Jer xvii, 10; 2 Chron vi, 30 ↑
- Is lxiii, 16 ↑
- John V, 39 ↑
- 1 Jobn II, 1-2 ↑
- 1 Tim II, 5 ↑
- John xiv, 6; John x, 6; Matt vvii, 5 ↑
- Matt xi, 28 ↑
- Jer II, 13 ↑
- Ps cxiv, 18; Judith ix ↑
- Matt vi, 12 ↑
- Ps ciii ↑
- Ephis II, 4; Rom x, 12 ↑
- Is iiv, 7-8 ↑
- 1 Tim II, 3; Rom vii, 34; Heb vii, 25 ↑
- Heb vii, 24; ix, 12; 24, 3-12 ↑
- Matt v, 44; vi, 9-13; James v, 15; Col III, 3; 1 Tim II, 1-2 ↑
- Heb xi, 6 ↑
- Rom xiv, 13; Rom x, 19 ↑
- Rev vii, 3-4 ↑
- Act xiv, 8-18 ↑
- Rev xiv, 10, xxii, 8-9 ↑
- Matt v, 45; Ps cxivii, 9; xxxvi 6; Luke xii, 7, xxi, 18 ↑
- Isai, lxv, 14 ↑
- Heb iv, 16 ↑
- Matt xvii, 5 ↑
- John xiv, 13-14; xv, 16; xvi, 33-37 ↑
- 1 Peter I, 18-19 ↑