An Homily Concerning Prayer Part III

The Third Part of the Homily of Prayer

Ye were taught in the other part of this Sermon, unto whom ye ought to direct your prayers in time of need and necessity, that is to wit, not unto angels or saints, but unto the eternal and everliving God: who, because he is merciful, is always ready to hear us, when we call upon him in true and perfect faith; and, because he is omnipotent, he can easily perform and bring to pass the thing that we request to have at his hands. To doubt of his power, it were a plain point of infidelity, and clean against the doctrine of the Holy Ghost, which teacheth that he is all in all. And as touching his goodwill in this behalf, we have express testimonies in the Scripture, how that he will help us, and also deliver us if we call upon him in the time of trouble.[1] So that in both these respects we ought rather to call upon him than upon any other. Neither ought any man therefore to doubt to come boldly unto God, because he is a sinner. For the Lord, as the Prophet David saith is gracious and merciful; yea, his mercy and goodness endureth for ever.[2] He that sent his own Son into the world to save sinners,[3] will he not also hear sinners, if with a true penitent heart and a steadfast faith they pray unto him? Yes, if we acknowledge our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness; [4] as we are plainly taught by the examples of David, Peter, Mary Magdalene, the Publican, and divers other.[5] And, whereas we must needs use the help of some mediator and intercessor, let us content ourselves with him that is the true and only Mediator of the New Testament[6] namely, the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. For, as St. John saith, if any man sin, we have an advocate with God the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation for our sins.[7] And St. Paul in his first Epistle to Timothy saith There is one God, and one mediator between God and man, even the man Jesus Christ ; who gave himself a ransom for all men, to be a testimony in due time.[8]

Now, after this doctrine established, you shall be instructed for what kind of things and what kind of persons ye ought to make your prayers unto God. It greatly behoveth all men, when they pray, to consider well and diligently with themselves what they ask and require at God’s hands, lest, if they desire the thing which they ought not, their petitions be made void and of none effect. There came on a time unto Agesilaus the king a certain importunate suitor, who requested him in a matter earnestly, saying, ” Sir, and it please your grace, you did once promise me.” ” Truth,” quoth the king, “if it be just that thou requirest, then I promised thee; otherwise I did only speak it and not promise it.” The man would not so be answered at the king’s hand, but, still urging him more and more, said, “It becometh a king to perform the least word he hath spoken, yea, if he should only beck with his head.” “No more,” saith the king, “than it behoveth one that cometh to a king to speak and ask those things which are rightful and honest.” Thus the king cast off this unreasonable and importunate suitor. Now, if so great consideration be to be had when we kneel before an earthly king, how much more ought to be had when we kneel before the heavenly King, who is only delighted with justice and equity, neither will admit any vain, foolish, or unjust petition! Therefore it shall be good and profitable throughly to consider and determine with ourselves, what things we may lawfully ask of God without fear of repulse, and also what kind of persons we are bound to commend unto God in our daily prayers.

Two things are chiefly to be respected in every good and godly man’s prayer, his own necessity, and the glory of Almighty God. Necessity belongeth either outwardly to the body, or else inwardly to the soul. Which part of man, because it is much more precious and excellent than the other, therefore we ought first of all to crave such things as properly belong to the salvation thereof; as, the gift of repentance, the gift of faith, the gift of charity and good works, remission and forgiveness of sins, patience in adversity, lowliness in prosperity, and such other like fruits of the Spirit, hope, joy love, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness and temperancy[9]; which things God requireth of all them that profess themselves to be his children, saying unto them on this wise, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.[10] And in another place he also saith Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and then all other things shall be given unto you.[11] Wherein he putteth us in mind, that our chief and greatest care ought to be for those which pertain to the health and safeguard of the soul, because we have here, as the Apostle saith, no continuing city, but do seek after another in the world to come.[12]

Now, when we have sufficiently prayed for things belonging to the soul, then may we lawfully, and with safe conscience, pray also for our bodily necessities, as meat, drink, clothing, health of body, deliverance out of prison, good luck in our daily affairs, and so forth, according as we shall have need. Whereof what better example can we desire to have than of Christ himself, who taught his disciples and all other Christian men first to pray for heavenly things, and afterward for earthly things, as is to be seen in that prayer which he left unto his Church, commonly called the Lord’s Prayer?[13] In the third book of Kings and third chapter it is written, that God appeared by night in a dream unto Salomon the king, saying, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give thee.[14] Salomon made his humble prayer, and asked a wise and prudent heart, that might judge and understand what were good and what were ill, what were godly and what were ungodly, what were righteous and what were unrighteous in the sight of the Lord. It pleased God wondrously that he had asked this thing. And God said unto him, Because thou hast requested this word, and hast not desired many days and long years upon the earth, neither abundance of riches and goods, nor yet the life of thine enemies which hate thee, but hast desired wisdom to sit in judgment, behold, I have done unto thee according to thy words; I have given thee a wise heart, full of knowledge and understanding, so that there was never none according to thy words; I have given thee a wise heart, full of knowledge and understanding, so that there was never none that thou shalt therein also pass all kings that ever were.[15] Note in this example how Salomon, being put to his choice to ask of God whatsoever he would, requested not vain and transitory things, but the high and heavenly treasures of wisdom; and that in so doing he obtaineth, as it were in recompense, both riches and honour. Wherein is given us to understand, that in our daily prayers we should chiefly and principally ask those things which concern the kingdom of God and the salvation of our own souls, nothing doubting but all other things shall, according to the promise of Christ, be given unto us.

But here we must take heed that we forget not that other end whereof mention was made before, namely, the glory of God. Which unless we mind and set before our eyes in making our prayers, we may not look to be heard or to receive any thing of the Lord. In the twentieth chapter of Matthew the mother of the two sons of Zebedee came unto Jesus, worshipping him, and saying, Grant that my two sons may sit in thy kingdom, the one at thy right hand, and the other at thy left hand.[16] In this petition she did not respect the glory of God, but plainly declared the ambition and vainglory of her own mind; for which cause she was also most worthily repelled and rebuked at the Lord’s hand. In like manner we read in the Acts of one Simon Magus, a sorcerer, how that he perceiving that through laying on of the Apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, offered them money, saying, Give me also the power, that, on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. In making this request he sought not the honour and glory of God, but his own private gain and lucre, thinking to get great store of money by this feat; and therefore it was justly said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou thinkest that the gift of God may be obtained with money.[17] By these and such other examples we are taught, whensoever we make our prayers unto God, chiefly to respect the honour and glory of his Name. Whereof we have this general precept in the Apostle Paul: Whether ye eat or drink or whatsoever you do, look that you do it to the glory of God.[18] Which thing we shall best of all do, if we follow the example of our Saviour Christ, who praying that the bitter cup of death might pass from him, would not therein have his own will fulfilled but referred the whole matter to the good will and pleasure of his Father.[19]

And hitherto concerning those things that we may lawfully and boldly ask of God.

Now it followeth that we declare what kind of persons we are bound in conscience to pray for. St. Paul, writing to Timothy, exhorteth him to make prayers and supplications for all men, exempting none, of what degree or state soever they be.[20] In which place he maketh mention by name of kings and rules which are in authority, by putting us thereby to knowledge how greatly it concerneth the profit of the commonwealth to pray diligently for the higher powers. Neither is it without good cause, that he doth so often in all his Epistles[21] crave the prayers of God’s people for himself. For in so doing he declareth to the world how expedient and needful it is daily to call upon God for the ministers of his holy word and sacraments, that they may have the door of utterance opened unto them, that they may truly understand the Scriptures, that they may effectually preach the same unto the people, and bring forth the true fruits thereof to the example of all other. After this sort did the congregation continually pray[22] for Peter at Hierusalem, and for Paul among the Gentiles, to the great encrease and furtherance of Christ’s Gospel. And if we, following their good example herein, will study to do the like, doubtless it cannot be expressed how greatly we shall both help ourselves, and also please God.

To discourse and run through all degrees of persons it were too long: therefore ye shall briefly take this one conclusion for all. Whomsoever we are bound by express commandment to love, for those also we are bound in conscience to pray: but we are bound by express commandment to love all men as ourselves: therefore we are also bound to pray for all men even as well as if it were for ourselves, notwithstanding we know them to be our extreme and deadly enemies; for so doth our Saviour Christ plainly teach us in his holy Gospel, saying, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them that persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven. And, as he taught his disciples, so did he practise himself in his lifetime, praying for his enemies upon the cross, and desiring his Father to forgive them, because they knew not what they did:[23] as did the holy and blessed Martyr Stephen, when he was cruelly stoned to death of the stubborn and stiffnecked Jews, to the example of all them that will truly and unfeignedly follow their Lord and Master Christ in this miserable and mortal life.[24]

Now to entreat of that question, whether we ought to pray for them that are departed out of this world, or no. Wherein if we will cleave only unto the word of God, then must we needs grant, that we have no commandment so to do. For the Scripture doth acknowledge but two places after this life, the one proper to the elect and blessed of God, the other to the reprobate and damned souls; as may be well gathered by the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Which place St. Augustine expounding saith on this wise: “That which Abraham speaketh unto the rich man in Luke’s Gospel, namely, that the just cannot go into those places where the wicked are tormented, what other things doth it signify but only this, that the just, by reason of God’s judgment, which may not be revoked, can shew no deed of mercy in helping them which after this life are cast into prison until they pay the uttermost farthing?” These words, as they confound the opinion of helping the dead by prayer, so they do clean confute and take away the vain error of purgatory which is grounded upon this saying of the Gospel: Thou shalt not depart thence, until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.[25] Now doth St. Augustine say, that those men which are cast into prison after this life on that condition may in no wise be holpen, though we would help them never so much. And why? Because the sentence of God is unchangeable, and cannot be revoked again. Therefore let us not deceive ourselves, thinking that either we may help other, or other may help us by their good and charitable prayers in time to come. For, as the Preacher saith when the tree falleth, whether it be toward the south, or toward the north, in what place soever the tree falleth, there it lieth;[26] meaning thereby, that every mortal man dieth either in the state of salvation or damnation, according as the words of the Evangelist John do also plainly import, saying, He that believeth on the Son of God hath eternal life; but he that believeth not on the Son shall never see life, but the wrath of God abideth upon him.[27] Where is then the third place, which they call purgatory? or where shall our prayers help and profit the dead? St. Augustine doth only acknowledge two places after this life, heaven and hell. As for the third place, he doth plainly deny that there is any such to be found in all Scripture. Chrysostom likewise is of this mind, that, unless we wash away our sins in this present world, we shall find no comfort afterward. And St. Cyprian saith, that after death “repentance and sorrow of pain shall be without fruit; weeping also shall be in vain, and prayer shall be to no purpose.” Therefore he counselleth all men to make provision for themselves 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 gross error of purgatory out of our heads; neither let us dream any more that the souls of the dead are anything at all holpen by our prayers: but, as the Scripture teacheth us, let us think that the soul of man, passing out of the body, goeth straightways either to heaven 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 saved is the death and blood of Christ; which if we apprehend with a true and steadfast faith, it purgeth and cleanseth us from all our sins, even as well as if he were now hanging upon the cross. The blood of Christ saith St. John, hath cleansed us from all sin.[28] The Blood of Christ, saith St. Paul, hath purged our consciences from dead works to serve the living God.[29] Also in another place he saith, We be sanctified and made holy by the offering up of the body of Jesus Christ, done once for all.[30] Yea, he addeth more, saying, With the one oblation of his blessed body and precious blood he hath made perfect for ever and ever all them that are sanctified.[31] This then is that purgatory wherein all Christian men must put their whole trust and confidence, nothing doubting but, if they truly repent them of their sins, and die in perfect faith, that then they shall forthwith pass from death to life. If this kind of purgation will not serve them, let them never hope to be released by other men’s prayers, though they should continue therein unto the world’s end. He that cannot be saved by faith in Christ’s blood, how shall he look to be delivered by man’s intercessions? Hath God more respect to man on earth, than he hath to Christ in heaven? If any man sin, saith St. John, we have an advocate with God the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous and he is the propitiation for our sins.[32] But we must take heed that we call upon this Advocate while we have space given us in this life, lest, when we are once dead, there be no hope of salvation left unto us. For, as every man sleepeth with his own cause, so every man shall rise again with his own cause. And look, in what state he dieth, in the same state he shall be also judged whether it be to salvation or damnation.

Let us not therefore dream either of purgatory, or of prayer for the souls of them that be dead; but let us earnestly and diligently pray for them which are expressly commanded in holy Scripture, namely, for kings and rulers, for ministers of God’s holy word and sacraments, for the saints of this world, otherwise called the faithful, to be short, for all men living, be they never so great enemies to God and his people, as Jews, Turks, pagans, infidels, heretics. Then shall we truly fulfil the commandment of God in that behalf, and plainly declare ourselves to be the true children of our heavenly Father, which suffereth the sun to shine upon the good and the bad, and the rain to fall upon the just and the unjust. For which and all other benefits most abundantly bestowed upon mankind from the beginning let us give him hearty thanks, as we are most bound, and praise his Name for ever and ever. Amen.

  1. Ps i, 15
  2. Ps ciii, 8; cvii, 1
  3. Tim I, 16; John iii, 17;
  4. 1 John I, 9
  5. 2 Sam, xii, 13; Mark xvi, 7-9; Luke xvii, 14; John xxi, 15-19
  6. Heb xii, 24
  7. 1 John ii, 1,2
  8. 1 Tim II, 5-6
  9. Gal v, 22; Rom xv, 13
  10. Matt v, 18
  11. Matt vi, 33
  12. Heb xiii, 14
  13. Matt vi, 9-13; Luke xi, 3-4
  14. 1 Kings, iii, 5-13
  15. Ibid
  16. Matt xx, 20-23
  17. Act vii, 18-20
  18. 1 Cor x, 31; Col iii, 17
  19. Matt xxvi, 19; Mark xiv, 36; Luke xxii, 42
  20. Tim II, 1-2
  21. Col iv, 5; Rom xv, 30-32; 2 Thess iii, 1-2l Eph vi, 19-20
  22. Acts xii, 5; 2 Cor I, 11; Phil 1, 29; Philem, 22
  23. Luke xiii, 34
  24. Acts vii, 60
  25. Matt v, 26
  26. Baruch xi, 3
  27. John III, 36
  28. 1 John I, 7; Rev I, 5
  29. Heb ix, 14
  30. Heb x, 10
  31. Ibid, 14
  32. 1 John II, 1-2

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