Sermon from “The Book of Homilies” June 24th, 2018
1662 Prayer Book style service to observe the 325th Anniversary of St. Paul’s Parish
THE HOMILY CONCERNING PRAYER
There is nothing in all man’s life so needful to be spoken of, and daily to be called upon, as hearty, zealous, and devout prayer, the necessity whereof is so great, that without it nothing may be well obtained at GODS hand. For as the Apostle James saith, “Every good and perfect gift cometh from above, and proceedeth from the father of lights,” who is also said to be rich and liberal towards all them that call upon him (Romans 10.12), not because he either will not, or cannot give without asking, but because he hath appointed Prayer as an ordinary means between him and us.
There is no doubt but he always knows what we have need of (Matthew 6.32), and is always most ready to give abundance of those things that we lack.
Yet to the intent we might acknowledge him to be the giver of all good things, and behave ourselves thankfully towards him in that behalf, loving, fearing, and worshipping him sincerely and truly, as we ought to do, he has profitably and wisely ordained, that in time of necessity we should humble ourselves in his sight, pour out the secrets of our heart before him, and crave help at his hands, with continual, earnest, and devout prayer.
By the mouth of his holy Prophet David, he saith: “Call upon me in the days of thy trouble, and I will deliver thee” (Psalms 50.15). Likewise, in the Gospel by the mouth of his well-beloved son Christ, he saith, “Ask, and it shall be given you, knock, and it shall be opened: for whosoever asketh, receiveth, whosoever seeketh, findeth, and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened” (Matthew 7.7-8).
Saint Paul also wills men to pray everywhere, and to continue therein with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 2.8, Philippians 4.6, Colossians 4.2). Neither does the blessed Apostle Saint James in this point anything dissents, but earnestly exhorting all men to diligent prayer, saith: “If any man lack wisdom, let him aske it of GOD, which giveth liberally to all men, and reproacheth no man” (James 1.5).
Also in another place, “Pray for one another (saith he) that ye may be healed: For the righteous man’s prayer availeth much, if it be fervent” (James 5.16). What other thing are we taught by these and such other places, but only this, that Almighty GOD notwithstanding his heavenly wisdom and foreknowledge, will be prayed unto, that he will be called upon, that he will have us no less willing on our part to ask, then he on his part is willing to give?
Sure it is, that there is nothing more expedient or needful for mankind in all the world, then prayer. Pray always (says Saint Paul) and watch therefore with all diligence (Ephesians 6.18). Also in another place he wills us to pray continually without any intermission or ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5.17), meaning thereby that we ought never to slacken or faint in prayer, but to continue therein to our lives end.
A number of other such places might here be alleged of like effect, but what need many proofs in a plain matter? seeing there is no man so ignorant but he knows, no man so blind but he sees, that prayer is a thing most needful in all estates and degrees of men. For only by the help hereof, we attain to those heavenly and everlasting treasures, which GOD our heavenly Father hath reserved and laid up for his children in his dear and well-beloved Son Jesus Christ, with this covenant and promise most assuredly confirmed and sealed unto us, that if we ask, we shall receive (John 16.23-27).
Now the great necessity of prayer being sufficiently known, that our minds and hearts may be the more provoked and stirred thereunto, let us briefly consider what wonderful strength and power it has to bring strange & mighty things to pass.
We read in the book of Exodus, that Joshua fighting against the Amalekites, did conquer & overcome them, not so much by virtue of his own strength, as by the earnest and continual prayer of Moses, who, as long as he held up his hands to GOD, so long did Israel prevail, but when he fainted, & let his hands down, then did Amalek and his people prevail: Insomuch that Aaron and Hur, being in the mount with him, were fain to stay up his hands until the going down of the sun, otherwise had the people of GOD that day been utterly discomfited, and put to flight (Exodus 17.11-12).
Also we read in another place of Joshua himself, how he at the besieging of Gibeon, making his humble petition to Almighty GOD, caused the Sun and the Moon to stay their course, and to stand still in the midst of heaven for the space of a whole day, until such time as the people were sufficiently avenged upon their enemies (Joshua 10.12-13).
And was not Jehosophat’s prayer of great force and strength, when GOD at his request caused his enemies to fall out among themselves, and willfully to destroy one another (2 Chronicles 20.18, 23)? Who can marvel enough at the effect and virtue of Elias prayer? He being a man subject to affections as we are, prayed to the Lord that it might not rain, and there fell no rain upon the earth for the space of three years and six months. Again, he prayed that it might rain, and there fell great plenty, so that the earth brought forth her increase most abundantly (1 Kings 18.45).
It is too long to tell of Judith, Esther, Susanna, and of divers other godly men and women, how greatly they prevailed in all their doings, by giving their minds earnestly and devoutly to prayer (Matthew 21.22). Let it be sufficient at this time to conclude with the sayings of Augustine and Chrysostom, whereof the one called prayer the key of heaven, the other plainly affirmed, that there is nothing in all the world more strong then a man that gives himself to fervent prayer (Augustine, `Ser. 26. de temp.' Chrysostom, `Sup.').
Now then dearly beloved, seeing prayer is so needful a thing, and of so great strength before GOD, let us, according as we are taught by the example of Christ and his Apostles, be earnest and diligent in calling on the Name of the Lord. Let us never faint, never slack, never give over, but let us daily and hourly, early and late, in season, and out of season, be occupied in godly meditations and prayers…assuring ourselves that whatsoever we ask of GOD the Father in the Name of his Son Christ, and according to his will, he will undoubtedly grant it (John 16.23).
He is truth itself, and as truly as he hath promised it, so truly will he perform it.
Let us pray that GOD for his great mercies sake so work in our hearts by his holy Spirit, that we may always make our humble prayers unto him, as we ought to do, and always obtain the thing which we ask, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with the Father and the holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen