Project Canterbury Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology
Lancelot Andrewes Works, Sermons, Volume Five
UPON PRAYER IN GENERAL, AND THE LORD'S PRAYER IN GENERAL
PREPARATION TO PRAYER
Text Matthew vii.7
Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
After the consideration of our own inability mentioned by St. Paul, and the examination of the manifold goodness of God from Whom, as St. James saith, 'every good giving and every perfect gift cometh;' because we see that of ourselves we cannot so much as think any good, and yet that from 'the Father of lights' we may receive that grace which shall enable us to do all things; now it followeth by good order, that we repair to God for that power which we have not of ourselves. Christ will not have 'holy things given to dogs,' nor 'pearls cast to swine,' that is, to such as make no account of them; and therefore if we esteem of the grace of Christ or make any reckoning of it, we must come to him for it. Now we cannot come to God but by prayer, as St. Augustine saith: Non passibus sed precibus itur ad Deum, et nuncius noster oratio est quæ ibi mandatum nostrum peragit quo caro nostra pervenire nequit. 'It is not with paces but with prayers we go to God, and our messenger is prayer which there doth our errand where our flesh cannot come.' Therefore Christ saith, Do not wait as swine till the grace of God be [321/322] cast unto you, but if you will have it, 'ask, and it shall be given to you.'
The tenor of this Scripture hath this coherence: first, knowing out own insufficiency and the goodness of God from Whom 'every good thing cometh,' presently we wish with ourselves that He would admit us to be suitors unto Him. Therefore Christ in the word, 'Ask,' tells us, that God hath His Courts of Requests, that we may be bold to put up our supplications.
Secondly, whereas earthly princes may perhaps afford a good countenance but will not grant the thing that is sought for at their hands, Christ saith that 'the Father of lights' is not only affable but liberal; so that albeit we be not only 'dust and ashes' and therefore unworthy to pray to God, but also wretched sinners unworthy to be heard, because as the blind man saith peccatores non exaudit Deus, 'yet He will not cast out our prayers nor turn His mercy from us;' but if we 'ask, it shall be given.'
Thirdly, that we should not think that as in the world there are many suitors but few obtainers, so howsoever all do pray unto God yet we are not in the number of those that speed, therefore Christ addeth, 'Whosoever asketh, receiveth; whosoever seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.' No unworthiness of our own can exclude us from the mercy of God, for He receiveth the prayer not only of the Publican but of the prodigal son, and promiseth mercy to the 'thief hanging on the cross,' if at the last hour he seeketh it by prayer.
Of these two verses there are three parts: first a precept, Petite, quærrite, pulsate, 'Ask, seek, knock;' secondly a promise, 'It shall be given, ye shall find, and it shall be opened;' thirdly, an enlargement of the promise, which is made not only to such as are of just and holy conversation, but to sinners, 'for whosoever asketh, receiveth.'
As on God's behalf we see, first, His affability; secondly, His liberality; thirdly, the largeness of His liberality: so on our own parts we are taught, first, that we may boldly pour out our desires before God; secondly, we may conceive hope to be heard in the thing we crave; thirdly, not an uncertain hope, confounded through our own unworthiness, 'For whosoever [322/323] asketh, receiveth;' and, as Christ speaketh, 'Him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out.'
In the precept four things are to be considered: first, the necessity; secondly, the vehemency, signified by a three-fold petition which implieth an instancy, as Solomon speaks; 'Have I not written three times to thee?' thirdly, the coherence of these three terms, asking, seeking, and knocking; fourthly, the distinguishing of them.
Touching the first, the example of our Saviour might be a sufficient motive to stir us up to prayer, Who 'in the morning very early before day went into a solitary place and there prayed,' and in the evening prayed, Himself 'alone in the mountain.'
Secondly, whereas He setteth down a form of prayer, He sheweth that prayer is necessary; but when unto both He addeth a precept, we may not think any longer it is a matter indifferent but of necessity; a commandment is a thing obligatory. So when Christ commands us to pray, He doth not leave it as a thing in our own choice, but binds us to the performance of it; for prayer is not only required as a thing supplying our need-for when we feel want, we need not be provoked to prayer-the brute beasts themselves being pinched with hunger 'do seek their meat at God,' and 'the ravens call upon Him for food;' but it is required as a part of God's service. Anna being in the Temple, 'served God by prayer;' by prayer the Apostles performed that service to the Lord, which the Apostle calls leitiura. Therefore, so oft as we resort to the house of God to put up our petitions to God, then we do Him service properly, and not only when we are present at a sermon, for then God rather serveth us and attends us, and entreats us by His ministers 'to be reconciled to Him.'
As prayer is a part of God's worship, so the neglect of prayer is a sin, as one saith peccatum non orandi. Therefore the Prophet among other sins wherewith he chargeth the wicked, reckoneth this to be one, that 'they call not on the Lord.' The neglect of this duty was the beginning of Saul's fall, as all the Fathers interpret that place where it is said that Saul commanded the priest to 'withdraw his hand' from the ark. For this hath been commanded ever from the [323/324] beginning, that we should pray unto God; not only in the law of nature, but also in the law of Moses.
In the time of the Law, a special part of the service which the people performed to God was the offering up of incense, and therefore the Prophet compareth prayer to incense. And it is most fitly resembled to incense, for the use of incense was to sweeten those places which are unsavoury; even so the wicked imaginations and unchaste thoughts of our hearts, which yield a stinking smell in the nostrils of God, are sweetened by no other means than by prayer; and therefore to shew how the one is resembled by the other, it is said that while the incense was burning, the people were without upon their knees in prayer. Neither was it a thing usual in the Law only, but also in the Prophets. 'Call upon Me;' and, Aperi os tuum et implebo. Touching the effect and fruit whereof it is said, 'Whosoever calleth on the name of the Lord, shall be saved.'
Secondly, albeit God have little commandments, as Christ speaks, 'He that breaks one of these little commandments;' yet this touching the duty of prayer is not a slight commandment but of great instance, and so much we are to gather from hence, that Christ is not content once to say 'Ask,' but repeats it in three several terms, 'Ask, seek, knock;' which as Augustine saith, sheweth instantissimam necessitatem.
From the vehemency of this commandment we are to consider these three things: first, it lets us see our want and need, in that we are willed to ask; secondly, by seeking Christ doth intimate thus much to us, that we have lost ourselves; thirdly, in that we are as men shut out of the presence of God and His kingdom, where is the fulness of joy and pleasure for ever.
The first sheweth man what is the misery of his estate, in regard whereof he is called Enoch; secondly, his blindness, which is so great, that when he doth pray he asketh he knows not what. If he would pray, he knows not how to pray, for which cause the disciples desire Christ to teach them. Their blindness is such as they know not the way to come to the Father, as Thomas confesseth. Thirdly, it sheweth our slothfulness in seeking our own good, which appeareth herein, [324/325] that we have need to have a commandment given us to stir us up to pray to God.
The third thing in the precept is the dependence of these three words, Petite, quaerite, pulsate. For there is no idle word in God's book. Therefore as they that have to do with gold will make no waste at all, but gather together the least paring; so we must esteem preciously of God's word, which is more precious than gold. We must be gone hence, and there is a place whither we desire all to come, which we cannot do except we knock; and because we know not at what door to knock, therefore we must seek the door; but we have no will nor desire to seek, therefore Christ willeth in the first place that we ask it, and the thing we must ask is the Spirit of grace and of prayer; and if we ask It, then shall we have ability and power not only to seek the door, but when we have found it to knock at it.
Fourthly, as these words depend one upon another, so they are to be distinguished one from another: they that are suitor for any earthly benefit do occupy not only their tongue in speaking, but their legs in resorting to great persons; they that seek do occupy not only their legs in going up and down, but their eyes to look in every place; and they that knock, as they use other members, so especially they use their hands. But when our Saviour enjoineth us the use of prayer, He expresseth it not in one word but in three several terms, to teach us that when we come to pray to God the whole man must be occupied, and all the members of the body employed in the service of God, for Christ will not have pearls cast unto swine, and we may not look to have the gifts of God cast into our mouths; but if we will obtain, we must first 'open our mouths' to ask it. Secondly, they are not so easily found as that we shall stumble upon them, but we must seek diligently with the lifting up of our eyes; and, 'to God That dwells in the heavens.' Thirdly, because the door is shut and locked up, therefore we must knock; for which end we are willed 'to lift up our hands with our hearts to God Which is in heaven.'
The lifting up of our hands is that which the people call the 'evening sacrifice.' As the body, so also the soul may not be idle, but occupied with these three virtues: first, it must [325/326] petere, which noteth confidence and trust; secondly, quærere, which signifies diligence; thirdly, pulsare, which implieth perseverance. If we join these three virtues to our prayer, doubtless we shall be heard.
As the second cause of our life here is sudor vultûs-for we live arando ac serendo 'by ploughing and sowing'-so the second cause of our living is another sudor vultûs, 'which consisteth in asking, seeking knocking.' As in the sweat of our brows we eat the bread that feeds our bodies, so by these spiritual pains and endeavours we come to the bread of life, which feedeth our souls eternally.
Now if we ask that question that is made, 'What profit shall we have if we pray unto Him?' it is certain that God having created us, may justly command us; but He doth not only constrain us to pray by his commandment, but allure us thereunto by his promise; He saith, if we ask the life of grace we shall obtain it; if we seek it, we shall find it; thirdly, having found the way, we shall intrare in gauiium Domini, 'enter into our Master's joy.'
If we ask we shall have grace, whereby it shall appear we have not received our soul in vain; secondly, seeking we shall find the help and assistance of God's Spirit, so that we shall not receive 'grace in vain,' thirdly, by knocking, the way of entrance shall be opened unto us, so that 'our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord;' as Augustine saith, Non dicitur quid dabitur, 'Christ nameth not what shall be given to you;' to let us know that that gift is a thing supra omne nomen, 'above all that can be named.'
It is as great a gift an earthly prince can give, to promise 'half his kingdom,' but God hath promised not half His kingdom, but all His Kingdom; we shall receive of God not only whatsoever we desire, (for desiderare nostrum, as one saith, is not terminus bonitatis Dei, 'our desire is not the limit or bound of God's goodness') but 'above all that we can ask or think.'
In the confidence of this promise, the saints of God in the time of their misery fly unto God by prayer as their only ready help. In the days of Enoch, which were full of miseries and troubles, men 'began to call upon the name of the Lord;' and Abraham in every place where he came, being departed [326/327] out of his own country and living in exile, 'built an altar, and called on the name of the Lord.' David saith, that his only remedy which he used against the slander and injuries of his enemies stood herein, that 'he gave himself to prayer.' Jehoshaphat being besieged with enemies on every side, used this as a bulwark against them: 'Lord, we have no power to withstand this great company that are come against us, and we know not what to do, but our eyes are towards Thee.' The like comfort did Hezekiah find in prayer, both when Sennacherib threatened his destruction, and in his sickness; and it is indeed the city of refuge, whither the godly in all times have used to fly to safeguard from their miseries. It is rete gratiarum et situla gratiæ, 'the net of graces and bucket of grace,' by which a good man draweth the grace of God.
The special gift that we can desire of God is Christ Himself, Who is Donum illud Dei. Now forasmuch as indeed nothing can be a greater benefit than to enjoy the presence of God-as the Prophet saith, 'Whom do I desire in heaven but Thee?' and Philip saith, Ostende nobis Patrem, et sufficit, 'Shew us the Father, and it is sufficient'-we are to consider how we may come to it.
Christ saith, 'I am the way,' et Ego ostium. If he be both the way and the door, then no doubt but if God bestow Christ on us, we shall both find the way to God, and enter into His kingdom by Christ, Who is the door. For the obtaining of this gift we must be instant with God in prayer, which if we do, He will give us that we ask; therefore Augustine saith, Domine cupio Te, da mihi solum Te, aut non dimittam Te, ' Lord, I desire Thee, give me Thee alone, or else I will not let Thee go.'
In the third place our Saviour enlargeth the promise: lest we should doubt that God will not hear all manner of persons that pray to Him, or that He will not grant all their suits, therefore in regard of the persons Christ saith Quisquis, 'Whosoever asketh receiveth.' Whosoever join these three virtues in their prayer, confidence, diligence, perseverance, and occupy all the parts of their body in this service of God, they shall be sure to receive the thing they ask, for the promise is made only to them that perform God's commandment, Petenti dabitur, we must ask and we shall have it; for God useth [327/328] not to cast holy things upon them that make no reckoning of them.
Touching things themselves He That is the truth hath said, 'Whatsoever you ask My Father in My name, He will give it you.' Therefore it is impossible He should lie, especially when He confirmeth it with an oath, as in that place, 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, whatsover you ask the Father in My name, He will give it you.' But we must take heed what we ask; we may not ateÐu ¥uen ataj, 'ask without a cause.' 'If we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us.' Therefore our prayers must be grounded upon some just cause; we may not ask any childish petition of God, for He will revert them. If we like children ask we know not what, we cannot assure ourselves to be heard, for unto such prayers, He answereth, 'Ye ask ye know not what.' Much less will He grant hurtful petitions.
As He is our physician, He will not give us cold drink when we are sick of an ague, though we cry for it never so much. They that ask vengeance of God, and would have Him to be the executioner of their wrath, 'shall not be heard,' but 'their prayer is turned to sin.' So far is it from the service of God.
If the child ask fish, the father will not give him a scorpion; no more will God hear us in those things which we ask of Him, if He know they will be hurtful.
He is only wise, and knoweth what is good for us; and if we receive not the thing which we ask, yet-as Jerome saith-non accipiendo accepimus, 'in not receiving we have received.' Christ saith not, 'Ask, and ye shall receive the thing ye ask,' but 'Ask and it shall be given unto you,' that is, the thing that you desire. We all desire those things that be good though outwardly we are not able to discern what is good, but God our heavenly Father as He knoweth best what is good for us so He will give us good things, though we be not able always to ask that which is good for ourselves.
Secondly, we must pray in such manner and form as He requireth; God doth hear us many times, even quando petimus malum, inasmuch as He doth not give us the hurtul things which we ignorantly ask. But He will not hear us cum petimus male; 'Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask [328/329] amiss.' Therefore we must beware how we stand affected at the time of prayer; if we pray coldly, without any great desire to attain the thing we ask, we ask like swine that esteem not of pearls but trample them under their feet; 'if we draw near with our lips, but our hearts be far from God,' then it is not like we shall be heard; if we pray as Peter, and the other disciples, who 'being heavy with sleep' asked they knew not what, we cannot receive the truth. But if, as Moses speaks, 'we seek the Lord with all our heart,' if we do with Paul orare spiritu et orare mente, then we may conceive hope to be heard, for the commandment to ask is given cordi non pulmoni, 'to the heart not to the lungs;' id quod cor non facit non fit, 'that which the heart doth not, is not done.'
Secondly, touching the manner, as with fervency so we must pray with reverence, not having our heads covered, as we many do; which behaviour, how rude and unbeseeming it is we may easily discern, as the Prophet speaks, 'Offer this kind of behaviour to thy Lord or master, and see whether he will accept it.'
If thou having a suit to an earthly prince darest not speak but upon thy knees with all submission, how much more ought we to reverence the Lord God, in comparison of Whom all the princes in the earth are but crickets and 'grasshoppers.' Therefore the manner of our prayer to God must be in all reverence.
Solomon prayed upon his knees; Daniel fell down upon his knees: so did Peter, so Paul; and not only men upon earth but the glorious spirits in heaven cast themselves and their crowns down before Him That 'sits upon the throne,' yea, Jesus Christ the Son of God fell down upon His knees and prayed to His Father, et exauditus propter reverentiam. So did Paul serve God met_ p£shj tapeinofrosÚhj. Secondly, if we would obtain any thing at God's hand, we must not only ask it but seek for it. He that having prayed sits still without adding his endeavour, shall not receive the thing he prays for, for he must not only orare but laborare; pro quibus enim orandum, pro iis laborandum est. To this end the Apostle would have us 'to pull up our faint hands and weak knees.' And when we have asked grace, we must be careful that we ourselves be not wanting unto grace, as well as we were careful that grace should not be wanting unto us.
This diligence is noted in the word Petite, which as it is [329/330] used in the first place, so also it signifieth 'to go to or to hit and knock,' so that it containeth all the three virtues that are required unto prayer; but for our instruction, our Saviour hath expressed them in three several terms.
Thirdly, having found the way we may not rest there, there is a door, whereby we must enter; and that shall not stand open for us against we come, we must knock at it. It pleaseth God to 'entreat' us, to seek and find us when we are lost; 'He stands and knocks at our door.' Therefore as Moses speaks in Deuteronomy, we are to consider what He doth require at our hands.
The service that we owe Him is likewise to entreat Him, to seek for grace at Him, to knock continually till He open the gate of mercy. If God hear us not so soon as we ask, we may not cease to knock as Saul did, who because that 'God answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor prophet,' asked counsel of a witch. Importunity, as our Saviour speaks in the eighteenth chapter of St. Luke, is a means whereby oftentimes men obtain their suits. The unjust judge will be content to hear the widow's cause at length, even because he would rid of cumber; if she be earnest with him, she shall at last obtain her suit by importunity; so howsoever God be not inclined to do us good and have His ears open to our prayers, yet He is much delighted with our importunate suits.
If the unjust judge that neither feared God nor reverenced man, may be overcome with importunate suit, much more will God revenge them which give not over their suits, but 'cry to Him night and day. Let us not be weary of well-doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.'
These conditions being performed; first, that we seek in the desire of our hear and in humility; secondly, that we be not wanting to grace, but work with it; thirdly, if we do it with continuance, not giving over, then we shall find it true which Christ saith, Omnis qui petit accipit.
The sum is, as when God saith, 'Seek ye My face,' David answered, 'Thy face, O Lord, I will seek;' so when Christ saith to us, 'Ask,' our answer must be, We will at least dispose ourselves thereunto, especially seeing He doth not only praeire exemplo,b ut dicere ut petas, seeing He doth [330/331] not only by His commandment permittere, but praecipere ut petas.
Lastly, seeing by his promise He doth not only allure them up petant, but doth minari si non petas, ' threaten if thou ask not;' for if we ask of any but from Him He is angry, as He was with the King of Israel that enquired of Baal-zebub when he should recover; 'Is there not a God in Israel?' And Christ was offended with His disciples for the neglect of this duty: 'Hitherto ye have asked nothing.' And when we come to ask of God, we must not cease our suit if He grant us not our suit at the first, but say with Jacob, Non dimittam Te. We must be instant, as the Canaanite was; we must be earnest, as he that came at midnight to borrow bread; and importunate, as the widow with the judge; and then we may assure ourselves of a comfortable effect of prayers.