An Homily of the Place and Time of Prayer
God, through his almighty power, wisdom, and goodness, created in the beginning heaven and earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the fowls of the air, the beasts of the earth, the fishes in the sea, and all other creatures, for the use and commodity of man; whom also he had created to his own image and likeness, and given him the use and government over them all, to the end he should use them in such sort as he had given him in charge and commandment, and also that he should declare himself thankful and kind for all those benefits so liberally and so graciously bestowed upon him, utterly without any deserving on his behalf. And, although we ought at all times and in all places to have in remembrance and to be thankful to our gracious Lord, according as it is written, I will magnify the Lord at all times, and again, Wheresoever the Lord beareth rule, O my soul, praise the Lord; yet it appeareth to be God’s good will and pleasure, that we should at special times and in special places gather ourselves together, to the intent his name might be renowmed and his glory set forth in the congregation and the assembly of his saints.
As concerning the time which Almighty God hath appointed his people to assemble together solemnly, it doth appear by the Fourth Commandment of God. Remember, saith God, that thou keep holy the Sabbath day. Upon the which day, as is plain in the Acts of the Apostles, the people accustomably resorted together, and heard diligently the Law and the Prophets read among them. And, albeit this Commandment of God doth not bind Christian people so straitly to observe and keep the utter ceremonies of the Sabbath day as it was given unto the Jews, as touching the forbearing of work and labour in time of great necessity, and as touching the precise keeping of the seventh day after the manner of the Jews; (for we keep now the first day, which is our Sunday, and make that our Sabbath, that is, monies of the Sabbath day as it was given unto the Jews, as touching the forbearing of work and labour in time of great necessity, and as touching the precise keeping of the seventh day after the manner of the Jews; (for we keep now the first day, which is our Sunday, and make that our Sabbath, that is, our day of rest, in the honour of our Saviour Christ, who as upon that day rose from death, conquering the same most triumphantly;) yet, notwithstanding, whatsoever is found in the Commandment appertaining to the law of nature, as a thing most godly, most just, and needful for the setting forth of God’s glory, it ought to be retained and kept of all good Christian people. And therefore by this Commandment we ought to have a time, as one day in a week, wherein we ought to rest, yea, from our lawful and needful works. For, like as it appeareth by this Commandment, that no man in the six days ought to be slothful or idle, but diligently to labour in that state wherein God hath set him, even so God hath given express charge to all men that upon the Sabbath day, which is now our Sunday, they should cease from all weekly and workday labour; to the intent that, like as God himself wrought six days, and rested the seventh, and blessed and sanctified it, and consecrated it to quietness and rest from labour, even so God’s obedient people should use the Sunday holily, and rest from their common and daily business, and also give themselves wholly to heavenly exercises of God’s true religion and service. So that God doth not only command the observation of this holy day, but also by his own example doth stir and provoke us to diligent keeping of the same. Good natural children will not only become obedient to the commandment of their parents, but also have a diligent eye to their doings, and gladly follow the same. So, if we will be the children of our heavenly Father, we must be careful to keep the Christian Sabbath day, which is the Sunday; not only for that it is God’s express commandment, but also to declare ourselves to be loving children in following the example of our gracious Lord and Father. Thus it may plainly appear, that God’s will and commandment was to have a solemn time and standing day in the week, wherein the people should come together and have in remembrance his wonderful benefits, and to render him thanks for them, as appertaineth to loving, kind, and obedient people.
This example and commandment of God the godly Christian people began to follow immediately after the ascension of our Lord Christ, and began to choose them a standing day in the week to come together in; yet not the seventh day, which the Jews kept, but the Lord’s day, the day of the Lord’s resurrection, the day after the seventh day, which is the first of the week. Of the which day mention is made by St. Paul on this wise: In the first day of the sabbath let every man lay up what he thinketh good, meaning the poor. By the first day of the sabbath is meant our Sunday, which is the first day after the Jews’ seventh day. And in the Apocalypse it is more plain, where as St. John saith, I was in the Spirit upon the Sunday Sithence which time God’s people hath always in all ages without any gainsaying used to come together upon the Sunday, to celebrate and honour the Lord’s blessed Name, and carefully to keep that day in holy rest and quietness, both men, women, child, servant, and stranger. For the transgression and breach of which day God hath declared himself much to be grieved, as it may appear by him who for gathering of sticks on the Sabbath day was stoned to death.
But, alas, all these notwithstanding, it is lamentable to see the wicked boldness of those that will be counted God’s people, who pass nothing at all of keeping and hallowing the Sunday. And these people are of two sorts. The one sort, if they have any business to do, though there be no extreme need, they must not spare for the Sunday; they must ride and journey on the Sunday; they must drive and carry on the Sunday; they must row and ferry on the Sunday; they must buy and sell on the Sunday; they must keep markets and fairs on the Sunday: finally, they use all days alike; workdays and holy days are all one. The other sort yet is worse. For, although they will not travail nor labour on the Sunday as they do on the week day, yet they will not rest in holiness, as God commandeth; but they rest in ungodliness and in filthiness prancing in their pride, pranking and pricking, pointing and painting themselves, to be gorgeous and gay; they rest in excess and superfluity, in gluttony and drunkenness, like rats and swine; they rest in brawling and railing, in quarrelling and fighting; they rest in wantonness, in toyish talking, in filthy fleshliness; so that it doth too evidently appear that God is more dishonoured and the devil better served on the Sunday than upon all the days in the week beside. And, I assure you, the beasts, which are commanded to rest on the Sunday, honour God better than this kind of people; for they offend not God, they break not their holy day. Wherefore, O ye people of God, lay your hands upon your hearts; repent and amend this grievous and dangerous wickedness; stand in awe of the commandment of God; gladly follow the example of God himself; be not disobedient to the godly order of Christ’s Church, used and kept from the Apostles’ time until this day; fear the displeasure and just plagues of Almighty God, if ye be negligent and forbear not labouring and travailing on the Sabbath day or Sunday, and do not resort together to celebrate and magnify God’s blessed Name in quiet holiness and godly reverence.
Now concerning the place where the people of God ought to resort together, and where especially they ought to celebrate and sanctify the Sabbath day, that is, the Sunday, the day of holy rest. That place is called God’s temple or the church, because the company and congregation of God’s people, which is properly called the Church, doth there assemble themselves on the days appointed for such assemblies and meetings. And, forasmuch as Almighty God hath appointed a special time to be honoured in, it is very meet, godly, and also necessary, that there should be a place appointed where these people should meet and resort to serve their gracious God and merciful Father.
Truth it is, the holy Patriarchs for a great number of years had neither temple nor church to resort unto. The cause was, they were not stayed in any place, but were in a continual peregrination and wandering, that they could not conveniently build any church. But so soon as God had delivered his people from their enemies, and set them in some liberty in the wilderness, he set them up a costly and a curious tabernacle, which was as it were the parish church, a place to resort unto of the whole multitude, a place to have his sacrifices made in, and other observances and rites to be used in. Furthermore, after that God, according to the truth of his promise, had placed and quietly settled his people in the land of Canaan, now called Jewry, he commanded a great and a magnificent temple to be builded by king Salomon, as seldom the like hath been seen; a temple so decked and adorned, so gorgeously garnished, as was meet and expedient for people of that time, which would be allured and stirred with nothing so much as with such outward goodly gay things. This was now the temple of God, indued also with many gifts and sundry promises: this was the parish church and the mother church of all Jewry: here was God honoured and served: hither was the whole realm of all the Israelites bound to come at three solemn feasts in the year, to serve their Lord God here. But let us proceed further. In the time of Christ and his Apostles there was yet no temples nor churches for Christian men; for why they were always for the most part in persecution, vexation, and trouble, so that there could be no liberty nor license obtained for that purpose. Yet God delighted much that they should often resort together in a place, and therefore after his ascension they remained together in an upper chamber. Sometime they entered into the temple, some time into the synagogues; sometime they were in prisons, sometime in their houses, sometime in the fields. And this continued so long till the faith of Christ Jesus began to multiply in a great part of the world. Now, when divers realms were established in God’s true religion, and God had given them peace and quietness, then began kings, noblemen, and the people also, stirred up with a godly zeal and ferventness, to build up temples and churches, whither the people might resort, the better to do their duty towards God, and to keep holy their Sabbath day, the day of rest. And to these temples have the Christians customably used to resort from time to time, as unto meet places where they might with common consent praise and magnify God’s Name, yielding him thanks for the benefits that he daily poureth upon them both mercifully and abundantly; where they might also hear his holy word read, expounded, and preached sincerely, and receive his holy sacraments ministered unto them duly and purely.
True it is, that the chief and special temples of God, wherein he hath greatest pleasure, and most delightethy to dwell in, are the bodies and minds of true Christians and the chosen people of God, according to the doctrine of holy Scriptures declared by St. Paul. Know ye not, saith he, that ye be the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God doth dwell in you? The temple of God is holy, which ye are. And again in the same Epistle: Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost dwelling in you, whom you have given you of God, and that ye be not your own? Yet, this notwithstanding, God doth allow the material temple made of a lime and stone (so oft as his people do come together into it to praise his holy Name) to be his house, and the place where he hath promised to be present, and where he will hear the prayers of them that call upon him. The which thing both Christ and his Apostles, with all the rest of holy fathers, do sufficiently declare by this; that, albeit they certainly knew that their prayers were heard in what place soever they made them, though it were in caves, in woods, and in deserts, yet, so oft as they could conveniently, they resorted to the material temples, there with the rest of the congregation to join in prayer and true worship.
Wherefore, dearly beloved, you that profess yourselves to be Christians, and glory in that name, disdain not to follow the example of your Master Christ, whose scholars (you say) ye be; shew you to be like them whose schoolmates you take upon you to be, that is, the Apostles and disciples of Christ. Lift up pure hands with clean hearts in all places and at all times. But do the same in the temples and churches upon the Sabbath days also. Our godly predecessors, and the ancient fathers of the primitive Church, spared not their goods to build churches; no, they spared not to venture their lives in time of persecution, and to hazard their blood, that they might assemble themselves together in churches. And shall we spare a little labour to come unto churches? Shall neither their example, nor our duty, nor the commodities that thereby should come unto us, move us? If we will declare ourselves to have the fear of God, if we will shew ourselves true Christians, if we will be the followers of Christ our Master, and of those godly fathers that have lived before us and now have received the reward of true and faithful Christians, we must both willingly, earnestly, and reverently come unto the material churches and temples to pray, as unto fit places appointed for that use; and that upon the Sabbath day, as at most convenient time for God’s people to cease from bodily and worldly business, to give themselves to holy rest and godly contemplation, pertaining to the service of Almighty God: whereby we may reconcile ourselves to God, be partakers of his reverent Sacraments, and be devout hearers of his holy word; so to be established in faith to Godward, in hope against all adversity, and in charity toward our neighbours; and thus, running our course as good Christian people, we may at the last attain the reward of everlasting glory through the merits of our Saviour Jesus Christ. To whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory. Amen.