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BY JOHN BRADFORD. 1553. A Godly treatise of Prayer, translated into English, By John Bradford.
James. 4. You ask and receive not, because you ask, amiss, even to consume it upon your voluptuousness.
John. 16. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name: ask and you shall receive it that your joy may be full.
UNTO THE CHRISTIAN READER, JOHN BRADFORD WISHETH THE TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF JESUS CHRIST.
The which as he lamenteth to be either too little or too corruptly spoken of among many writers; even so do I lament the too little and too corruptly using of it in these days with many Englishmen, notwithstanding the same be very diligently and godly set forth by public authority, by private writings, by diligent preaching and exhortations. Whereunto, in that on all sides, spiritually and corporally, publicly and privately, these perilous days of necessity so nip us and provoke us to pray, and by prayer to fetch down help from above, that if now we will not with diligence use it, watching thereunto with all soberiety, surely we needs must feel that which we cannot be able to bear. For already God’s anger is set on fire, as once it was against the Israelites, and hath begun to burn in the camp of God’s church in England: I mean it not so much concerning the body, as concerning the head, even concerning king Edward the sixth, our late lord and most dear king. So that I fear me, it will go on forwards: for we have few Moses’ and Aarons, which stand as gaps between God and us. And when God’s judgment beginneth at such dear children of God as our most precious pearl and king was, I cannot believe it will stay there. Though he was Adam’s child, (for who may say, ‘My heart is pure from sin?’) yet am I persuaded that it was not his but our sins which hath procured God to take him away from us, before he began to reform his commonweal, as graciously he had well begun and gone forwards in the reforming of the church, for that part which concerneth doctrine and the ceremonies of the same.
We never did know what a benefit of God he was unto us; and therefore we were unthankful, and that most impiously: wherethrough we have provoked God to take him away, that by the want of his benefit we should be brought to the feeling of our unthankfulness and impiety; but to this end, surely, that we might repent, ask mercy, pardon, and truly to turn to the Lord, that he might cause his striking angels to put up his sword, and eftsones F26 yet bless us far above our expectation, (if, I say, we will now lament our unthankfulness, sorrowing our sinful life, and with earnest prayer beg as well mercy for that which is past, as also grace hereafter for that which is to come,) by lightening the light of his holy countenance upon us.
But if we, seeing now God’s anger thus kindled against us, and daily more and more sending out great smokes, which commonly do immediately precede great flames; as the tumults almost every where presently do shrewdly prognosticate: If, I say, we seeing this will not repent us of our unthankfulness and monstrous sinfulness, “seeking the Lord whilst he may be found,” “in the day of our trouble calling upon him,” as he commandeth us, not without a promise that also he will hear and help us; assuredly the ears of them that be to be born will tingle at the hearing of the great wrath that God will shew upon us. To the intent therefore that God might turn his favorable countenance towards us; in that the means thereunto is hearty repentance and prayer; because I cannot be every where to stir up men thereunto by preaching, I have thought it my duty to signify my good-will by writing that, which something God might use as a mean to help thereunto.
Unto a Sermon therefore of Repentance, which even presently I have put forth, I have also put forth this Treatise of Prayer, the which hath been a good space translated; as a good part more of the Common-places of this Master Melanchon, which one day may fortune to come abroad, if I shall perceive any commodity by this to come to the church of Christ. Not that I stand in doubt whether the Common-places be profitable or not: but because I stand in doubt of my unfitness and unableness exactly and plainly to play the translator. This Treatise of Prayer might and should have had more labor and diligence on my part, if that the present time of itself had not even, as it were, enforced me to send it forth presently; that thereby in time some that should read it or hear it read might be taught, or at least occasioned, the more truly and diligently to pray to the God of mercy, that he would mitigate his anger justly conceived against us, and, as the prophet prayeth, “in his anger to remember his mercy.”
It is enough, O Lord! and a plague most heavy, that we have lost our good king: but indeed we have deserved it; and with him that thou shouldest take also as well the benefit of tranquillity and politic peace, as also thy holy gospel and true religion. For never was there nation that so horribly abused thy gospel and contemned this as we have done. Yea, alas, Lord! presently we do it: so that righteous art thou if thou take it away, and give it to a nation that will bring forth the fruits of it. This three years, O Lord, yea, and three too, hast thou come to look for fruit: but thou findest none, save only leaves. Nay, Lord, no leaves dost thou find: for all our wickedness is so manifest that all nations see now to our shame, that we never received thy gospel but to cloak our covetousness, ambition, and carnality. Dear Father, yet cut us not down: let the sweet figs of thy sweet gospel tarry with us: and dig thou about us, and lay thy dung about us: so shall we, I trust, bring forth fruit to the praise of thy name. Let not now the wicked people say, “Where is their God ?” Thou “our God art in heaven, and canst do whatsoever thou wilt:” do thou turn us to thee. O Lord, save us, and continue thy gospel and religion among us, for thy Son’s sake, our Savior Jesus Christ. Say ‘Amen,’ good reader, and use this book thereafter.
It teacheth thee what God thou shouldest call upon: it teacheth thee wherefore he heareth thee: it teacheth thee wherefore thou shouldest call upon him: it teacheth thee what things thou shalt ask, and in what order: it teacheth thee how to honor the saints, and what is their worship. It teacheth thee to be thankful, and giveth thee occasion to be thankful, if thou wilt read it, weigh it, carry it away, and practice that which it teacheth.
Go to therefore, take this book in thy hand to stir thee up to prayer; remember thine own weakness and need, as well in soul as in body; I will not say in thy goods, name, family, vocation, etc. Remember the state of God’s church, of the commonweal, of thy friends, parents, etc. Remember that Satan sleepeth not, but as a roaring lion seeketh our destruction publicly and privately, spiritually and corporally. Remember how many have stand both before God and man as surely as thou dost, and yet have fallen and have been overthrown horribly. Remember how that the children of God have been diligent in prayers always from the beginning, as well in their needs corporal as spiritual. Remember that their prayers have not been in vain, but graciously have they obtained their requests as well for themselves as for others. Remember that God is now the same God, and no less rich in mercy and plentiful to them that truly call upon him: and therefore in very many places doth he command us to call upon him: so that except we will heap sin upon sin, we must needs use prayer. It is promises are both universal towards all men, and most free without respect of our worthiness, if so be we acknowledge our unworthiness, and make our prayers in the faith and name of Jesus Christ; who is our Mediator, and sitteth on the right hand of his Father, praying for us, being the same Christ he hath been in times past, and so will be unto the end of the world, to help all such as come to him.
Only in thy prayer away with the purpose of sinning, for he that prayeth with a purpose to continue in any sin cannot be heard; his own conscience presently condemneth him; he can have no true testimony or assurance of God hearing him. For even as in vain he that hath a wound desireth the healing of the same, so long as in the wound there remaineth the thing that is the cause of the wound, as a knife, a pellet, a dart, or a shaft-head, etc.: even so in vain is the prayer of him that retaineth still the purpose to continue in sin; for by it the soul is no less wounded than the body with a sword or any such instrument. As therefore to the healing of the wound in a man’s body this is first gone about, that the knife or iron which is in it be first pulled out, so do thou in prayer away with purposing to continue in sin. God condemned in the old law all spotted sacrifices: away therefore with the spots of purposing to continue in sin. Bid adieu, when thou goest to prayer, bid adieu, I say, and farewell to thy covetousness, to thy uncleanness, swearing, lying, malice, drunkenness, gluttony, idleness, pride, envy, garrulity, slothfulness, negligence, etc. If thou feelest thy wilful and perverse will unwilling thereunto, out of hand complain it to the Lord, and for his Christ’s sake pray him to reform thy wicked will, put him in remembrance of his promise sung by the angels, Hominibus bona voluntas, that by Christ it should be to his glory to give “to men a good will,” to consent to his will, and therein to delight night and day. The which is that happiness which David singeth of in his first Psalm: therefore more earnestly crave it, and cease not till thou get it: for at the length the Lord will come in an acceptable time, I warrant thee, and give it thee, and whatsoever else thou shalt also ask to his glory, in the name and faith of his dear Christ, who is “the door of the tabernacle” whereat the acceptable sacrifices to God were offered, as this book doth well teach thee if thou wilt diligently mark it.
Therefore to it I will now refer thee, beseeching the ever-living God of mercy to endue thee and me and all other his children with the Spirit of grace and prayer, that we may diligently use this sacrifice of “the calves of our lips,” which is not abrogate with the old sacrifices of the old Testament: that we may use it, I say, diligently every day, not only “at evening and morning,” as the old law used to teach us, in the beginning and ending of all things we go about, to seek for God’s help; but also, as David saith, meridie [“at noon”] even in the midst of all our works, yea, in all parts of our works, at all times, as Christ teacheth us “always to pray and never to be weary.” Not that I mean this so, as though I would have any to follow the Psallians or Euchites, F27 which, to obey this commandment of Christ for praying always, did nothing else night and day but recite psalms and certain prayers, thinking him most holy which had read and rehearsed most psalms and prayers: but that I would have us to have our affections upon God, and our desire for his help (“ for without him can we do nothing”) not quenched or pressed down by oblivion or forgetfulness of God, which is the worm and moth of a christian conscience. And where unto we shall be holpen, if that we do often ejaculate, and, as it were, send out of our hearts and lips some short sighs and words for God’s help, as we read of good and holy men that were accustomed so to do. Amongst whom was great care and diligence of perseverance in prayer, as the history of St. James (whose knees by kneeling in prayer was as hard as though they had been of a camel rather than of any man) F28 and of many other doth teach us.
TWO SERMONS ON