John Calvin on Prayer

Quotations from John Calvin’s “The Institutes of Christian Religion” 

 

PRAYER 

 

The weight of our poverty and the facts of experience proclaim that the tribulations which drive and press us from all sides are so many and so great that there is reason enough for us all continually to groan and sight to God, and to beseech him as suppliants. ( John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-28)

 

For in Christ he offers all happiness in place of our misery, all wealth in place of our neediness, in him he opens to us the heavenly treasures that our whole faith may contemplate his beloved Son, our whole expectation depend upon him, and our whole hope cleave to and rest in him. This, indeed, is that secret and hidden philosophy which cannot be wrested from syllogisms. But they whose eyes God has opened surely learn it by heart, that in his light they may see light Ps. 36:9 (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-1)

 

Having disclosed to the Lord the necessity that was pressing upon us, we even rest fully in the thought that none of our ills is hid from him who, we are convinced, has both the will and the power to take the best care of us. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-3)

 

Wherefore, although it is true that while we are listless or insensible to our wretchedness, he wakes and watches for use and sometimes even assists us unasked; it is very much for our interest to be constantly supplicating him; first, that our heart may always be inflamed with a serious and ardent desire of seeking, loving and serving him, while we accustom ourselves to have recourse to him as a sacred anchor in every necessity; (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-3)

 

For these reasons, though our most merciful Father never slumbers nor sleeps, he very often seems to do so, that thus he may exercise us, when we might otherwise be listless and slothful, in asking, entreating, and earnestly beseeching him to our great good (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-3)

 

Nothing is more contrary to the reverence due to God than that levity which bespeaks a mind too much given to license and devoid of awe. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-5)

 

The ceremony of lifting up our hands in prayer is designed to remind us that we are far removed from God, unless our thoughts rise upward: as it is said in the psalm, “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul,” (Psalm 25:1). (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-5)

 

But mankind, as I have lately said, are full of depravity, so that in the way of perfunctory service they often ask many things of God which they think come to them without his beneficence, or from some other quarter, or are already certainly in their possession. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-6)

 

As I have just said, mankind is so stuffed with such depravity that for the sake of mere performance men often beseech God for many things that they are dead sure will, apart from his kindness, come to them from some other source, or already lie in their possession. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-6)

 

Now the godly must be particularly beware of presenting themselves before God to request anything unless they yearn for it with sincere affection of heart, and at the same time desire to obtain it from him (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-6)

 

When, for example, we pray that “his name be sanctified (Matt 6:9), we should, so to speak, eagerly hunger and thirst after that sanctification. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-6)

 

Now if we should consider how many danger at every moment threaten, fear itself will teach us that we at no single time may leave off praying. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-7)

 

Unless they are founded in free mercy, prayers never reach God (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-9)

 

For no heart can ever break into sincere calling upon God that does not at the same time aspire to godliness (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-10)

 

We see how he precedes those who worship him, and would have them follow him, and thus not to fear for the sweetness of the melody that he himself dictates. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-13)

 

A dauntless spirit of praying accords with fear, reverence and solicitude, and it is not absurd if God raises those who lie prostrate. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-14)

 

Just as God causes his sun to shine alike upon the good and evil, so he does not despise the weeping of those whose cause is just and whose distresses deserve to be relieved. Meanwhile, in listening to the prayers of the evil, he no more grants them salvation than he supplies food to those who despise his goodness. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-15)

 

Augustine somewhere wisely states: “How do the saints pray in faith when they seek from God what is against his decree? They pray according to his will, not that hidden and unchangeable will but the will that he inspires in them, that he may hearken to them in another way, as he wisely decides. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-15)

 

Although prayer is an intimate conversation of the pious with God, yet reverence and moderation must be kept, lest we give loose rein to miscellaneous requests, and lest we crave more than God allows; further, that we should lift up our minds to a pure and chaste veneration of him, lest God’s majesty become worthless for us. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-16)

 

God has planted in men’s minds by nature the principle that their prayers are lawful only when their minds are uplifted. Hence the rite of lifting up the hands, to which we have previously referred – one common to all ages and peoples, and still in force. But how rarely is there one who, in raising up his hands, is not aware of his own apathy, since his heart stays on the ground? (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-16)

 

It was the height of stupidity, not to say madness, to be so intent on gaining access through the saints as to be led away from him, apart from whom no entry lies open to them. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-20)

 

“Christ” says Ambrose, “is our mouth, through which we speak to the Father; he is our eye, through which we see the Father; he is our right hand; through which we offer ourselves to the Father. Unless he intercedes there is no intercourse with God either for us or for all saints”. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-20)

 

Of the veneration of saints: But stupidity has progressed to the point that we have here a manifest disposition to superstition, which, once it has cast off the bridle, never ceases to play the wanton. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-22)

 

How much farther has this devilish insolence spread when men do not hesitate to transfer to the dead what properly belonged to God and Christ. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-22)

 

Whence, therefore, have worms such great license as to force upon God pleaders to whom we do not find the office assigned in Scripture? God willed to appoint the angels to care for our salvation. Consequently, they attend sacred assemblies and the church is for them a theater in which they marvel at the varied and manifold wisdom of God. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-23)

 

What pertains to the office of intercession we also see is peculiar to Christ, and no prayer is pleasing to God unless this Mediator sanctifies it. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-27)

 

Finally we must consider that whoever refused to pray in the holy assembly of the godly knows not what it is to pray individually, or in a secret spot, or at home. Again, he who neglects to pray alone and in private, however unremittingly he may frequent public assemblies, there contrives only windy prayers, for he defers more to the opinion of men than to the secret judgment of God. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-29)

 

Moreover, since the glory of ought, in a measure, to shine in the several parts of our bodies, it is especially fitting that the tongue has been assigned and destined for this task, both through singing and through speaking. For it was peculiarly created to tell and proclaim the praise of God. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-31)

 

Of music in worship: We should be very careful that our ears be not more attentive to the melody than our minds to the spiritual meaning of the words. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-32)

 

Therefore, when this moderation is obtained, it is without any doubt a most holy and salutary practice. On the other hand, such songs as have been composed only for sweetness and delight of the ear are unbecoming to the majesty of the church and cannot but displease God in the highest degree (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-32)

 

God both calls himself our Father and would have us so address him. By the great sweetness of this name he frees us from all distrust, since no greater feeling of love can be found elsewhere than in the Father. Therefore he could not attest his own boundless love toward us with any surer proof than the fact that we are called “children of God”. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-36)

 

Though all ungodly men should break out with their sacrilegious license, the holiness of God’s name still shines. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-41)

 

Of the first petition in the Lord’s prayer: Hence the need of this petition, which ought to have been superfluous if even a little godliness existed among us. But if holiness is associated with God’s name where separated from all other names it breathes pure glory, here we are bidden to request not only that God vindicate his sacred name of all contempt and dishonor but also that he subdue the whole race of mankind to reverence for it. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-41)

 

But the petition is directed also to this end: that all impiety which has besmirched this holy name may perish and be wiped out; that all detractions and mockeries which dim this hallowing or diminish it may be banished; and that in silencing all sacrileges, God may shine forth more and more in his majesty (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-41)

 

God reigns where men, both by denial of themselves and by contempt of the world and of earthly life, pledge themselves to his righteousness in order to aspire to a heavenly life (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-42)

 

Of the third petition: We are therefore bidden to desire that, just as in heaven nothing is done apart from God’s good pleasure, and the angels dwell together in all peace and uprightness, the earth be in like manner subject to such rule, with all arrogance and wickedness brought to an end. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-43)

 

We seek nothing for ourselves without the intention that whatever benefits he confers upon us may show forth his glory, for nothing is more fitting than that we live and die to him (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-44)

 

We are bidden to ask our daily bread that we may be content with the measure that our Heavenly Father has deigned to distribute to us, and not get gain by unlawful devices. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-44)

 

Of the sixth petition: We do not here ask that we feel no temptations at all, for we need, rather, to be aroused, pricked, and urged by them, lest, with too much inactivity, we grow sluggish… and it is not without cause that the Lord daily tests his elect, chastising them by disgrace, poverty, tribulation, and other sorts of affliction. But God tries in one way, Satan in another. Satan tempts that he may destroy, condemn, confound, cast down, but God, that by proving his own children he may make trial of their sincerity and establish their strength by exercising it; that he may mortify, purify, and cauterize their flesh, which unless it were forced under this restraint would play the wanton and vaunt itself beyond measure (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-46)

 

Let others trust as they will in their own capacities and powers of free choice, which they seem to themselves to possess. For us let it be enough that we stand and are strong in God’s power alone. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-46)

 

Now, however miserable we may be, though unworthiest of all, however devoid of all commendation, we will yet never lack a reason to pray, never be shorn of assurance, since his Kingdom, power and glory can never be snatched away from our Father (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-47)

 

Lastly, in all prayer we ought to carefully to observe that our intention is not to bind God to particular circumstances, or to prescribe at what time, in what place, or in what way he is to do anything. Accordingly, in this prayer we are taught not to make any law for him, or impose any condition upon him, but to leave to his decision to do what he is to do, in what way, at what time, and in what place it seems good to him. Therefore, before we make any prayer for ourselves, we pray that his will be done. By these words we subject our will to his in order that, restrained as by a bridle, it may not presume to control God but may make him the arbiter and director of all its entreaties. (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-50)

 

Also, let us not tempt God and, wearying him with our depravity, provoke him against ourselves. This is usual with many who covenant with God only under certain conditions, and, as if he were the servant of their own appetites, bind him to laws of their own stipulation. If the does not obey them at once, they become indignant, grumble, protest, murmur, and rage at him. To such, therefore, he often grants, in wrath and fury what in mercy he denies to others to whom he is favorable. The children of Israel supply proof of this, for whom it would have been much better not to be heard by the Lord than to swallow his wrath with their meat (Num 11:18,33) (John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chapter XX-51)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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