Thursday, July 10, 2008

John Calvin Encourages Us to Pray

In remembrance of Calvin on his 499th birthday I’d like to highlight a passage from Institutes of the Christian Religion that has helped me to pray at times when it seemed futile to do so because of my faltering faith. This quote is from page 631 of the Henry Beveridge electronic edition, available from Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

The thing which most of all [impairs] prayer, did not God indulgently interpose, is weakness or imperfection of faith; but it is not wonderful that this defect is pardoned by God, who often exercises his people with severe trials, as if he actually wished to extinguish their faith. The hardest of such trials is when believers are forced to exclaim, “O Lord God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people?” (Ps. 80:4), as if their very prayers offended him. In like manner, when Jeremiah says “Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayers” (Lam. 3:8), there cannot be a doubt that he was in the greatest [agitation]. Innumerable examples of the same kind occur in the Scriptures, from which it is manifest that the faith of the saints was often mingled with doubts and fears, so that while believing and hoping, they, however, betrayed some degree of unbelief, But because they do not come so far as were to be wished, that is only an additional reason for their exerting themselves to correct their faults, that they may daily approach nearer to the perfect law of prayer, and at the same time feel into what an abyss of evils those are plunged, who, in the very cures they use, bring new diseases upon themselves: since there is no prayer which God would not deservedly disdain, did he not overlook the blemishes with which all of them are polluted.

I do not mention these things that believers may securely pardon themselves in any faults which they commit, but that they may call themselves to strict account, and thereby endeavour to surmount these obstacles; and though Satan endeavours to block up all the paths in order to prevent them from praying, they may, nevertheless, break through, being firmly persuaded that though not disencumbered of all hindrances, their attempts are pleasing to God, and their wishes are approved, provided they hasten on and keep their aim, though without immediately reaching it. (Italics added)

What an encouragement to pray! What a gracious, merciful, and patient Father to pray to! Here is the prayer that comes to my mind right now: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). As He heard and helped then, He will do so now, if only we will “always pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

The Institutes of the Christian Religion (book):

Two-volume hardcover, translated by John T. McNeill—$51.99 from Monergism Books

One-volume, unabridged hardcover, translated by Henry Beveridge—$15.95 from Monergism Books