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A Theology of Prayer


The Prayer life of John Calvin reflects a profound sense of the majesty of God, and a deep appreciation for the privilege of communing with him in prayer. Joel Beeke writes:

imgThroughout his writings, Calvin offers a theology of prayer. He presents the throne room of God as glorious, holy, and sovereign, while also accessible, desirable, and precious in and through Christ. Given the rich blessings accessible to us through prayer, those who refuse to pray “neglect a treasure, buried and hidden in the earth, after it had been pointed out” [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.20.1.] to them. They also commit idolatry by defrauding God, since prayerlessness is a blatant denial that “God is the author of every good thing.” [Ibid., 3.20.14.]
   We must persevere in pursuing precious access to God in prayer, Calvin concludes. [Ibid., 3.20.51–52.] Discouragements may abound and almost overwhelm us: “Our warfare is unceasing and various assaults arise daily.” But that gives all the more reason to discipline ourselves to persevere in prayer, even if “we must repeat the same supplications not twice or three times only, but as often as we need, a hundred and a thousand times.” [Cited in Hesselink, On Prayer: Conversations with God, 19.] Ceasing to pray when God does not answer us quickly is the surest mark that we have never become believers. [Commentary on Psalm 22:4; Wallace, Calvin, Geneva, and the Reformation, 214.]
   Calvin counsels believers not only to better methods of prayer, but to a deeper devotion and a surer access to the triune God who has given the gift of prayer. He modeled this prayer life by accompanying every public act with prayer, by providing forms of prayer, [John Calvin, Treatises on the Sacraments of the Church of Geneva, Forms of Prayer, and Confessions of Faith, trans. by Henry Beveridge (repr. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2002)] and by appointing days of prayer for a variety of occasions—as well as privately in his own life. [Elsie McKee, John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (New York: Paulist Press, 2001), 29, 167ff.] These merge well in the last prayer he records in his commentary on Ezekiel, which, because of failing health, he was not able to complete:
Grant, Almighty God, since we have already entered in hope upon the threshold of our eternal inheritance, and know that there is a certain mansion for us in heaven after Christ has been received there, who is our head, and the first-fruits of our salvation: Grant, I say, that we may proceed more and more in the course of thy holy calling until at length we reach the goal, and so enjoy that eternal glory of which thou affordest us a taste in this world, by the same Christ our Lord. Amen. [Commentary on Ezekiel 20:44.]
   Ultimately, for Calvin, prayer is a heavenly act, a holy and precious communing with the triune God in His glorious throne room, grounded in an assured eschatological hope. [Wallace, Calvin, Geneva, and the Reformation, 214.]
   “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).

—Joel R. Beeke, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 241–242.



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Posted  in: Church History · Joel Beeke · John Calvin · John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology
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