Calvin on Prayer and its Connection to Grace and Faith

Why human depravity and God’s grace require prayer. 

Calvin begins his chapter on prayer (III.xx.1) by connecting his teaching on prayer to his previous teaching on God’s grace and our need of it. Once we understand that we are destitute of good and have no way to secure our own salvation, we are forced to turn outside of ourselves. The natural place to turn is to God. To this end, God have given to us his Son:

“in whom he offers all happiness for our misery, all abundance for our want, opening up the treasures of heaven to us, so that we may turn with full faith to his beloved Son, depend upon him with full expectation, rest in him, and cleave to him with full hope.”

These words are so beautifully poetic that they are fitting to describe the beauty of prayer as an outworking of God’s grace:

“This, indeed, is that secret and hidden philosophy which cannot be learned by syllogisms, a philosophy thoroughly understood by those whose eyes God has so opened as to see light in his light.”

Calvin also cites Psalm 36:9 in this regard “9For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light (NIV).”

How prayer is connected to faith. 

After we have learned this by faith, “that we may thence draw as from an inexhaustible fountain, it remains for us to seek and in prayer implore of him what we have learned to be in him.”

To know God as the giver all good and not to call on him is like a man who finds out there is a treasure buried in the ground and not going to dig it up.

Calvin cites Romans 10:14 as proof that a faith that is not accompanied by prayer to God is not genuine because faith comes from the Gospel and faith trains our hearts to call upon God’s name (Rom. 10:14-17).

Calvin points out that this is the logical explanation for what Paul wrote earlier in Romans 8:

The Spirit of adoption seals the witness of the Gospel in our hearts (8:16) and raises up our spirits to dare to speak to God our hearts (8:26) and cry out in faith and intimacy (8:15).


About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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