Calvin, Institutes, Vol.3, Part 21
(... continued from part 20)
Chapter 20. 
20. Of prayer--a perpetual exercise of faith. The daily benefits 
derived from it. 
    The principal divisions of this chapter are,-- I. Connection of 
the subject of prayer with the previous chapters. The nature of 
prayer, and its necessity as a Christian exercise, sec. 1, 2. II. To 
whom prayer is to be offered. Refutation of an objection which is 
too apt to present itself to the mind, sec. 3. III. Rules to be 
observed in prayer, sec. 4-16. IV. Through whom prayer is to be 
made, sec. 17-19. V. Refutation of an error as to the doctrine of 
our Mediator and Intercessor, with answers to the leading arguments 
urged in support of the intercession of saints, sec. 20-27. VI. The 
nature of prayer, and some of its accidents, sec. 28-33. VII. A 
perfect form of invocation, or an exposition of the Lord's Prayer, 
sec. 34-50. VIII. Some rules to be observed with regard to prayer, 
as time, perseverance, the feeling of the mind, and the assurance of 
faith, sec. 50-52. 
1. A general summary of what is contained in the previous part of 
    the work. A transition to the doctrine of prayer. Its 
    connection with the subject of faith. 
2. Prayer defined. Its necessity and use. 
3. Objection, that prayer seems useless, because God already knows 
    our wants. Answer, from the institution and end of prayer. 
    Confirmation by example. Its necessity and propriety. 
    Perpetually reminds us of our duty, and leads to meditation on 
    divine providence. Conclusion. Prayer a most useful exercise. 
    This proved by three passages of Scripture. 
4. Rules to be observed in prayer. First, reverence to God. How the 
    mind ought to be composed. 
5. All giddiness of mind must be excluded, and all our feelings 
    seriously engaged. This confirmed by the form of lifting the 
    hand in prayer. We must ask only in so far as God permits. To 
    help our weakness, God gives the Spirit to be our guide in 
    prayer. What the office of the Spirit in this respect. We must 
    still pray both with the heart and the lips. 
6. Second rule of prayer, a sense of our want. This rule violated, 
    1. By perfunctory and formal prayer 2. By hypocrites who have 
    no sense of their sins. 3. By giddiness in prayer. Remedies. 
7. Objection, that we are not always under the same necessity of 
    praying. Answer, we must pray always. This answer confirmed by 
    an examination of the dangers by which both our life and our 
    salvation are every moment threatened. Confirmed farther by the 
    command and permission of God, by the nature of true 
    repentance, and a consideration of impenitence. Conclusion. 
8. Third rule, the suppression of all pride. Examples. Daniel, 
    David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch. 
9. Advantage of thus suppressing pride. It leads to earnest entreaty 
    for pardon, accompanied with humble confession and sure 
    confidence in the Divine mercy. This may not always be 
    expressed in words. It is peculiar to pious penitents. A 
    general introduction to procure favour to our prayers never to 
    be omitted. 
10. Objection to the third rule of prayer. Of the glorying of the 
    saints. Answer. Confirmation of the answer. 
11. Fourth rule of prayer,--a sure confidence of being heard 
    animating us to prayer. The kind of confidence required, viz., 
    a serious conviction of our misery, joined with sure hope. From 
    these true prayer springs. How diffidence impairs prayer. In 
    general, faith is required. 
12. This faith and sure hope regarded by our opponents as most 
    absurd. Their error described and refuted by various passages 
    of Scripture, which show that acceptable prayer is accompanied 
    with these qualities. No repugnance between this certainty and 
    an acknowledgment of our destitution. 
13. To our unworthiness we oppose, 1. The command of God. 2. The 
    promise. Rebels and hypocrites completely condemned. Passages 
    of Scripture confirming the command to pray. 
14. Other passages respecting the promises which belong to the pious 
    when they invoke God. These realized though we are not 
    possessed of the same holiness as other distinguished servants 
    of God, provided we indulge no vain confidence, and sincerely 
    betake ourselves to the mercy of God. Those who do not invoke 
    God under urgent necessity are no better than idolaters. This 
    concurrence of fear and confidence reconciles the different 
    passages of Scripture, as to humbling ourselves in prayer, and 
    causing our prayers to ascend. 
15. Objection founded on some examples, viz., that prayers have 
    proved effectual, though not according to the form prescribed. 
    Answer. Such examples, though not given for our imitation, are 
    of the greatest use. Objection, the prayers of the faithful 
    sometimes not effectual. Answer confirmed by a noble passage of 
    Augustine. Rule for right prayer. 
16. The above four rules of prayer not so rigidly exacted, as that 
    every prayer deficient in them in any respect is rejected by 
    God. This shown by examples. Conclusion, or summary of this 
17. Through whom God is to be invoked, viz., Jesus Christ. This 
    founded on a consideration of the divine majesty, and the 
    precept and promise of God himself. God therefore to be invoked 
    only in the name of Christ. 
18. From the first all believers were heard through him only: yet 
    this specially restricted to the period subsequent to his 
    ascension. The ground of this restriction. 
19. The wrath of God lies on those who reject Christ as a Mediator. 
    This excludes not the mutual intercession of saints on the 
20. Refutation of errors interfering with the intercession of 
    Christ. 1. Christ the Mediator of redemption; the saints 
    mediators of intercession. Answer confirmed by the clear 
    testimony of Scripture, and by a passage from Augustine. The 
    nature of Christ's intercession. 
21. Of the intercession of saints living with Christ in heaven. 
    Fiction of the Papists in regard to it. Refuted. 1. Its 
    absurdity. 2. It is no where mentioned by Scripture. 3. Appeal 
    to the conscience of the superstitious. 4. Its blasphemy. 
    Exception. Answers. 
22. Monstrous errors resulting from this fiction. Refutation. 
    Exception by the advocates of this fiction. Answer. 
23. Arguments of the Papists for the intercession of saints. 1. From 
    the duty and office of angels. Answer. 2. From an expression of 
    Jeremiah respecting Moses and Samuel. Answer, retorting the 
    argument. 3. The meaning of the prophet confirmed by a similar 
    passage in Ezekiel, and the testimony of an apostle. 
24. 4. Fourth Papistical argument from the nature of charity, which 
    is more perfect in the saints in glory. Answer. 
25. Argument founded on a passage in Moses. Answer. 
26. Argument from its being said that the prayers of saints are 
    heard. Answer, confirmed by Scripture, and illustrated by 
27. Conclusion, that the saints cannot be invoked without impiety. 
    1. It robs God of his glory. 2. Destroys the intercession of 
    Christ. 3. Is repugnant to the word of God. 4. Is opposed to 
    the due method of prayer. 5. Is without approved example. 6. 
    Springs from distrust. Last objection. Answer. 
28. Kinds of prayer. Vows. Supplications. Petitions. Thanksgiving. 
    Connection of these, their constant use and necessity. 
    Particular explanation confirmed by reason, Scripture, and 
    example. Rule as to supplication and thanksgiving. 
29. The accidents of prayer, viz., private and public, constant, at 
    stated seasons, &c. Exception in time of necessity. Prayer 
    without ceasing. Its nature. Garrulity of Papists and 
    hypocrites refuted. The scope and parts of prayer. Secret 
    prayer. Prayer at all places. Private and public prayer. 
30. Of public places or churches in which common prayers are offered 
    up. Right use of churches. Abuse. 
31. Of utterance and singing. These of no avail if not from the 
    heart. The use of the voice refers more to public than private 
32. Singing of the greatest antiquity, but not universal. How to be 
33. Public prayers should be in the vulgar, not in a foreign tongue. 
    Reason, 1. The nature of the Church. 2. Authority of an 
    apostle. Sincere affection always necessary. The tongue not 
    always necessary. Bending of the knee, and uncovering of the 
34. The form of prayer delivered by Christ displays the boundless 
    goodness of our heavenly Father. The great comfort thereby 
35. Lord's Prayer divided into six petitions. Subdivision into two 
    principal parts, the former referring to the glory of God, the 
    latter to our salvation. 
36. The use of the term Father implies, 1. That we pray to God in 
    the name of Christ alone. 2. That we lay aside all distrust. 3. 
    That we expect every thing that is for our good. 
37. Objection, that our sins exclude us from the presence of him 
    whom we have made a Judge, not a Father. Answer, from the 
    nature of God, as described by an apostle, the parable of the 
    prodigal son, and from the expression, _Our_ Father. Christ the 
    earnest, the Holy Spirit the witness, of our adoption. 
38. Why God is called generally, Our Father. 
39. We may pray specially for ourselves and certain others, provided 
    we have in our mind a general reference to all. 
40. In what sense God is said to be _in heaven_. A threefold use of 
    this doctrine for our consolation. Three cautions. Summary of 
    the preface to the Lord's Prayer. 
41. The necessity of the first petition a proof of our 
    unrighteousness. What meant by the name of God. How it is 
    hallowed. Parts of this hallowing. A deprecation of the sins by 
    which the name of God is profaned. 
42. Distinction between the first and second petitions. The kingdom 
    of God, what. How said to come. Special exposition of this 
    petition. It reminds us of three things. Advent of the kingdom 
    of God in the world. 
43. Distinction between the second and third petitions. The will 
    here meant not the secret will or good pleasure of God, but 
    that manifested in the word. Conclusion of the three first 
44. A summary of the second part of the Lord's Prayer. Three 
    petitions. What contained in the first. Declares the exceeding 
    kindness of God, and our distrust. What meant by _bread_. Why 
    the petition for bread precedes that for the forgiveness of 
    sins. Why it is called ours. Why to be sought _this day_, or 
    _daily_. The doctrine resulting from this petition, illustrated 
    by an example. Two classes of men sin in regard to this 
    petition. In what sense it is called, our bread. Why we ask God 
    to give it to us. 
45. Close connection between this and the subsequent petition. Why 
    our sins are called debts. This petition violated, 1. By those 
    who think they can satisfy God by their own merits, or those of 
    others. 2. By those who dream of a perfection which makes 
    pardon unnecessary. Why the elect cannot attain perfection in 
    this life. Refutation of the libertine dreamers of perfection. 
    Objection refuted. In what sense we are said to forgive those 
    who have sinned against us. How the condition is to be 
46. The sixth petition reduced to three heads. 1. The various forms 
    of temptation. The depraved conceptions of our minds. The wiles 
    of Satan, on the right hand and on the left. 2. What it is to 
    be led into temptation. We do not ask not to be tempted of God. 
    What meant by evil, or the evil one. Summary of this petition. 
    How necessary it is. Condemns the pride of the superstitious. 
    Includes many excellent properties. In what sense God may be 
    said to lead us into temptation. 
47. The three last petitions show that the prayers of Christians 
    ought to be public. The conclusion of the Lord's Prayer. Why 
    the word Amen is added. 
48. The Lord's Prayer contains every thing that we can or ought to 
    ask of God. Those who go beyond it sin in three ways. 
49. We may, after the example of the saints, frame our prayers in 
    different words, provided there is no difference in meaning. 
50. Some circumstances to be observed. Of appointing special hours 
    of prayer. What to be aimed at, what avoided. The will of God, 
    the rule of our prayers. 
51. Perseverance in prayer especially recommended, both by precept 
    and example. Condemnatory of those who assign to God a time and 
    mode of hearing. 
52. Of the dignity of faith, through which we always obtain, in 
    answer to prayer, whatever is most expedient for us. The 
    knowledge of this most necessary. 
    1. From the previous part of the work we clearly see how 
completely destitute man is of all good, how devoid of every means 
of procuring his own salvation. Hence, if he would obtain succour in 
his necessity, he must go beyond himself, and procure it in some 
other quarter. It has farther been shown that the Lord kindly and 
spontaneously manifests himself in Christ, 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. 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 (Ps. 36: 9.) But after we have 
learned by faith to know that whatever is necessary for us or 
defective in us is supplied in God and in our Lord Jesus Christ, in 
whom it hath pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell, 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 sovereign disposer of all good, inviting 
us to present our requests, and yet not to approach or ask of him, 
were so far from availing us, that it were just as if one told of a 
treasure were to allow it to remain buried in the ground. Hence the 
Apostle, to show that a faith unaccompanied with prayer to God 
cannot be genuine, states this to be the order: As faith springs 
from the Gospel, so by faith our hearts are framed to call upon the 
name of God, (Rom. 10: 14.) And this is the very thing which he had 
expressed some time before, viz., that the _Spirit of adoption_, 
which seals the testimony of the Gospel on our hearts, gives us 
courage to make our requests known unto God, calls forth groanings 
which cannot be uttered, and enables us to cry, Abba, Father, (Rom. 
8: 26.) This last point, as we have hitherto only touched upon it 
slightly in passing, must now be treated more fully. 
    2. To _prayer_, then, are we indebted for penetrating to those 
riches which are treasured up for us with our heavenly Father. For 
there is a kind of intercourse between God and men, by which, having 
entered the upper sanctuary, they appear before Him and appeal to 
his promises, that when necessity requires they may learn by 
experiences that what they believed merely on the authority of his 
word was not in vain. Accordingly, we see that nothing is set before 
us as an object of expectation from the Lord which we are not 
enjoined to ask of Him in prayer, so true it is that prayer digs up 
those treasures which the Gospel of our Lord discovers to the eye of 
faith. The necessity and utility of this exercise of prayer no words 
can sufficiently express. Assuredly it is not without cause our 
heavenly Father declares that our only safety is in calling upon his 
name, since by it we invoke the presence of his providence to watch 
over our interests, of his power to sustain us when weak and almost 
fainting, of his goodness to receive us into favour, though 
miserably loaded with sin; in fine, call upon him to manifest 
himself to us in all his perfections. Hence, admirable peace and 
tranquillity are given to our consciences; for the straits by which 
we were pressed being laid before the Lord, we rest fully satisfied 
with the assurance that none of our evils are unknown to him, and 
that he is both able and willing to make the best provision for us. 
    3. But some one will say, Does he not know without a monitor 
both what our difficulties are, and what is meet for our interest, 
so that it seems in some measure superfluous to solicit him by our 
prayers, as if he were winking, or even sleeping, until aroused by 
the sound of our voice?[1] Those who argue thus attend not to the 
end for which the Lord taught us to pray. It was not so much for his 
sake as for ours. He wills indeed, as is just, that due honour be 
paid him by acknowledging that all which men desire or feel to be 
useful, and pray to obtain, is derived from him. But even the 
benefit of the homage which we thus pay him redounds to ourselves. 
Hence the holy patriarchs, the more confidently they proclaimed the 
mercies of God to themselves and others felt the stronger incitement 
to prayer. It will be sufficient to refer to the example of Elijah, 
who being assured of the purpose of God had good ground for the 
promise of rain which he gives to Ahab, and yet prays anxiously upon 
his knees, and sends his servant seven times to inquire, (1 Kings 
18: 42;) not that he discredits the oracle, but because he knows it 
to be his duty to lay his desires before God, lest his faith should 
become drowsy or torpid. 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; secondly, 
that no desires, no longing whatever, of which we are ashamed to 
make him the witness, may enter our minds, while we learn to place 
all our wishes in his sight, and thus pour out our heart before him; 
and, lastly, that we may be prepared to receive all his benefits 
with true gratitude and thanksgiving, while our prayers remind us 
that they proceed from his hand. Moreover, having obtained what we 
asked, being persuaded that he has answered our prayers, we are led 
to long more earnestly for his favour, and at the same time have 
greater pleasure in welcoming the blessings which we perceive to 
have been obtained by our prayers. Lastly, use and experience 
confirm the thought of his providence in our minds in a manner 
adapted to our weakness, when we understand that he not only 
promises that he will never fail us, and spontaneously gives us 
access to approach him in every time of need, but has his hand 
always stretched out to assist his people, not amusing them with 
words, but proving himself to be a present aid. 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. It is very absurd, 
therefore, to dissuade men from prayer, by pretending that Divine 
Providence, which is always watching over the government of the 
universes is in vain importuned by our supplications, when, on the 
contrary, the Lord himself declares, that he is "nigh unto all that 
call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth, (Ps. 145: 18.) No 
better is the frivolous allegation of others, that it is superfluous 
to pray for things which the Lord is ready of his own accord to 
bestow; since it is his pleasure that those very things which flow 
from his spontaneous liberality should be acknowledged as conceded 
to our prayers. This is testified by that memorable sentence in the 
psalms to which many others corresponds: "The eyes of the Lord are 
upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry," (Ps. 34: 
15.) This passage, while extolling the care which Divine Providence 
spontaneously exercises over the safety of believers, omits not the 
exercise of faith by which the mind is aroused from sloth. The eyes 
of God are awake to assist the blind in their necessity, but he is 
likewise pleased to listen to our groans, that he may give us the 
better proof of his love. And thus both things are true, "He that 
keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep," (Ps. 121: 4;) and 
yet whenever he sees us dumb and torpid, he withdraws as if he had 
forgotten us. 
    4. Let the first rule of right prayer then be, to have our 
heart and mind framed as becomes those who are entering into 
converse with God. This we shall accomplish in regard to the mind, 
if, laying aside carnal thoughts and cares which might interfere 
with the direct and pure contemplation of God, it not only be wholly 
intent on prayer, but also, as far as possible, be borne and raised 
above itself. I do not here insist on a mind so disengaged as to 
feel none of the gnawings of anxiety; on the contrary, it is by much 
anxiety that the fervor of prayer is inflamed. Thus we see that the 
holy servants of God betray great anguish, not to say solicitude, 
when they cause the voice of complaint to ascend to the Lord from 
the deep abyss and the jaws of death. What I say is, that all 
foreign and extraneous cares must be dispelled by which the mind 
might be driven to and fro in vague suspense, be drawn down from 
heaven, and kept groveling on the earth. When I say it must be 
raised above itself, I mean that it must not bring into the presence 
of God any of those things which our blind and stupid reason is wont 
to devise, nor keep itself confined within the little measure of its 
own vanity, but rise to a purity worthy of God. 
    5. Both things are specially worthy of notice. First, let every 
one in professing to pray turn thither all his thoughts and 
feelings, and be not (as is usual) distracted by wandering thoughts; 
because 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 fear. In this matter we ought to labour the more earnestly 
the more difficult we experience it to be; for no man is so intent 
on prayer as not to feel many thoughts creeping in, and either 
breaking off the tenor of his prayer, or retarding it by some 
turning or digression. Here let us consider how unbecoming it is 
when God admits us to familiar intercourse to abuse his great 
condescension by mingling things sacred and profane, reverence for 
him not keeping our minds under restraint; but just as if in prayer 
we were conversing with one like ourselves forgetting him, and 
allowing our thoughts to run to and fro. Let us know, then, that 
none duly prepare themselves for prayer but those who are so 
impressed with the majesty of God that they engage in it free from 
all earthly cares and affections. 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.) And 
Scripture repeatedly uses the expression to _raise our prayers_ 
meaning that those who would be heard by God must not grovel in the 
mire. The sum is, that the more liberally God deals with us, 
condescendingly inviting us to disburden our cares into his bosom, 
the less excusable we are if this admirable and incomparable 
blessing does not in our estimation outweigh all other things, and 
win our affection, that prayer may seriously engage our every 
thought and feeling. This cannot be unless our mind, strenuously 
exerting itself against all impediments, rise upward. Our second 
proposition was, that we are to ask only in so far as God permits. 
For though he bids us pour out our hearts, (Ps. 62: 8) he does not 
indiscriminately give loose reins to foolish and depraved 
affections; and when he promises that he will grant believers their 
wish, his indulgence does not proceed so far as to submit to their 
caprice. In both matters grievous delinquencies are everywhere 
committed. For not only do many without modesty, without reverence, 
presume to invoke God concerning their frivolities, but impudently 
bring forward their dreams, whatever they may be, before the 
tribunal of God. Such is the folly or stupidity under which they 
labour, that they have the hardihood to obtrude upon God desires so 
vile, that they would blush exceedingly to impart them to their 
fellow men. Profane writers have derided and even expressed their 
detestation of this presumption, and yet the vice has always 
prevailed. Hence, as the ambitious adopted Jupiter as their patron; 
the avaricious, Mercury; the literary aspirants, Apollo and Minerva; 
the warlike, Mars; the licentious, Venus: so in the present day, as 
I lately observed, men in prayer give greater license to their 
unlawful desires than if they were telling jocular tales among their 
equals. God does not suffer his condescension to be thus mocked, but 
vindicating his own light, places our wishes under the restraint of 
his authority. We must, therefore, attend to the observation of 
John: "This is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask 
any thing according to his will, he heareth us," (1 John 5: 14.) But 
as our faculties are far from being able to attain to such high 
perfection, we must seek for some means to assist them. As the eye 
of our mind should be intent upon God, so the affection of our heart 
ought to follow in the same course. But both fall far beneath this, 
or rather, they faint and fail, and are carried in a contrary 
direction. To assist this weakness, God gives us the guidance of the 
Spirit in our prayers to dictate what is right, and regulate our 
affections. For seeing "we know not what we should pray for as we 
ought," "the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings 
which cannot be uttered," (Rom. 8: 26) not that he actually prays or 
groans, but he excites in us sighs, and wishes, and confidence, 
which our natural powers are not at all able to conceive. Nor is it 
without cause Paul gives the name of _groanings which cannot be 
uttered_ to the prayers which believers send forth under the 
guidance of the Spirit. For those who are truly exercised in prayer 
are not unaware that blind anxieties so restrain and perplex them, 
that they can scarcely find what it becomes them to utter; nay, in 
attempting to lisp they halt and hesitate. Hence it appears that to 
pray aright is a special gift. We do not speak thus in indulgence to 
our sloth, as if we were to leave the office of prayer to the Holy 
Spirit, and give way to that carelessness to which we are too prone. 
Thus we sometimes hear the impious expression, that we are to wait 
in suspense until he take possession of our minds while otherwise 
occupied. Our meaning is, that, weary of our own heartlessness and 
sloth, we are to long for the aid of the Spirit. Nor, indeed, does 
Paul, when he enjoins us to pray _in the Spirit_, (1 Cor. 14: 15,) 
cease to exhort us to vigilance, intimating, that while the 
inspiration of the Spirit is effectual to the formation of prayer, 
it by no means impedes or retards our own endeavours; since in this 
matter God is pleased to try how efficiently faith influences our 
    6. Another rule of prayer is, that in asking we must always 
truly feel our wants, and seriously considering that we need all the 
things which we ask, accompany the prayer with a sincere, nay, 
ardent desire of obtaining them. Many repeat prayers in a 
perfunctory manner from a set form, as if they were performing a 
task to God, and though they confess that this is a necessary remedy 
for the evils of their condition, because it were fatal to be left 
without the divine aid which they implore, it still appears that 
they perform the duty from custom, because their minds are meanwhile 
cold, and they ponder not what they ask. A general and confused 
feeling of their necessity leads them to pray, but it does not make 
them solicitous as in a matter of present consequence, that they may 
obtain the supply of their need. Moreover, can we suppose anything 
more hateful or even more execrable to God than this fiction of 
asking the pardon of sins, while he who asks at the very time either 
thinks that he is not a sinner, or, at least, is not thinking that 
he is a sinner; in other words, a fiction by which God is plainly 
held in derision? 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. There is another fault which seems less heinous, 
but is not to be tolerated. Some murmur out prayers without 
meditation, their only principle being that God is to be propitiated 
by prayer. Believers ought to be specially on their guard never to 
appear in the presence of God with the intention of presenting a 
request unless they are under some serious impression, and are, at 
the same time, desirous to obtain it. Nay, although in these things 
which we ask only for the glory of God, we seem not at first sight 
to consult for our necessity, yet we ought not to ask with less 
fervor and vehemence of desire. For instance, when we pray that his 
name be hallowed--that hallowing must, so to speak, be earnestly 
hungered and thirsted after. 
    7. If it is objected, that the necessity which urges us to pray 
is not always equal, I admit it, and this distinction is profitably 
taught us by James: "Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is 
any merry? let him sing psalms," (James 5: 13.) Therefore, common 
sense itself dictates, that as we are too sluggish, we must be 
stimulated by God to pray earnestly whenever the occasion requires. 
This David calls a time when God "may be found," (a seasonable 
time;) because, as he declares in several other passages, that the 
more hardly grievances, annoyances, fears, and other kinds of trial 
press us, the freer is our access to God, as if he were inviting us 
to himself. Still not less true is the injunction of Paul to pray 
"always," (Eph. 6: 18;) because, however prosperously according to 
our view, things proceed, and however we may be surrounded on all 
sides with grounds of joy, there is not an instant of time during 
which our want does not exhort us to prayer. A man abounds in wheat 
and wine; but as he cannot enjoy a morsel of bread, unless by the 
continual bounty of God, his granaries or cellars will not prevent 
him from asking for daily bread. Then, if we consider how many 
dangers impend every moment, fear itself will teach us that no time 
ought to be without prayer. This, however, may be better known in 
spiritual matters. For when will the many sins of which we are 
conscious allow us to sit secure without suppliantly entreating 
freedom from guilt and punishment? When will temptation give us a 
truce, making it unnecessary to hasten for help? Moreover, zeal for 
the kingdom and glory of God ought not to seize us by starts, but 
urge us without intermission, so that every time should appear 
seasonable. It is not without cause, therefore, that assiduity in 
prayer is so often enjoined. I am not now speaking of perseverance, 
which shall afterwards be considered; but Scripture, by reminding us 
of the necessity of constant prayer, charges us with sloth, because 
we feel not how much we stand in need of this care and assiduity. By 
this rule hypocrisy and the device of lying to God are restrained, 
nay, altogether banished from prayer. God promises that he will be 
near to those who call upon him in truth, and declares that those 
who seek him with their whole heart will find him: those, therefore, 
who delight in their own pollution cannot surely aspire to him. One 
of the requisites of legitimate prayer is repentance. Hence the 
common declaration of Scripture, that God does not listen to the 
wicked; that their prayers, as well as their sacrifices, are an 
abomination to him. For it is right that those who seal up their 
hearts should find the ears of God closed against them, that those 
who, by their hardheartedness, provoke his severity should find him 
inflexible. In Isaiah he thus threatens: "When ye make many prayers, 
I will not hear: your hands are full of blood," (Isaiah 1: 15.) In 
like manner, in Jeremiah, "Though they shall cry unto me, I will not 
hearken unto them," (Jer. 11: 7, 8, 11;) because he regards it as 
the highest insult for the wicked to boast of his covenant while 
profaning his sacred name by their whole lives. Hence he complains 
in Isaiah: "This people draw near to me with their mouth, and with 
their lips do honour me; but have removed their heart far from men" 
(Isaiah 29: 13.) Indeed, he does not confine this to prayers alone, 
but declares that he abominates pretense in every part of his 
service. Hence the words of James, "Ye ask and receive note because 
ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts," (James iv. 
3.) It is true, indeed, (as we shall again see in a little,) that 
the pious, in the prayers which they utter, trust not to their own 
worth; still the admonition of John is not superfluous: "Whatsoever 
we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments," (1 
John 3: 22;) an evil conscience shuts the door against us. Hence it 
follows, that none but the sincere worshippers of God pray aright, 
or are listened to. Let every one, therefore, who prepares to pray 
feel dissatisfied with what is wrong in his condition, and assume, 
which he cannot do without repentance, the character and feelings of 
a poor suppliant. 
    8. The third rule to be added is: that he who comes into the 
presence of God to pray must divest himself of all vainglorious 
thoughts, lay aside all idea of worth; in short, discard all self- 
confidence, humbly giving God the whole glory, lest by arrogating 
any thing, however little, to himself, vain pride cause him to turn 
away his face. Of this submission, which casts down all haughtiness, 
we have numerous examples in the servants of God. The holier they 
are, the more humbly they prostrate themselves when they come into 
the presence of the Lord. Thus Daniel, on whom the Lord himself 
bestowed such high commendation, says, "We do not present our 
supplications before thee for our righteousness but for thy great 
mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; 
defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people 
are called by thy name." This he does not indirectly in the usual 
manner, as if he were one of the individuals in a crowd: he rather 
confesses his guilt apart, and as a suppliant betaking himself to 
the asylum of pardon, he distinctly declares that he was confessing 
his own sin, and the sin of his people Israel, (Dan. 9: 18-20.) 
David also sets us an example of this humility: "Enter not into 
judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be 
justified," (Psalm 143: 2.) In like manner, Isaiah prays, "Behold, 
thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we 
shall be saved. But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our 
righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; 
and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is 
none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take 
hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed 
us, because of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, thou art our Father; 
we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy 
hand. Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity for 
ever: Behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people." (Isa. 
64: 5-9.) You see how they put no confidence in any thing but this: 
considering that they are the Lord's, they despair not of being the 
objects of his care. In the same way, Jeremiah says, "O Lord, though 
our iniquities testify against us, do thou it for thy name's sake," 
(Jer. 14: 7.) For it was most truly and piously written by the 
uncertain author (whoever he may have been) that wrote the book 
which is attributed to the prophet Baruch,[2] "But the soul that is 
greatly vexed, which goeth stooping and feeble, and the eyes that 
fail, and the hungry soul, will give thee praise and righteousness, 
O Lord. Therefore, we do not make our humble supplication before 
thee, O Lord our God, for the righteousness of our fathers, and of 
our kings." "Hear, O Lord, and have mercy; for thou art merciful: 
and have pity upon us, because we have sinned before thee," (Baruch 
2: 18, 19; 3: 2.) 
    9. In fine, supplication for pardon, with humble and ingenuous 
confession of guilt, forms both the preparation and commencement of 
right prayer. For the holiest of men cannot hope to obtain any thing 
from God until he has been freely reconciled to him. God cannot be 
propitious to any but those whom he pardons. Hence it is not strange 
that this is the key by which believers open the door of prayer, as 
we learn from several passages in The Psalms. David, when presenting 
a request on a different subject, says, "Remember not the sins of my 
youth, nor my transgressions; according to thy mercy remember me, 
for thy goodness sake, O Lord," (Psalm 25: 7.) Again, "Look upon my 
affliction and my pain, and forgive my sins," (Psalm 25: 18.) Here 
also we see that it is not sufficient to call ourselves to account 
for the sins of each passing day; we must also call to mind those 
which might seem to have been long before buried in oblivion. For in 
another passage the same prophet, confessing one grievous crime, 
takes occasion to go back to his very birth, "I was shapen in 
iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me," (Psalm 51: 5;) not 
to extenuate the fault by the corruption of his nature, but as it 
were to accumulate the sins of his whole life, that the stricter he 
was in condemning himself, the more placable God might be. But 
although the saints do not always in express terms ask forgiveness 
of sins, yet if we carefully ponder those prayers as given in 
Scripture, the truth of what I say will readily appear; namely, that 
their courage to pray was derived solely from the mercy of God, and 
that they always began with appeasing him. For when a man 
interrogates his conscience, so far is he from presuming to lay his 
cares familiarly before God, that if he did not trust to mercy and 
pardon, he would tremble at the very thought of approaching him. 
There is, indeed, another special confession. When believers long 
for deliverance from punishment, they at the same time pray that 
their sins may be pardoned;[3] for it were absurd to wish that the 
effect should be taken away while the cause remains. For we must 
beware of imitating foolish patients who, anxious only about curing 
accidental symptoms, neglect the root of the disease.[4] Nay, our 
endeavour must be to have God propitious even before he attests his 
favour by external signs, both because this is the order which he 
himself chooses, and it were of little avail to experience his 
kindness, did not conscience feel that he is appeased, and thus 
enable us to regard him as altogether lovely. Of this we are even 
reminded by our Savior's reply. Having determined to cure the 
paralytic, he says, "Thy sins are forgiven thee;" in other words, he 
raises our thoughts to the object which is especially to be desired, 
viz. admission into the favour of God, and then gives the fruit of 
reconciliation by bringing assistance to us. But besides that 
special confession of present guilt which believers employ, in 
supplicating for pardon of every fault and punishment, that general 
introduction which procures favour for our prayers must never be 
omitted, because prayers will never reach God unless they are 
founded on free mercy. To this we may refer the words of John, "If 
we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins 
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," (1 John 1: 9.) Hence, 
under the law it was necessary to consecrate prayers by the 
expiation of blood, both that they might be accepted, and that the 
people might be warned that they were unworthy of the high privilege 
until, being purged from their defilements, they founded their 
confidence in prayer entirely on the mercy of God. 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 3, Part 21

(continued in part 22...)

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