Calvin, Institutes, Vol.3, Part 22

(... continued from part 21)

    10. Sometimes, however, the saints in supplicating God, seem to 
appeal to their own righteousness, as when David says, "Preserve my 
soul; for I am holy," (Ps. 86: 2.) Also Hezekiah, "Remember now, O 
Lord, I beseech thee how I have walked before thee in truth, and 
with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy 
sight," (Is. 38. 2.) All they mean by such expressions is, that 
regeneration declares them to be among the servants and children to 
whom God engages that he will show favour. We have already seen how 
he declares by the Psalmist that his eyes "are upon the righteous, 
and his ears are open unto their cry," (Ps. 34: 16:) and again by 
the apostle, that "whatsoever we ask of him we obtain, because we 
keep his commandments," (John 3: 22.) In these passages he does not 
fix a value on prayer as a meritorious work, but designs to 
establish the confidence of those who are conscious of an unfeigned 
integrity and innocence, such as all believers should possess. For 
the saying of the blind man who had received his sight is in perfect 
accordance with divine truth, And God heareth not sinners (John 9: 
31;) provided we take the term sinners in the sense commonly used by 
Scripture to mean those who, without any desire for righteousness, 
are sleeping secure in their sins; since no heart will ever rise to 
genuine prayer that does not at the same time long for holiness. 
Those supplications in which the saints allude to their purity and 
integrity correspond to such promises, that they may thus have, in 
their own experience, a manifestation of that which all the servants 
of God are made to expect. Thus they almost always use this mode of 
prayer when before God they compare themselves with their enemies, 
from whose injustice they long to be delivered by his hand. When 
making such comparisons, there is no wonder that they bring forward 
their integrity and simplicity of heart, that thus, by the justice 
of their cause, the Lord may be the more disposed to give them 
succour. We rob not the pious breast of the privilege of enjoying a 
consciousness of purity before the Lord, and thus feeling assured of 
the promises with which he comforts and supports his true 
worshippers, but we would have them to lay aside all thought of 
their own merits and found their confidence of success in prayer 
solely on the divine mercy. 
    11. The fourth rule of prayer is, that notwithstanding of our 
being thus abased and truly humbled, we should be animated to pray 
with the sure hope of succeeding. There is, indeed, an appearance of 
contradiction between the two things, between a sense of the just 
vengeance of God and firm confidence in his favour, and yet they are 
perfectly accordant, if it is the mere goodness of God that raises 
up those who are overwhelmed by their own sins. For, as we have 
formerly shown (chap. 3: sec. 17 2) that repentance and faith go 
hand in hand, being united by an indissoluble tie, the one causing 
terror, the other joy, so in prayer they must both be present. This 
concurrence David expresses in a few words: "But as for me, I will 
come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy, and in thy fear 
will I worship toward thy holy temple," (Ps. 5: 7.) Under the 
goodness of God he comprehends faith, at the same time not excluding 
fear; for not only does his majesty compel our reverence, but our 
own unworthiness also divests us of all pride and confidence, and 
keeps us in fear. The confidence of which I speak is not one which 
frees the mind from all anxiety, and soothes it with sweet and 
perfect rest; such rest is peculiar to those who, while all their 
affairs are flowing to a wish are annoyed by no care, stung with no 
regret, agitated by no fear. But the best stimulus which the saints 
have to prayer is when, in consequence of their own necessities, 
they feel the greatest disquietude, and are all but driven to 
despair, until faith seasonably comes to their aid; because in such 
straits the goodness of God so shines upon them, that while they 
groan, burdened by the weight of present calamities, and tormented 
with the fear of greater, they yet trust to this goodness, and in 
this way both lighten the difficulty of endurance, and take comfort 
in the hope of final deliverance. It is necessary therefore, that 
the prayer of the believer should be the result of both feelings, 
and exhibit the influence of both; namely, that while he groans 
under present and anxiously dreads new evils, he should, at the same 
times have recourse to God, not at all doubting that God is ready to 
stretch out a helping hand to him. For it is not easy to say how 
much God is irritated by our distrust, when we ask what we expect 
not of his goodness. Hence, nothing is more accordant to the nature 
of prayer than to lay it down as a fixed rule, that it is not to 
come forth at random, but is to follow in the footsteps of faith. To 
this principle Christ directs all of us in these words, "Therefore, 
I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe 
that ye receive them, and ye shall have them," (Mark 11: 24.) The 
same thing he declares in another passage, "All things, whatsoever 
ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive," (Matth. 21. 
22.) In accordance with this are the words of James, "If any of you 
lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, 
and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him. But let him ask in 
faith, nothing wavering," (James 1: 5.) He most aptly expresses the 
power of faith by opposing it to wavering. No less worthy of notice 
is his additional statement, that those who approach God with a 
doubting, hesitating mind, without feeling assured whether they are 
to be heard or not, gain nothing by their prayers. Such persons he 
compares to a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed. 
Hence, in another passage he terms genuine prayer "the prayer of 
faith," (James 5: 15.) Again, since God so often declares that he 
will give to every man according to his faith he intimates that we 
cannot obtain any thing without faith. In short, it is faith which 
obtains every thing that is granted to prayer. This is the meaning 
of Paul in the well known passage to which dull men give too little 
heed, "How then shall they call upon him in whom they have not 
believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not 
heard?" "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of 
God," (Rom. 10: 14,17.) Gradually deducing the origin of prayer from 
faith, he distinctly maintains that God cannot be invoked sincerely 
except by those to whom, by the preaching of the Gospel, his mercy 
and willingness have been made known, nay, familiarly explained. 
    12. This necessity our opponents do not at all consider. 
Therefore, when we say that believers ought to feel firmly assured, 
they think we are saying the absurdest thing in the world. But if 
they had any experience in true prayer, they would assuredly 
understand that God cannot be duly invoked without this firm sense 
of the Divine benevolence. But as no man can well perceive the power 
of faith, without at the same time feeling it in his heart, what 
profit is there in disputing with men of this character, who plainly 
show that they have never had more than a vain imagination? The 
value and necessity of that assurance for which we contend is 
learned chiefly from prayer. Every one who does not see this gives 
proof of a very stupid conscience. Therefore, leaving those who are 
thus blinded, let us fix our thoughts on the words of Paul, that God 
can only be invoked by such as have obtained a knowledge of his 
mercy from the Gospel, and feel firmly assured that that mercy is 
ready to be bestowed upon them. What kind of prayer would this be? 
"O Lord, I am indeed doubtful whether or not thou art inclined to 
hear me; but being oppressed with anxiety I fly to thee that if I am 
worthy, thou mayest assist me." None of the saints whose prayers are 
given in Scripture thus supplicated. Nor are we thus taught by the 
Holy Spirit, who tells us to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, 
that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need," 
(Heb. 4: 16;) and elsewhere teaches us to "have boldness and access 
with confidence by the faith of Christ," (Eph. 3: 12.) This 
confidence of obtaining what we ask, a confidence which the Lord 
commands, and all the saints teach by their example, we must 
therefore hold fast with both hands, if we would pray to any 
advantage. The only prayer acceptable to God is that which springs 
(if I may so express it) from this presumption of faith, and is 
founded on the full assurance of hope. He might have been contented 
to use the simple name of faith, but he adds not only confidence, 
but liberty or boldness, that by this mark he might distinguish us 
from unbelievers, who indeed like us pray to God, but pray at 
random. Hence, the whole Church thus prays "Let thy mercy O Lord, be 
upon us, according as we hope in thee," (Ps. 33: 22.) The same 
condition is set down by the Psalmist in another passage, "When I 
cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know, for 
God is for me," (Ps. 56: 9.) Again, "In the morning will I direct my 
prayer unto thee, and will look up," (Ps. 5: 3.) From these words we 
gather, that prayers are vainly poured out into the air unless 
accompanied with faith, in which, as from a watchtower, we may 
quietly wait for God. With this agrees the order of Paul's 
exhortation. For before urging believers to pray in the Spirit 
always, with vigilance and assiduity, he enjoins them to take "the 
shield of faith," "the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the 
Spirit, which is the word of God," (Eph. vi. 16-18.) Let the reader 
here call to mind what I formerly observed, that faith by no means 
fails though accompanied with a recognition of our wretchedness, 
poverty, and pollution. How much soever believers may feel that they 
are oppressed by a heavy load of iniquity, and are not only devoid 
of every thing which can procure the favour of God for them, but 
justly burdened with many sins which make him an object of dread, 
yet they cease not to present themselves, this feeling not deterring 
them from appearing in his presence, because there is no other 
access to him. Genuine prayer is not that by which we arrogantly 
extol ourselves before God, or set a great value on any thing of our 
own, but that by which, while confessing our guilt, we utter our 
sorrows before God, just as children familiarly lay their complaints 
before their parents. Nay, the immense accumulation of our sins 
should rather spur us on and incite us to prayer. Of this the 
Psalmist gives us an example, "Heal my soul: for I have sinned 
against thee," (Ps. 41: 4.) I confess, indeed, that these stings 
would prove mortal darts, did not God give succour; but our heavenly 
Father has, in ineffable kindness, added a remedy, by which, calming 
all perturbation, soothing our cares, and dispelling our fears he 
condescendingly allures us to himself; nay, removing all doubts, not 
to say obstacles, makes the way smooth before us. 
    13. And first, indeed in enjoining us to pray, he by the very 
injunction convicts us of impious contumacy if we obey not. He could 
not give a more precise command than that which is contained in the 
psalms: "Call upon me in the day of trouble," (Ps. 50: 15.) But as 
there is no office of piety more frequently enjoined by Scripture, 
there is no occasion for here dwelling longer upon it. "Ask," says 
our Divine Master, "and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall 
find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you," (Matth. 7: 7.) Here, 
indeed, a promise is added to the precept, and this is necessary. 
For though all confess that we must obey the precept, yet the 
greater part would shun the invitation of God, did he not promise 
that he would listen and be ready to answer. These two positions 
being laid down, it is certain that all who cavillingly allege that 
they are not to come to God directly, are not only rebellious and 
disobedient but are also convicted of unbelief, inasmuch as they 
distrust the promises. There is the more occasion to attend to this, 
because hypocrites, under a pretense of humility and modesty, 
proudly contemn the precept, as well as deny all credit to the 
gracious invitation of God; nay, rob him of a principal part of his 
worship. For when he rejected sacrifices, in which all holiness 
seemed then to consist, he declared that the chief thing, that which 
above all others is precious in his sight, is to be invoked in the 
day of necessity. Therefore, when he demands that which is his own, 
and urges us to alacrity in obeying, no pretexts for doubt, how 
specious soever they may be, can excuse us. Hence, all the passages 
throughout Scripture in which we are commanded to pray, are set up 
before our eyes as so many banners, to inspire us with confidence. 
It were presumption to go forward into the presence of God, did he 
not anticipate us by his invitation. Accordingly, he opens up the 
way for us by his own voice, "I will say, It is my people: and they 
shall say, The Lord is my God," (Zech. 13: 9.) We see how he 
anticipates his worshippers, and desires them to follow, and 
therefore we cannot fear that the melody which he himself dictates 
will prove unpleasing. Especially let us call to mind that noble 
description of the divine character, by trusting to which we shall 
easily overcome every obstacle: O thou that hearest prayer, unto 
thee shall all flesh come," (Ps. 65: 2.) What can be more lovely or 
soothing than to see God invested with a title which assures us that 
nothing is more proper to his nature than to listen to the prayers 
of suppliants? Hence the Psalmist infers, that free access is given 
not to a few individuals, but to all men, since God addresses all in 
these terms, "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver 
thee, and thou shalt glorify me," (Ps. 50: 15.) David, accordingly, 
appeals to the promise thus given in order to obtain what he asks: 
"Thou, O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, hast revealed to thy servant, 
saying, I will build thee an house: therefore hath thy servant found 
in his heart to pray this prayer unto thee" (2 Sam. 7: 27.) Here we 
infer, that he would have been afraid but for the promise which 
emboldened him. So in another passage he fortifies himself with the 
general doctrine, "He will fulfill the desire of them that fear 
him," (Ps. 145: 19.) Nay, we may observe in The Psalms how the 
continuity of prayer is broken, and a transition is made at one time 
to the power of God, at another to his goodness, at another to the 
faithfulness of his promises. It might seem that David, by 
introducing these sentiments, unseasonably mutilates his prayers; 
but believers well know by experience, that their ardor grows 
languid unless new fuel be added, and, therefore, that meditation as 
well on the nature as on the word of God during prayer, is by no 
means superfluous. Let us not decline to imitate the example of 
David, and introduce thoughts which may reanimate our languid minds 
with new vigor. 
    14. It is strange that these delightful promises affect us 
coldly, or scarcely at all, so that the generality of men prefer to 
wander up and down, forsaking the fountain of living waters, and 
hewing out to themselves broken cisterns, rather than embrace the 
divine liberality voluntarily offered to them (Jer. 2:13). "The name 
of the Lord," says Solomon, "is a strong tower; the righteous 
runneth into it, and is safe." (Pr. 18:10) Joel, after predicting 
the fearful disaster which was at hand, subjoins the following 
memorable sentence: "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall 
call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered." (Joel 2: 32) This 
we know properly refers to the course of the Gospel. Scarcely one in 
a hundred is moved to come into the presence of God, though he 
himself exclaims by Isaiah, "And it shall come to pass, that before 
they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will 
hear." (Is. 65: 24) This honour he elsewhere bestows upon the whole 
Church in general, as belonging to all the members of Christ: "He 
shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in 
trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him." (Ps. 91:15) My 
intention, however, as I already observed, is not to enumerate all, 
but only select some admirable passages as a specimen how kindly God 
allures us to himself, and how extreme our ingratitude must be when 
with such powerful motives our sluggishness still retards us. 
Wherefore, let these words always resound in our ears: "The Lord is 
nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in 
truth," (Ps. 145: 18.) Likewise those passages which we have quoted 
from Isaiah and Joel, in which God declares that his ear is open to 
our prayers, and that he is delighted as with a sacrifice of sweet 
savour when we cast our cares upon him. The special benefit of these 
promises we receive when we frame our prayer, not timorously or 
doubtingly, but when trusting to his word whose majesty might 
otherwise deter us, we are bold to call him Father, he himself 
deigning to suggest this most delightful name. Fortified by such 
invitations it remains for us to know that we have therein 
sufficient materials for prayer, since our prayers depend on no 
merit of our own, but all their worth and hope of success are 
founded and depend on the promises of God, so that they need no 
other support, and require not to look up and down on this hand and 
on that. It must therefore be fixed in our minds, that though we 
equal not the lauded sanctity of patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, 
yet as the command to pray is common to us as well as them, and 
faith is common, so if we lean on the word of God, we are in respect 
of this privilege their associates. For God declaring, as has 
already been seen, that he will listen and be favourable to all, 
encourages the most wretched to hope that they shall obtain what 
they ask; and, accordingly, we should attend to the general forms of 
expression, which, as it is commonly expressed, exclude none from 
first to last; only let there be sincerity of heart, self- 
dissatisfaction humility, and faith, that we may not, by the 
hypocrisy of a deceitful prayer, profane the name of God. Our most 
merciful Father will not reject those whom he not only encourages to 
come, but urges in every possible way. Hence David's method of 
prayer to which I lately referred: "And now, O Lord God, thou art 
that God, and thy words be true, and thou hast promised this 
goodness unto thy servant, that it may continue for ever before 
thee" (2 Sam. 7: 28.) So also, in another passage, "Let, I pray 
thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word 
unto thy servant," (Psalm 119: 76.) And the whole body of the 
Israelites, whenever they fortify themselves with the remembrance of 
the covenant, plainly declare, that since God thus prescribes they 
are not to pray timorously, (Gen. 32: 13.) In this they imitated the 
example of the patriarchs, particularly Jacob, who, after confessing 
that he was unworthy of the many mercies which he had received of 
the Lord's hand, says, that he is encouraged to make still larger 
requests, because God had promised that he would grant them. But 
whatever be the pretexts which unbelievers employ, when they do not 
flee to God as often as necessity urges, nor seek after him, nor 
implore his aid, they defraud him of his due honour just as much as 
if they were fabricating to themselves new gods and idols, since in 
this way they deny that God is the author of all their blessings. On 
the contrary, nothing more effectually frees pious minds from every 
doubt, than to be armed with the thought that no obstacle should 
impede them while they are obeying the command of God, who declares 
that nothing is more grateful to him than obedience. Hence, again, 
what I have previously said becomes still more clear, namely, that a 
bold spirit in prayer well accords with fear, reverence, and 
anxiety, and that there is no inconsistency when God raises up those 
who had fallen prostrate. In this way forms of expression apparently 
inconsistent admirably harmonize. Jeremiah and David speak of humbly 
laying their supplications[5] before God (Jer. 42: 9; Dan. 9: 18.) 
In another passage Jeremiah says "Let, we beseech thee, our 
supplication be accepted before thee, and pray for us unto the Lord 
thy God, even for all this remnant." (Jer. 42: 2) On the other hand, 
believers are often said to _lift up prayer_. Thus Hezekiah speaks, 
when asking the prophet to undertake the office of interceding (2 
Kings 19: 4.) And David says, "Let my prayer be set forth before 
thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening 
sacrifice." (Ps. 141: 2) The explanation is, that though believers, 
persuaded of the paternal love of God, cheerfully rely on his 
faithfulness, and have no hesitation in imploring the aid which he 
voluntarily offers, they are not elated with supine or presumptuous 
security; but climbing up by the ladder of the promises, still 
remain humble and abased suppliants. 
    15. Here, by way of objection, several questions are raised. 
Scripture relates that God sometimes complied with certain prayers 
which had been dictated by minds not duly calmed or regulated. It is 
true, that the cause for which Jotham imprecated on the inhabitants 
of Shechem the disaster which afterwards befell them was well 
founded; but still he was inflamed with anger and revenge, (Judges 
9: 20;) and hence God, by complying with the execration, seems to 
approve of passionate impulses. Similar fervor also seized Samson, 
when he prayed, "Strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, 
that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes," 
(Judges 16: 28.) For although there was some mixture of good zeal, 
yet his ruling feeling was a fervid, and therefore vicious longing 
for vengeance. God assents, and hence apparently it might be 
inferred that prayers are effectual, though not framed in conformity 
to the rule of the word. But I answer, _first_, that a perpetual law 
is not abrogated by singular examples; and, _secondly_, that special 
suggestions have sometimes been made to a few individuals, whose 
case thus becomes different from that of the generality of men. For 
we should attend to the answer which our Saviour gave to his 
disciples when they inconsiderately wished to imitate the example of 
Elias, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of," (Luke ix. 55.) 
We must, however, go farther and say, that the wishes to which God 
assents are not always pleasing to him; but he assents, because it 
is necessary, by way of example, to give clear evidence of the 
doctrine of Scripture, viz., that he assists the miserable, and 
hears the groans of those who unjustly afflicted implore his aid: 
and, accordingly, he executes his judgments when the complaints of 
the needy, though in themselves unworthy of attention, ascend to 
him. For how often, in inflicting punishment on the ungodly for 
cruelty, rapine, violence, lust, and other crimes, in curbing 
audacity and fury, and also in overthrowing tyrannical power, has he 
declared that he gives assistance to those who are unworthily 
oppressed though they by addressing an unknown deity only beat the 
air? There is one psalm which clearly teaches that prayers are not 
without effect, though they do not penetrate to heaven by faith, 
(Ps. 107: 6,13,19.) For it enumerates the prayers which, by natural 
instinct, necessity extorts from unbelievers not less than from 
believers, and to which it shows by the event, that God is, 
notwithstanding, propitious. Is it to testify by such readiness to 
hear that their prayers are agreeable to him? Nay; it is, first, to 
magnify or display his mercy by the circumstance, that even the 
wishes of unbelievers are not denied; and, secondly, to stimulate 
his true worshippers to more urgent prayer, when they see that 
sometimes even the wailings of the ungodly are not without avail. 
This, however, is no reason why believers should deviate from the 
law divinely imposed upon them, or envy unbelievers, as if they 
gained much in obtaining what they wished. We have observed, (chap. 
3: sec. 25,) that in this way God yielded to the feigned repentance 
of Ahab, that he might show how ready he is to listen to his elect 
when, with true contrition, they seek his favour. Accordingly, he 
upbraids the Jews, that shortly after experiencing his readiness to 
listen to their prayers, they returned to their own perverse 
inclinations. It is also plain from the Book of Judges that, 
whenever they wept, though their tears were deceitful, they were 
delivered from the hands of their enemies. Therefore, as God sends 
his sun indiscriminately on the evil and on the good, so he despises 
not the tears of those who have a good cause, and whose sorrows are 
deserving of relief. Meanwhile, though he hears them, it has no more 
to do with salvation than the supply of food which he gives to other 
despisers of his goodness. There seems to be a more difficult 
question concerning Abraham and Samuel, the one of whom, without any 
instruction from the word of God, prayed in behalf of the people of 
Sodom, and the other, contrary to an express prohibition, prayed in 
behalf of Saul, (Gen. 18: 23; 1 Sam. 15. 11.) Similar is the case of 
Jeremiah, who prayed that the city might not be destroyed, (Jer. 32: 
16ff.) It is true their prayers were refused, but it seems harsh to 
affirm that they prayed without faith. Modest readers will, I hope, 
be satisfied with this solution, viz., that leaning to the general 
principle on which God enjoins us to be merciful even to the 
unworthy, they were not altogether devoid of faith, though in this 
particular instance their wish was disappointed. Augustine shrewdly 
remarks, "How do the saints pray in faith when they ask from God 
contrary to what he has decreed? Namely, because they pray according 
to his will, not his hidden and immutable will, but that which he 
suggests to them, that he may hear them in another manner; as he 
wisely distinguishes," (August. de Civit. Dei, Lib. 22: 100: 2.) 
This is truly said: for, in his incomprehensible counsel, he so 
regulates events, that the prayers of the saints, though involving a 
mixture of faith and error, are not in vain. And yet this no more 
sanctions imitation than it excuses the saints themselves, who I 
deny not exceeded due bounds. Wherefore, whenever no certain promise 
exists, our request to God must have a condition annexed to it. Here 
we may refer to the prayer of David, "Awake for me to the judgment 
that thou hast commanded," (Ps. vii. 6;) for he reminds us that he 
had received special instruction to pray for a temporal blessing.[6] 
    16. It is also of importance to observe, that the four laws of 
prayer of which I have treated are not so rigorously enforced, as 
that God rejects the prayers in which he does not find perfect faith 
or repentance, accompanied with fervent zeal and wishes duly framed. 
We have said, (sec. 4,) that though prayer is the familiar 
intercourse of believers with God, yet reverence and modesty must be 
observed: we must not give loose reins to our wishes, nor long for 
any thing farther than God permits; and, moreover, lest the majesty 
of God should be despised, our minds must be elevated to pure and 
chaste veneration. This no man ever performed with due perfection. 
For, not to speak of the generality of men, how often do David's 
complaints savour of intemperance? Not that he actually means to 
expostulate with God, or murmur at his judgments, but failing, 
through infirmity, he finds no better solace than to pour his griefs 
into the bosom of his heavenly Father. Nay, even our stammering is 
tolerated by God, and pardon is granted to our ignorance as often as 
any thing rashly escapes us: indeed, without this indulgence, we 
should have no freedom to pray. But although it was David's 
intention to submit himself entirely to the will of God, and he 
prayed with no less patience than fervor, yet irregular emotions 
appear, nay, sometimes burst forth,-emotions not a little at 
variance with the first law which we laid down. In particular, we 
may see in a clause of the thirty-ninth Psalm, how this saint was 
carried away by the vehemence of his grief, and unable to keep 
within bounds. "O spare me,[7] that I may recover strength, before I 
go hence, and be no more," (Ps. 39: 13.) You would call this the 
language of a desperate man, who had no other desire than that God 
should withdraw and leave him to relish in his distresses. Not that 
his devout mind rushes into such intemperance, or that, as the 
reprobate are wont, he wishes to have done with God; he only 
complains that the divine anger is more than he can bear. During 
those trials, wishes often escape which are not in accordance with 
the rule of the word, and in which the saints do not duly consider 
what is lawful and expedient. Prayers contaminated by such faults, 
indeed, deserve to be rejected; yet provided the saints lament, 
administer self-correction and return to themselves, God pardons. 
Similar faults are committed in regard to the second law, (as to 
which, see sec. 6,) for the saints have often to struggle with their 
own coldness, their want and misery not urging them sufficiently to 
serious prayer. It often happens, also, that their minds wander, and 
are almost lost; hence in this matter also there is need of pardon, 
lest their prayers, from being languid or mutilated, or interrupted 
and wandering, should meet with a refusal. One of the natural 
feelings which God has imprinted on our mind is, that prayer is not 
genuine unless the thoughts are turned upward. Hence the ceremony of 
raising the hands, to which we have adverted, a ceremony known to 
all ages and nations, and still in common use. But who, in lifting 
up his hands, is not conscious of sluggishness, the heart cleaving 
to the earth? In regard to the petition for remission of sins, (sec. 
8,) though no believer omits it, yet all who are truly exercised in 
prayer feel that they bring scarcely a tenth of the sacrifice of 
which David speaks, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a 
broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise," (Ps. 51: 
17.) Thus a twofold pardon is always to be asked; first, because 
they are conscious of many faults the sense of which, however, does 
not touch them so as to make them feel dissatisfied with themselves 
as they ought; and, secondly, in so far as they have been enabled to 
profit in repentance and the fear of God, they are humbled with just 
sorrow for their offenses, and pray for the remission of punishment 
by the judge. The thing which most of all vitiates 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 perturbation. 
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. 
    17. But since no man is worthy to come forward in his own name, 
and appear in the presence of God, our heavenly Father, to relieve 
us at once from fear and shame, with which all must feel 
oppressed,[8] has given us his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to be our 
Advocate and Mediator, that under his guidance we may approach 
securely, confiding that with him for our Intercessor nothing which 
we ask in his name will be denied to us, as there is nothing which 
the Father can deny to him, (1 Tim. 2: 5; 1 John 2: 1; see sec. 36, 
37.) To this it is necessary to refer all that we have previously 
taught concerning faith; because, as the promise gives us Christ as 
our Mediator, so, unless our hope of obtaining what we ask is 
founded on him, it deprives us of the privilege of prayer. For it is 
impossible to think of the dread majesty of God without being filled 
with alarm; and hence the sense of our own unworthiness must keep us 
far away, until Christ interpose, and convert a throne of dreadful 
glory into a throne of grace, as the Apostle teaches that thus we 
can "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, 
and find grace to help in time of need," (Heb. 4: 16.) And as a rule 
has been laid down as to prayer, as a promise has been given that 
those who pray will be heard, so we are specially enjoined to pray 
in the name of Christ, the promise being that we shall obtain what 
we ask in his name. "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name," says our 
Saviour, "that will I do; that the Father may be glorified in the 
Son;" "Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name; ask, and ye shall 
receive, that your joy may be full," (John 14: 13; 16: 24.) Hence it 
is incontrovertibly clear that those who pray to God in any other 
name than that of Christ contumaciously falsify his orders, and 
regard his will as nothing, while they have no promise that they 
shall obtain. For, as Paul says "All the promises of God in him are 
yea, and in him amen;" (2 Cor. 1: 20,) that is, are confirmed and 
fulfilled in him. 
    18. And we must carefully attend to the circumstance of time. 
Christ enjoins his disciples to have recourse to his intercession 
after he shall have ascended to heaven: "At that day ye shall ask in 
my name," (John 16: 26.) It is certain, indeed, that from the very 
first all who ever prayed were heard only for the sake of the 
Mediator. For this reason God had commanded in the Law, that the 
priest alone should enter the sanctuary, bearing the names of the 
twelve tribes of Israel on his shoulders, and as many precious 
stones on his breast, while the people were to stand at a distance 
in the outer court, and thereafter unite their prayers with the 
priest. Nay, the sacrifice had even the effect of ratifying and 
confirming their prayers. That shadowy ceremony of the Law therefore 
taught, first, that we are all excluded from the face of God, and, 
therefore, that there is need of a Mediator to appear in our name, 
and carry us on his shoulders and keep us bound upon his breast, 
that we may be heard in his person; And secondly, that our prayers, 
which, as has been said, would otherwise never be free from 
impurity, are cleansed by the sprinkling of his blood. And we see 
that the saints, when they desired to obtain any thing, founded 
their hopes on sacrifices, because they knew that by sacrifice all 
prayers were ratified: "Remember all thy offerings," says David, 
"and accept thy burnt sacrifice," (Ps. 20: 3.) Hence we infer, that 
in receiving the prayers of his people, God was from the very first 
appeased by the intercession of Christ. Why then does Christ speak 
of a new period ("at that day") when the disciples were to begin to 
pray in his name, unless it be that this grace, being now more 
brightly displayed, ought also to be in higher estimation with us? 
In this sense he had said a little before, "Hitherto ye have asked 
nothing in my name; ask." Not that they were altogether ignorant of 
the office of Mediator, (all the Jews were instructed in these first 
rudiments,) but they did not clearly understand that Christ by his 
ascent to heaven would be more the advocate of the Church than 
before. Therefore, to solace their grief for his absence by some 
more than ordinary result, he asserts his office of advocate, and 
says, that hitherto they had been without the special benefit which 
it would be their privilege to enjoy, when aided by his intercession 
they should invoke God with greater freedom. In this sense the 
Apostle says that we have "boldness to enter into the holiest by the 
blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated 
for us," (Heb. 10: 19, 20.) Therefore, the more inexcusable we are, 
if we do not with both hands (as it is said) embrace the inestimable 
gift which is properly destined for us. 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 3, Part 22

(continued in part 23...)

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