Calvin and the Overarching Reason for Prayer

In an extended discussion of prayer, John Calvin suggested six reasons why believers should pray to God. Those reasons tell us a lot about what Calvin saw prayer accomplishing. However, over and above these six reasons, Calvin saw one overarching reason by Christians must pray. In his Institutes, Calvin began his discussion of prayer with this statement:

From those matters so far discussed, we clearly see how destitute and devoid of all good things man is, and how he lacks all aids to salvation. Therefore, if he seeks resources to succor [assist] him in his need, he must go outside himself and get them elsewhere…. After we have been instructed by faith to recognize that whatever we need and whatever we lack is in God, and in our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the Father willed all the fullness of his bounty to abide so that we may all draw from it as from an overflowing spring, it remains for us to see in him, and in prayers to ask him, what we have learned to be in him (Calvin, Institutes 3.20.1).

Calvin rightly recognized that believers are not sufficient in themselves to live as they ought, and he viewed prayer as the divinely appointed means by which Christians may obtain from God the ability to obey his commands. To fail to seek from God the things that we need and that he is able to give us, Calvin pointed out, is as foolish as neglecting a hidden treasure once it has been pointed out to us (3.20.1).

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One thought on “Calvin and the Overarching Reason for Prayer

  1. KG says:

    I have often heard people refer to Calvin as cold and intellectual. It is likely that people who say such things have never actually read him. His writing on prayer is a great example of the tender precision and pastoral concern of the man’s theology.

    Thank you for the post… and the reminder of how precious a gift prayer is.