Prayer – Why do it?

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin addresses why anyone should pray to God:

For there is a kind of [communication] 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.

Now, he takes as a given that we hold to this:

Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6 English Standard Version (ESV)

And have done this:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9 (ESV)

Calvin goes on to say that it is both necessary and useful to pray to the Lord for every good thing that He promises us. God reveals His promises to us in His word. Therefore, we should know the bible well.

Calvin points out that our only safety is in calling upon our heavenly Father:

Since by it we invoke the presence of His:

Providence to watch over our interests,

Power to sustain us when weak and almost fainting, and

Goodness to receive us into favor, though miserably loaded with sin.

Through prayer, we call upon Him to make evident to us all his excellent attributes.

As a result of calling upon Him, Calvin states:

Admirable peace and tranquility 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.

Next week, we’ll consider the question: “Why Should We Pray If He Is All-knowing?”

The Conversion of Paul - Caravaggio

Conversion on the Way to Damascus, circa 1600-1601, Caravaggio (1571–1610), public domain in the US

Authority of Scripture?

Since we appeal to the authority of the scriptures on this blog, we should discuss what we mean by it.

We agree with John Calvin in his defense of scripture’s necessity, authority, and character:

Institutes, Chapter 6: …For if we reflect how prone the human mind is to lapse into forgetfulness of God, how readily inclined to every kind of error, how bent every now and then on devising new and fictitious religions, it will be easy to understand how necessary it was to make such a depository of doctrine as would secure it from either perishing by the neglect, vanishing away amid the errors, or being corrupted by the presumptuous audacity of men.

It being thus manifest that God, foreseeing the inefficiency of his image imprinted on the fair form of the universe, has given the assistance of his Word to all whom he has ever been pleased to instruct effectually, we, too, must pursue this straight path, if we aspire in earnest to a genuine contemplation of God;—we must go, I say, to the Word, where the character of God, drawn from his works is described accurately and to the life; these works being estimated, not by our depraved Judgment, but by the standard of eternal truth.

Institutes, Chapter 7: …The next thing to be considered is, how it appears not probable merely, but certain, that the name of God is neither rashly nor cunningly pretended. If, then, we would consult most effectually for our consciences, and save them from being driven about in a whirl of uncertainty, from wavering, and even stumbling at the smallest obstacle, our conviction of the truth of Scripture must be derived from a higher source than human conjectures, Judgments, or reasons; namely, the secret testimony of the Spirit

Still, however, it is preposterous to attempt, by discussion, to rear up a full faith in Scripture…. Profane men think that religion rests only on opinion, and, therefore, that they may not believe foolishly, or on slight grounds, desire and insist to have it proved by reason that Moses and the prophets were divinely inspired. But I answer, that the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit…

Institutes, Chapter 8: …For it is wonderful how much we are confirmed in our belief, when we more attentively consider how admirably the system of divine wisdom contained in it is arranged—how perfectly free the doctrine is from everything that savors of earth—how beautifully it harmonizes in all its parts—and how rich it is in all the other qualities which give an air of majesty to composition.

Our hearts are still more firmly assured when we reflect that our admiration is elicited more by the dignity of the matter than by the graces of style. For it was not without an admirable arrangement of Providence, that the sublime mysteries of the kingdom of heaven have for the greater part been delivered with a contemptible meanness of words.

Had they been adorned with a more splendid eloquence, the wicked might have caviled, and alleged that this constituted all their force. But now, when an unpolished simplicity, almost bordering on rudeness, makes a deeper impression than the loftiest flights of oratory, what does it indicate if not that the Holy Scriptures are too mighty in the power of truth to need the rhetorician’s art?

In light of our previous post, we do not so much agree with the tone with which Calvin defends his positions (and these are mild). He’d definitely have given the current crop of vehement deniers a run for their money were he alive in this day and age.

Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva after storm. Picture taken from Montreux, on the left side in the rays of light – Saint-Gingolph by Rulexip. (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

We say that the scriptures, in the original languages, carry God’s authority as His proclamation of redemption for all who will believe. We say this, rather than maintain, as some do, that they are an accretion of fables or that they consist of truths [that] are illusions which we’ve forgotten are illusions. We believe that God deigns to use vernacular translations in the communication of His truth to the world. We see the scriptures as the window He offers us through which we may know the True and Living God.