Of Prayer by John Calvin

Translated by Henry Beveridge



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,
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.



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
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 realised 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 section.
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
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 earth.
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 examples.
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 prayer.
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 head
34. The form of prayer delivered by Christ displays the boundless
goodness of our heavenly Father. The great comfort thereby afforded.
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 petitions.
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
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. xxxvi. 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. x. 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. viii. 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 xviii. 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. cxlv.
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. xxxiv. 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. cxxi. 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 fervour 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 grovelling 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 xxv. 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. lxii. 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 v.
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. viii.
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 sloths 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. xiv. 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 hearts.
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 fervour and vehemency 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 afficted? let him pray. Is any merry? let
him sing psalms," (James v. 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. vi. 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 i. 15.) In like manner, in
Jeremiah, "Though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them,"
(Jer. xi. 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 xxix. 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 iii.
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
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. ix.
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 cxliii. 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. lxiv. 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. xiv. 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 ii. 18, 19; iii. 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 xxv. 7.) Again, "Look upon my
affliction and my pain, and forgive my sins," (Psalm xxv. 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 li. 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 whon 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 Saviour'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 i. 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.
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. lxxxvi. 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.
xxxviii. 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. xxxiv. 16:) and again by the apostle, that
"whatsoever we ask of him we obtain, because we keep his commandments,"
(John iii. 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 ix. 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. iii. 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. v. 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 xi.
24.) The same thing he declares in another passage, "All things,
whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive," (Matth.
xxi. 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 i. 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 v. 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. x. 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. iv. 16;) and elsewhere teaches us to "have boldness and
access with confidence by the faith of Christ," (Eph. iii. 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. xxxiii.
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. lvi. 9.) Again, "In the morning will I direct
my prayer unto thee, and will look up," (Ps. v. 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. xli. 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. l. 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. vii. 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. xiii. 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. lxv. 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. l. 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. vii. 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 fulfil
the desire of them that fear him," (Ps. cxlv. 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 ardour 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 vigour.
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. ii.13). "The name of the Lord," says
Solomon, "is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it, and is
safe." (Pr. xviii.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 ii. 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 ansever; and while they are yet
speaking, I will hear." (Is. lxv. 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. xci.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 sluggislmess 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. cxlv. 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. vii. 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 cxix. 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. xxxii. 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 haronize.
Jeremiah and David speak of humbly laying their supplications[5] before
God (Jer. xlii. 9; Dan. ix. 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. xlii. 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 xix. 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. cxli. 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 ix. 20;) and hence God, by
complying with the execration, seems to approve of passionate impulses.
Similar fervour 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 xvi. 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. cvii. 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. iii. 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. xviii. 23; 1 Sam.
xv. 11.) Similar is the case of Jeremiah, who prayed that the city might
not be destroyed, (Jer. xxxii. 16ff.) It is true their prayers were
refused, but it seems harsh to affirm that thev 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. xxii. c. 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 vith 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 fervour, 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. xxxix. 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. li. 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. lxxx. 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. iii. 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 wth 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
hinderances, 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. ii. 5; 1 John ii. 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. iv.
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 xiv. 13; xvi. 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. i. 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 xvi. 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. xx. 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. x. 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
19. Moreover since he himself is the only way and the only access
by which we can draw near to God, those who deviate from this way, and
decline this access, have no other remaining; his throne presents
nothing but wrath, judgment, and terror. In short, as the Father has
consecrated him our guide and head, those who abandon or turn aside from
him in any way endeavour, as much as in them lies, to sully and efface
the stamp which God has impressed. Christ, therefore, is the only
Mediator by whose intercession the Father is rendered propitious and
exorable, (1 Tim. ii. 5.) For though the saints are still permitted to
use intercessions, by which they mutually beseech God in behalf of each
others salvation, and of which the Apostle makes mention, (Eph. vi. 18,
19; 1 Tim. ii. 1;) yet these depend on that one intercession, so far are
they from derogating from it. For as the intercessions which, as members
of one body we offer up for each other, spring from the feeling of love,
so they have reference to this one head. Being thus also made in the
name of Christ, what more do they than declare that no man can derive
the least benefit from any prayers without the intercession of Christ?
As there is nothing in the intercession of Christ to prevent the
different members of the Church from offering up prayers for each other,
so let it be held as a fixed principle, that all the intercessions thus
used in the Church must have reference to that one intercession. Nay, we
must be specially careful to show our gratitude on this very account,
that God pardoning our unworthiness, not only allows each individual to
pray for himself, but allows all to intercede mutually for each other.
God having given a place in his Church to intercessors who would deserve
to be rejected when praying privately on their own account, how
presumptuous were it to abuse this kindness by employing it to obscure
the honour of Christ?
20. Moreover, the Sophists are guilty of the merest trifling when
they allege that Christ is the Mediator of _redemption_, but that
believers are mediators of _intercession_; as if Christ had only
performed a temporary mediation, and left an eternal and imperishable
mediation to his servants. Such, forsooth, is the treatment which he
receives from those who pretend only to take from him a minute portion
of honour. Very different is the language of Scripture, with whose
simplicity every pious man will be satisfied, without paying any regard
to those importers. For when John says, "If any man sin, we have an
advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous," (1 John ii. 1,)
does he mean merely that we once had an advocate; does he not rather
ascribe to him a perpetual intercession? What does Paul mean when he
declares that he "is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh
intercession for us"? (Rom. viii. 32.) But when in another passage he
declares that he is the only Mediator between God and man, (1 Tim. ii.
5,) is he not referring to the supplications which he had mentioned a
little before? Having previously said that prayers were to be offered up
for all men, he immediately adds, in confirmation of that statement,
that there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man. Nor does
Augustine give a different interpretation when he says, "Christian men
mutually recommend each other in their prayers. But he for whom none
intercedes, while he himself intercedes for all, is the only true
Mediator. Though the Apostle Paul was under the head a principal member,
yet because he was a member of the body of Christ, and knew that the
most true and High Priest of the Church had entered not by figure into
the inner veil to the holy of holies, but by firm and express truth into
the inner sanctuary of heaven to holiness, holiness not imaginary, but
eternal (Heb ix. 11, 24), he also commends himself to the prayers of the
faithful (Rom. xv. 30; Eph. vi.19; Col. iv. 3.) He does not make himself
a mediator between God and the people, but asks that all the members of
the body of Christ should pray mutually for each other, since the
members are mutually sympathetic: if one member suffers, the others
suffer with it (1 Cor. xii. 26.) And thus the mutual prayers of all the
members still labouring on the earth ascend to the Head, who has gone
before into heaven, and in whom there is propitiation for our sins. For
if Paul were a mediator, so would also the other apostles, and thus
there would be many mediators, and Paul's statement could not stand,
'There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ
Jesus;' (1 Tim. ii. 5) in whom we also are one (Rom. xii. 5) if we keep
the unity of the faith in the bond of peace (Eph. iv. 3)," (August.
Contra Parmenian, Lib. ii. cap. 8.) Likewise in another passage
Augustine says, "If thou requirest a priest, he is above the heavens,
where he intercedes for those who on earth died for thee," (August. in
Ps. xciv.) We imagine not that he throws himself before his Father's
knees, and suppliantly intercedes for us; but we understand with the
Apostle, that he appears in the presence of God, and that the power of
his death has the effect of a perpetual intercession for us; that having
entered into the upper sanctuary, he alone continues to the end of the
world to present the prayers of his people, who are standing far off in
the outer court.
21. In regard to the saints who having died in the body live in
Christ, if we attribute prayer to them, let us not imagine that they
have any other way of supplicating God than through Christ who alone is
the way, or that their prayers are accepted by God in any other name.
Wherefore, since the Scripture calls us away from all others to Christ
alone, since our heavenly Father is pleased to gather together all
things in him, it were the extreme of stupidity, not to say madness, to
attempt to obtain access by means of others, so as to be drawn away from
him without whom access cannot be obtained. But who can deny that this
was the practice for several ages, and is still the practice, wherever
Popery prevails? To procure the favour of God, human merits are ever and
anon obtruded, and very frequently while Christ is passed by, God is
supplicated in their name. I ask if this is not to transfer to them that
office of sole intercession which we have above claimed for Christ? Then
what angel or devil ever announced one syllable to any human being
concerning that fancied intercession of theirs? There is not a word on
the subject in Scripture. What ground then was there for the fiction?
Certainly, while the human mind thus seeks help for itself in which it
is not sanctioned by the word of God, it plainly manifests its distrust,
(see s. 27.) But if we appeal to the consciences of all who take
pleasure in the intercession of saints, we shall find that their only
reason for it is, that they are filled with anxiety, as if they supposed
that Christ were insufficient or too rigorous. By this anxiety they
dishonour Christ, and rob him of his title of sole Mediator, a title
which being given him by the Father as his special privilege, ought not
to be transferred to any other. By so doing they obscure the glory of
his nativity and make void his cross; in short, divest and defraud of
due praise everything which he did or suffered, since all which he did
and suffered goes to show that he is and ought to be deemed sole
Mediator. At the same time, they reject the kindness of God in
manifesting himself to them as a Father, for he is not their Father if
they do not recognize Christ as their brother. This they plainly refuse
to do if they think not that he feels for them a brother's affection;
affection than which none can be more gentle or tender. Wherefore
Scripture offers him alone, sends us to him, and establishes us in him.
"He," says Ambrose, "is our mouth by which we speak to the Father; our
eye by which we see the Father; our right hand by which we offer
ourselves to the Father. Save by his intercession neither we nor any
saints have any intercourse with God," (Ambros. Lib. de Isaac et Anima.)
If they object that the public prayers which are offered up in churches
conclude with the words, _through Jesus Christ our Lord_, it is a
frivolous evasion; because no less insult is offered to the intercession
of Christ by confounding it with the prayers and merits of the dead,
than by omitting it altogether, and making mention only of the dead.
Then, in all their litanies, hymns, and proses where every kind of
honour is paid to dead saints, there is no mention of Christ.
22. But here stupidity has proceeded to such a length as to give a
manifestation of the genius of superstition, which, when once it has
shaken off the rein, is wont to wanton without limit. After men began to
look to the intercession of saints, a peculiar administration was
gradually assigned to each, so that, according to diversity of business,
now one, now another, intercessor was invoked. Then individuals adopted
particular saints, and put their faith in them, just as if they had been
tutelar deities. And thus not only were gods set up according to the
number of the cities, (the charge which the prophet brought against
Israel of old, Jer. ii. 28; xi. 13,) but according to the number of
individuals. But while the saints in all their desires refer to the will
of God alone, look to it, and acquiesce in it, yet to assign to them any
other prayer than that of longing for the arrival of the kingdom of God,
is to think of them stupidly, carnally, and even insultingly. Nothing
can be farther from such a view than to imagine that each, under the
influence of private feeling, is disposed to be most favourable to his
own worshippers. At length vast numbers have fallen into the horrid
blasphemy of invoking them not merely as helping but presiding over
their salvation. See the depth to which miserable men fall when they
forsake their proper station, that is, the word of God. I say nothing of
the more monstrous specimens of impiety in which, though detestable to
God, angels, and men, they themselves feel no pain or shame. Prostrated
at a statue or picture of Barbara or Catherine, and the like, they
mutter a _Pater Noster_;[9] and so far are their pastors[10] from curing
or curbing this frantic course, that, allured by the scent of gain, they
approve and applaud it. But while seeking to relieve themselves of the
odium of this vile and criminal procedure, with what pretext can they
defend the practice of calling upon Eloy (Eligius) or Medard to look
upon their servants, and send them help from heaven, or the Holy Virgin
to order her Son to do what they ask?[11] The Council of Carthage
forbade direct prayer to be made at the altar to saints. It is probable
that these holy men, unable entirely to suppress the force of depraved
custom, had recourse to this check, that public prayers might not be
vitiated with such forms of expression as _Sancte Petre, ora pro nobis--
St Peter, pray for us_. But how much farther has this devilish
extravagance proceeded when men hesitate not to transfer to the dead the
peculiar attributes of Christ and God?
23. In endeavouring to prove that such intercession derives some
support from Scripture they labour in vain. We frequently read (they
say) of the prayers of angels, and not only so, but the prayers of
believers are said to be carried into the presence of God by their
hands. But if they would compare saints who have departed this life with
angels, it will be necessary to prove that saints are ministering
spirits, to whom has been delegated the office of superintending our
salvation, to whom has been assigned the province of guiding us in all
our ways, of encompassing, admonishing, and comforting us, of keeping
watch over us. All these are assigned to angels, but none of them to
saints. How preposterously they confound departed saints with angels is
sufficiently apparent from the many different offices by which Scripture
distinguishes the one from the other. No one unless admitted will
presume to perform the office of pleader before an earthly judge; whence
then have worms such license as to obtrude themselves on God as
intercessors, while no such office has been assigned them? God has been
pleased to give angels the charge of our safety. Hence they attend our
sacred meetings, and the Church is to them a theatre in which they
behold the manifold wisdom of God, (Eph. iii. 10.) Those who transfer to
others this office which is peculiar to them, certainly pervert and
confound the order which has been established by God and ought to be
inviolable. With similar dexterity they proceed to quote other passages.
God said to Jeremiah, "Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my
mind could not be toward this people," (Jer. xv. 1.) How (they ask)
could he have spoken thus of the dead but because he knew that they
interceded for the living? My inference, on the contrary, is this: since
it thus appears that neither Moses nor Samuel interceded for the people
of Israel, there was then no intercession for the dead. For who of the
saints can be supposed to labour for the salvation of the peoples while
Moses who, when in life, far surpassed all others in this matter, does
nothing? Therefore, if they persist in the paltry quibble, that the dead
intercede for the living, because the Lord said, "_If they stood before
me_," (_intercesserint_,) I will argue far more speciously in this way:
Moses, of whom it is said, "_if he interceded_," did not intercede for
the people in their extreme necessity: it is probable, therefore, that
no other saint intercedes, all being far behind Moses in humanity,
goodness, and paternal solicitude. Thus all they gain by their cavilling
is to be wounded by the very arms with which they deem themselves
admirably protected. But it is very ridiculous to wrest this simple
sentence in this manner; for the Lord only declares that he would not
spare the iniquities of the people, though some Moses or Samuel, to
whose prayers he had shown himself so indulgent, should intercede for
them. This meaning is most clearly elicited from a similar passage in
Ezekiel: "Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it,
they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith
the Lord God," (Ezek. xiv. 14.) Here there can be no doubt that we are
to understand the words as if it had been said, If two of the persons
named were again to come alive; for the third was still living, namely,
Daniel, who it is well known had then in the bloom of youth given an
incomparable display of piety. Let us therefore leave out those whom
Scripture declares to have completed their course. Accordingly, when
Paul speaks of David, he says not that by his prayers he assisted
posterity, but only that he "served his own generation," (Acts xiii.
24. They again object, Are those, then, to be deprived of every
pious wish, who, during the whole course of their lives, breathed
nothing but piety and mercy? I have no wish curiously to pry into what
they do or meditate; but the probability is, that instead of being
subject to the impulse of various and particular desires, they, with one
fixed and immoveable will, long for the kingdom of God, which consists
not less in the destruction of the ungodly than in the salvation of
believers. If this be so, there cannot be a doubt that their charity is
confined to the communion of Christ's body, and extends no farther than
is compatible with the nature of that communion. But though I grant that
in this way they pray for us, they do not, however, lose their
quiescence so as to be distracted with earthly cares: far less are they,
therefore, to be invoked by us. Nor does it follow that such invocation
is to be used because, while men are alive upon the earth, they can
mutually commend themselves to each other's prayers. It serves to keep
alive a feeling of charity when they, as it were, share each other's
wants, and bear each other's burdens. This they do by the command of the
Lord, and not without a promise, the two things of primary importance in
prayer. But all such reasons are inapplicable to the dead, with whom the
Lord, in withdrawing them from our society, has left us no means of
intercourse, (Eccles. ix. 5, 6,) and to whom, so far as we can
conjecture, he has left no means of intercourse with us. But if any one
allege that they certainly must retain the same charity for us, as they
are united with us in one faith, who has revealed to us that they have
ears capable of listening to the sounds of our voice, or eyes clear
enough to discern our necessities? Our opponents, indeed, talk in the
shade of their schools of some kind of light which beams upon departed
saints from the divine countenance, and in which, as in a mirror, they,
from their lofty abode, behold the affairs of men; but to affirm this
with the confidence which these men presume to use, is just to desire,
by means of the extravagant dreams of our own brain, and without any
authority, to pry and penetrate into the hidden judgments of God, and
trample upon Scripture, which so often declares that the wisdom of our
flesh is at enmity with the wisdom of God, utterly condemns the vanity
of our mind, and humbling our reason, bids us look only to the will of
25. The other passages of Scripture which they employ to defend
their error are miserably wrested. Jacob (they say) asks for the sons of
Joseph, "Let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers,
Abraham and Isaac," (Gen. xlviii. 16.) First, let us see what the nature
of this invocation was among the Israelites. They do not implore their
fathers to bring succour to them, but they beseech God to remember his
servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Their example, therefore, gives no
countenance to those who use addresses to the saints themselves. But
such being the dulness of these blocks, that they comprehend not what it
is to invoke the name of Jacob, nor why it is to be invoked, it is not
strange that they blunder thus childishly as to the mode of doing it.
The expression repeatedly occurs in Scripture. Isaiah speaks of women
being called by the name of men, when they have them for husbands and
live under their protection, (Isa. iv. 1.) The calling of the name of
Abraham over the Israelites consists in referring the origin of their
race to him, and holding him in distinguished remembrance as their
author and parent. Jacob does not do so from any anxiety to extend the
celebrity of his name, but because he knows that all the happiness of
his posterity consisted in the inheritance of the covenant which God had
made with them. Seeing that this would give them the sum of all
blessings, he prays that they may be regarded as of his race, this being
nothing else than to transmit the succession of the covenant to them.
They again, when they make mention of this subject in their prayers, do
not betake themselves to the intercession of the dead, but call to
remembrance that covenant in which their most merciful Father undertakes
to be kind and propitious to them for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob. How little, in other respects, the saints trusted to the merits
of their fathers, the public voice of the Church declares in the
prophets "Doubtless thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of
us, and Israel acknowledge us not; thou, O Lord, art our Father, our
Redeemer," (Isa. lxiii. 16.) And while the Church thus speaks, she at
the same time adds, "Return for thy servants' sake," not thinking of any
thing like intercession, but adverting only to the benefit of the
covenant. Now, indeed, when we have the Lord Jesus, in whose hand the
eternal covenant of mercy was not only made but confirmed, what better
name can we bear before us in our prayers? And since those good Doctors
would make out by these words that the Patriarchs are intercessors, I
should like them to tell me why, in so great a multitude,[12] no place
whatever is given to Abraham, the father of the Church? We know well
from what a crew they select their intercessors.[13] Let them then tell
me what consistency there is in neglecting and rejecting Abraham, whom
God preferred to all others, and raised to the highest degree of honour.
The only reason is, that as it was plain there was no such practice in
the ancient Church, they thought proper to conceal the novelty of the
practice by saying nothing of the Patriarchs: as if by a mere diversity
of names they could excuse a practice at once novel and impure. They
sometimes, also, object that God is entreated to have mercy on his
people "for David's sake," (Ps. cxxxii. 10; see Calv. Com.) This is so
far from supporting their error, that it is the strongest refutation of
it. We must consider the character which David bore. He is set apart
from the whole body of the faithful to establish the covenant which God
made in his hand. Thus regard is had to the covenant rather than to the
individual. Under him as a type the sole intercession of Christ is
asserted. But what was peculiar to David as a type of Christ is
certainly inapplicable to others.
26. But some seem to be moved by the fact, that the prayers of
saints are often said to have been heard. Why? Because they prayed.
"They cried unto thee," (says the Psalmist,) "and were delivered: they
trusted in thee, and were not confounded," (Ps. xxii. 5.) Let us also
pray after their example, that like them we too may be heard. Those men,
on the contrary, absurdly argue that none will be heard but those who
have been heard already. How much better does James argue, "Elias was a
man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it
might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three
years and six months. And he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and
the earth brought forth her fruit." (James v. 17, 18.) What? Does he
infer that Elias possessed some peculiar privilege, and that we must
have recourse to him for the use of it? By no means. He shows the
perpetual efficacy of a pure and pious prayer, that we may be induced in
like manner to pray. For the kindness and readiness of God to hear
others is malignantly interpreted, if their example does not inspire us
with stronger confidence in his promise, since his declaration is not
that he will incline his ear to one or two, or a few individuals, but to
all who call upon his name. In this ignorance they are the less
excusable, because they seem as it were avowedly to contemn the many
admonitions of Scripture. David was repeatedly delivered by the power of
God. Was this to give that power to him that we might be delivered on
his application? Very different is his affirmation: "The righteous shall
compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me," (Ps. cxlii.
7.) Again, "The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at
him," (Ps. lii. 6.) "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and
saved him out of all his troubles," (Ps. xxxiv. 6.) In The Psalms are
many similar prayers, in which David calls upon God to give him what he
asks, for this reason, viz., that the righteous may not be put to shame,
but by his example encouraged to hope. Here let one passage suffice,
"For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when
thou mayest be found," (Ps. xxxii. 6, Calv. Com.) This passage I have
quoted the more readily, because those ravers who employ their hireling
tongues in defense of the Papacy, are not ashamed to adduce it in proof
of the intercession of the dead. As if David intended any thing more
than to show the benefit which he shall obtain from the divine clemency
and condescension when he shall have been heard. In general, we must
hold that the experience of the grace of God, as well towards ourselves
as towards others, tends in no slight degree to confirm our faith in his
promises. I do not quote the many passages in which David sets forth the
loving-kindness of God to him as a ground of confidence, as they will
readily occur to every reader of The Psalms. Jacob had previously taught
the same thing by his own example, "I am not worthy of the least of all
thy mercies, and of all the truth which thou hast showed unto thy
servant: for with my staff l passed over this Jordan; and now I am
become two bands," (Gen. xxxii. 10.) He indeed alleges the promise, but
not the promise only; for he at the same time adds the effect, to
animate him with greater confidence in the future kindness of God. God
is not like men who grow weary of their liberality, or whose means of
exercising it become exhausted; but he is to be estimated by his own
nature, as David properly does when he says, "Thou hast redeemed me, O
Lord God of truth," (Ps xxxi. 5.) After ascribing the praise of his
salvation to God, he adds that he is true: for were he not ever like
himself, his past favour would not be an infallible ground for
confidence and prayer. But when we know that as often as he assists us,
he gives us a specimen and proof of his goodness and faithfulness, there
is no reason to fear that our hope will be ashamed or frustrated.
27. On the whole, since Scripture places the principal part of
worship in the invocation of God, (this being the office of piety which
he requires of us in preference to all sacrifices,) it is manifest
sacrilege to offer prayer to others. Hence it is said in the psalm: "If
we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a
strange god, shall not God search this out?" (Ps. xliv. 20, 21.) Again,
since it is only in faith that God desires to be invoked, and he
distinctly enjoins us to frame our prayers according to the rule of his
word: in fine, since faith is founded on the word, and is the parent of
right prayer, the moment we decline from the word, our prayers are
impure. But we have already shown, that if we consult the whole volume
of Scripture, we shall find that God claims this honour to himself
alone. In regard to the office of intercession, we have also seen that
it is peculiar to Christ, and that no prayer is agreeable to God which
he as Mediator does not sanctify. And though believers mutually offer up
prayers to God in behalf of their brethren, we have shown that this
derogates in no respect from the sole intercession of Christ, because
all trust to that intercession in commending themselves as well as
others to God. Moreover, we have shown that this is ignorantly
transferred to the dead, of whom we nowhere read that they were
commanded to pray for us. The Scripture often exhorts us to offer up
mutual prayers; but says not one syllable concerning the dead; nay,
James tacitly excludes the dead when he combines the two things, to
"confess our sins one to another, and to pray one for another," (James
v. 16.) Hence it is sufficient to condemn this error, that the beginning
of right prayer springs from faith, and that faith comes by the hearing
of the word of God, in which there is no mention of fictitious
intercession, superstition having rashly adopted intercessors who have
not been divinely appointed. While the Scripture abounds in various
forms of prayer, we find no example of this intercession, without which
Papists think there is no prayer. Moreover, it is evident that this
superstition is the result of distrust, because they are either not
contented with Christ as an intercessor, or have altogether robbed him
of this honour. This last is easily proved by their effrontery in
maintaining, as the strongest of all their arguments for the
intercession of the saints, that we are unworthy of familiar access to
Glod. This, indeed, we acknowledge to be most true, but we thence infer
that they leave nothing to Christ, because they consider his
intercession as nothing, unless it is supplemented by that of George and
Hypolyte, and similar phantoms.
28. But though prayer is properly confined to vows and
supplications, yet so strong is the affinity between petition and
thanksgiving, that both may be conveniently comprehended under one name.
For the forms which Paul enumerates (1 Tim. ii. 1) fall under the first
member of this division. By prayer and supplication we pour out our
desires before God, asking as well those things which tend to promote
his glory and display his name, as the benefits which contribute to our
advantage. By thanksgiving we duly celebrate his kindnesses toward us,
ascribing to his liberality every blessing which enters into our lot.
David accordingly includes both in one sentence, "Call upon me in the
day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me," (Ps. l.
15.) Scripture, not without reason, commands us to use both continually.
We have already described the greatness of our want, while experience
itself proclaims the straits which press us on every side to be so
numerous and so great, that all have sufficient ground to send forth
sighs and groans to God without intermission, and suppliantly implore
him. For even should they be exempt from adversity, still the holiest
ought to be stimulated first by their sins, and, secondly, by the
innumerable assaults of temptation, to long for a remedy. The sacrifice
of praise and thanksgiving can never be interrupted without guilt, since
God never ceases to load us with favour upon favour, so as to force us
to gratitude, however slow and sluggish we may be. In short, so great
and widely diffused are the riches of his liberality towards us, so
marvellous and wondrous the miracles which we behold on every side, that
we never can want a subject and materials for praise and thanksgiving.
To make this somewhat clearer: since all our hopes and resources
are placed in God, (this has already been fully proved,) so that neither
our persons nor our interests can prosper without his blessing, we must
constantly submit ourselves and our all to him. Then whatever we
deliberate, speak, or do, should be deliberated, spoken, and done under
his hand and will; in fine, under the hope of his assistance. God has
pronounced a curse upon all who, confiding in themselves or others, form
plans and resolutions, who, without regarding his will, or invoking his
aid, either plan or attempt to execute, (James iv. 14; Isaiah xxx. 1;
xxxi. 1.) And since, as has already been observed, he receives the
honour which is due when he is acknowledged to be the author of all
good, it follows that, in deriving all good from his hand, we ought
continually to express our thankfulness, and that we have no right to
use the benefits which proceed from his liberality, if we do not
assiduously proclaim his praise, and give him thanks, these being the
ends for which they are given. When Paul declares that every creature of
God "is sanctified by the word of God and prayers" (1 Tim. iv. 5,) he
intimates that without the word and prayers none of them are holy and
pure, _word_ being used metonymically for _faith_. Hence David, on
experiencing the loving-kindness of the Lord, elegantly declares, "He
hath put a new song in my mouth," (Ps. xl. 3;) intimating, that our
silence is malignant when we leave his blessings unpraised, seeing every
blessing he bestows is a new ground of thanksgiving. Thus Isaiah,
proclaiming the singular mercies of God, says, "Sing unto the Lord a new
song (Is. xlii. 10.)" In the same sense David says in another passage,
"O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise,"
(Ps. li. 15.) In like manner, Hezekiah and Jonah declare that they will
regard it as the end of their deliverance "to celebrate the goodness of
God with songs in his temple," (Is. xxxviii. 20; Jonah ii. 10.) David
lays down a general rule for all believers in these words, "What shall I
render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup
of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord," (Ps. cxvi. 12, 13.)
This rule the Church follows in another psalm, "Save us, O Lord our God,
and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks unto thy holy name,
and to triumph in thy praise," (Ps. cvi. 47.) Again, "He will regard the
prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. This shall be
written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be
created shall praise the Lord." "To declare the name of the Lord in
Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem," (Ps. cii. 18, 21.) Nay, whenever
believers beseech the Lord to do anything _for his own name's sake_, as
they declare themselves unworthy of obtaining it in their own name, so
they oblige themselves to give thanks, and promise to make the right use
of his lovingkindness by being the heralds of it. Thus Hosea, speaking
of the future redemption of the Church, says, "Take away all iniquity,
and receive us graciously; so will we render the calves of our lips,"
(Hos. xiv. 2.) Not only do our tongues proclaim the kindness of God, but
they naturally inspire us with love to him. "I love the Lord, because he
hath heard my voice and my supplications," (Ps. cxvi. 1.) In another
passage, speaking of the help which he had experienced, he says, "I will
love thee, O Lord, my strength," (Ps. xviii. 1.) No praise will ever
please God that does not flow from this feeling of love. Nay, we must
attend to the declaration of Paul, that all wishes are vicious and
perverse which are not accompanied with thanksgiving. His words are, "In
everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your
requests be made known unto God," (Phil. iv. 6.) Because many, under the
influence of moroseness, weariness, impatience, bitter grief and fear,
use murmuring in their prayers, he enjoins us so to regulate our
feelings as cheerfully to bless God even before obtaining what we ask.
But if this connection ought always to subsist in full vigour between
things that are almost contrary, the more sacred is the tie which binds
us to celebrate the praises of God whenever he grants our requests. And
as we have already shown that our prayers, which otherwise would be
polluted) are sanctified by the intercession of Christ, so the Apostle,
by enjoining us "to offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually" by
Christ, (Heb. xiii. 15,) reminds us, that without the intervention of
his priesthood our lips are not pure enough to celebrate the name of
God. Hence we infer that a monstrous delusion prevails among Papists,
the great majority of whom wonder when Christ is called an intercessor.
The reason why Paul enjoins, "Pray without ceasing; in every thing give
thanks," (1 Thess. v. 17, 18,) is, because he would have us with the
utmost assiduity, at all times, in every place, in all things, and under
all circumstances, direct our prayers to God, to expect all the things
which we desire from him, and when obtained ascribe them to him; thus
furnishing perpetual grounds for prayer and praise.
29. This assiduity in prayer, though it specially refers to the
peculiar private prayers of individuals, extends also in some measure to
the public prayers of the Church. These, it may be said, cannot be
continual, and ought not to be made, except in the manner which, for the
sake of order, has been established by public consent. This I admit, and
hence certain hours are fixed beforehand, hours which, though
indifferent in regard to God, are necessary for the use of man, that the
general convenience may be consulted, and all things be done in the
Church, as Paul enjoins, "decently and in order," (1 Cor. xiv. 40.) But
there is nothing in this to prevent each church from being now and then
stirred up to a more frequent use of prayer and being more zealously
affected under the impulse of some greater necessity. Of perseverance in
prayer, which is much akin to assiduity, we shall speak towards the
close of the chapter, (sec. 51, 52.) This assiduity, moreover, is very
different from the BATTOLOGIAN (Greek--English "yammering"), _vain
speaking_, which our Saviour has prohibited, (Matth. vi. 7.) For he does
not there forbid us to pray long or frequently, or with great fervour,
but warns us against supposing that we can extort anything from God by
importuning him with garrulous loquacity, as if he were to be persuaded
after the manner of men. We know that hypocrites, because they consider
not that they have to do with God, offer up their prayers as pompously
as if it were part of a triumphal show. The Pharisee, who thanked God
that he was not as other men, no doubt proclaimed his praises before
men, as if he had wished to gain a reputation for sanctity by his
prayers. Hence that vain speaking, which for a similar reason prevails
so much in the Papacy in the present day, some vainly spinning out the
time by a reiteration of the same frivolous prayers, and others
employing a long series of verbiage for vulgar display.[14] This
childish garrulity being a mockery of God, it is not strange that it is
prohibited in the Church, in order that every feeling there expressed
may be sincere, proceeding from the inmost heart. Akin to this abuse is
another which our Saviour also condemns, namely, when hypocrites for the
sake of ostentation court the presence of many witnesses, and would
sooner pray in the market-place than pray without applause. The true
object of prayer being, as we have already said, (sec. 4, 5,) to carry
our thoughts directly to God, whether to celebrate his praise or implore
his aid, we can easily see that its primary seat is in the mind and
heart, or rather that prayer itself is properly an effusion and
manifestation of internal feeling before Him who is the searcher of
hearts. Hence, (as has been said,) when our divine Master was pleased to
lay down the best rule for prayer, his injunction was, "Enter into thy
closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in
secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly,"
(Matth. vi. 6.) Dissuading us from the example of hypocrites, who sought
the applause bf men by an ambitious ostentation in prayer, he adds the
better course--enter thy chamber, shut thy door, and there pray. By
these words (as I understand them) he taught us to seek a place of
retirement which might enable us to turn all our thoughts inwards and
enter deeply into our hearts, promising that God would hold converse
with the feelings of our mind, of which the body ought to be the temple.
He meant not to deny that it may be expedient to pray in other places
also, but he shows that prayer is somewhat of a secret nature, having
its chief seat in the mind, and requiring a tranquillity far removed
from the turmoil of ordinary cares. And hence it was not without cause
that our Lord himself, when he would engage more earnestly in prayer,
withdrew into a retired spot beyond the bustle of the world, thus
reminding us by his example that we are not to neglect those helps which
enable the mind, in itself too much disposed to wander, to become
sincerely intent on prayer. Meanwhile, as he abstained not from prayer
when the occasion required it, though he were in the midst of a crowd,
so must we, whenever there is need, lift up "pure hands" (1 Tim. ii. 8)
at all places. And hence we must hold that he who declines to pray in
the public meeting of the saints, knows not what it is to pray apart, in
retirement, or at home. On the other hand, he who neglects to pray alone
and in private, however sedulously he frequents public meetings, there
gives his prayers to the wind, because he defers more to the opinion of
man than to the secret judgment of God. Still, lest the public prayers
of the Church should be held in contempt, the Lord anciently bestowed
upon them the most honourable appellation, especially when he called the
temple the "_house of prayer_," (Isa. lvi. 7.) For by this expression he
both showed that the duty of prayer is a principal part of his worship,
and that to enable believers to engage in it with one consent his temple
is set up before them as a kind of banner. A noble promise was also
added, "Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion: and unto thee shall the
vow be performed," (Ps. lxv. 1.)[15] By these words the Psalmist reminds
us that the prayers of the Church are never in vain; because God always
furnishes his people with materials for a song of joy. But although the
shadows of the law have ceased, yet because God was pleased by this
ordinance to foster the unity of the faith among us also, there can be
no doubt that the same promise belongs to us--a promise which Christ
sanctioned with his own lips, and which Paul declares to be perpetually
in force.
30. As God in his word enjoins common prayer, so public temples are
the places destined for the performance of them, and hence those who
refuse to join with the people of God in this observance have no ground
for the pretext, that they enter their chamber in order that they may
obey the command of the Lord. For he who promises to grant whatsoever
two or three assembled in his name shall ask, (Matth. xviii. 20,)
declares, that he by no means despises the prayers which are publicly
offered up, provided there be no ostentation, or catching at human
applause, and provided there be a true and sincere affection in the
secret recesses of the heart.[16] If this is the legitimate use of
churches, (and it certainly is,) we must, on the other hand, beware of
imitating the practice which commenced some centuries ago, of imagining
that churches are the proper dwellings of God, where he is more ready to
listen to us, or of attaching to them some kind of secret sanctity,
which makes prayer there more holy. For seeing we are the true temples
of God, we must pray in ourselves if we would invoke God in his holy
temple. Let us leave such gross ideas to the Jews or the heathen,
knowing that we have a command to pray without distinction of place, "in
spirit and in truth," (John iv. 23.) It is true that by the order of God
the temple was anciently dedicated for the offering of prayers and
sacrifices, but this was at a time when the truth (which being now fully
manifested, we are not permitted to confine to any material temple) lay
hid under the figure of shadows. Even the temple was not represented to
the Jews as confining the presence of God within its walls, but was
meant to train them to contemplate the image of the true temple.
Accordingly, a severe rebuke is administered both by Isaiah and Stephen,
to those who thought that God could in any way dwell in temples made
with hands, (Isa. lxvi. 2; Acts vii. 48.)
31. Hence it is perfectly clear that neither words nor singing (if
used in prayer) are of the least consequence, or avail one iota with
God, unless they proceed from deep feeling in the heart. Nay, rather
they provoke his anger against us, if they come from the lips and throat
only, since this is to abuse his sacred name, and hold his majesty in
derision. This we infer from the words of Isaiah, which, though their
meaning is of wider extent, go to rebuke this vice also: "Forasmuch as
this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour
me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me
is taught by the precept of men: therefore, behold, I will proceed to do
a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a
wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the
understanding of their prudent men shall be hid," (Isa. xxix. 13.) Still
we do not condemn words or singing, but rather greatly commend them,
provided the feeling of the mind goes along with them. For in this way
the thought of God is kept alive on our minds, which, from their fickle
and versatile nature, soon relax, and are distracted by various objects,
unless various means are used to support them. Besides, since the glory
of God ought in a manner to be displayed in each part of our body, the
special service to which the tongue should be devoted is that of singing
and speaking, inasmuch as it has been expressly created to declare and
proclaim the praise of God. This employment of the tongue is chiefly in
the public services which are performed in the meeting of the saints. In
this way the God whom we serve in one spirit and one faith, we glorify
together as it were with one voice and one mouth; and that openly, so
that each may in turn receive the confession of his brother's faith, and
be invited and incited to imitate it.
32. It is certain that the use of singing in churches (which I may
mention in passing) is not only very ancient, but was also used by the
Apostles, as we may gather from the words of Paul, "I will sing with the
spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also," (1 Cor. xiv. 15.)
In like manner he says to the Colossians, "Teaching and admonishing one
another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in
your hearts to the Lord," (Col. iii. 16.) In the former passage, he
enjoins us to sing with the voice and the heart; in the latter, he
commends spiritual Songs, by which the pious mutually edify each other.
That it was not an universal practice, however, is attested by
Augustine, (Confess. Lib. ix. cap. 7,) who states that the church of
Milan first began to use singing in the time of Ambrose, when the
orthodox faith being persecuted by Justina, the mother of Valentinian,
the vigils of the people were more frequent than usual;[17] and that the
practice was afterwards followed by the other Western churches. He had
said a little before that the custom came from the East.[18] He also
intimates (Retract. Lib. ii.) that it was received in Africa in his own
time. His words are, "Hilarius, a man of tribunitial rank, assailed with
the bitterest invectives he could use the custom which then began to
exist at Carthage, of singing hymns from the book of Psalms at the
altar, either before the oblation, or when it was distributed to the
people; I answered him, at the request of my brethren."[19] And
certainly if singing is tempered to a gravity befitting the presence of
God and angels, it both gives dignity and grace to sacred actions, and
has a very powerful tendency to stir up the mind to true zeal and ardour
in prayer. We must, however, carefully beware, lest our ears be more
intent on the music than our minds on the spiritual meaning of the
words. Augustine confesses (Confess. Lib. x. cap. 33) that the fear of
this danger sometimes made him wish for the introduction of a practice
observed by Athanasius, who ordered the reader to use only a gentle
inflection of the voice, more akin to recitation than singing. But on
again considering how many advantages were derived from singing, he
inclined to the other side.[20] If this moderation is used, there cannot
be a doubt that the practice is most sacred and salutary. On the other
hand, songs composed merely to tickle and delight the ear are unbecoming
the majesty of the Church, and cannot but be most displeasing to God.
33. It is also plain that the public prayers are not to be couched
in Greek among the Latins, nor in Latin among the French or English, (as
hitherto has been every where practised,) but in the vulgar tongue, so
that all present may understand them, since they ought to be used for
the edification of the whole Church, which cannot be in the least degree
benefited by a sound not understood. Those who are not moved by any
reason of humanity or charity, ought at least to be somewhat moved by
the authority of Paul, whose words are by no means ambiguous: "When thou
shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the
unlearned say, Amen, at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth
not what thou sayest? For thou verily givest thanks, but the other is
not edified," (1 Cor. xiv. 16, 17.) How then can one sufficiently admire
the unbridled license of the Papists, who, while the Apostle publicly
protests against it, hesitate not to bawl out the most verbose prayers
in a foreign tongue, prayers of which they themselves sometimes do not
understand one syllable, and which they have no wish that others should
understand?[21] Different is the course which Paul prescribes, "What is
it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the
understanding also; I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with
the understanding also:" meaning by the _spirit_ the special gift of
tongues, which some who had received it abused when they dissevered it
from the mind, that is, the understanding. The principle we must always
hold is, that in all prayer, public and private, the tongue without the
mind must be displeasing to God. Moreover, the mind must be so incited,
as in ardour of thought far to surpass what the tongue is able to
express. Lastly, the tongue is not even necessary to private prayer,
unless in so far as the internal feeling is insufficient for incitement,
or the vehemence of the incitement carries the utterance of the tongue
along with it. For although the best prayers are sometimes without
utterance, yet when the feeling of the mind is overpowering, the tongue
spontaneously breaks forth into utterance, and our other members into
gesture. Hence that dubious muttering of Hannah, (1 Sam. i. 13,)
something similar to which is experienced by all the saints when concise
and abrupt expressions escape from them. The bodily gestures usually
observed in prayer, such as kneeling and uncovering of the head, (Calv.
in Acts xx. 36,) are exercises by which we attempt to rise to higher
veneration of God.
34. We must now attend not only to a surer method, but also form of
prayer, that, namely, which our heavenly Father has delivered to us by
his beloved Son, and in which we may recognize his boundless goodness
and condescension, (Matth. vi. 9; Luke xi. 2.) Besides admonishing and
exhorting us to seek him in our every necessity, (as children are wont
to betake themselves to the protection of their parents when oppressed
with any anxiety,) seeing that we were not fully aware how great our
poverty was, or what was right or for our interest to ask, he has
provided for this ignorance; that wherein our capacity failed he has
sufficiently supplied. For he has given us a form in which is set before
us as in a picture every thing which it is lawful to wish, every thing
which is conducive to our interest, every thing which it is necessary to
demand. From his goodness in this respect we derive the great comfort of
knowing, that as we ask almost in his words, we ask nothing that is
absurd, or foreign, or unseasonable; nothing, in short, that is not
agreeable to him. Plato, seeing the ignorance of men in presenting their
desires to God, desires which if granted would often be most injurious
to them, declares the best form of prayer to be that which an ancient
poet has furnished: "O king Jupiter, give what is best, whether we wish
it or wish it not; but avert from us what is evil even though we ask
it," (Plato, Alcibiad. ii.) This heathen shows his wisdom in discerning
how dangerous it is to ask of God what our own passion dictates; while,
at the same time, he reminds us of our unhappy condition in not being
able to open our lips before God without dangers unless his Spirit
instruct us how to pray aright, (Rom. viii. 26.) The higher value,
therefore, ought we to set on the privilege, when the only begotten Son
of God puts words into our lips, and thus relieves our minds of all
35. This form or rule of prayer is composed of _six petitions_. For
I am prevented from agreeing with those who divide it into _seven_ by
the adversative mode of diction used by the Evangelist, who appears to
have intended to unite the two members together; as if he had said, Do
not allow us to be overcome by temptation, but rather bring assistance
to our frailty, and deliver us that we may not fall. Ancient writers[22]
also agree with us, that what is added by Matthew as a seventh head is
to be considered as explanatory of the sixth petition.[23] But though in
every part of the prayer the first place is assigned to the glory of
God, still this is more especially the object of the three first
petitions, in which we are to look to the glory of God alone, without
any reference to what is called our own advantage. The three remaining
petitions are devoted to our interest, and properly relate to things
which it is useful for us to ask. When we ask that the name of God may
be hallowed, as God wishes to prove whether we love and serve him
freely, or from the hope of reward, we are not to think at all of our
own interest; we must set his glory before our eyes, and keep them
intent upon it alone. In the other similar petitions, this is the only
manner in which we ought to be affected. It is true, that in this way
our own interest is greatly promoted, because, when the name of God is
hallowed in the way we ask, our own sanctification also is thereby
promoted. But in regard to this advantage, we must, as I have said, shut
our eyes, and be in a manner blind, so as not even to see it; and hence
were all hope of our private advantage cut off, we still should never
cease to wish and pray for this hallowing, and every thing else which
pertains to the glory of God. We have examples in Moses and Paul, who
did not count it grievous to turn away their eyes and minds from
themselves, and with intense and fervent zeal long for death, if by
their loss the kingdom and glory of God might be promoted, (Exod. xxxii.
32; Rom. ix. 3.) On the other hand, when we ask for daily bread,
although we desire what is advantageous for ourselves, we ought also
especially to seek the glory of God, so much so that we would not ask at
all unless it were to turn to his glory. Let us now proceed to an
exposition of the Prayer.


36. The first thing suggested at the very outset is, as we have
already said, (sec. 17-19,) that all our prayers to God ought only to be
presented in the name of Christ, as there is no other name which can
recommend them. In calling God our Father, we certainly plead the name
of Christ. For with what confidence could any man call God his Father?
Who would have the presumption to arrogate to himself the honour of a
son of God were we not gratuitously adopted as his sons in Christ? He
being the true Son, has been given to us as a brother, so that that
which he possesses as his own by nature becomes ours by adoption, if we
embrace this great mercy with firm faith. As John says, "As many as
received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to
them that believe in his name," (John i. 12.) Hence he both calls
himself our Father, and is pleased to be so called by us, by this
delightful name relieving us of all distrust, since no where can a
stronger affection be found than in a father. Hence, too, he could not
have given us a stronger testimony of his boundless love than in calling
us his sons. But his love towards us is so much the greater and more
excellent than that of earthly parents, the farther he surpasses all men
in goodness and mercy, (Isaiah lxiii. 16.) Earthly parents, laying aside
all paternal affection, might abandon their offspring; he will never
abandon us, (Ps. xxvii. 10,) seeing he cannot deny himself. For we have
his promise, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto
your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give
good things to them that ask him?" (Matth. vii. 11.) In like manner in
the prophet, "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not
have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will
not I forget thee," (Isaiah xlix. 15.) But if we are his sons, then as a
son cannot betake himself to the protection of a stranger and a
foreigner without at the same time complaining of his father's cruelty
or poverty, so we cannot ask assistance from any other quarter than from
him, unless we would upbraid him with poverty, or want of means, or
cruelty and excessive austerity.
37. Nor let us allege that we are justly rendered timid by a
consciousness of sin, by which our Father, though mild and merciful, is
daily offended. For if among men a son cannot have a better advocate to
plead his cause with his father, and cannot employ a better intercessor
to regain his lost favour, than if he come himself suppliant and
downcast, acknowledging his fault, to implore the mercy of his father,
whose paternal feelings cannot but be moved by such entreaties, what
will that "Father of all mercies, and God of all comfort," do? (2 Cor.
i. 3.) Will he not rather listen to the tears and groans of his
children, when supplicating for themselves, (especially seeing he
invites and exhorts us to do so,) than to any advocacy of others to whom
the timid have recourse, not without some semblance of despair, because
they are distrustful of their father's mildness and clemency? The
exuberance of his paternal kindness he sets before us in the parable,
(Luke xv. 20; see Calv. Comm.) when the father with open arms receives
the son who had gone away from him, wasted his substance in riotous
living, and in all ways grievously sinned against him. He waits not till
pardon is asked in words, but, anticipating the request, recognizes him
afar off, runs to meet him, consoles him, and restores him to favour. By
setting before us this admirable example of mildness in a man, he
designed to show in how much greater abundance we may expect it from him
who is not only a Father, but the best and most merciful of all fathers,
however ungrateful, rebellious, and wicked sons we may be, provided only
we throw ourselves upon his mercy. And the better to assure us that he
is such a Father if we are Christians, he has been pleased to be called
not only a Father, but our Father, as if we were pleading with him after
this manner, O Father, who art possessed of so much affection for thy
children, and art so ready to forgive, we thy children approach thee and
present our requests, fully persuaded that thou hast no other feelings
towards us than those of a father, though we are unworthy of such a
parent.[24] But as our narrow hearts are incapable of comprehending such
boundless favour, Christ is not only the earnest and pledge of our
adoption, but also gives us the Spirit as a witness of this adoption,
that through him we may freely cry aloud, Abba, Father. Whenever,
therefore, we are restrained by any feeling of hesitation, let us
remember to ask of him that he may correct our timidity, and placing us
under the magnanimous guidance of the Spirit, enable us to pray boldly.
38. The instruction given us, however, is not that every individual
in particular is to call him Father, but rather that we are all in
common to call him Our Father. By this we are reminded how strong the
feeling of brotherly love between us ought to be, since we are all
alike, by the same mercy and free kindness, the children of such a
Father. For if He from whom we all obtain whatever is good is our common
Father, (Matth. xxiii. 9,) every thing which has been distributed to us
we should be prepared to communicate to each other, as far as occasion
demands. But if we are thus desirous as we ought, to stretch out our
hands and give assistance to each other, there is nothing by which we
can more benefit our brethren than by committing them to the care and
protection of the best of parents, since if He is propitious and
favourable nothing more can be desired. And, indeed, we owe this also to
our Father. For as he who truly and from the heart loves the father of a
family, extends the same love and good-will to all his household, so the
zeal and affection which we feel for our heavenly Parent it becomes us
to extend towards his people, his family, and, in fine, his heritage,
which he has honoured so highly as to give them the appellation of the
"fulness" of his only begotten Son," (Eph. i. 23.) Let the Christian,
then, so regulate his prayers as to make them common, and embrace all
who are his brethren in Christ; not only those whom at present he sees
and knows to be such, but all men who are alive upon the earth. What God
has determined with regard to them is beyond our knowledge, but to wish
and hope the best concerning them is both pious and humane. Still it
becomes us to regard with special affection those who are of the
household of faith, and whom the Apostle has in express terms
recommended to our care in every thing, (Gal. vi. 10.) In short, all our
prayers ought to bear reference to that community which our Lord has
established in his kingdom and family.
39. This, however, does not prevent us from praying specially for
ourselves, and certain others, provided our mind is not withdrawn from
the view of this community, does not deviate from it, but constantly
refers to it. For prayers, though couched in special terms, keeping that
object still in view, cease not to be common. All this may easily be
understood by analogy. There is a general command from God to relieve
the necessities of all the poor, and yet this command is obeyed by those
who with that view give succour to all whom they see or know to be in
distress, although they pass by many whose wants are not less urgent,
either because they cannot know or are unable to give supply to all. In
this way there is nothing repugnant to the will of God in those who,
giving heed to this common society of the Church, yet offer up
particular prayers, in which, with a public mind, though in special
terms, they commend to God themselves or others, with whose necessity he
has been pleased to make them more familiarly acquainted.
It is true that prayer and the giving of our substance are not in
all respects alike. We can only bestow the kindness of our liberality on
those of whose wants we are aware, whereas in prayer we can assist the
greatest strangers, how wide soever the space which may separate them
from us. This is done by that general form of prayer which, including
all the sons of God, includes them also. To this we may refer the
exhortation which Paul gave to the believers of his age, to lift up
"holy hands without wrath and doubting," (1 Tim. ii. 8.) By reminding
them that dissension is a bar to prayer, he shows it to be his wish that
they should with one accord present their prayers in common.
40. The next words are, WHICH ART IN HEAVEN. From this we are not
to infer that he is enclosed and confined within the circumference of
heaven, as by a kind of boundaries. Hence Solomon confesses, "The heaven
of heavens cannot contain thee," (1 Kings viii. 27;) and he himself says
by the Prophet, "The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my
footstool," (Isa. lxvi. 1;) thereby intimating, that his presence, not
confined to any region, is diffused over all space. But as our gross
minds are unable to conceive of his ineffable glory, it is designated to
us by _heaven_, nothing which our eyes can behold being so full of
splendour and majesty. While, then, we are accustomed to regard every
object as confined to the place where our senses discern it, no place
can be assigned to God; and hence, if we would seek him, we must rise
higher than all corporeal or mental discernment. Again, this form of
expression reminds us that he is far beyond the reach of change or
corruption, that he holds the whole universe in his grasp, and rules it
by his power. The effect of the expressions therefore, is the same as if
it had been said, that he is of infinite majesty, incomprehensible
essence, boundless power, and eternal duration. When we thus speak of
God, our thoughts must be raised to their highest pitch; we must not
ascribe to him any thing of a terrestrial or carnal nature, must not
measure him by our little standards, or suppose his will to be like
ours. At the same time, we must put our confidence in him, understanding
that heaven and earth are governed by his providence and power. In
short, under the name of Father is set before us that God, who hath
appeared to us in his own image, that we may invoke him with sure faith;
the familiar name of Father being given not only to inspire confidence,
but also to curb our minds, and prevent them from going astray after
doubtful or fictitious gods. We thus ascend from the only begotten Son
to the supreme Father of angels and of the Church. Then when his throne
is fixed in heaven, we are reminded that he governs the world, and,
therefore, that it is not in vain to approach him whose present care we
actually experience. "He that cometh to God," says the Apostle, "must
believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently
seek him," (Heb. xi. 6.) Here Christ makes both claims for his Father,
_first_, that we place our faith in him; and, _secondly_ ,that we feel
assured that our salvation is not neglected by him, inasmuch as he
condescends to extend his providence to us. By these elementary
principles Paul prepares us to pray aright; for before enjoining us to
make our requests known unto God, he premises in this way, "The Lord is
at hand. Be careful for nothing," (Phil. iv. 5, 6.) Whence it appears
that doubt and perplexity hang over the prayers of those in whose minds
the belief is not firmly seated, that "the eyes of the Lord are upon the
righteous," (Ps. xxxiv. 15.)
41. The first petition is, HALLOWED BE THY NAME. The necessity of
presenting it bespeaks our great disgrace. For what can be more
unbecoming than that our ingratitude and malice should impair, our
audacity and petulance should as much as in them lies destroy, the glory
of God? But though all the ungodly should burst with sacrilegious rage,
the holiness of God's name still shines forth. Justly does the Psalmist
exclaim, "According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends
of the earth," (Ps. xlviii. 10.) For wherever God hath made himself
known, his perfections must be displayed, his power, goodness, wisdom,
justice, mercy, and truth, which fill us with admiration, and incite us
to show forth his praise. Therefore, as the name of God is not duly
hallowed on the earth, and we are otherwise unable to assert it, it is
at least our duty to make it the subject of our prayers. The sum of the
whole is, It must be our desire that God may receive the honour which is
his due: that men may never think or speak of him without the greatest
reverence. The opposite of this reverence is profanity, which has always
been too common in the world, and is very prevalent in the present day.
Hence the necessity of the petition, which, if piety had any proper
existence among us, would be superfluous. But if the name of God is duly
hallowed only when separated from all other names it alone is glorified,
we are in the petition enjoined to ask not only that God would vindicate
his sacred name from all contempt and insult, but also that he would
compel the whole human race to reverence it. Then since God manifests
himself to us partly by his word, and partly by his works, he is not
sanctified unless in regard to both of these we ascribe to him what is
due, and thus embrace whatever has proceeded from him, giving no less
praise to his justice than to his mercy. On the manifold diversity of
his works he has inscribed the marks of his glory, and these ought to
call forth from every tongue an ascription of praise. Thus Scripture
will obtain its due authority with us, and no event will hinder us from
celebrating the praises of God, in regard to every part of his
government. On the other hand, the petition implies a wish that all
impiety which pollutes this sacred name may perish and be extinguished,
that every thing which obscures or impairs his glory, all detraction and
insult, may cease; that all blasphemy being suppressed, the divine
majesty may be more and more signally displayed.
42. The second petition is, THY KINGDOM COME. This contains nothing
new, and yet there is good reason for distinguishing it from the first.
For if we consider our lethargy in the greatest of all matters, we shall
see how necessary it is that what ought to be in itself perfectly known
should be inculcated at greater length. Therefore, after the injunction
to pray that God would reduce to order, and at length completely efface
every stain which is thrown on his sacred name, another petition,
containing almost the same wish, is added, viz., Thy kingdom come.
Although a definition of this kingdom has already been given, I now
briefly repeat that God reigns when men, in denial of themselves and
contempt of the world and this earthly life, devote themselves to
righteousness and aspire to heaven, (see Calvin, Harm. Matth. vi.) Thus
this kingdom consists of two parts; the first is, when God by the agency
of his Spirit corrects all the depraved lusts of the flesh, which in
bands war against Him; and the second, when he brings all our thoughts
into obedience to his authority. This petition, therefore, is duly
presented only by those who begin with themselves; in other words, who
pray that they may be purified from all the corruptions which disturb
the tranquillity and impair the purity of God's kingdom. Then as the
word of God is like his royal sceptre, we are here enjoined to pray that
he would subdue all minds and hearts to voluntary obedience. This is
done when by the secret inspiration of his Spirit he displays the
efficacy of his word, and raises it to the place of honour which it
deserves. We must next descend to the wicked, who perversely and with
desperate madness resist his authority. God, therefore, sets up his
kingdom, by humbling the whole world, though in different ways, taming
the wantonness of some, and breaking the ungovernable pride of others.
We should desire this to be done every day, in order that God may gather
churches to himself from all quarters of the world, may extend and
increase their numbers, enrich them with his gifts, establish due order
among them; on the other hand, beat down all the enemies of pure
doctrine and religion, dissipate their counsels, defeat their attempts.
Hence it appears that there is good ground for the precept which enjoins
daily progress, for human affairs are never so prosperous as when the
impurities of vice are purged away, and integrity flourishes in full
vigour. The completion, however, is deferred to the final advent of
Christ, when, as Paul declares, "God will be all in all," (1 Cor. xv.
28.) This prayer, therefore, ought to withdraw us from the corruptions
of the world which separate us from God, and prevent his kingdom from
flourishing within us; secondly, it ought to inflame us with an ardent
desire for the mortification of the flesh; and, lastly, it ought to
train us to the endurance of the cross; since this is the way in which
God would have his kingdom to be advanced. It ought not to grieve us
that the outward man decays provided the inner man is renewed. For such
is the nature of the kingdom of God, that while we submit to his
righteousness he makes us partakers of his glory. This is the case when
continually adding to his light and truth, by which the lies and the
darkness of Satan and his kingdom are dissipated, extinguished, and
destroyed, he protects his people, guides them aright by the agency of
his Spirit, and confirms them in perseverance; while, on the other hand,
he frustrates the impious conspiracies of his enemies, dissipates their
wiles and frauds, prevents their malice and curbs their petulance, until
at length he consume Antichrist "with the spirit of his mouth," and
destroy all impiety "with the brightness of his coming," (2 Thess. ii.
8, Calv. Com.)
43. The third petition is, THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN
HEAVEN. Though this depends on his kingdom, and cannot be disjoined from
it, yet a separate place is not improperly given to it on account of our
ignorance, which does not at once or easily apprehend what is meant by
God reigning in the world. This, therefore, may not improperly be taken
as the explanation, that God will be King in the world when all shall
subject themselves to his will. We are not here treating of that secret
will by which he governs all things, and destines them to their end,
(see chap. xxiv. s. 17.) For although devils and men rise in tumult
against him, he is able by his incomprehensible counsel not only to turn
aside their violence, but make it subservient to the execution of his
decrees. What we here speak of is another will of God, namely, that of
which voluntary obedience is the counterpart; and, therefore, heaven is
expressly contrasted with earth, because, as is said in The Psalms, the
angels "do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word,"
(Ps. ciii. 20.) We are, therefore, enjoined to pray that as everything
done in heaven is at the command of God, and the angels are calmly
disposed to do all that is right, so the earth may be brought under his
authority, all rebellion and depravity having been extinguished. In
presenting this request we renounce the desires of the flesh, because he
who does not entirely resign his affections to God, does as much as in
him lies to oppose the divine will, since everything which proceeds from
us is vicious. Again, by this prayer we are taught to deny ourselves,
that God may rule us according to his pleasure; and not only so, but
also having annihilated our own may create new thoughts and new minds so
that we shall have no desire save that of entire agreement with his
will; in short, wish nothing of ourselves, but have our hearts governed
by his Spirit, under whose inward teaching we may learn to love those
things which please and hate those things which displease him. Hence
also we must desire that he would nullify and suppress all affections
which are repugnant to his will.
Such are the three first heads of the prayer, in presenting which
we should have the glory of God only in view, taking no account of
ourselves, and paying no respect to our own advantage, which, though it
is thereby greatly promoted, is not here to be the subject of request.
And though all the events prayed for must happen in their own time,
without being either thought of, wished, or asked by us, it is still our
duty to wish and ask for them. And it is of no slight importance to do
so, that we may testify and profess that we are the servants and
children of God, desirous by every means in our power to promote the
honour due to him as our Lord and Father, and truly and thoroughly
devoted to his service. Hence if men, in praying that the name of God
may be hallowed, that his kingdom may come, and his will be done, are
not influenced by this zeal for the promotion of his glory, they are not
to be accounted among the servants and children of God; and as all these
things will take place against their will, so they will turn out to
their confusion and destruction.
44. Now comes the second part of the prayer, in which we descend to
our own interests, not, indeed, that we are to lose sight of the glory
of God, (to which, as Paul declares, we must have respect even in meat
and drink, 1 Cor. x. 31,) and ask only what is expedient for ourselves;
but the distinction, as we have already observed, is this: God claiming
the three first petitions as specially his own, carries us entirely to
himself, that in this way he may prove our piety. Next he permits us to
look to our own advantage, but still on the condition, that when we ask
anything for ourselves it must be in order that all the benefits which
he confers may show forth his glory, there being nothing more incumbent
on us than to live and die to him.
By the first petition of the second part, GIVE US THIS DAY OUR
DAILY BREAD, we pray in general that God would give us all things which
the body requires in this sublunary state, not only food and clothing,
but everything which he knows will assist us to eat our bread in peace.
In this way we briefly cast our care upon him, and commit ourselves to
his providence, that he may feed, foster, and preserve us. For our
heavenly Father disdains not to take our body under his charge and
protection, that he may exercise our faith in those minute matters,
while we look to him for everything, even to a morsel of bread and a
drop of water. For since, owing to some strange inequality, we feel more
concern for the body than for the soul, many who can trust the latter to
God still continue anxious about the former, still hesitate as to what
they are to eat, as to how they are to be clothed, and are in
trepidation whenever their hands are not filled with corn, and wine, and
oil, so much more value do we set on this shadowy, fleeting life, than
on a blessed immortality. But those who, trusting to God, have once cast
away that anxiety about the flesh, immediately look to him for greater
gifts, even salvation and eternal life. It is no slight exercise of
faith, therefore, to hope in God for things which would otherwise give
us so much concern; nor have we made little progress when we get quit of
this unbelief, which cleaves, as it were, to our very bones.
The speculations of some concerning supersubstantial bread seem to
be very little accordant with our Saviour's meaning; for our prayer
would be defective were we not to ascribe to God the nourishment even of
this fading life. The reason which they give is heathenish, viz., that
it is inconsistent with the character of sons of God, who ought to be
spiritual, not only to occupy their mind with earthly cares, but to
suppose God also occupied with them. As if his blessing and paternal
favour were not eminently displayed in giving us food, or as if there
were nothing in the declaration that godliness hath "the promise of the
life that now is, and of that which is to come," (1 Tim. iv. 8.) But
although the forgiveness of sins is of far more importance than the
nourishment of the body, yet Christ has set down the inferior in the
prior place, in order that he might gradually raise us to the other two
petitions, which properly belong to the heavenly life,--in this
providing for our sluggishness. We are enjoined to ask _our bread_, that
we may be contented with the measure which our heavenly Father is
pleased to dispense, and not strive to make gain by illicit arts.
Meanwhile, we must hold that the title by which it is ours is donation,
because, as Moses says, (Levit. xxvi. 20, Deut. viii. 17,) neither our
industry, nor labour, nor hands, acquire any thing for us, unless the
blessing of God be present; nay, not even would abundance of bread be of
the least avail were it not divinely converted into nourishment. And
hence this liberality of God is not less necessary to the rich than the
poor, because, though their cellars and barns were full, they would be
parched and pine with want did they not enjoy his favour along with
their bread. The terms _this day_, or, as it is in another Evangelist,
_daily_, and also the epithet _daily_, lay a restraint on our immoderate
desire of fleeting good--a desire which we are extremely apt to indulge
to excess, and from which other evils ensue: for when our supply is in
richer abundance we ambitiously squander it in pleasure, luxury,
ostentation, or other kinds of extravagance. Wherefore, we are only
enjoined to ask as much as our necessity requires, and as it were for
each day, confiding that our heavenly Father, who gives us the supply of
to-day, vill not fail us on the morrow. How great soever our abundance
may be, however well filled our cellars and granaries, we must still
always ask for daily bread, for we must feel assured that all substance
is nothing, unless in so far as the Lord, by pouring out his blessing,
make it fruitful during its whole progress; for even that which is in
our hand is not ours except in so far as he every hour portions it out,
and permits us to use it. As nothing is more difficult to human pride
than the admission of this truth, the Lord declares that he gave a
special proof for all ages, when he fed his people with manna in the
desert, (Deut. viii. 3,) that he might remind us that "man shall not
live by bread alone, but by every word that proeeedeth out of the mouth
of God," (Matth. iv. 4.) It is thus intimated, that by his power alone
our life and strength are sustained, though he ministers supply to us by
bodily instruments. In like manner, whenever it so pleases, he gives us
a proof of an opposite description, by breaking the strength, or, as he
himself calls it, the _staff_ of bread, (Levit. xxvi. 26,) and leaving
us even while eating to pine with hunger, and while drinking to be
parched with thirst. Those who, not contented with daily bread, indulge
an unrestrained insatiable cupidity, or those who are full of their own
abundance, and trust in their own riches, only mock God by offering up
this prayer. For the former ask what they would be unwilling to obtain,
nay, what they most of all abominate, namely, daily bread only, and as
much as in them lies disguise their avarice from God, whereas true
prayer should pour out the whole soul and every inward feeling before
him. The latter, again, ask what they do not at all expect to obtain,
namely, what they imagine that they in themselves already possess. In
its being called _ours_, God, as we have already said, gives a striking
display of his kindness, making that to be ours to which we have no just
claim. Nor must we reject the view to which I have already adverted,
viz., that this name is given to what is obtained by just and honest
labour, as contrasted with what is obtained by fraud and rapine, nothing
being our own which we obtain with injury to others. When we ask God to
_give us_, the meaning is, that the thing asked is simply and freely the
gift of God, whatever be the quarter from which it comes to us, even
when it seems to have been specially prepared by our own art and
industry, and procured by our hands, since it is to his blessing alone
that all our labours owe their success.
45. The next petition is, FORGIVE ITS OUR DEBTS. In this and the
following petition our Saviour has briefly comprehended whatever is
conducive to the heavenly life, as these two members contain the
spiritual covenant which God made for the salvation of his Church, "I
will put my law in their inward parts, and write it on their hearts." "I
will pardon all their iniquities," (Jer. xxxi. 33; xxxiii. 8.) Here our
Saviour begins with the forgiveness of sins, and then adds the
subsequent blessing, viz., that God would protect us by the power, and
support us by the aid of his Spirit, so that we may stand invincible
against all temptations. To sins he gives the name of _debts_, because
we owe the punishment due to them, a debt which we could not possibly
pay were we not discharged by this remission, the result of his free
mercy, when he freely expunges the debt, accepting nothing in return;
but of his own mercy receiving satisfaction in Christ, who gave himself
a ransom for us, (Rom. iii. 24.) Hence, those who expect to satisfy God
by merits of their own or of others, or to compensate and purchase
forgiveness by means of satisfactions, have no share in this free
pardon, and while they address God in this petition, do nothing more
than subscribe their own accusation, and seal their condemnation by
their own testimony. For they confess that they are debtors, unless they
are discharged by means of forgiveness. This forgiveness, however, they
do not receive, but rather reject, when they obtrude their merits and
satisfactions upon God, since by so doing they do not implore his mercy,
but appeal to his justice. Let those, again, who dream of a perfection
which makes it unnecessary to seek pardon, find their disciples among
those whose itching ears incline them to imposture,[25] (see Calv. on
Dan. ix. 20;) only let them understand that those whom they thus acquire
have been carried away from Christ, since he, by instructing all to
confess their guilt, receives none but sinners, not that he may soothe,
and so encourage them in their sins, but because he knows that believers
are never so divested of the sins of the flesh as not to remain subject
to the justice of God. It is, indeed, to be wished, it ought even to be
our strenuous endeavour, to perform all the parts of our duty, so as
truly to congratulate ourselves before God as being pure from every
stain; but as God is pleased to renew his image in us by degrees, so
that to some extent there is always a residue of corruption in our
flesh, we ought by no means to neglect the remedy. But if Christ,
according to the authority given him by his Father, enjoins us, during
the whole course of our lives, to implore pardon, who can tolerate those
new teachers who, by the phantom of perfect innocence, endeavour to
dazzle the simple, and make them believe that they can render themselves
completely free from guilt? This, as John declares, is nothing else than
to make God a liar, (1 John i. 10.) In like manner, those foolish men
mutilate the covenant in which we have seen that our salvation is
contained by concealing one head of it, and so destroying it entirely;
being guilty not only of profanity in that they separate things which
ought to be indissolubly connected; but also of wickedness and cruelty
in overwhelming wretched souls with despair--of treachery also to
themselves and their followers, in that they encourage themselves in a
carelessness diametrically opposed to the mercy of God. It is
excessively childish to object, that when they long for the advent of
the kingdom of God, they at the same time pray for the abolition of sin.
In the former division of the prayer absolute perfection is set before
us; but in the latter our own weakness. Thus the two fitly correspond to
each other--we strive for the goal, and at the same time neglect not the
remedies which our necessities require.
In the next part of the petition we pray to be forgiven, "_as we
forgive our debtors;_" that is, as we spare and pardon all by whom we
are in any way offended, either in deed by unjust, or in word by
contumelious treatment. Not that we can forgive the guilt of a fault or
offence; this belongs to God only; but we can forgive to this extent: we
can voluntarily divest our minds of wrath, hatred, and revenge, and
efface the remembrance of injuries by a voluntary oblivion. Wherefore,
we are not to ask the forgiveness of our sins from God, unless we
forgive the offenses of all who are or have been injurious to us. If we
retain any hatred in our minds, if we meditate revenge, and devise the
means of hurting; nay, if we do not return to a good understanding with
our enemies, perform every kind of friendly office, and endeavour to
effect a reconciliation with them, we by this petition beseech God not
to grant us forgiveness. For we ask him to do to us as we do to others.
This is the same as asking him not to do unless we do also. What, then,
do such persons obtain by this petition but a heavier judgment? Lastly,
it is to be observed that the condition of being forgiven as we forgive
our debtors, is not added because by forgiving others we deserve
forgiveness, as if the cause of forgiveness were expressed; but by the
use of this expression the Lord has been pleased partly to solace the
weakness of our faith, using it as a sign to assure us that our sins are
as certainly forgiven as we are certainly conscious of having forgiven
others, when our mind is completely purged from all envy, hatred, and
malice; and partly using as a badge by which he excludes from the number
of his children all who, prone to revenge and reluctant to forgive,
obstinately keep up their enmity, cherishing against others that
indignation which they deprecate from themselves; so that they should
not venture to invoke him as a Father. In the Gospel of Luke, we have
this distinctly stated in the words of Christ.
46. The sixth petition corresponds (as we have observed) to the
promise[26] of _writing the law upon our hearts_; but because we do not
obey God without a continual warfare, without sharp and arduous
contests, we here pray that he would furnish us with armour, and defend
us by his protection, that we may be able to obtain the victory. By this
we are reminded that we not only have need of the gift of the Spirit
inwardly to soften our hearts, and turn and direct them to the obedience
of God, but also of his assistance, to render us invincible by all the
wiles and violent assaults of Satan. The forms of temptation are many
and various. The depraved conceptions of our minds provoking us to
transgress the law--conceptions which our concupiscence suggests or the
devil excites, are temptations; and things which in their own nature are
not evil, become temptations by the wiles of the devil, when they are
presented to our eyes in such a way that the view of them makes us
withdraw or decline from God.[27] These temptations are both on the
right hand and on the left.[28] On the right, when riches, power, and
honours, which by their glare, and the semblance of good which they
present, generally dazzle the eyes of men, and so entice by their
blandishments, that, caught by their snares, and intoxicated by their
sweetness, they forget their God: on the left, when offended by the
hardship and bitterness of poverty, disgrace, contempt, afflictions, and
other things of that description, they despond, cast away their
confidence and hope, and are at length totally estranged from God. In
regard to both kinds of temptation, which either enkindled in us by
concupiscence) or presented by the craft of Satan's war against us, we
pray God the Father not to allow us to be overcome, but rather to raise
and support us by his hand, that strengthened by his mighty power we may
stand firm against all the assaults of our malignant enemy, whatever be
the thoughts which he sends into our minds; next we pray that whatever
of either description is allotted us, we may turn to good, that is, may
neither be inflated with prosperity, nor cast down by adversity. Here,
however, we do not ask to be altogether exempted from temptation, which
is very necessary to excite, stimulate, and urge us on, that we may not
become too lethargic. It was not without reason that David wished to be
tried,[29] nor is it without cause that the Lord daily tries his elect,
chastising them by disgrace, poverty, tribulation, and other kinds of
cross.[30] But the temptations of God and Satan are very different:
Satan tempts, that he may destroy, condemn, confound, throw headlong;
God, that by proving his people he may make trial of their sincerity,
and by exercising their strength confirm it; may mortify, tame, and
cauterize their flesh, which, if not curbed in this manner, would wanton
and exult above measure. Besides, Satan attacks those who are unarmed
and unprepared, that he may destroy them unawares; whereas whatever God
sends, he "will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye
may be able to bear it."[31] Whether by the term evil we understand the
devil or sin, is not of the least consequence. Satan is indeed the very
enemy who lays snares for our life,[32] but it is by sin that he is
armed for our destruction.
Our petition, therefore, is, that we may not be overcome or
overwhelmed with temptation, but in the strength of the Lord may stand
firm against all the powers by which we are assailed; in other words,
may not fall under temptation: that being thus taken under his charge
and protection, we may remain invincible by sin, death, the gates of
hell, and the whole power of the devil; in other words, be delivered
from evil. Here it is carefully to be observed, that we have no strength
to contend with such a combatant as the devil, or to sustain the
violence of his assault. Were it otherwise, it would be mockery of God
to ask of him what we already possess in ourselves. Assuredly those who
in self-confidence prepare for such a fight, do not understand how bold
and well-equipped the enemy is with whom they have to do. Now we ask to
be delivered from his power, as from the mouth of some furious raging
lion, who would instantly tear us with his teeth and claws, and swallow
us up, did not the Lord rescue us from the midst of death; at the same
time knowing that if the Lord is present and will fight for us while we
stand by, through him "we shall do valiantly," (Ps. lx. 12.) Let others
if they will confide in the powers and resources of their free will
which they think they possess; enough for us that we stand and are
strong in the power of God alone. But the prayer comprehends more than
at first sight it seems to do. For if the Spirit of God is our strength
in waging the contest with Satan, we cannot gain the victory unless we
are filled with him, and thereby freed from all infirmity of the flesh.
Therefore, when we pray to be delivered from sin and Satan, we at the
same time desire to be enriched with new supplies of divine grace, until
completely replenished with them, we triumph over every evil. To some it
seems rude and harsh to ask God not to lead us into temptation, since,
as James declares (James i. 13,) it is contrary to his nature to do so.
This difficulty has already been partly solved by the fact that our
concupiscence is the cause, and therefore properly bears the blame of
all the temptations by which we are overcome. All that James means is,
that it is vain and unjust to ascribe to God vices which our own
consciousness compels us to impute to ourselves. But this is no reason
why God may not when he sees it meet bring us into bondage to Satan,
give us up to a reprobate mind and shameful lusts, and so by a just,
indeed, but often hidden judgment, lead us into temptation. Though the
cause is often concealed from men, it is well known to him. Hence we may
see that the expression is not improper, if we are persuaded that it is
not without cause he so often threatens to give sure signs of his
vengeance, by blinding the reprobate, and hardening their hearts.
47. These three petitions, in which we specially commend ourselves
and all that we have to God, clearly show what we formerly observed
(sec. 38, 39,) that the prayers of Christians should be public, and have
respect to the public edification of the Church and the advancement of
believers in spiritual communion. For no one requests that anything
should be given to him as an individual, but we all ask in common for
daily bread and the forgiveness of sins, not to be led into temptation,
but delivered from evil. Moreover, there is subjoined the reason for our
great boldness in asking and confidence of obtaining, (sec. 11, 36.)
Although this does not exist in the Latin copies, yet as it accords so
well with the whole, we cannot think of omitting it.
FOR EVER. Here is the calm and firm assurance of our faith. For were our
prayers to be commended to God by our own worth, who would venture even
to whisper before him? Now, however wretched we may be, however
unworthy, however devoid of commendation, we shall never want a reason
for prayer, nor a ground of confidence, since the kingdom, power, and
glory, can never be wrested from our Father. The last word is AMEN, by
which is expressed the eagerness of our desire to obtain the things
which we ask, while our hope is confirmed, that all things have already
been obtained and will assuredly be granted to us, seeing they have been
promised by God, who cannot deceive. This accords with the form of
expression to which we have already adverted: "Grant, O Lord, for thy
name's sake, not on account of us or of our righteousness." By this the
saints not only express the end of their prayers, but confess that they
are unworthy of obtaining did not God find the cause in himself and were
not their confidence founded entirely on his nature.
48. All things that we ought, indeed all that we are able, to ask
of God, are contained in this formula, and as it were rule, of prayer
delivered by Christ, our divine Master, whom the Father has appointed to
be our teacher, and to whom alone he would have us to listen, (Matth.
xvii. 5.) For he ever was the eternal wisdom of the Father, and being
made man, was manifested as the Wonderful, the Counsellor, (Isa. xi. 2;
ix. 6.) Accordingly, this prayer is complete in all its parts, so
complete, that whatever is extraneous and foreign to it, whatever cannot
be referred to it, is impious and unworthy of the approbation of God.
For he has here summarily prescribed what is worthy of him, what is
acceptable to him, and what is necessary for us; in short, whatever he
is pleased to grant. Those, therefore, who presume to go further and ask
something more from God, first seek to add of their own to the wisdom of
God, (this it is insane blasphemy to do;) secondly, refusing to confine
themselves within the will of God, and despising it, they wander as
their cupidity directs; lastly, they will never obtain anything, seeing
they pray without faith. For there cannot be a doubt that all such
prayers are made without faith, because at variance with the word of
God, on which if faith do not always lean it cannot possibly stand.
Those who, disregarding the Master's rule, indulge their own wishes, not
only have not the word of God, but as much as in them lies oppose it.
Hence Tertullian (De Fuga in Persequutione) has not less truly than
elegantly termed it _Lawful Prayer_, tacitly intimating that all other
prayers are lawless and illicit.
49. By this, however, we would not have it understood that we are
so restricted to this form of prayer as to make it unlawful to change a
word or syllable of it. For in Scripture we meet with many prayers
differing greatly from it in word, yet written by the same Spirit, and
capable of being used by us with the greatest advantage. Many prayers
also are continually suggested to believers by the same Spirit, though
in expression they bear no great resemblance to it. All we mean to say
is, that no man should wish, expect, or ask anything which is not
summarily comprehended in this prayer. Though the words may be very
different, there must be no difference in the sense. In this way, all
prayers, both those which are contained in the Scripture, and those
which come forth from pious breasts, must be referred to it, certainly
none can ever equal it, far less surpass it in perfection. It omits
nothing which we can conceive in praise of God, nothing which we can
imagine advantageous to man, and the whole is so exact that all hope of
improving it may well be renounced. In short, let us remember that we
have here the doctrine of heavenly wisdom. God has taught what he
willed; he willed what was necessary.
50. But although it has been said above, (sec. 7, 27, &c.,) that we
ought always to raise our minds upwards towards God, and pray without
ceasing,yet such is our weakness, which requires to be supported, such
our torpor, which requires to be stimulated, that it is requisite for us
to appoint special hours for this exercise, hours which are not to pass
away without prayer, and during which the whole affections of our minds
are to be completely occupied; namely, when we rise in the morning,
before we commence our daily work, when we sit down to food, when by the
blessing of God we have taken it, and when we retire to rest. This,
however, must not be a superstitious observance of hours, by which, as
it were, performing a task to God, we think we are discharged as to
other hours; it should rather be considered as a discipline by which our
weakness is exercised, and ever and anon stimulated. In particular, it
must be our anxious care, whenever we are ourselves pressed, or see
others pressed by any strait, instantly to have recourse to him not only
with quickened pace, but with quickened minds; and again, we must not in
any prosperity of ourselves or others omit to testify our recognition of
his hand by praise and thanksgiving. Lastly, we must in all our prayers
carefully avoid wishing to confine God to certain circumstances, or
prescribe to him the time, place, or mode of action. In like manner, we
are taught by this prayer not to fix any law or impose any condition
upon him, but leave it entirely to him to adopt whatever course of
procedure seems to him best, in respect of method, time, and place. For
before we offer up any petition for ourselves, we ask that his will may
be done, and by so doing place our will in subordination to his, just as
if we had laid a curb upon it, that, instead of presuming to give law to
God, it may regard him as the ruler and disposer of all its wishes.
51. If, with minds thus framed to obedience, we allow ourselves to
be governed by the laws of Divine Providence, we shall easily learn to
persevere in prayer, and suspending our own desires wait patiently for
the Lord, certain, however little the appearance of it may be, that he
is always present with us, and will in his own time show how very far he
was from turning a deaf ear to prayers, though to the eyes of men they
may seem to be disregarded. This will be a very present consolation, if
at any time God does not grant an immediate answer to our prayers,
preventing us from fainting or giving way to despondency, as those are
wont to do who, in invoking God, are so borne away by their own fervour,
that unless he yield on their first importunity and give present help,
they immediately imagine that he is angry and offended with them and
abandoning all hope of success cease from prayer. On the contrary,
deferring our hope with well tempered equanimity, let us insist with
that perseverance which is so strongly recommended to us in Scripture.
We may often see in The Psalms how David and other believers, after they
are almost weary of praying, and seem to have been beating the air by
addressing a God who would not hear, yet cease not to pray because due
authority is not given to the word of God, unless the faith placed in it
is superior to all events. Again, let us not tempt God, and by wearying
him with our importunity provoke his anger against us. Many have a
practice of formally bargaining with God on certain conditions, and, as
if he were the servant of their lust, binding him to certain
stipulations; with which if he do not immediately comply, they are
indignant and fretful, murmur, complain, and make a noise. Thus
offended, he often in his anger grants to such persons what in mercy he
kindly denies to others. Of this we have a proof in the children of
Israel, for whom it had been better not to have been heard by the Lord,
than to swallow his indignation with their flesh, (Num. xi. 18, 33.)
52. But if our sense is not able till after long expectation to
perceive what the result of prayer is, or experience any benefit from
it, still our faith will assure us of that which cannot be perceived by
sense, viz., that we have obtained what was fit for us, the Lord having
so often and so surely engaged to take an interest in all our troubles
from the moment they have been deposited in his bosom. In this way we
shall possess abundance in poverty, and comfort in affliction. For
though all things fail, God will never abandon us, and he cannot
frustrate the expectation and patience of his people. He alone will
suffice for all, since in himself he comprehends all good, and will at
last reveal it to us on the day of judgment, when his kingdom shall be
plainly manifested. We may add, that although God complies with our
request, he does not always give an answer in the very terms of our
prayers but while apparently holding us in suspense, yet in an unknown
way, shows that our prayers have not been in vain. This is the meaning
of the words of John, "If we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we
know that we have the petitions that we desired of him," (1 John v. 15.)
It might seem that there is here a great superfluity of words, but the
declaration is most useful, namely, that God, even when he does not
comply with our requests, yet listens and is favourable to our prayers,
so that our hope founded on his word is never disappointed. But
believers have always need of being supported by this patience, as they
could not stand long if they did not lean upon it. For the trials by
which the Lord proves and exercises us are severe, nay, he often drives
us to extremes, and when driven allows us long to stick fast in the mire
before he gives us any taste of his sweetness. As Hannah says, "The Lord
killeth, and maketh alive; he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth
up," (1 Sam. ii. 6.) What could they here do but become dispirited and
rush on despair, were they not, when afflicted, desolate, and half dead,
comforted with the thought that they are regarded by God, and that there
will be an end to their present evils. But however secure their hopes
may stand, they in the meantime cease not to pray, since prayer
unaccompanied by perseverance leads to no result.


[1] French, "Dont il sembleroit que ce fust chose supeflue de le
soliciter par prieres; veu que nous avons accoustume de soliciter ceux
qui ne pensent a nostre affaire, et qui sont endormis."--Whence it would
seem that it was a superfluous matter to solicit him by prayer; seeing
we are accustomed to solicit those who think not of our business and who
are slumbering.
[2] French, "Pourtant ce qui est escrit en la prophetie qu'on attribue a
Baruch, combien que l'autheur soit incertain, est tres sainctement
dit;"--However, what is written in the prophecy which is attributed to
Baruch, though the author is uncertain, is very holily said.
[3] French, "il reconoissent le chastisement qu'ils ont merite;"--they
acknowledge the punishment which they have deserved.
[4] The French adds, "Ils voudront qu'on leur oste le mal de tests et
des reins, et seront contens qu'on ne touche point a la fievre;"--They
would wish to get quit of the pain in the head and the loins, and would
be contented to leave the fever untouched.
[5] Latin, "prosternere preces." French, "mettent bas leurs prieres;" --
lay low their prayers.
[6] The French adds, "duquel id n'eust pas autrement este asseure;"--of
which he would not otherwise have felt assured.
[7] Latin, "Desine a me." French, "Retire-toy;"--Withdraw from me.
[8] French, "Confusion que nous avons, ou devons avoir en nousmesmes;"--
confusion which we have, or ought to have, in ourselves.
[9] Erasmus, though stumbling and walking blindfold in clear light,
ventures to write thus in a letter to Sadolet, 1530: "Primum, constat
nullum esse locum in divinis voluminibus, qui permittat invocare divos
nisi fortasse detorquere huc placet, quod dives in Evangelica parabola
implorat opem Abrahae. Quanquam autem in re tanta novare quicquam
praeter auctoritatem Scripturae, merito periculosum videri possit, tamen
invocationem divorum nusquam improbo," &c.--First, it is clear that
there is no passage in the Sacred Volume which permits the invocation of
saints, unless we are pleased to wrest to this purpose what is said in
the parable as to the rich man imploring the help of Abraham. But though
in so weighty a matter it may justly seem dangerous to introduce
anything without the authority of Scripture, I by no means condemn the
invocation of saints, &c.
[10] Latin, "Pastores;"--French, "ceux qui se disent prelats, cures, ou
precheurs;"--those who call themselves prelates, curates, or preachers.
[11] French, "Mais encore qu'ils taschent de laver leur mains d'un si
vilain sacrilege, d'autant qu'il ne se commet point en leurs messes ni
en leurs vespres; sous quelle couleur defendront ils ces blasphemes
qu'il lisent a pleine gorge, ou ils prient St Eloy ou St Medard, de
regarder du ciel leurs serviteurs pour les aider? mesmes ou ils
supplient la vierge Marie de commander a son fils qu'il leur ottroye
leur requestes?"--But although they endeavour to wash their hands of the
vile sacrilege, inasmuch as it is not committed in their masses or
vespers, under what pretext will they defend those blasphemies which
they repeat with full throat, in which they pray St Eloy or St Medard to
look from heaven upon their servants and assist them; even supplicate
the Virgin Mary to command her Son to grant their requests?
[12] The French adds, "et quasi en une fourmiliere de saincts;"--and as
it were a swarm of saints.
[13] French, "C'est chose trop notoire de quel bourbieu ou de quelle
racaille ils tirent leur saincts."-It is too notorious out of what mire
or rubbish they draw their saints.
[14] ] French, "Cette longueur de priere a aujourd'hui sa vogue en la
Papaute, et procede de cette mesme source; c'est que les uns barbotant
force Ave Maria, et reiterant cent fois un chapelet, perdent une partie
du temps; les autres, comme les chanoines et caphars, en abayant le
parchemin jour et nuict, et barbotant leur breviaire vendent leur
coquilles au peuple."--This long prayer is at present in vogue among the
Papists, and proceeds from the same cause: some muttering a host of Ave
Marias, and going over their beads a hundred times, lose part of their
time; others, as the canons and monks grumbling over their parchment
night and day, and muttering their breviary, sell their cockleshells to
the people.
[15] Calvin translates, "Te expectat Deus, laus in Sion,"--God, the
praise in Sion waiteth for thee.
[16] See Book I. chap. xi. sec. 7,13, on the subject of images in
churches. Also Book IV. chap. iv. sec. 8, and chap. v. sec. 18, as to
the ornaments of churches.
[17] This clause of the sentence is omitted in the French.
[18] The French adds, "ou on en avoit tousjours use;"--where it had
always been used.
[19] The whole of this quotation is omitted in the French.
[20] French, "Mais il adjouste d'autre part, que quand il se souvenoit
du fruict et de l'edification qu'il avoit recue en oyant chanter a
l'Eglise il enclinoit plus a l'autre partie, c'est, approuver le
chant;"--but he adds on the other hand that when he called to mind the
fruit and edification which he had received from hearing singing in the
church, he inclined more to the other side; that is, to approve singing.
[21] French, "Qui est-ce donc qui se pourra assez esmerveiller d'une
audace tant effrenee qu'ont eu les Papistes et ont encore, qui contre la
defense de l'Apostre, chantent et brayent de langue estrange et
inconnue, en laquelle le plus souvent ils n'entendent pas eux mesmes une
syllabe, et ne veulent que les autres y entendent?"--Who then can
sufficiently admire the unbridled audacity which the Papists have had,
and still have, who, contrary to the prohibition of the Apostle, chant
and bray in a foreign and unknown tongue, in which, for the most part,
they do not understand one syllable, and which they have no wish that
others understand?
[22] Augustine in Enchiridion ad Laurent. xxx. 116. Pseudo-Chrysost. in
Homilies on Matthew, hom. xiv. See end of sec. 53.
[23] "Dont il est facile de juger que ce qui est adjouste en S.
Matthieu, et qu'aucuns ont pris pour une septieme requeste, n'est qu'un
explication de la sixieme, et se doit a icelle rapporter;"--Whence it is
easy to perceive that what is added in St Matthew, and which some have
taken for a seventh petition, is only an explanation of the sixth, and
ought to be referred to it.
[24] French, "Quelque mauvaistie qu'ayons eue, ou quelque imperfection
ou pourete qui soit en nous;"-whatever wickedness we may have done, or
whatever imperfection or poverty there may be in us.
[25] French, "Telles disciples qu'ils voudront;"--such disciples as they
[26] The French adds, "que Dieu nous a donnee et faite;"--which God has
given and performed to us.
[27] James i. 2, 14; Matth. iv. 1, 3; I Thess. iii. 5.
[28] 2 Cor. vi. 7, 8.
[29] Ps. xxvi. 2
[30] Gen. xxii. 1; Deut. viii. 2; xiii. 3. For the sense in which God is
said to lead us into temptation. see the end of this section.
[31] 1 Cor. x. 13; 2 Pet. ii. 9
[32] 1 Pet. v. 8

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