Jonathan Edwards’s Theology of Prayer -- By: Glenn R. Kreider

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 160:640 (Oct 2003)
Article: Jonathan Edwards’s Theology of Prayer
Author: Glenn R. Kreider

Jonathan Edwards’s Theology of Prayer

Glenn R. Kreidera

prayer is an essential and indispensable spiritual discipline, centered at the very heart of Christian spirituality.1 Why do Christians value prayer? Of course an easy and sufficient answer to this question is that the Bible commands it.2 But how is prayer consistent with the sovereignty of God? If God already knows what will happen, how can prayer be effective? Does prayer change things or influence God in any way? What difference does it make whether anyone prays?

The eighteenth-century Puritan pastor Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) wrestled with the theology and practice of prayer, and his insights are instructive for Christians in the twenty-first century. In Edwards’s view the heart of a proper understanding of prayer is that God hears and answers prayer. Further, prayer is one of the means by which the sovereign God accomplishes His will in the world.

Edwards and Prayer

In the twenty-ninth of his Resolutions, written when he was nineteen years old, Jonathan Edwards wrote, “Resolved, never to count

that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.”3 Thus from his early years Edwards confessed his confidence that God hears and answers prayers and his intention to live in light of that theological conviction.4

Over two decades later, in January 1748, Edwards published a call for united prayer for revival. An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, Pursuant to Scripture-Promises and Prophecies Concerning the End Time was part of a worldwide evangelical call for prayer, recommended to all “who desire the coming of that blissful kingdom in its promised extent and glory, in this wretched world.”5

Although he was convinced that the revival or renewal of true religion was a surprising, supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, Edwards believed that God might send a new manifestation of His Spirit in response to the prayers of His people.6 This co...

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