“The Chief Exercise Of Faith”: John Calvin And The Practice Of Prayer -- By: John Aloisi
DBSJ 19 (2014) p. 3
“The Chief Exercise Of Faith”:
John Calvin And The
Practice Of Prayer
From time to time, opponents of Calvinism assert or at least imply that the theological system which takes its name from the famous Reformer makes prayer logically unnecessary and for all intents and purposes a waste of time. After all, if God is sovereign and his decree encompasses all that will ever come to pass, then why bother praying? For example, Michael Cox recently suggested that “prayer becomes practically meaningless for the true Calvinist, since, if he is consistent in his Calvinistic worldview, to him all things have been decided in advance.” He also claimed, “To the truly uniform Calvinist it would be absurd to pray for the salvation of the lost....” In light of these ideas about prayer and Calvinism, Cox concluded that “Calvinism has a lamentable prayer weakness.”2
Statements of this sort could be multiplied, and most people reading this article have probably encountered similar claims in conversation or print on more than one occasion. Reading assertions such as those made by Cox, one receives the impression that John Calvin (1509-1564) and his theological heirs have had little reason or motivation to engage in the practice of prayer, and such assertions would certainly lead one to assume that Calvin himself viewed prayer as a fairly unimportant topic. If such assumptions were accurate, then one would expect Calvin’s writings to contain only minimal references to prayer. Certainly, one would anticipate that the subject of prayer would not be a major theme in his theology or ministerial practice. But, in making those kinds of assumptions, one would be mistaken.
Even a cursory examination of Calvin’s writings will lead the reader to quite the opposite conclusion, for, in fact, prayer features very prominently in the Reformer’s corpus. For example, when Calvin produced the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536, he intended it to be a short introduction to the Christian faith. That modest volume contained just six chapters, and of those six chapters,
DBSJ 19 (2014) p. 4
one was devoted to the topic of prayer.3 As the Institutes grew over the years, so did the chapter on prayer so that in the standard English translation of the 1559 edition Calvin’s discussion of prayer comprises just over seventy pages, making it one of the longest chapters in the entire work.4 Calvin’s chapter on prayer in the Institutes is also, interes...
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